Privacy SOS

So-called ‘counterterror’ fusion center in Massachusetts monitored Black Lives Matter protesters

Law enforcement officials at the Department of Homeland Security-funded “Commonwealth Fusion Center” spied on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Black Lives Matter protesters in Boston earlier this week, the Boston Herald reports.

The reference to the so-called ‘fusion’ spy center comes at the very end of a news story quoting Boston protesters injured by police in Tuesday night’s demonstrations, which was possibly the largest Ferguson related protest in the country the day after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson was announced.

The state police Commonwealth Fusion Center monitored social media, which provided “critical intelligence about protesters’ plans to try to disrupt traffic on state highways,” state police said.

There are nearly 100 fusion centers nationwide, and two in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth Fusion Center in Maynard is run by the Massachusetts State Police. The Boston Regional Intelligence Center, also known as the ‘BRIC’, is located at Boston Police Department headquarters in Roxbury and run by the BPD. Both fusion centers were established with funds from the Department of Homeland Security, and rely heavily on federal ‘counterterrorism’ grants.

Fusion centers have long come under fire from congressional leaders and democracy advocates as being largely wasteful, duplicative of other local/federal counterterrorism efforts, and violative of civil rights and civil liberties. In Boston, the ACLU disclosed internal ‘intelligence files’ showing that BRIC officials used their federally-funded ‘counterterrorism’ infrastructure to monitor peaceful protesters including Veterans for Peace and CODEPINK, labeling them as domestic extremists and homeland security threats. The Boston fusion center even kept track of the political activities of Marty Walsh, currently the city’s mayor. Fusion center officials in Pennsylvania got caught spying on anti-fracking activists, apparently in league with the FBI. An Arkansas fusion center director told the press his spy office doesn’t monitor US citizens, just anti-government groups—however that’s defined. Washington state fusion centers have insinuated that activism is terrorism.

There are many, many other examples nationwide of these so-called fusion centers getting caught red handed monitoring protest movements and dissidents, conflating First Amendment protected speech with crime or terrorism. The fusion centers, meanwhile, have never once stopped a terrorist attack. It’s not clear what beyond monitoring dissidents and black people—through so-called ‘gang’ databases—these fusion centers actually do. We here in Boston know one thing for sure: they don’t stop terrorism.

Some people might say that ‘counterterrorism’ analysts at the Commonwealth Fusion Center should be monitoring the tweets and Facebook posts of Black Lives Matter activists, if those activists intend to shut down highways.

We can agree to disagree about that, but please don’t say these fusion centers are primarily dedicated to stopping terrorism when they are doing things like this. Stopping traffic for a few hours is civil disobedience, not terrorism. A supposed anti-terrorism center has no business monitoring public social media accounts looking for ‘intelligence’ about civic protest movements.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.