DHS Fusion Centers Monitored Occupy Wall Street Activities Using Powerful Tools Like… Google… And Twitter

from the blowing-money-fast dept

The government’s extreme reactions to the Occupy Wall Street movement have been well-detailed here at Techdirt. The fact that most of what the Occupy movement did was protect free speech seemed to be lost on the many agencies — both at local and national levels — that opened investigations or abused their power in order to silence protesters.

The New York Times has obtained several documents detailing the DHS Fusion Centers’ involvement in providing intel and investigative services during the nationwide spread of Occupy protests. What the documents show is a mismanaged hydra of input, each with its own ideas about what should be considered worthy of investigation.

When the Occupy protests spread across the country three years ago, state and local law enforcement officials went on alert. In Milwaukee, officials reported that a group intended to sing holiday carols at “an undisclosed location of ‘high visibility.’ ” In Tennessee, an intelligence analyst sought information about whether groups concerned with animals, war, abortion or the Earth had been involved in protests.

And in Washington, as officials braced for a tent encampment on the National Mall, their counterparts elsewhere sent along warnings: a link to a video of Kansas City activists who talked of occupying congressional offices and a tip that 15 to 20 protesters from Boston were en route. “None of the people are known to be troublemakers,” one official wrote in an email.

The definition of “terrorism” has become incredibly fluid in the years following the 9/11 attacks. Consequently, much of what was determined to be of interest to the Department of Homeland Security was nothing more than the act of protesting, something that has been a part of this nation since its very beginning. More than 4,000 pages were released to the New York Times, detailing the worries of multiple law enforcement agencies around the country. While there seems to be no evidence of outright surveillance (read: interception of communications), there is evidence that many agencies viewed those in the movement as persons of interest.

While some agencies (like Tennessee’s) seemed to lapse into a state of paranoia, finding any sort of “social movement” to be possibly suspect:

The Boston Regional Intelligence Center, one of the most active centers, issued scores of bulletins listing hundreds of events including a protest of “irresponsible lending practices,” a food drive and multiple “yoga, faith & spirituality” classes.

Others rightly recognized that Occupy protests were Constitutionally-protected and opted out of providing intel.

An intelligence officer at the Delaware center responded to an inquiry about Occupy with an email that said, “Our fusion center has distanced itself from the movement because of 1st Amendment rights and because we have not seen any criminal activity to date.”

Tragicomically, reports also portray activities such as not shopping as cause for concern.

The report examined protesters’ “attitude towards retail,” suggested that business could be disrupted on the day after Thanksgiving and listed several “specific known threats.” They included credit card detractors equipped with scissors at malls and posters offering “help for people who want to put an end to mounting debt and extortionate interest rates with one simple cut” and a group of people who had declared on a website that they would “intentionally forgo the shopping frenzy.”

To be clear, large-scale protests are something local law enforcement should be prepared for, and some intelligence gathering is to be expected. Protests like these, including those specifically aimed at disrupting businesses, travel, etc., should expect some sort of law enforcement response. But when it transfers to a national level, the local response aspect is lost, buried under a deluge of overblown concerns and the Fusion Centers’ ability to see terrorism in nearly every act — even those protected by the Constitution.

Once you get past the potential chilling effects of the Fusion Centers’ overenthusiastic collecting of Occupy information, you arrive at something just as upsetting: it’s a complete waste of taxpayer funds, something a Congressional investigation uncovered two years ago. (Of course, the DHS has yet to be held accountable for its failings…) It would be one thing if the DHS’ worst aspects actually resulted in useful leads and the prevention of domestic terrorism. At least then, the agency would be able to justify the millions of dollars handed out to Fusion Centers. But when your “intelligence gathering” could be performed by anyone with a functional knowledge of the web, you’re not really in the “intelligence-gathering” business, no matter what awesome, go-team-USA nameplate is hanging over the door.

It appears that they kept track of Occupy the same way everybody else did if they were so inclined—they looked stuff up online about them and summarized it. The documents are full of links to news stories and videos posted online. One e-mail sent out to multiple fusion centers simply explains how to use Google and Twitter to track publicly listed Occupy activities in various cities.

This appraisal by Julian Sanchez is even harsher. The prized Fusion Centers offer nothing that can’t be provided by local law enforcement — a lack of service we, as taxpayers, pay a premium for.

But even leaving aside any concerns about First Amendment–chilling effects, there’s simply no reason for the federal government to be footing any of the bill for local police functions. If, as it seems, fusion centers serve no real homeland security purpose, let’s shut them down and assume municipal cops are perfectly capable of carrying out traditional crowd control functions without help from Washington.

The Fusion Centers have done very little to shore up America’s counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they’ve created huge databases of First Amendment-protected activities portrayed as potential terrorism, from people photographing public buildings and structures, to protesters threatening to avoid Black Friday sales. You may not be able to put a price tag on safety, but you can definitely make a very good guess as to how much money’s been wasted.

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Comments on “DHS Fusion Centers Monitored Occupy Wall Street Activities Using Powerful Tools Like… Google… And Twitter”

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Ninja (profile) says:


Aha, Google! The shilling is strong in you Masnick (??) but you can’t deny the fact that they are selling information to the Fusion centers! You stated it yourself!

*Marcus songs playing in the background*


Ahem. And they criticize people spending money on Dutch Wives. Sounds like a better investment than those Fusion Centers.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Well dissent is a crime.
“Free Speech Zones” – the first steps were small, sold under the guise of safety…
Then the horrible happened.
In our fear we embraced Big Brother to protect us “Good People” tm from the “Bad People” tm.
We allowed them to bend the rule of law, because they would never use them against us “Good People” tm.
We willingly allowed them to go after those who challenged the status quo, believing anyone who disagreed with the majority needed to be stopped as a terrorist out to destroy us all.
We pay for them to protect corporations from protest.
We pay them to learn of credible death threats, but never inform the targets because they are undesirable. The media might change the well crafted narrative with that sort of information… that a group peacefully protesting has people plotting to murder them for daring to protest.

We spend more money to find more things to pursue, that require more money in an endless cycle of growth and the feeble returns diminish more and more. They have the ability to spy on every citizen of the country in violation of the law, and have not a single feather in their cap to justify this dragnet… but they need more or something horrible will happen.

Something horrible has happened, we believed the hype and now find ourselves needing to shout with one voice that enough is enough. That the old saying is true, we gave up our freedoms for safety… and we have neither now.

More and more people are waking up the cold reality… our government is the worst possible terrorist… and we fund them to terrorize us.

Whatever says:

Re: Re:

Wow, you are sour.

The reality is that the Occupy movements did a great deal of harm, and very little good – for anyone. Except that one protester girl who left the occupy movement for a well paying job with the 1%ers, she clearly saw the light 🙂

Occupy represents not the failings of the government or some vague corruption cause, rather it represents the failing of modern society to have self control and respect for others. It shows a near fanatical self righteous “I know better” attitude that is one of the cornerstones of the decline of the American empire (and the western way of life).

You haven’t given up your freedom for safety, rather the US and much of the world faces the problem of re-balancing public safety versus broad personal freedoms. The problem here is that a smaller subset of the population screams for their 2nd amendment rights, while often causing the very problems that they rise up against.

Nobody wants to be responsible, and when the government of the people takes action to protect the people, some of those people rebel. The nanny state as some call it is a direct result of a scoiety less and less able to take care of itself or to function as a whole without significant intervention.

Cold reality: You (and all of those around you) are the cause of the problem, for you are the people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“it represents the failing of modern society to have self control and respect for others.”

Oh, so now protesting and disagreeing with you is considered disrespecting you.

“It shows a near fanatical self righteous “I know better” attitude that is one of the cornerstones of the decline of the American empire (and the western way of life).”

The irony is that you don’t see how this ‘I know better’ attitude is reflected in this very statement. Why should I believe you know any better to take you seriously?

“You haven’t given up your freedom for safety, rather the US and much of the world faces the problem of re-balancing public safety versus broad personal freedoms.”

What does suppressing protests against bail outs and government corruption have to do with providing us with safety?

“The problem here is that a smaller subset of the population screams for their 2nd amendment rights, while often causing the very problems that they rise up against.”

So now protesting against bail outs and corruption is a cause of corruption? and I don’t remember the wall street protests being about the second amendment. and the small subset of the population that’s ruining it for everyone else is the ruling class.

“when the government of the people takes action to protect the people … The nanny state as some call it is a direct result of a scoiety less and less able to take care of itself or to function as a whole without significant intervention.”

There you go again, this time with a government ‘knows better’ attitude reflecting your ‘I know better’ attitude in proclaiming your belief that government knows better all the while not seeing the hypocrisy and iron in your own statements. At least this time you seem to tacitly acknowledge that the government and what it does is the minority while the majority (society as a whole) disagrees with it. Yet we should believe that some minority knows better what’s best for the majority.

“Cold reality: You (and all of those around you) are the cause of the problem, for you are the people.”

Again with your admission, contradicting your previous statement, that we are the majority. and we should just believe that government knows better because they are the gifted minority.

Heck, most of these people can’t even read and they’re being controlled by lobbyists that have little intellectual merit themselves. Your very own nonsensical, self contradicting, ramblings are proof of this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

and modern economic theory says that these sorts of bail outs are a bad thing and that the government shouldn’t intervene and they should let the market self correct. When most economists, modern economic theory, and, heck, even the media was against the bail outs for a hand full of politicians to then be persuaded by some lobbyists to grant this bail out who’s the one taking the ‘I know better’ attitude? Those protesting the bail outs or those handing them out despite the fact that modern economic theory, economists, and even the media (not that they matter) was against it.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The market cannot self-correct if it is not free to do so. When the banks are too big to fail, that’s failure right there.

When are we going to STOP PRETENDING there is such a thing as a free market? No amount of insisting it is or instituting policies that ignore that it’s not is going to free it up any more than it is already.

It’d take a hell of a lot of regulation (via anti-trust laws) to break up the incumbents to the point where they don’t have us all over a barrel. Cue Libertarian/anarcho-capitalist whining in 3…2…1…

They LOVE corporations so much they can’t bear the idea of interfering with them.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“the Occupy movements did a great deal of harm”
[citation needed]
Much of the claimed harm was actually those in power violating the rights of the citizens they took an oath to protect.
Tony Bologna – pepper sprayed detained women, later claiming ninja men managed to disappear from the net the women were inside leading to him accidentally pepper spraying not only them but his fellow officers. As he FLED the scene, he threatened more people. He lost a couple vacation days for violating the civil rights this country is founded on. The talking heads make it sound like these detained women did something wrong, yet the video footage of the entire thing shows they were calm, asking officers for instructions, and not a threat.

Perhaps you mean in Oakland where officers under federal scrutiny delayed throwing a flash bang into a crowd to cause the most damage not to people who were a threat but people who went forward to give aid to someone they had wounded. You know what kind of people attack those who offer aid are? Terrorists.

Perhaps you mean in TX where there was a live threat of Occupy members being killed by a sniper, and they never made those concerns public or alerted the target… but continued to look into the little old ladies who were going to protest in front of a bank.

Perhaps you mean the man arrested for daring to use chalk to protest a banks actions, where public servants acted to protect corporate interests in a massive overreaction tramping the citizens rights.

My freedom was taken away because ‘ZOMG TERRORISTS UNDER YOUR BED’. My freedom was taken away when we trained federal agents that being brown and following a religion makes them a terrorist. If we apply the same rule set then Christians are terrorists because some followers of the faith blew up abortion clinics.

The government spies on anyone it thinks might be a threat, which is EVERYONE. They violate the law using loop holes and secret rulings that would not pass the smell test if it was widely known. I’m sorry I offend you but go fuck yourself. I do not respect you because your magical thinking allows this sort of crap to continue, and the fact you feel everyone must agree with you is the entire fucking problem.

The entire country is bound up in this idiotic idea that you have to agree with me or you are wrong. We used to be able to find compromises, but now like spoiled children everyone has to have their own way. Or shall we spend more money trying to repeal The Affordable Care Act, investigate Benghazi one more time while wounded veterans are being fucked over by policies they voted into place – but want to place blame on a single person.

Perhaps Occupy was an attempt to get the powers that be to notice they no longer represent the people, but instead monied interests who don’t care who gets ground underfoot as long as they can steal a buck.

Perhaps your unwavering support of shredding the most scared rights this country was founded on is the problem. It seems you know better… perhaps read your own words.
I don’t think I have all of the answers, but I know there is a problem and I do what I can to try and get change to happen. Perhaps we need to worry less about getting a soundbite on faux news and wonder why the fuck children go hungry like we are a 3rd world nation… perhaps putting the people ahead of their own desire to amass more power and wealth should be a requirement to get elected… but then they reopened the door for them to do insider trading… because the rules don’t apply to the “important” people.

In closing… go fuck yourself again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The problem here is that a smaller subset of the population screams for their 2nd amendment rights, “

Yeah, those pesky “rights” are the real problem. If we just get rid of those, all the world’s other problems will just go away. Or, at least, we won’t have to listen to people complaining about them any more.

Anonymous Coward says:

All the jokes that conservatives make about Occupy are perhaps a feint. The government obviously feared what Occupy was about without realizing, at least at first, that the groups were too disorganized to accomplish their goals effectively. The jokes, then, are designed to dissuade any more attempts to organize a similar movement.

Anonymous Coward says:

about Anonymous


Analyst Notes: According to DHS reports, Anonymous has no formalized central leadership which has complicated law enforcement efforts to target illegal cyber activities engaged in by the group. DHS assesses with high confidence that Anonymous and associated groups will continue to exploit vulnerable publicly available web servers, web sites, computer networks, and other digital information mediums for the foreseeable future.

I assume they’re talking about the standard practice of targeting, entrapping, and blackmailing every leader that emerges in a dissident organization, to become both a snitch and an agent provocateur. (in addition to infiltrating the group with their own agents)

Police authorities made many arrests in the wake of “Operation Payback” – so it’s not like they’re completely powerless to do anything about Anonymous.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: about Anonymous

I assume they’re talking about the standard practice of targeting, entrapping, and blackmailing every leader that emerges in a dissident organization

I thought the standard practice was to find some sap that couldn’t possibly cause any actual damage, provide him with a fake network of associates, some fake bomb-making materials, a fake plan that relies on a bunch of fake other people, transport him to the fake target, and then arrest him for attempting a terrorist attack.

any moose cow word says:

Re: about Anonymous

Ironically, many of those systems exploits that groups like Anonymous use remain unpatched at the insistence of the CIA and NSA. Our own spy agencies are causing more economic harm than any hacker group. That and incompetent corporations who can’t even be bothered to update systems even after the patches are released. There are companies still running IE6 for fucksake!

Anonymous Coward says:

If the occupy movement had any specific demands it would have made a lot more sense. Their demands were ‘stop the corruption’ which is vague and ambiguous. Yes, it’s obvious to anyone that corruption is rampant in politics. Just look at 95+ year copy protection lengths and retroactive extensions. Just look at the extortion racket that our patent system has become. Just look at govt. established taxi cab monopolies, the hotel industry trying to manipulate politics to ban the competition, and govt. established broadcasting and cableco/broadband monopolies/duopolies being granted for commercial purposes resulting in higher prices for more commercials and the restriction of free speech. Look at the revolving door mess. Our laws are not a result of democracy. They’re a result of disproportionate corporate campaign contributions, revolving door favors, and back door dealings. It’s corrupt. We get that. But occupy wall street didn’t list any specific corruptions that should be dealt with. It just said ‘stop the corruption’ which doesn’t really mean much.

The protests to stop SOPA were much more effective besides not being nearly as big and enduring in terms of people on the streets. Why? Because there was a specific demand. Stop SOPA. It’s not rocket science. The politicians can’t play stupid and pretend they don’t know what’s being asked of them. What’s being asked of them is very specific, stop SOPA. and it worked.

beech says:

I’m sure James clapper would say that he totally wishes terrorists would only terrorize us one way, that way they could only watch them. But really, if you were a terrorist, wouldn’t you want to seem as innocent as possible? Like by not breaking any rules? Or behaving in accordance with your rights? Clearly any/all of those occupy people were terrorists and needed monitoring. .. because finding real terrorists is hard work.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Re:

Haven’t you heard? The NSA considers the lack of suspicious behavior suspicious behavior. If you aren’t breaking some law, they assume you’re trying to hide something. This twisted view by the NSA reclassifies EVERYONE as suspicious & potential terrorists who the NSA needs to ignore the Constitution to spy on.

The NSA also doesn’t like people who believe they have Rights. They consider exercising your Constitutional Rights as a terrorist threat.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Local Problems

From what I saw on the news about Occupy groups was they were not particularly well organized or led. Also, many low-lifes took the opportunity to engage in some questionable if not criminal activities (breaking and entering, vandalism, etc.). But none of the problems are that unusual to any large gathering. There will be scum who try to use it as covering for their illicit activities and the gathering may disrupt residents lives by its physical presence. Neither of these is terrorism or a national security threat.

Anonymous Coward says:

From what I saw on the news about Occupy groups was they were not particularly well organized or led.

Funny you should mention that, as one of the things driving the protests was opposition to overly centralized leadership and control. Part of the movement when on to demonstrate that such central control is not needed to deal with real problems, as in occupy sandy.

Regent says:


Intelligence gather isn’t a four letter word; it is a difficult undertaking, especially when surrounded by enemy forces, or within an enemy camp. Charge of Light Brigade, stuff. I had glimpse of a Fusion Center address in 2005, somewhere on Douglas Boulevard. Mt. Olympus. I found the address in a county board of supervisors report (2003). I haven’t seen an address since. The website shows a highway sign reading, “*** County Limits,” but provides nothing more than an email address. Then I 2019, who would have believed a residential office in the condo right next door.

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