The revelation last month that the FBI treated the Occupy movement, from the beginning, as a potential criminal or terrorist threat perhaps comes as no surprise given the FBI’s past repression of other political movements demanding change. Indeed, we reported last June that the FBI was resurrecting COINTELPRO, a program which targeted civil rights activists in the 1960’s including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to “neutralize” Occupy.
What is new, though, is the revelation that the FBI as well as other law enforcement agencies were implementing a wide-ranging policy of close collaboration with the private sector to counteract the efforts of Occupy. In so doing, the government favored the interests of corporate America over the First Amendment rights of the American people.
These findings came to light based on documents disclosed to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents show that the FBI met with the New York exchange in August 2011 to discuss Occupy protests that did not start until a month later. The FBI, in fact, had been conducting high-level surveillance of Occupy activists even though it recognized, paradoxically, that they called for peaceful protests.
Surveillance extended to Occupy activity taking place on college campuses and the FBI had informants at many local Occupy encampments. At least one representative of the State University of New York at Oswego provided intelligence to the FBI on the SUNY-OSWEGO Occupy encampment.
In one report circulated among the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and corporate America, Occupy protests taking place at West Coast ports were described as “criminal activity.” The same group issued tips to its corporate clients regarding “civil unrest,” advising them to dress conservatively, avoid political discussions, and “avoid all large gatherings related to civil issues” because “bystanders may be arrested or harmed by security forces using water cannons, tear gas or other measures to control crowds.”
Last October we reported on how this policy was implemented in Occupy protests in Oakland. There, the FBI worked with private corporate security officials to mitigate the effectiveness of Occupy protests.
These drastic and constitutionally-suspect measures highlight a wider pattern of suppressing dissent for the benefit of corporate interests.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, explains that the documents reveal that the “FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protesters against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity.” “The federal agencies,” she points out, “[are] functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
The disclosed documents are heavily redacted and PCJF believes that much more material is being withheld. For instance, the documents lack any mention of FBI collaboration with large financial institutions that were at the center of the Occupy movement.
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