Privacy SOS

Judge: FBI can keep secret documents pertaining to assassination plot against Occupy activists

A federal judge has refused to force the FBI to hand over more information about an alleged assassination plot against Occupy Houston activists, reports Courthouse News.

A few years ago the public learned that the FBI received information back in 2011 of a plot to kill activists, but never informed the potential targets about the threats to their lives. The disclosure came in FBI documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Funds, a civil liberties group. Here's the reference in those original FBI files:

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.

Lots of people were curious about this alarming admission. Why didn't the FBI inform activists about the threats? Why didn't the FBI go after the people issuing the threats? Who made those threats? One of the people who wanted answers to these questions is Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at MIT and FOIA expert.

Shapiro filed a request with the FBI to learn more. When the FBI withheld a dozen pages of records citing public records law exemptions, he sued. In March 2014 a federal judge pushed back on some of the Bureau's exemptions, pressing for more information about why certain records were blacked out. Now, unfortunately, that same judge has dismissed Shapiro's lawsuit. She reviewed the records and agrees that they are exempt.

Courthouse News:

[Judge] Collyer found Monday that the FBI correctly invoked FOIA exemption 7(c), which shields law enforcement records from disclosure if they could constitute an invasion of personal privacy.

The judge also agreed with the FBI that exemption 7(d) applied to the case. It allows records to be withheld if they "could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source."

Citing a declaration from FBI agent David Hardy that said the confidential sources are "individuals who are members of organized violent groups," Collyer said the likelihood of retaliation justified keeping the sources' identities under wraps.

Could it be that the initial tip about the assassination plot came from an FBI confidential informant working in an "organized violent group"? Ryan Shapiro has pledged to continue fighting for the records, so we might someday find out.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.