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Interesting revelations from the OWS FBI files

There’s so much redacted in the recently released FBI files on Occupy Wall Street (OWS) that it’s often hard to know exactly what you’re looking at. There are nonetheless plenty of interesting revelations tucked inside the 112 page PDF file posted by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. 

Among some of the more interesting tidbits:

  • The Indiana FBI office shared its “intelligence” briefings on OWS with the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center. (page 1)
  • The FBI quotes the US Day of Rage website, which provides training on “direct action, civil disobedience, how to deal with violence, and jailhouse solidarity,” but completely confuses what the activists mean by “deal with violence.” The agents write that this phrase suggests “that violence and/or illegal activity is expected by event organizers.” In fact, the writers were likely advising protest goers on how to deal with police violence. (page 2)
  • The Birmingham FBI office looped in a hazmat team on emails pertaining to OWS, though there’s never been any suggestion that protests involved any hazardous materials threats. (page 16)
  • The Denver FBI office held a meeting with banking fraud and security officials called the Bank Fraud Working Group. But instead of discussing bank fraud, the officials discussed OWS protesters, many of whom were motivated to demonstrate because of fraudulent activity at the banks and among Wall Street firms. (page 20
  • The Jackson, Mississippi FBI prepared a “counterterrorism” memo in November 2011 to discuss documenting [redacted] about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Most of the memo is redacted, but we can see that the people reading it were instructed not to share the memo without a special agent coordinator’s approval. (page 25-26)
  • The Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), a corporate-government security and information sharing collaboration, published a memo on December 9, 2011, describing the West Coast port strikes and the planned West Coast port shutdown on December 12. At the bottom of each page is an instruction forbidding readers from sharing the document with anyone outside the “corporate security community,” including the media, the general public or “other personnel who do not have a valid need-to-know.” The memo shows us that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was involved in surveillance against the occupy movement. The NCIS apparently told federal agents that “the actions of the OWS Movement may or may not be coordinated with organized labor actions at the affected ports and presently, there are no indications that protesters plan to use violence.” Nonetheless, the DSAC counsels its corporate partners to “avoid becoming involved” if conflicts arise between protesters and the police. The memo also describes Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) collaboration with local law enforcement and Customs Border Protection at various locations along the pacific northwest border. ICE was “prepared to respond and officer assistance” to the Oakland police, the memo reports. (pages 31-32)
  • The DSAC memo also describes “tips for reducing vulnerability in the event of civil unrest,” which include avoiding large gatherings (those gatherings might be “met with resistance by security forces. Bystanders may be arrested or harmed by security forces using water cannons, tear gas or other measures.” Corporate employees are also cautioned to “maintain a low profile by avoiding demonstration areas and discussions of the issues at hand, and by dressing conservatively.” (page 32)
  • A September 14, 2011 memo from the New York FBI office reports that the bureau notified Federal Hall and the Museum of American Finance that activists had identified their buildings as “point[s] of interest.” (page 38)
  • On October 25, 2011 the FBI Albany office, Syracuse Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) disseminated a memo describing communications with campus police officers about occupy protesters, part of the “Campus Liaison Program” run by the FBI. The memo says the FBI distributed “two intelligence products” to sixteen campus police officials. (page 51)
  • A November 28, 2011 memo from the Anchorage FBI describes a request from an Anchorage Port security officer with unknown ties to the bureau to attend a planning meeting held by activists organizing to protest at the port. The FBI approved the request to attend and act like a “fly on the wall,” not disclosing the security officer’s connection to the port. (page 54)
  • The Boston FBI office reported on November 17, 2011 an attempted chemical bomb attack against the Occupy Maine encampment in Portland. The bureau reported that “no suspects have been developed” and that “this information is being provided for informational purposes.” (page 58)
  • A document of unknown origin (the top of the document is entirely redacted) appears to be a round-up of sorts, describing "intelligence" updates related to OWS protests and encampments nationwide. One update reads: “An identified [redacted] of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protesters in Houston, Texas, if deemed necessary. An identified [redacted] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, Texas. [Redacted] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.” (page 61)
  • FBI agents opened an “assessment,” the first level of investigation, against Occupy Daytona, and conducted physical surveillance of the group. (page 66)
  • The Jacksonville, Florida FBI office published a document called “Domain Program Management – Domestic Terrorism” that describes efforts to monitor OWS in north and central Florida. The writer recommended that agents “consider establishing tripwires with the Occupy event coordinators regarding their observance of actions or comments indicating violent tendencies by attendees.” The writer referenced high unemployment in central Florida in the context of potential for political violence. This document references a redacted party’s “interest[] in developing a long-term plan to kill local Occupy leaders via sniper fire.” (page 68)
  • A Jacksonville FBI agent contacted a representative from the Oaks Mall in Gainesville, Florida to “advise her of the pending “Occupy Wall Street” protest.” (page 70)
  • Los Angeles police met with the FBI, and informed them of their concern that OWS protesters might “mix with the more violent individuals upset about the alleged mistreatment of prisoners in the LASD jails.” (page 73)
  • A communication between the Pittsburgh and Memphis FBI offices describes the deferred investigation and prosecution of someone who sent a fax to the Tennessee Governor’s office reading “it is wrong for the American government to aid the very wealthy by taking arms against the American people…law enforcement had drawn the first blood and to continue this will lead to violent revolution.” Even though there’s nothing illegal about that statement, the FBI considered it “suspicious activity,” investigated the sender and apparently wanted to prosecute. The US attorney’s office declined to prosecute because of a lack of any specific threat. (page 75)
  • A December 2011 Memphis JTTF meeting fit in a discussion of OWS among conversations about al Qaeda and other “International Terrorism Intelligence” briefings. (page 78)
  • A January 2012 document from the Miami FBI says that its Command and Tactical Operations Center (CTOC) “provided operational assistance during “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations in Miami, FL.” (page 83)
  • A November 16, 2011 Omaha FBI memo describes an Occupy Iowa protester showing up at FBI offices offering to inform the bureau on the goings on at the Des Moines protest. She said she was worried about “closed meetings” held by organizers but didn’t have any specific information about threats or plans to commit violence. The memo says she offered the FBI her email and Facebook passwords, but the agents declined because they can’t legally sign into her accounts. (page 85)
  • Various documents were forwarded to fusion centers nationwide and the FBI’s shadowy “Infraguard” network (page 96, among many others)
  • A November 4, 2011 Tampa FBI memo titled “Domestic Terrorism Control File Liaison – Field Intelligence Group – Liaison Matter” describes an agent’s attendance at a Tampa Bay Area Intelligence Unit meeting at the Tampa PD. The officers and agents discussed various Occupy protests but there’s no mention of terrorism. The memo reads in part: “Hillsborough County SO advised that [redacted] is leading the Occupy Tampa and that they will be traveling to Gainesville, FL for an anarchist planning meeting at the Civic Media Center on 5 November.” The memo also contains information about a Veterans for Peace protest at MacDill air force base. (page 102)

For analysis of what the documents mean in context, read Naomi Wolf, Yves Smith, and DemocracyNow! on the release.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.