California Fusion Center Tracked Anti-Police Protests, Sent Info To 14,000 Police Officers

from the BOLO:-free-speech-in-public dept

As anti-police brutality protests have spread across the country in the wake of the yet another killing of an unarmed Black man by a white police officer, so has surveillance. Another set of documents found in the “Blue Leaks” stash shows a California-based “fusion center” spreading information about First Amendment-protected activities to hundreds of local law enforcement agencies. Pulling in information from all over — including apparent keyword searches of social media accounts — the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) distributed info on protests and protesters to officers across the state.

One way that NCRIC shares information is by sending bulk emails to its partners. Since the protests began, these have included vague, fear-inducing memos from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI about the threat of violent civil unrest, as well as more specific information, including emails sent at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day to more than 14,000 police officers across Northern California with updated lists of Black Lives Matter protests. During the 13-day period covered in the hacked files, over half of the bulk emails NCRIC sent were related to monitoring and policing the largely peaceful protests.

The information flowed both ways, with law enforcement recipients sending in their own tips in the form of “Suspicious Activity Reports.” Everything gathered is combined to form the basis of the NCRIC’s daily email blasts — several of which included information about upcoming protests.

According to the documents in the Blue Leaks stash, NCRIC sent out updated lists of protests every day between May 31 and June 6. (The exfiltration of law enforcement documents occurred around June 6th, terminating this chain of correspondence.) These covered everything from anti-police violence protests to peace marches to remembrance events for victims of COVID-19. These were accompanied with notes from the NCRIC saying these updates would arrive twice a day and were for “situational awareness only.” Even so, the focus on First Amendment activity is concerning.

“The fact that fusion centers are sending out lists of protests and other activities that are protected by the First Amendment is constitutionally suspect,” Vasudha Talla, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told The Intercept. “They may try to justify it by attaching text alluding to the potentiality of certain criminal activity, but it’s clear from the documents that you showed me that there is no reasonable suspicions attached to any of these events.” She added, “Really what we have here is overbroad collection and dissemination of people’s protected First Amendment activity, and it’s untethered to any basis in the law.”

That’s just one problem. The NCRIC says it’s no longer doing this, but unless someone exfiltrates some more documents, it’s kind of tough to tell whether the fusion center is telling the truth. And a hacking might be what it’s going to take, because the NCRIC unilaterally declared the documents exempt from California public records laws. The boilerplate attached to each email blast probably won’t hold up in court, but it at least forces records requesters to go to court to have any chance of obtaining them through less-illicit means.

The NCRIC — with the input of the FBI — also sent out blasts detailing supposed threats from social media users. The screenshots of tweets deprived of context were treated as threats against law enforcement, including one that said nothing more than “see a blue lives matter flag, destroy a blue lives matter flag.” This tweet formed the basis of an FBI Situational Information Report that declared this a threat to “law enforcement supporters.”

The NCRIC also forwarded dubious information from the Department of Homeland Security to these 14,000 officers. An uptick in downloads of police scanner apps prompted the DHS to claim “well-coordinated groups” had “potentially compromised” law enforcement communications, ignoring the fact police scanners have been used by citizens for years to listen in on law enforcement activity. Snagging a publicly available signal doesn’t “compromise” anything.

Another document suggested “violent opportunists” were traveling to protests with “milk or other liquids” to mitigate the effects of crowd control chemicals. Again, this ignores the fact that many peaceful protesters also do the same thing for the same reason — not just “violent opportunists.” Pitching it this way makes it appear as though anyone trying to defend themselves against tear gas is a potential criminal, rather than someone just trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.

It’s not that law enforcement agencies shouldn’t be aware of protests in their area. They should, as they’ll generally be called on to police them. But this can be done by law enforcement agencies themselves, with an eye on limiting information gathering to what is needed to ensure the maximum amount of safety for everyone. But that’s not what’s happening here. This is state and federal law enforcement working together to treat First Amendment activity as inherently suspicious or dangerous. The communications treat normal protest activity as novel, frightening, and adjacent to terrorism.

The fusion center is supposed to be providing usable intelligence, not just a bunch of random tweets coupled with dire sounding cop-speak. And this “intel” is being dropped into a charged atmosphere of “us vs. them,” where the “us” is finally starting to realize the “them” is legitimately angry and capable of being a catalyst for changes law enforcement officers won’t like. This encourages cops to treat peaceful protesters as threats, when all demonstrators are really threatening is law enforcement’s complacency and lack of accountability.

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Comments on “California Fusion Center Tracked Anti-Police Protests, Sent Info To 14,000 Police Officers”

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22 Comments
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That One Guy (profile) says:

One and the same

This encourages cops to treat peaceful protesters as threats, when all demonstrators are really threatening is law enforcement’s complacency and lack of accountability.

When a system becomes as corrupt as US policing threatening their indifference towards the rights and lives of the public and their almost complete lack of accountability is ‘threatening cops’, as they’ve become so intertwined that the two are essentially two parts of the same thing.

It would be one thing to advocate for trimming out the small amount of rot on an otherwise ‘good apple’, but at this point the apple is almost entirely rotten surface to core such that throwing out the entire apple and replacing it makes more sense than trying to save the tiny little specks of non-rot left, and those in the rotten section rightly see this as a threat to their power and authority and are lashing out in return.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One and the same

Sorry to have to say so, but this post is bigotry, pure and simple. I do not dispute that there are some (and almost certainly many and quite possibly most) law enforcement organizations that fit this description, it is most definitely not true of all. There are some decent police departments that honestly try to protect the citizens in their charge, prevent and reduce crime in their areas and legally deal appropriately with criminals in their jurisdiction. Treating all police – and more importantly all police departments – as equally corrupt is just as bad as treating all members of a racial group as gang members simply because a lot in your neighbourhood are known to be so.

If you want to generalize, consider the law. Thanks to obscenities like "qualified immunity", the courts, the supreme court in particular, have created a corrupt legal system that protects criminals with badges (so long as they don’t commit any of the few crimes that are already considered exempt from QI. In the US the law is corrupt, and this is nation-wide, not varying from precinct to precinct and department to department. Rather than starting by defunding/refomring particular departments, a better approach would be to first purge the corruption from the law. Unfortunately with half the political classes unwilling to see any wrong doing in badge holders and the other half obsessed with the low-level people taking advantage of the corruption and the source being the supreme court itself, this is very unlikely. So long as police can abuse with impunity, some will and some departments will become rotten barrels. Until the root cause is removed, reform will be a game of "whack-a-mole" that the government doesn’t even bother playing half the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, you can. Bigotry is intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself. Police think that everyone not covered by the thin blue illegal line is an enemy, who might kill them at any time. I have a different opinion then they do and we both could validly consider the other to be bigotted. Just like the politics in America right now. If the left doesn’t understand they are at least as bigoted as the right, they are deluding themselves into another disappointing election result.

Bigotry shows itself many ways, the small ones like stealing and destroying campaign signs that you disagree with and larger ones like beating a suspect, who ends up to be having a seizure, not ignoring the orders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

" If the left doesn’t understand they are at least as bigoted as the right"

Ok, after referring to a dictionary, I see your point. Let’s examine this a bit.

Some claim the planet is flat while others claim the planet is a sphere. One "side" has supporting data while the other does not. Are they both opinions and therefore all these people are bigots?
I guess so, but that is not how the term is used in the general public.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Bigotry is intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.

Groovy, quick questions then: Is it bigotry to think that racists are scum and should not be ‘tolerated’ on social media? Is it bigotry for a store owner to tell someone ‘you make one more sexist remark towards our staff and your ass is out, because we will not tolerate that here’? Is it bigotry hold to the proposition that people would fight against equal treatment under the law for all, no matter skin color, gender or sexual orientation are primitive hick who never made it past the cooties phase, their position deserving no respect?

If the left doesn’t understand they are at least as bigoted as the right, they are deluding themselves into another disappointing election result.

Bender, if you would…

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Bigotry is intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.

Yeah, no, it’s not — at least as far as the colloquial usage of the term is concerned. You can be prejudiced towards cops, sure. But “police officer” is a career, not an ethnic identity or a sexual orientation. You can’t be bigoted towards someone based only on their career because they can always take off their uniform.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

  • If the left doesn’t understand they are at least as bigoted as the right

As a conservative who actually believes in small government: Fuck the police, and the bootlickers who cheer while they abuse law-abiding Americans.

It’s not bigoted to support small government. It’s not bigoted to support the 1st Amendment.

Go suck off Trump somewhere else.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: One and the same

Sorry to have to say so, but this post is bigotry, pure and simple.

Not unless you want to stretch the definition of the term well past the breaking point and render it essentially useless.

I do not dispute that there are some (and almost certainly many and quite possibly most) law enforcement organizations that fit this description, it is most definitely not true of all.

As the (somewhat hyperbolic) saying goes, ‘99% of police give the rest a bad name’. I’ve never claimed and never would that all police are corrupt scum, or even that a majority are outright corrupt but when you hold the position of ‘a good cop who covers for a bad cop is not a good cop’ as I do then the number of ‘good cops’ becomes vanishingly small, even if they do exist at times.

Treating all police – and more importantly all police departments – as equally corrupt is just as bad as treating all members of a racial group as gang members simply because a lot in your neighbourhood are known to be so.

Police choose the profession, you do not get to choose where you are born or what race you are born as, and when police corruption is more often than not meet with dead silence from other police, eager support from their unions and a shrug of indifference from the legal system assuming corruption is the safe bet, because while not all police may be the sort to rob you blind and/or bounce you head off the pavement for the laughs precedent would argue that if they do odds are good that you are screwed because the system will not have you back and the other police won’t have seen a damn thing.

It would be one thing to be born into a group like that has bad members, as you don’t have any choice on that and it’s not like you can leave it, but if someone chose to join a group, supported that group both directly and/or indirectly in spite of serious allegations and findings of guilt of it’s members, and even after all that they stayed in the group it seems fair to assume that they support the group’s actions and deserve a share of the blame, even if they’re not directly involved.

Rather than starting by defunding/refomring particular departments, a better approach would be to first purge the corruption from the law.

Short-term versus long term. Defunding/disbanding and replacing invididual departments stops the current problems and serves as a warning for future departments/officers, whereas gutting and rewriting the law helps to keep the problem from cropping up again. Doing one without the other is just throwing a bandaid on a stab-would, it may hide the problem for a bit but the underlying issue is still there.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: One and the same

"Treating all police – and more importantly all police departments – as equally corrupt is just as bad as treating all members of a racial group as gang members simply because a lot in your neighbourhood are known to be so."

You’re missing two points there;

1) When you know that a significant amount of law enforcement departments contain people worse by far than the mob legbreakers then you literally can not speak to a police officer without taking a serious chance that you risk death by doing so. Particularly if you’re being black. You think black children all over the US get taught "The Talk" because Netflix ran dry of other horror stories?

2) There is a steadfast refusal among the law enforcement community to stand up and acknowledge the problem. If your actual job includes putting in jail those who commit crimes on other people but you keep silent as the grave about malfeasance as long as the perp carries the same badge you do then you are an actual accomplice.

"…this post is bigotry, pure and simple."

It’s really not. You can choose your job. Bigotry is about the parts you can’t really choose.

"In the US the law is corrupt, and this is nation-wide, not varying from precinct to precinct and department to department."

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The more troublesome issue is police unions who are often led by the absolutely worst sort of – often unapologetic and open – scum. And those are the ones which have negotiated, in many jurisdictions, police contracts which effectively remove a police officer from the reach of the law, QI or no QI.

"Until the root cause is removed, reform will be a game of "whack-a-mole" that the government doesn’t even bother playing half the time."

One root cause may be shoddy, mud-slinging politics and the lack of political will to properly address the problem…but the centuries-old culture of Code Blue is another, equally important. It’s not going to be enough for a few politicians to strike one harsh blow, it needs to be a tough, no-holds-barred policy of zero tolerance, pursued over a few career generations, before you can even hope to bring US LEO’s out of the dark place they’re currently operating from.

"There are some decent police departments that honestly try to protect the citizens in their charge…"

Yes there are, but those departments operate in spite of and against both the current legal/political backdrop and their own colleagues next city over.

"So long as police can abuse with impunity, some will and some departments will become rotten barrels."

It’s no longer the question of "some". It’s at the point where the analogue would be that of a malicious cult or extremist group where a minority of members try to quietly avoid doing bad things while not getting too noticed by the remainder of the group.

Here’s a typical example – a police officer who commits crimes within a department to the point where the department no longer has his back? That officer needs to have spent years screwing everyone before a prosecution can get off the ground and up until it does every member in the precinct just shuts up and looks the other way. If the department is otherwise a decent one he will be, at most, encouraged to leave. No black mark on his record, and nothing which means he doesn’t – easily – get the same job in another, less stringent department.

Even those "decent" departments you speak of tolerate malfeasance among other police officers to a point of absurdity.

There’s no whitewashing the US police. Not until you have groups of commissioners and officers standing up and screaming "Not In My Name" rather than turn their backs and pretend to be blind.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Koby (profile) says:

An uptick in downloads of police scanner apps prompted the DHS to claim "well-coordinated groups" had "potentially compromised" law enforcement communications, ignoring the fact police scanners have been used by citizens for years to listen in on law enforcement activity. Snagging a publicly available signal doesn’t "compromise" anything.

I’ll bet that DHS is monitoring open communications over social media to gather intelligence on protesters. But as soon as someone listens back over the police scanners, suddenly it’s a problem.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"To what end? I am getting the feeling that there is no purpose to their madness, there is no goal."

In some cases it may be because of the power thrill – like school yard bullies. But there’s a corollary to that; For centuries law enforcement (not just in the US) has attracted a certain type of sociopath who only feels complete if they can enforce their will unto others. Simply because the uniform provides power and immunity and a clever bully looks for a way to get paid to carry out their hobby.

Secondly, there’s a negative feedback loop in constant effect. Bad cops do bad things. People come to mistrust police officers. Police officers note the fear and anger in the community. Fortress mentality and hair-trigger paranoia takes root among officers.
Now treat those paranoid officers to a few "killology" sessions on what is laughably considered "combat awareness" and you end up with armed uniformed paranoid people taught to draw and shoot before a threat can actually emerge, leading to dead children in the street. Which causes the community to be even more fearful and angry, providing the impetus for another spin on the downward spiral.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

From the minds that claim that a black child can power up like a super sayian & become a giant hulking demon bent on destruction & only the officer stood between us & demons taking over the planet so he fired at the unarmed child…
Everything is a threat, you just have to present it the right way.
Offer every chance to see danger around every FB post, then sit back and let those you riled up beat the ever loving fsck out of people who haven’t done anything wrong hey they had a carton of milk they obviously were demons sent to make the crowd more violent in the face of being beaten by armed men terrified of children.

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