Recently revealed agency records have show that the F.B.I’s counterterrorism unit was used to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement and included close monitoring of communications and planning that took place.
The records that reveal the F.B.I’s level of involvement were obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a Washington-based civil rights organization. They put in a Freedom of Information request to the bureau, though much of the documents obtained were redacted by the law enforcement agency.
The records note that as early as September 2011, agents from the counterterrorism task force in New York pinpointed two Lower Manhattan landmarks as integral to the movement. These buildings were Federal Hall and the Museum of American Finance. Officials were told that these landmarks were a “point of interest” to the OWS movement.
Not long after the agents indentified those landmarks, the OWS protestors camped in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and this ignited a series of similar protests around the U.S, as people gathered to make their opinions on income equality heard by those in power.
The movement gathered momentum over the next few months and whilst it continued, the reports show that F.B.I agents routinely exchanged information regarding the movement with local businesses, other law enforcement agencies and universities.
The records also show just how seriously the agency took the OWS movement, which was often described using extreme terms such as an “Anarchist protest.” A New York field office memo from August 2011 revealed that agents conducted meetings with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss “the planned Anarchist protest titled ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ scheduled for September 17, 2011…Numerous incidents have occurred in the past which show attempts by Anarchist groups to disrupt, influence, and or shut down normal business operations of financial districts.”
Another memo from the bureau’s field office in Jacksonville, Florida was entitled “Domain Program Management Domestic Terrorist.” This memo stated that agents had discussed the movement and were keen to ascertain whether any of those who took part in the protests and events had “violent tendencies.”
The memo also expressed concern that the movement could be “an outlet for a lone offender exploiting the movement for reasons associated with general government dissatisfaction.”
These records have angered numerous civil liberties campaigners, who feel as though the OWS protesters were harshly treated. They are revealed just over a year since the Zucotti Park protestors were ousted by police and similar camps around the country dispersed by law enforcement officials causing the movement to quieten down somewhat.
Paul Bresson, an F.B.I spokesman from Washington warned about the dangers of drawing conclusions from documents that had been redacted. Bresson said; “The F.B.I. recognizes the rights of individuals and groups to engage in constitutionally protected activity…While the F.B.I. is obligated to thoroughly investigate any serious allegations involving threats of violence, we do not open investigations based solely on First Amendment activity. In fact, the Department of Justice and the F.B.I.’s own internal guidelines on domestic operations strictly forbid that.”
Bresson’s statement however is unlikely to appease campaigners who have been angered by the report and believe that the F.B.I acted unconstitutionally.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said that the agency records proved that the bureau had acted “improperly” by gathering information on U.S. citizens involved in lawful activities.
“The collection of information on people’s free-speech actions is being entered into unregulated databases, a vast storehouse of information widely disseminated to a range of law-enforcement and, apparently, private entities…This is precisely the threat — people do not know when or how it may be used and in what manner.”
Source: New York Times