(Photo from the ACLU of Massachusetts report)

Documents and surveillance video obtained by the Massachusetts chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) show the Boston Police Department (BPD) and the city’s Homeland Security fusion center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), have been spying on peace groups and local leaders. The documents show law enforcement has monitored demonstrations, tracked beliefs and “internal dynamics” of activist groups and labeled this information in ways that would make it seem like they were tracking criminal activity.

A published report by the ACLU states, “The documents provide the public with its first glimpse into the political surveillance practices of the Boston Police Department. They show that police officers assigned to the BRIC create and retain “intelligence reports” detailing purely non-criminal political acts — such as handing out flyers and attending anti-war rallies — by well-known peace groups, including Veterans for Peace, Stop the Wars Coalition and CodePink.” The video surveillance footage shows police have been monitoring activists who come to protests to speak their mind.

“Intelligence reports” obtained contain details on cooperation between “surveillance officers from the BRIC, local and state police and the FBI.” Nonviolent actions of peace groups and activists are listed under, “Criminal Act,” and labeled as “Extremist” or “Civil Disturbance” or “HomeSec—Domestic.”

As the “intelligence reports” indicate, at one point, the late people’s historian, Howard Zinn, was one whom law enforcement was monitoring closely:

…Officers describe plans for a talk on March 23, 2007 at the Central Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain, writing that “this engagement was arranged by Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo [Sr.]” The report notes that a “BU professor emeritus/activist” — it was the late Howard Zinn, although his name is blacked out in the document — and Cindy Sheehan, a member of Gold Star Families for Peace whose son was killed in Iraq, “will be speaking at the March 24 demonstration.” Although nothing in the report suggests even a fleeting connection to criminal activity, it nonetheless labels the March 23rd presentation and subsequent anti-war rally as a “Criminal Act” with the sub-heading “Groups- Extremists,” and creates searchable links to the individuals and peace groups discussed therein.

The collection of information by BPD contributes to Homeland Security fusion centers storing of details on constitutionally-protected activities being engaged in by citizens. One of the reports obtained “refers to an FBI source who provided information to the Boston police on
protesters’ plans to ‘pass out fliers promoting their cause.’” Furthermore, “the documents also describe communications between municipal police departments concerning First Amendment expression. Another report references a phone call between officers from BRIC and the Metro DC Intelligence Section during which the officials discuss how many activists from the Northeast attended a Washington, DC peace rally.”

The ACLU chapter’s release of these details on law enforcement conducting surveillance on activists comes just after the release of a Senate subcommittee report that found Department of Homeland Security fusion centers at the state and local level had not “produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts.” It also found “DHS-assigned detailees” have “forwarded ‘intelligence’ of uneven quality—oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections.”

The subcommittee’s report contained the following examples of spying on citizens, not activists, who engaged in constitutionally-protected conduct:

—One reporter put together a draft on reading suggestions by a Muslim community group,“Ten Book Recommendations for Every Muslim.” It noted four of the books were by authors, who had records in US intelligence counterterrorism databases.

—One reporter put together a draft on the Mongols Motorcycle Club, a California-based biker gang. Though the group has committed crimes, the draft did not focus on this activity but rather a benign checklist the group was handing out to members on what to do if stopped by police that did not advocate the violation of any law.

—One officer filed a draft on a US citizen, who had given a “day-long motivational talk and lecture on positive parenting” to a Muslim organization.

—One other canceled draft detailed a US citizen’s visit to a mosque to give a lecture

When one considers the subcommittee report and the ACLU chapter’s report together, it is clear fusion centers exist not to halt terrorism but to spy on citizens. They are not making mistakes when they violate people’s privacy or rights because, if they are not violating people’s privacy or rights, they have no function in society. And, additionally, the continued existence of fusion centers only further entrenches a culture where local law enforcement like the BPD are engaged in spying on local citizens because they can pass that information along to a fusion center (or the FBI).

Like GreenIstheNewRed.com’s Will Potter told Firedoglake in an earlier interview, “What I see in my reporting is that the consequences of these policies for individuals can be quite dire. They can be dire, when people are fit with outrageous prison sentences for their political activism, people like Tim DeChristopher, who is in prison for two years right now for civil disobedience. And it can be dire for the activists that are involved in activism in Texas right now and were entrapped and urged to use nonviolent civil disobedience that was later classified as a felony.”

Since the September 11th attacks, “The American people have been told you don’t have anything to worry about. It’s this specter of terrorism that’s being targeted, that’s looming around every corner,” Potter added. “But, we’re seeing, with every month, every year, every prosecution that goes by, that’s not what’s being targeted. What’s being targeted is us and our everyday lives through this massive surveillance apparatus.” He concluded, “This War on Terrorism isn’t about some foreign terrorist threat, which was used to justify it in the early stages. The War on Terrorism is really about chilling dissent through the power of fear.”

In conclusion, the ACLU chapter put together a video, where they spoke to individuals who appeared or were part of groups that appeared in the “intelligence reports.” These people spoke to the fear and how all of this aims to chill dissent: