It Takes A Massive Surveillance Apparatus To Hold Us Back: Fusion Centers, Ferguson and the Deep State

Dime-Fasces

Here’s a question: How much of a national security threat are people protesting the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown?

If you answered, There’s no national security threat; they’re exercising their First Amendment rights, which should be celebrated, then you’re obviously a pre-9/11-American, which is enough to get you disinvited from the major TV propaganda shows.

Local news media reported on the Black Lives Matter protest in Boston, and noted, without really thinking about it, that “the state police Commonwealth Fusion Center monitored social media, which provided “critical intelligence about protesters’ plans to try to disrupt traffic on state highways.” It didn’t really register because journalists are mostly not watching fusion centers like we are, and aren’t seeing them come up again and again and again and again, lurking at the edges of stories about free speech and national security, and policing the boundaries of what is acceptable to say.

Think, then, of fusion centers as state-based NSAs overseen loosely by the Department of Homeland Security. Set up after 9/11 to provide “joined-up intelligence” and thwart terrorist attacks, they quickly found that there just wasn’t enough terrorism of the kind not ginned up by government informants themselves to sustain 88 separate local antiterrorism centers in addition to the NSA, FBI and CIA. So they expanded their definition of terrorism to cover many other things, which in Massachusetts have included harassing peaceful activists and elected officials while missing actual terrorist plots, and now, for lack of anything better to do with their tax dollars, vetting licenseholders for marijuana dispensaries and fostering anonymous threat reporting in public schools.

We have advocated against fusion centers for a long time. Last week, we received the results of a FOIA request to Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Fusion Center that throws more light on the kind of information they hold, and the kind of society that is being constructed without our consent.

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At 2014 Boston Marathon, bags searched without warrants at police checkpoints

UPDATE: The Bay State Examiner has informed us that the correct byline for this story is “Andrew.”

For the 2014 Boston Marathon, police established checkpoints on various streets near the finish line where private security guards searched the bags of any spectators who attempted to pass through. The checkpoints were part of a new security plan, which was put in place in response to last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260 people.

Prior to the race, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) published a list of recommendations for spectators including no backpacks, no loose clothing, no costumes or masks, no liquids in excess of one liter, and no weapons of any kind. MEMA also said that spectators may have their bags and bulky items searched at the aforementioned checkpoints.

We saw a number of these checkpoints in action and observed that the searches were primarily carried out by private security guards under the watch of Boston police officers. Once a person’s bag had been searched, the security guards would attach a tag to it and allow the person through.

The searches were not voluntary. Each checkpoint featured a banner reading “All bags and containers are subject to search.” We saw one man being forcibly removed from the area beyond a checkpoint by police officers who noticed that his mesh bag did not have a tag on it. Police took the bag away from the man and would not allow him back into the area until a security guard had searched it.

search 1024x575 At 2014 Boston Marathon, bags searched without warrants at police checkpoints

A security guard searches through a man’s bag after police removed him from the area beyond a checkpoint

It was apparent that the police did not suspect the man had a bomb because they did not call a bomb squad to the scene. Instead, they asked the man for personal information such as his address, which they wrote down, and lectured him about the need to follow the rules the police had established.

“You got a bag, you put a tag on it. Okay? Simple,” one police officer told the man.

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Cambridge debates switching on its surveillance cameras after Marathon attacks

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The city of Cambridge, MA is considering whether to switch on its network of surveillance cameras. Councillor Craig Kelley, who chairs the Public Safety Subcommittee [UPDATE: and whom, I should make clear, is skeptical about the merits of surveillance camera systems, scheduled seven public hearings on the newly proposed Security Camera Policy, but like most subcommittee hearings, they were relatively poorly attended]. The City Council voted unanimously on July 2 to ask the Mayor and the City Manager to arrange a better-publicized meeting to discuss the Policy.

ORDERED:
That Her Honor the Mayor and the City Manager be and hereby is requested to arrange a community meeting with other stakeholders to discuss the proposed Security Camera Policy submitted by the Police Department for implementation.

The minutes of the July meeting are here.

This is the history.

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Google The Wrong Stuff, Get Six Agents In Your Home (Nassau County, NY)

Long Island freelance writer Michele Catalano reported two days ago on a deeply disturbing incident where six officers from an undisclosed agency came to her family home:

At about 9:00 am, my husband […] saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving. Six gentlemen in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door. […] He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands. “Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said. They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search.

The “gentlemen” pepper her husband with questions about pepper cookers and backpacks; about where he’s from, about his wife, about their parents and their reading habits. They say that “they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing.”

 

How reassuring.
How reassuring.

It appears that Suffolk County CID had received a tip from “a Bay Shore based computer company” about the Google searches of a former employee, Ms. Catalano’s husband, who had searched while at work for terms including “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks” – the former because he was curious about how the Boston Marathon bombing had happened, and the latter because they were in the market for new backpacks.

It’s still unclear exactly what agency the “gentlemen” were from. The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are both denying involvement. Nor do we know exactly why such Google searches triggered a full-court press from no fewer than six officers. But there are two important points that arise out of this story.

One is how blunt the tools of Internet surveillance are. Your Google search for “pressure cooker bombs” tells the authorities only that you are interested in pressure cooker bombs at that moment. As part of my research for this article, I just put it into Google myself. It doesn’t tell them why, and by itself is not evidence of any criminal intent. Nor does separately searching on the word “backpacks” help to establish such an intent. If we were still operating in a world where the Fourth Amendment were consistently applied, this evidence alone would not be nearly enough to demonstrate probable cause to a judge that the person in question was engaged in or planning criminal activity. Instead, we’re operating in an environment of high governmental paranoia about people’s search activity, where agencies have to find ways of justifying an over-muscled and over-funded security state.

The second point is that we don’t know whether a warrant was issued, or whether the “gentlemen” felt that one was needed, because Ms. Catalano’s husband did not assert his Fourth Amendment rights (and may in fact have been afraid to do so). He could have refused them entry without a warrant; they may or may not have complied; but he had every right to refuse. It’s just not something many people think of doing, and in consequence law enforcement feels able to intrude on our homes at will. Like the “gentlemen” in Buffy, their success depends on our silence.

UPDATE: The author of this testimony has taken it down. Whether it was false, he had deeply misunderstood what was going on, or he was scared into withdrawing it, it can no longer be considered reliable.

A Helpful PSA from the Boston Regional Intelligence Center

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Here at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, we have watched in sorrow as misinformation about our work to defend America and keep Americans safe here in America has appeared in certain scurrilous publications. We felt it was important to get the truth out about what we do and why we do it.

Some crypto-Marxist at the Jamaica Plain Gazette decided to ask this week why we were busy tracking the activities of local peace activists and the Occupy movement, instead of, say, paying attention to intelligence reports we had received from Russia about some guy called Tsarnasomethin Whatshisface.

God, you people! It’s like you think that just because we’ve taken billions of your dollars and told you we’ll use it to prevent terror attacks, you expect us to actually prevent them!

Allow us to break it down for you point-missing morons.

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Civil Liberties Commentary on the Boston Marathon Manhunt

A variety of excellent commentary over the weekend reflected on the civil liberties implications of the Boston Marathon attacks.

Over at Salon, Falguni Sheth and Robert Prasch used a thought experiment (What would have been different if the bombing had happened in 1977, before mass electronic surveillance?) to argue that the vast expenditure on the surveillance state has not had the net effect of either preventing terrorism or making apprehending terrorists more efficient; so why are we doing it, again?

At Popehat, Clark dissects the unprecedented, expensive and ineffectual lockdown of Boston and the western suburbs, and observes that it is only after the lockdown ended and citizens were back outside their doors that the suspect was located.

Last, there’s an excellent analysis and discussion of the Fourth Amendment issues raised by house-to-house searches for a fugitive by (once again) Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy. Enjoy!