[sixties-l] Keeping an eye on protesters

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 10/06/00

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    Keeping an eye on protesters
    [see web site for embedded hyperlinks]
    International authorities are sharing information, not all of it accurate,
    about anti-globalization activists.
    by Sarah Ferguson
    Sep. 29, 2000
    On Sept. 17, 23-year-old Kay Morrison of Seattle was standing on the 
    platform at the Bad Schandau train
    station in Germany waiting for the train to Prague. She planned to join 
    some 12,000 demonstrators who sought to disrupt the 55th annual meeting of 
    the IMF and World Bank in Prague. Morrison says she was approached by Czech 
    border police, who scanned her passport with a handheld computer. She was 
    taken by train to another station, where police searched her belongings and 
    informed her she was on the list of "persona non grata", not welcome in 
    Prague this week "or in the future."
    She made another failed attempt to enter the country. After further 
    inquiries, the Czech police announced on national television that Morrison 
    had committed a misdemeanor on a previous trip to the Czech Republic; she 
    had been fined for smoking a cigarette in the main train station. (It later 
    turned out that the "receipt" the police gave her was false and that they 
    overcharged her for the offense.) Though Czech authorities did not say so, 
    Morrison believes she was put on the list because of her arrest in
    Seattle at last November's mass protests of the World Trade Organization.
    Morrison is one of 300 activists barred from the Czech Republic in advance 
    of the so-called "S26" demonstrations. Another American, Lee Sestar of 
    Chicago, was told by customs officials at the Prague airport last Sunday 
    that he was also on the unwelcome list because he was arrested at the 
    Seattle protests. Sestar, who insists he was swept up with a group of 
    peaceful protesters, was eventually convicted of failure to disperse, a 
    misdemeanor offense. Charges against Morrison in Seattle were
    dropped. But both were "persona non grata" in Prague last week.
    Czech authorities have been praised for successfully containing violent 
    demonstrators who tossed Molotov cocktails and bricks at police and 
    delegates during the IMF/World Bank summit. But authorities' efforts to 
    prevent demonstrations by keeping demonstrators out of the country reflect 
    an approach to dealing with the global protest movement that does not bode 
    well for civil liberties.
    Over the past month, Czech authorities have sought to bar hundreds from the 
    country. An American and three Dutch cooks with the vegetarian collective 
    Rampelpaln were kept out of the country, and a trainload of 1,000 Italian 
    anarchists affiliated with the militant Zapatista-support group Ya Basta! 
    was surrounded by riot police and held at the border until four group 
    members targeted by police agreed to get off.
    Czech police, acting in concert with American and European police 
    officials, have tried to prevent known activists from entering the country. 
    Their most controversial means of doing so involves a list of activists 
    allegedly provided to Czech authorities by the FBI.
    On Monday, a spokesperson for the FBI told Salon that he "had not heard" of 
    any FBI lists of activists or persons arrested in the U.S. being turned 
    over to Czech police. "I have no information on that matter, nor can I 
    confirm or deny published reports," FBI Special Agent Steven Berry said.
    Reports of the list emerged after Czech officials discussed information 
    they had about unwelcome foreign activists with the press. Czech Republic 
    Chief of Police Jiri Kolar told Agence France Presse on September 15 that 
    authorities possessed lists of "undesirable individuals" who are "suspected 
    of abusing their stay to threaten state security, public order, or 
    undermine other protected interests." Czech Interior Minister Stanislov 
    Gross added that many are "under investigation for crimes committed
    during violence in the United States," most notably during the anti-WTO 
    demonstrations in Seattle and the IMF/World Bank protests in Washington 
    last April.
    According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Scotland Yard also 
    provided photographs and information on the alleged "ringleaders" of the 
    May Day demo in London this year, when numerous bank and store windows were 
    smashed and monuments desecrated.
    A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Prague said Tuesday that 
    "inexperienced" public affairs officers with the Czech police had 
    mistakenly sourced the lists to the FBI. "There is no blacklist or 
    watchlist that the FBI gave to Czech police concerning American activists," 
    U.S. press attach Victoria Middleton told Salon. "Whatever lists [the 
    Czech police] have came from publicly available documents," she said.
    Middleton acknowledged that FBI officials, as well as local and state 
    police from Seattle and other U.S. cities, "shared information with Czech 
    police officials" about the role of activists in previous mass 
    demonstrations, as did police from other European countries. But Middleton 
    added, "I have been assured by law enforcement officials at the highest 
    level that this information is in the public domain."
    The extraordinary security measures in Prague are indicative of the 
    increased surveillance and repression of activists worldwide, as law 
    enforcement agencies cooperate to combat a new, increasingly mobile army of 
    Last month the FBI, which hosted trainings for Czech police in Washington 
    during the last round of IMF/World Bank protests in April, opened its own 
    office in Prague. American law enforcement officers, along with special 
    agents from Interpol and Scotland Yard, were on hand both before and during 
    Prague protests this week to advise Czech authorities. Scotland Yard even 
    sent a "media specialist" to help counter negative spin.
    After Tuesday's violent protests in Prague, police will likely increase 
    surveillance of activist groups. But so far authorities have done a poor 
    job of differentiating the violent from the peaceful demonstrators.
    A recent Canadian security report, "Anti-Globalization: A Spreading 
    Phenomenon" warns that authorities must brace for a variety of threats from 
    the growing protest movement. "Continued presence and use of large numbers 
    of security forces, fencing, and similar restrictive measures could dampen 
    the enthusiasm of protesters and might gradually reduce the size of some 
    gatherings, as could adverse weather conditions," the report states.
    "But, as demonstrated by extremist animal-rights and environmental 
    activists, security measures could prompt a rise in the scale of violence 
    from smashing windows to arson attacks, the use of explosive devices, and 
    even physical threats against individuals, including posting warning 
    letters purported to contain contaminated razor blades."
    The report, which was produced in preparation for protests at the World 
    Petroleum Congress in Calgary, Alberta, last May, was widely mocked in the 
    Canadian press for its "highbrow" intelligence. It cites recent articles on 
    protesters in the New Yorker and Harper's, as well as the book "No Logo" by 
    Canadian media theorist Naomi Klein.
    "The report shows they have a fairly sophisticated understanding of what is 
    motivating activists," Klein says, "certainly far more so than our elected 
    officials here in Canada, who portray activists as anti-globalist, or 
    "The problem is," she says, "they portray grass-roots activists as James 
    Bond-like figures with all these high-tech tools, which then gives them the 
    rationale to spend all sorts of money on their own high-tech surveillance."
    The Internet has become a central organizing tool for demonstrators, as 
    well as a key target for police, who are monitoring activist Web sites and 
    discussion groups, and in some cases, even posing as protesters to gain 
    information. Some police have targeted activists with cellphones, noting 
    that the use of cellphones and radios gives protesters a new level of 
    "tactical mobility" with which police must contend.
    "Legal, grass-roots activism has become the new 'terrorism' in the 
    post-Cold War world," Klein says. "They need a new enemy, and the activists 
    are it."
    Both before and during the recent protests in Washington, Philadelphia and 
    Los Angeles, police infiltrated meetings and disrupted public gatherings. 
    Activists complained that their phones were tapped and that police were 
    posted outside the homes and offices of suspected organizers. In Los 
    Angeles, some infiltrators were so successful that they even got arrested 
    or gassed by fellow officers.
    Last May, the Paris-based Intelligence Newsletter reported that reserve 
    units from U.S. Army Intelligence were deployed to monitor the April 16-18 
    protests against the IMF and World Bank in Washington. "The Pentagon sent 
    around 700 men from the Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir 
    to assist the Washington police on April 17, including specialists in human 
    and signals intelligence," the report states.
    Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Michael Milord confirmed that the Department 
    of Defense provided medical and "explosive ordinance support, as well as 
    food and housing to the National Guard and Washington police during the 
    April demonstrations."
    However, Milord insists the support amounted to no more than 30 Defense 
    Department personnel. The Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, U.S. Park Police 
    and Federal Bureau of Prisons also provided support to the Washington 
    police, Milord confirms.
    According to the newsletter, activist files are being circulated via the 
    Regional Information Sharing System (RISS), a network of computers used by 
    law enforcement agencies nationwide. Created by the feds to track organized 
    crime networks, RISS now serves more than 5,300 member law enforcement 
    agencies in 50 states, two Canadian provinces, Australia, Guam, the U.S. 
    Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It also networks to the FBI, the U.S. Drug 
    Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret 
    Service, U.S. Customs and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
    Intelligence Newsletter reports that among those currently labeled as 
    "terrorist" organizations in the RISS database are Global Justice (the 
    umbrella group that organized the April demonstrations in Washington), 
    Earth First, Greenpeace, the American Indian Movement, Zapatista National 
    Liberation Front and ACT-UP. A spokesperson from the Department of Justice 
    called the report "bogus" and said the RISS system does not list domestic 
    groups as "terrorists."
    "We don't collect information in any group that wants to demonstrate 
    anything, unless there is a crime being committed," insists Jerry Lynch, 
    director of Magloclen, one of the six RISS regional centers. "If there's 
    any individual or group that has as its purpose to commit crimes, we would 
    be entitled to collect information on them, as would any law enforcement 
    agency, " Lynch explains. "It is not the purpose of RISS to collect 
    information on civil disobedience protests."
    But the perception of nonviolent activists as terrorists has emerged 
    elsewhere as well. During demonstrations at the Republican National 
    Convention in Philadelphia, organizers were targeted for carrying 
    cellphones. John Sellers of the activist training group Ruckus Society was 
    arrested and held on an unprecedented $1 million bail after the 
    Philadelphia assistant district attorney argued that Sellers "facilitates 
    the more radical elements to accomplish their objective of violence and 
    mayhem." (Another judge later reduced the bail on constitutional grounds, 
    but misdemeanor charges against Sellers are still pending. Sellers denies 
    all charges.)
    A previously sealed police affidavit made public earlier this month details 
    how Philadelphia police used state troopers to infiltrate planning meetings 
    and the puppet warehouse, where activists were constructing giant, 
    satirical floats and other props. Some state troopers even posed as union 
    carpenters and helped build floats.
    More disturbing still, the affidavit cites a report by an obscure 
    right-wing think tank to contend that some of the protest groups are funded 
    by Communists and "Soviet" sympathizers.
    Specifically, the affidavit claims that PCAN, the Pennsylvania Consumer 
    Action Group, is a "United States conveyer for People's Global Action 
    (PGA), a self-styled 'leaderless' international network of groups opposed 
    to the global market economy. Funds for the PGA ... allegedly originate 
    with Communist and leftist parties and from sympathetic trade unions. Other 
    funds reportedly come from the former Soviet-allied World Federation of 
    Trade Unions."
    In fact, People's Global Action is the international umbrella group that 
    formed two years ago in Geneva to help launch the WTO protests in Seattle. 
    And PCAN is a consumer rights group in Reading, Pa. While PCAN organized 
    the permitted and peaceful "unity march" that led off the GOP protests on 
    July 30, it had nothing to do with the street blockades that took place 
    later that week.
    The affidavit attributes its information to a report by the Maldon 
    Institute, a private think tank funded by conservative multimillionaire 
    Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife is best known for financing several 
    investigations of President Clinton in recent years. Maldon Institute 
    director John H. Rees is a contributor to the right-wing John Birch Society 
    and publishes a newsletter devoted to "intelligence-gathering" which is 
    distributed to police.
    The affidavit's red-baiting shocked protest lawyers and civil libertarians. 
    "For many of us, it brings back the worst memories of J. Edgar Hoover and 
    the flagrant abuses of the FBI during the '40s and '50s ... right on up to 
    the '60s and '70s," says Larry Frankel, executive director of the 
    Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union.
    Philadelphia police are barred from conducting undercover investigations of 
    political groups without mayoral consent because of a 1987 lawsuit filed by 
    the ACLU. Both prior to and during the GOP Convention, police and city 
    officials repeatedly denied that they had infiltrated protest groups, a 
    fact which leads ACLU legal director Stephan Presser to contend that the 
    cops used state police to do "an end run" around the law.
    Police and city officials have declined to comment, noting that the GOP 
    protesters are still being prosecuted.
    More repressive measures have taken place in cities where media scrutiny 
    was not so high. In Minneapolis last July, the FBI was brought in to 
    oversee preemptive measures on activists aiming to disrupt the 
    International Society of Animal Geneticists meeting. Claiming that large 
    quantities of ammonium nitrate had been stolen from a nearby storage 
    facility, and that a cyanide bomb had been detonated in a McDonald's 
    restaurant (it was a smoke bomb), the federal Drug Enforcement Agency raided
    one of the collective houses where anarchists had been organizing, several 
    days before the protest. A dozen were arrested and several hospitalized 
    during the raid. Charges against all but one were eventually dropped.
    Last May, undercover police disguised as activists went so far as to 
    provide a "secure" apartment in Calgary for a "communications team" set up 
    by John Parnell of the Ruckus Society to advise protesters during the World 
    Petroleum Congress. The Congress, which drew no more than 300 
    demonstrators, was defended by some 2,500 law enforcement officers.
    According to Parnell, the undercovers (a police detective, a Canadian 
    Mountie and a customs official) met him outside the convergence space where 
    activists were meeting and led him to an apartment, where they helped him 
    set up his gear and even helped out with logistics. Undercovers were also 
    among those carrying radios and Nextel cellphones on the streets. "It was 
    surreal," says Parnell, "I was listening to people talking on the radio 
    that were monitoring us."
    Parnell, a 52-year-old communications geek who installed radio systems for 
    Witness for Peace during the Contra struggle in Nicaragua, is no stranger 
    to police surveillance. "These guys were good," he says of the Canadian 
    While global law enforcement authorities step up their surveillance of 
    activists, activists in turn are using technology to keep their eyes on 
    police. During protests in Seattle, Washington, Philadelphia and Los 
    Angeles, activists monitored police communications, in some cases 
    live-streaming feeds picked up off police radio scanners over the Internet.
    As the FBI is well aware, independent media centers, information hubs set 
    up by activists in cities across the U.S. and Europe, have played an 
    increasing role in helping protesters to both coordinate actions and 
    control the spin on events.
    An Aug. 1 FBI advisory to corporate security officials and police reads, 
    "Based on the increasing priority that independent media centers appear to 
    have received by protests and activists organizations after N30 [the 
    November 30 demonstrations against the WTO], the coverage will likely 
    attempt to record law enforcement operations, particularly during the 
    marches, and even more so if physical response is used by local law 
    About the writer:
    Sarah Ferguson is a freelance writer in New York who writes frequently 
    about activism.

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