by Mitzi Waltz
Local political spying is on the rise,
with help from above.
|LIKE A VAMPIRE who has developed a tolerance for garlic, Red Squads are back. Throughout the Cold War, these guardians of political compliance spied on and harassed law-abiding activists who veered too far left of the political center. Dedicated civil rights advocates and others fought back and won on local, state, and federal fronts. But their success was often short-lived. New technologies; new laws; and increased interaction among international, federal, military, state, and local law enforcement,||
intelligence agencies, and private
corporations are threatening not only to put
Red Squads back in business nationwide, but to
increase the scope of their power to pry, to
harm, and to imprison.
With the "International Communist Conspiracy" gone, Red Squads need a new raison d'ątre. Studies by RAND the Heritage Foundation, and several private companies in the security industry have provided proponents of the Surveillance State with both a
|rationale and a blueprint for action. First, these groups have presented research to the law enforcement community documenting that the public can be frightened by the specter of terrorism into accepting and even calling for increased spying. Second, after studying anti-terrorist measures from around the world, they have decided that multi-jurisdictional taskforces offer the best way to circumvent civilian oversight. For example, the RAND report Domestic Terrorism: A National Assessment of State and Local Preparedness,explicitly touts taskforce|
participation as a way to get around local
laws restricting political intelligence work,
and also promotes taskforces as a mechanism
for putting such operations on the local and
state agenda by providing funding, equipment,
publicity, and other inducements. And as we
shall see, in cities where it operates
counterterrorism taskforces, the FBI pressures
local police to ditch limits on political
The taskforce concept and the cooperation it engenders between local and federal
|agencies, has another benefit, according to this report: It allows federal agencies to obtain information on a broad range of activities that do not fall under the current legal definition of "terrorism," but that are of political interest. That's because local police are much more responsive to demands from large corporations and influential organizations. These groups often have significant influence over political or budgetary matters in the local arena and are not loath to use their clout to discipline||
"uncooperative" police. The RAND study reports
that local police will generally share freely
what they gather with higher-level agencies.
This back-scratching is not a new practice:A 1976 General Accounting Office report about FBI investigative protocol noted that local and state police were the bureau's second most prolific source of information, surpassed only by its own informants. In fact, in these days of grant-based "entrepreneurial" law-enforcement funding, the locals had better
cooperate: Their budgets may depend on federal
grants based on performing particular types of
The taskforce trend began with the post-riot commissions of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As an official Department of Justice (DoJ) history of community policing puts it, "The police force's inability to handle urban unrest in an effective and appropriate manner brought demands by civic leaders and politicians for a reexamination of police practices."
The 1967 Kerner Commission and 1968 Eisenhower Commission focused on the growing divide
between police and "civilians" as it was
angrily expressed in the Watts riot and other
uprisings. The recommendations of these bodies
touted police-community dialogue as the key to
curbing such unrest, expressing the hope that
federal oversight could end abuse of
protesters and minorities by "rogue cops."
This goal was the foundation for community
policing as we know it today. Later
commissions that concentrated on reducing
street crime looked to federal agencies to
improve training and equipment in local law
Although community policing has not been as successful in curbing street crime as
proponents might have hoped, it has been a
public relations success and enjoys the
support of many well-intentioned liberals. But
heirs to the Red Squads have found it an
excellent mechanism as well. Savvy law
enforcement types realized that under the
community policing rubric, cops, community
groups, local companies, private foundations,
citizen informants, and federal agencies could
form alliances without causing public outcry.
Riding on fears from the trumped-up missing
children campaign of the 1980s to the
anti-drug hysteria of the 1990s community
policing has been the public face of
under-the-radar efforts to create
an impenetrable web of surveillance and
And not surprisingly in this
age of globalization, the taskforce concept benefits
from international support as well. Several
anti-terrorism summits held by the G-7 nations
since 1984 have advocated building strong
national and international multi-agency
taskforces, based on the models set up in
Germany and the UK.
FINISHING THE JOB
COINTELPRO revelations of the 1970s briefly
turned federal intelligence agencies into
political hot potatoes. But collective memory
is short. In step with RAND's 1992 and 1995
recommendations, regional taskforces that
directly address political and social activism
are now proliferating, and existing systems
have been strengthened. The previously missing
ingredients appropriate technologies and a
legal framework for cooperation are now
falling into place.
For example, the Department of
|Justice's Regional Information Sharing Systems Program (RISS) includes six regional data- and equipment-sharing projects and has more than quadrupled the number of participating agencies since 1982. Most of this growth has occurred since 1990. From 1993-95 alone, RISS had a 47 percent increase in the number of database inquiries; just last year, it achieved full electronic connectivity among the centers. Each regional RISS project coordinates the intelligence efforts of hundreds of municipal,county,state, and federal agencies, as well as several Canadian|
High-tech equipment is loaded to RISS members.
provinces, the District of Columbia, and US
intelligence operatives in Mexico. Funding for
these centers and grants for member agencies
are administered through the Bureau of Justice
Officially, RISS projects concentrate on drug and organized crime activities, but since Criminal Intelligence units are used in many jurisdictions to surveil political suspects as well, their personnel also have access to information that RISS systems store. RISS documents and regulations make
|it clear that its databases are used to exchange data about politically-motivated crimes. This phenomenon was particularly obvious in a set of guidelines passed by the DoJ in late 1993 to curb abuses of criminal intelligence data banks in such cases, presumably at least in part owing to the Anti Defamation League (ADL) intelligence scandal earlier that year. The rules included barring data gathered in violation of local, state or federal law; mandating security measures and penalties for unauthorized dissemination of data; and prohibiting the sharing of data on lawful||
political activity through taskforce
It is uncertain whether the limits set in these regulations have been carefully observed. When sent to taskforce members, the DoJ ruling was accompanied by detailed responses to objections received from participating local police agencies. These responses appeared to serve as advice for circumventing the new rules. They helpfully note, for example, that off-site databases under private control might be used to store data, such as field interrogation records,that don't
meet DoJ criteria.
ANTI-TERRORISM IN ACTION
recruit officers on urban police forces to
work directly with the FBI. They are funded in
part by the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, which
authorized $468 million for the FBI's
counterterrorism and counterintelligence
Until an FBI proposal to add a new center in San Francisco sparked a public fight, the program was almost completely unknown outside the Bureau. (See p. 24.) San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown opposed the center's establishment, saying that he would "not go
along with or support any attempt to
circumvent San Francisco's current policy on
surveillance." As a result of activist
pressure and repeated scandals involving
political spying, including the ADL case, San
Francisco police regulations outlaw
surveillance of lawful political activities.
While FBI activities that become public are subject to citizen pressure, the agency's internal operations rarely see sunshine. The recent revelations about mishandling and manufacturing of evidence at the FBI's crime
lab the first whistleblowing in years to
break the code of silence hint at the extent
of the problems. Like the labs, which operated
for decades without safeguards, the FBI's
internal databases conceal abuses. And since
they are not subject to the DoJ regulations or
oversight, no one can assess how much
erroneous or illegally gathered information
What is apparent is that both the FBI's internal and external political intelligence
|systems are extensive: Its Terrorist Information System contains data on more than 200,000 individuals and 3,000 groups, institutions and businesses. It is cross-referenced with criminal records; interview and surveillance transcripts; information on associates, contacts, victims and witnesses related to people in the database; plus financial, telephone, and other data if collected or obtained from other sources, such as the DoJ's FinCEN databases, which are used to track and analyze financial||
data linked to criminal suspects.
Moreover, the National Crime Information Center 2000 (NCIC 2000) project now under way will extend the process of linking FBI information with other database systems.
THE "GIGO" FACTOR
of high-tech tools, criminal intelligence
officers and counterterrorism investigators
increasingly rely on so-called Confidential
Reliable Informants. In drug cases, CRIs tend
to be motivated by money, personal animus, or
promises of leniency for their own offenses.
One need only look at the recent case involving Qubilah Shabazz and Michael Fitzpatrick to see what can happen when financial incentives and political
|motivation drive federal investigations.Fitzpatrick, a freelance informer with an expensive drug habit and a long history of spying for cash, attempted to coerce Shabazz (the daughter of Malcolm X and a former high school classmate of Fitzpatrick's) into supporting an assassination attempt on Louis Farrakhan. Presenting himself as a suitor and playing on Shabazz's belief that Farrakhan was complicit in her father's assassination, Fitzpatrick had his FBI handlers tape their motel room conversations.||Fitzpatrick "never worried about his own illegal conduct, because quite correctly he thought that no matter what he did, he would be able to get off by ensnaring somebody else," said Shabazz's defense attorney Ronald Kuby. Letting "a small-time dirtbag" like Fitzpatrick create and then sell an entrapment scheme to the FBI, Kuby said, "resulted in humiliation and a serious threat of imprisonment for the innocent target, and increased paranoia among those activists whose paths have crossed|
Unlike drug snitches, political CRIs sometimes serve private clients as well as the police, collecting cash from political opponents of the groups on which they spy. Many organizations also field private investigators who then share the (frequently dubious) information they have collected with law enforcement. Regardless of who pays the bills, one result of private intelligence operations can be an increase in agent provocateur activity, as paid informants and private security operatives attempt to justify their paychecks. In any case, whether public or private, whether snitching about drugs, politics or
Local police defined "terrorism" much more broadly than the feds, often applying it to environmental -ist, animal rights,& union activities that affect large, powerful employers.
Reliable Informants are often
anything but reliable.
As computer programmers say, GIGO: garbage
in, garbage out. In the case of
number-crunching computer operations, the
result is bad data; in the case of files on
human beings, "garbage in" could literally
mean an unjust deportation,long jail term, or
death sentence under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism
Another potentially dangerous application of the GIGO principle is provided by the Clinton administration's October 1996 airline rules. They include passenger "profiling" and movement- tracking via databases, and could easily lead to airport detentions, missed flights, and false arrests. Considering
the US government's history of harassment and
even murder of activists and the recent
revelations about the FBI lab, the easy
retrieval of dubious data takes on a very
sinister cast for those with long memories.
|on information-gathering and data manipulation. Most of the technology needed originated in the military, and the Government Technology Transfer Program has played an important part through the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ) National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, and also through the federal government's four regional technology centers at the Ames, Rome, Los Alamos,and Sandia National Laboratories,which had previously serviced the military and its contractors alone.||
"Command and control" software developed by
the military to enhance communications and
information exchange between ground forces and
their commanders can be used to manage police
operations during demonstrations or civil
unrest. It may include rapid-access data
banks, scene mapping (increasingly using
satellite-based GIS technology), and
field-command enhancements using high-tech
Powerful databases such as the Modernized Intelligence Data
|Base (MIDB) project currently being revamped by TRW Systems Integration Group for Army Intelligence; NCIC 2000, which is being developed by MITRE Corp. for the FBI; and others let police programmers link activists with their causes, associates, employers, criminal records, mug shots and fingerprints, spending habits, and even tax information. These information tools which meld together details collected by local police and higher-level analysis and background from federal agencies form the backbone of the taskforces' increasing power.||The computerized command and control system implemented for the $300 million Atlanta Olympics' security system is a case in point. Tennesse's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) delivered it to the Atlanta Police Department well in advance of the Olympics as a replacement for the APD's paper-based scheduling system. The system included events-simulation capabilities, personnel-deployment features, interactive mapping, and various field communications features to facilitate||military-style control of a large urban area. It is based on software developed for the Gulf War's Operation Desert Storm, and prepared by a public-private partnership that included Oak Ridge, which is administered by Lockheed Martin for the federal government; the Center for the Application of Science Toward Law Enforcement; and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the office of the "drug czar." Why would the president's top drug-war officials and a nuclear-research lab run by a major defense contractor be involved in such a project?|
Bob Hunter of ORNL's Computational
Physics and Engineering Division said in a
corporate press release that "the Office of
National Drug Control Policy also wants this
system to be readily transferable to other
events, such as a California earthquake, that
could shatter existing infrastructures."
The drug czar is not in charge of natural-disaster planning that's the job of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).However, reporters covering the fall
of Oliver North discovered that from FEMA's
inception in 1979, the agency was handling
domestic counterinsurgency planning as well.
In 1984, it went so far as to hold national
exercises for rounding up and detaining aliens
and radicals in rural camps.
It is not known if the Office of National Drug Control Policy is developing tools for carrying out the same sort of mission.
|data gathered by multi-jurisdictional taskforces is that, as noted earlier, local police are very susceptible to corporate pressure. For example, RAND found that local law enforcement agencies defined "terrorism" much more broadly than did their federal counterparts, often applying the label to environmentalist, animal rights, and union activities that affect large, powerful employers. For example, citizens working to close down the contaminated Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southern Washington report being trailed and harassed by local police working in concert with private security officers. Another instance of the incestuous|
|relationship that can develop between police and corporations was presented by the year-long Detroit newspaper strike. The newspaper companies involved actually reimbursed the local police to the tune of $2.1 million for services rendered in helping break the strike. Couple this with the Anti-Terrorism Act which redefines any form of violent crime and many types of previously lawful political advocacy as "terrorism" for the purposes of federal prosecution and the possibilities are truly chilling.||Large corporations such as IBM and Westinghouse have their own powerful security and counterterrorism divisions. These companies have high-level clout and, more importantly, they have government connections through their military subsidiaries. While in the past, corporations have had more influence over other federal intelligence agencies, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Intelligence Assessment Team, the Department||of Energy's intelligence unit and various military intelligence entities, they have recently found an increasingly sympathetic ear at the FBI. One of the Bureau's most important recent projects was a complete survey of potential terrorist targets that included hundreds of privately owned facilities. It has pledged to come up with plans to protect such targets and to respond to emergencies, tasks that will necessitate working even more closely with corporate and military security.|
In addition, both the federal government and
its partner corporations have privatized many
security and surveillance functions, such as
guarding military facilities and handling
international airport security. A few elite
companies get the nod from both government and
corporate clients for these sorts of jobs,
most notably the Wackenhut Corporation, which
is in charge of details ranging from Exxon oil
facilities to the Nevada nuclear test site.
Such firms maintain their own extensive
databases, and can undertake projects on
behalf of their clients outside the purview of
laws on political intelligence-gathering.
BEYOND BASIC INTELLIGENCE
tools, many of which seem
Police programm -ers link activists with their causes, associates, employers, criminal records, mug shots and fingerprints, spending habits, and even tax information.
tailor-made for illegal
eavesdropping, is also putting a variety of
new surveillance technologies into policehands. Speech-enhancement devices for
monitoring faraway or muffled conversations,
speaker-identification software similar to the
"voice-print" devices used in some corporate
security systems, software-based language
translation, passive sensor systems and
long-range radar surveillance technologies are
just some of the projects on tap at the
Northeast Regional Center, one of the four
Government Technology Transfer Program centers
run by National Law Enforcement and
Corrections Technology Centers at the Rome,
Ames, Sandia, and Los Alamos National Labs.
Computer technology has also facilitated quick
|and cheap surveillance of vast numbers of electronic communications, from phone calls, to faxes, to e-mail. A quick browse of police- technology web sites reveals surging interest in the acquisition and use of pen registers, which collect phone numbers called but don't record conversations. The Supreme Court decided in Smith v. Maryland (1979) that pen registers do not perform a search as defined under the Fourth Amendment, and can||
even be used without demonstrating probable cause,
much less obtaining a warrant a simple
subpeona to the phone company will do.
Federal use of such devices doubled between 1987 and 1993. With its low cost and easy accessibility, pen register data has been embraced even more fervently by local and state police for example, the
York Enterprise Crime Unit, which covers
organized crime activities, more than doubled
its use of pen registers in 1995 alone.
Most police database systems for criminal intelligence are now set up to store and cross-reference pen-register data routinely, and this information is not subject to the DoJ regulations governing RISS databases that were mentioned earlier.
Scrutiny of phone records is also made easier
through technology. In the Oklahoma City
bombing case investigation, the FBI examined
nearly 10,000 telephone calls to or from
radical-right figures, including a lawyer
suing the FBI over the Branch Davidian deaths
at Waco, Texas.
The taskforce structure itself
|dictates how such powers are brought to bear on local activists. These technologies are put into the hands of local officers who have been assigned the point position in a national "war on terrorism" by their federal taskforce partners. When the data and permission to use them are coupled with pressure from||corporations and their front groups to watch particular types of activists, not to mention the availability of budget-padding grants for pursuing political targets, you have a recipe for repression. And oversight, if any, will depend largely as it did in the days of the Red Squads on the vigilance of citizens and their effectiveness in fighting back.|