The transparency organization WikiLeaks has published an assessment report from the Homeland Security Department (DHS) on the Occupy movement that was put together in October of last year. The assessment was attached to a Stratfor email, one of five million or so emails the organization obtained and has been releasing since February 27.
The release of the report is timely, coming just as Occupy supporters are mobilizing for demonstrations against the suppression of the Occupy movement by law enforcement and political leaders in the United States.
Put together by the Office of Infrastructure Protection under DHS, the report seems to have been produced with the following presumption in mind, which appears in bold at the top of the report:
Mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas. Large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.
The report proceeds to break down the risks and threats the Occupy movement poses to “critical infrastructure” by looking at their “impacts” on financial services, commercial facilities, transportation, emergency services and government facilities. The breakdown relied on news reports from sources like the New York Daily News, CBS, Associated Press, CNN, Chicago Tribune, Reuters, New York Times, Boston Globe, etc.
The DHS report found financial services sectors had been the “focal point of the OWS movement, with protesters holding protests and camping out” in financial districts. It found “large gatherings” had a “major impact on surrounding business and retail districts” and in some cases “commercial facilities” were “targeted” (though no real examples are cited). It found that demonstrations had caused “widespread traffic jams, road closures and suspension of public transit.” It found a “considerable burden on emergency services personnel to control crowds, protect critical infrastructure and maintain public order” had occurred. And the movement had “impacted” government facilities through protests at “city halls and courthouses.”
In the report’s summary, DHS concluded:
The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged.
Much like the threat government officials might allege WikiLeaks releases pose to national security, the threat described here is, for the most part, hype. Though the protests had been “peaceful,” Homeland Security determined the fact more and more citizens were turning out to support the cause of Occupy made it a possible threat to critical infrastructure and public order. The presence of supporters of Anonymous, which the FBI has been investigating, led Homeland Security to believe “potential incidents” or “potential security risks” could transpire. But, while Anonymous has claimed responsibility for cyber attacks, it has absolutely no history of violence in the world of non-virtual reality.
The conclusion forces one to ask if the suggested potential risks alluded to in this paragraph had something to do with crackdowns on Occupy groups around the country. Was there a point when political leaders in city and state governments thought this could gain too much momentum and they had to squash it?
Given that the report is an October 2011 report, presumably it would take until November for political leaders to truly begin to act upon it. November was when the “counteroffensive” against Occupy really began.
Using the mass media, politicians hyped the movements as imminent threats to public health and safety, justifying aggressive evictions of prominent occupations in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and New York City. Within weeks other major encampments in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New Orleans were scattered with hundreds of arrests. A third wave of closures has been underway since late January with occupations shut down from Hawaii to Miami and Austin, Texas, to Buffalo, N.Y.
The methodology and production of this report should be questioned. It relies entirely on corporate news reporting. While it is refreshing to see the report relies on Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Together website to put together a background description for the movement, the fact that the New York Daily News is cited is appalling.
The New York Daily News editorial board published this op-ed, “Occupy Wall Street protesters are behaving like a bunch of spoiled brats,” on September 28 of last year:
And for sleet and torrential rains – anything that might convince the precious insufferables who have taken over Wall Street that they have had enough of exercising their First Amendment rights to the inconvenience of tens of thousands of people who actually have to work for a living.
This bunch ought to get down on their knees in thanks that America’s capitalist Founding Fathers saw fit to protect the privileges of the dumb and obnoxious along with everyone else.
They should also salute the NYPD and all its officers for paying diligent attention to ensuring that peace and harmony reign in their daze of rage. But no.
The newspaper’s animosity toward Occupy is why this sentence, “On October 5, roughly 200 protesters attempted to storm police barricades blocking protesters from the area,” is likely hyperbole.
Perhaps Homeland Security doesn’t care. Its employee(s) or the employee(s) of the contractor that put this together might actually have that much scorn for members of the Occupy movement. Maybe the employee(s) that put this together do not know a thing about the quality of the coverage of the media outlets and are just looking for lines in these news stories that support already held presumptions about the Occupy movement. Whatever the case may be, it is important to ask what role the report might have played in precipitating a crackdown.
Who read the report and who, if anybody, acted upon it? How did it influence how government agencies and institutions handled, perceived and tolerated (or in many cases did not tolerate) the Occupy movement? What role did this report play in governments decisions to not permit an Occupy encampment in their city? What role did it play in state governments’ decisions to oppose the presence of an Occupy camp on statehouse grounds?
The suppression of Occupy is nothing less than an attack on those who would try to exercise their civil liberties, their rights and seek to energize democracy. Moreover, this significantly increases suspicion that the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA may be withholding information on the Occupy movement and are refusing to cooperate with FOIA requests made by journalists and citizens of the United States. It does not seem likely that, given the machinations of US government, DHS would be monitoring Occupy and the Justice Department, FBI, CIA or other similar agencies would not be monitoring the movement.
Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone has covered this report. He eloquently summarizes why this report is important:
It’s never a good thing to see a government agency talk in secret about the need to “control protestors” – especially when that agency is charged with protecting the homeland against terrorists, not nonviolent demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceable dissent. From the notorious Cointelpro operations of the 1960s to the NYPD’s recent surveillance of Muslim Americans, the government has a long and disturbing history of justifying the curtailing of civil liberties under the cover of perceived, and often manufactured, threats (“the potential security risk to critical infrastructure). What’s more, there have been reports that Homeland Security played an active role in coordinating the nationwide crackdown on the Occupy movement last November – putting the federal government in the position of targeting its own citizens in the name of national security. There is not much of a bureaucratic leap, if history is any guide, between a seemingly benign call for “continuous situational awareness” and the onset of a covert and illegal campaign of domestic surveillance.