Privacy SOS

NATO 3 trial exposes intensive police surveillance against leftists during year when most murders went unsolved

Testimony given by an undercover officer in a state terrorism prosecution in Illinois sheds new light on the Chicago Police Department's surveillance of dissidents, including what appears to be a targeted campaign to keep an eye on the activities of people who call themselves anarchists. Journalist Kevin Gosztola is in Chicago covering the trial of the NATO 3, protesters who may have been set up by undercover Chicago police officers and are facing state terrorism and felony conspiracy charges. Gosztola's reporting provides new insight into the CPD's modern day red squad.

The three men charged—Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly—were arrested in a pre-dawn raid before the major anti-NATO protests took place in the spring of 2012. Their defense has argued that by charging the defendants under a state terrorism statute, the government could “maximize the sensationalism of the announcement of charges the day before a massive non-violent anti-NATO protest in Chicago in order to discourage and frighten people from attending the protest, and to justify the massive expenditure of public and private dollars to host and provide security for the NATO conference.”

During the trial, which began this week, defense attorneys have had the opportunity to cross examine one of the undercover police officers who infiltrated leftist movements in Chicago in advance of the NATO summit. Officer Nadia Chikko explained to the court that her job was to monitor these dissident groups, to see if activists were violating the law. According to her testimony, as relayed here by Gosztola, she found no criminal activity:

Chikko was tasked to go undercover with the police intelligence unit in February 2012. For two months prior to the summit, in March and April, she went to community meetings, cafes, concerts, protests, etc, in order to—as she stated multiple times from the stand—”observe, listen and report back any criminal activity.” But there was no criminal activity to report.

Despite this fact, Chikko wrote reports on what was happening at these public gatherings and events and wrote about the people who attended. She and her partner took photographs of license plates, which Chikko justified by saying, “If we needed to look into that, we would.”

On March 16, 2012, around two months before the “NATO 3″ would be arrested in a preemptive police raid, Chikko went to a concert by a female band. She submitted a report that indicated, “This band has been known to attract anarchists in the past.”

Chikko explained to the court that “violent anarchists” were known to “infiltrate peaceful protesters or peaceful organizers” and get them to commit criminal acts. “We were trying to weed them out,” she added.

She and her partner spent an hour walking around the concert and then wrote down license plates of people there,” which she justified by saying, “That’s our job as police.” Police “run intelligence.” That is our “job when we go out there.”

On March 17, at the Permanent Records Store, Chikko and her partner made their way to the second floor where a band was playing and stayed for an hour. They found no criminal activity. They then went to another event, where they took down more license plates of cars.

“If there was license plates, we’d record them,” Chikko said, as if it was absolutely no big deal at all.

Deutsch asked why they would run the license plates at public events. She answered, “Sir, we’re police officers. That’s what we do.” They run the license plates to find out if there are warrants on them.

“We did attend a lot of cafes,” Chikko stated. One of those cafes was a well-known cafe in Chicago called the Heartland Cafe.

The Heartland Cafe has been around since 1976 and was originally opened by two activists. It is known for attracting hippies and people who are willing to go there to discuss left-wing politics. It has fair trade, organic, and/or vegan food. Harold Washington, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Barack Obama all spoke at the cafe early in their political careers.

The Chicago police intelligence unit, at one point prior to the summit, deployed six police officers to go to the cafe and conduct surveillance.

“Any sort of suspicion at all that any violent anarchists were sitting in the Heartland Cafe?” Deutsch asked. Chikko answered no.

Deutsch asked if she was just eavesdropping on people, who were eating in the Heartland Cafe. “As police officers, you have a right to go into anywhere and listen to conversations to if they’re talking about criminal activity?”

The state objected to this question and it was not answered.

On Division Street, a major thoroughfare in Chicago, the police apparently had gone up and down the street looking for graffiti from “anarchists.” They were looking to find and identify “anarchists” too, according to Deutsch, who was referencing police reports. But Chikko denied that they had been looking for “anarchists.”

Later, after saying she had not been tasked with "looking for anarchists in particular," Chikko said: "We weren’t looking for anarchists. We were looking for people who want to call themselves anarchists appearing as peaceful protesters."

While its officers were dispatched to monitor protest groups and left-wing cafes, the Chicago Police Department’s murder clearance rate was an abysmal 26% in 2012, one of the lowest in the nation. Perhaps the city and its residents would be safer if the Chicago police spent more time and resources trying to solve murders, instead of stalking and harassing leftists.

Follow Gosztola’s blog at Firedoglake for more on the undercover officer’s testimony, and further developments in this case.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.