Big Brother is Watching You

Philadelphia undercover cops illegally infiltrated protest groups before RNC Here\’s some helpful hints on making it harder for police agents next time around

Over the past year as more militant tactics at demonstrations have made the public and the police increasingly aware of an \”anarchist menace\”, the level of police repression has also been increasing. The extreme police reactions in Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Los Angeles were easy to observe: in Philadelphia, hundreds were arrested and held for weeks, some on million dollar bail for acts that would normally be minor misdemeanors. Convergence centers were preemptively raided in DC and Philly. LA police fired rubber bullets and pepper spray at fleeing demonstrators.

What is impossible to measure, but which must also be taking place, is that the level of police infiltration, surveillance and undercover disruption of radical groups has been increasing since Seattle. In 10 years, if we\’re lucky, a Congressional investigation will reveal what\’s been up over the last year. Activists in the 1960s didn\’t learn about the full depths of COINTELPRO (the code name for the FBI\’s counter-Intelligence program) until years later. But the fact that we currently don\’t know how we\’re being watched or disrupted doesn\’t mean it isn\’t happening. And it doesn\’t mean we can\’t take measures to protect ourselves.

A fascinating example of infiltration at the Republican National Convention has already surfaced. A month after police preemptively raided the \”convergence center\” in Philly where activists were organizing protests against the RNC and making props for demonstrations, the search warrant application filed in Court before the raid was unsealed. The unsealed application revealed that state police officers posing as demonstrators had infiltrated the convergence center and worked there for four days gathering information before the raid. The day after the raid, Philadelphia\’s Police Commissioner John F. Timoney lied to the public when he denied police had \”infiltrated any group.\” The applications were sealed for a month because the police claimed that earlier \”disclosure of this affidavit could endanger the lives\” of the infiltrating cops.

Under a Philadelphia mayoral directive, city police were prohibited from infiltrating protest groups. Instead, city Detective William Egenlauf submitted an affidavit stating \”This investigation is utilizing several Pennsylvania state troopers in an undercover capacity that have infiltrated several of the activist groups planning to commit numerous illegal direct actions.\” According to the affidavit, the officers assisted \”in the construction of props to be used during protests\” and overheard discussions in which protesters planned to use \”puppets . . . as blockades.\” The affidavits also stated that police had monitored email lists and websites.

In a quaint throwback to the cold war (and apparently showing police confusion about the difference between communists and anarchists) the affidavit stated that funds for one organization \”allegedly originate with Communist and leftist parties and from sympathetic trade unions\” or from \”the former Soviet-allied World Federation of Trade Unions.\”

Amazingly, many people working at the convergence center sensed that four large men claiming to be union carpenters who appeared a few days before the convention were police! The four-suspiciously named Tim, Harry, George and Ryan-were reportedly politically uninformed and stuck out in the youthful, slim, heavily pierced convergence center crowd. Apparently, the police weren\’t very worried that their agents would be detected, or else they might have tried to find officers who fit-in better. (DEA agents, for instance, reportedly usually try to look the part-just stand by the Federal Building some day and check out all the outrageous hippies.)

While it\’s important not to be paranoid about anyone with a different fashion statement, a certain measure of discretion is important when \”illegal\” direct action is being organized. As a public service, here are some tips (some from the 2001 Slingshot Organizer) on dealing with government surveillance and disruption:

Surveillance

Assume you are under surveillance if you are involved in organizing mass direct action or anything illegal, and take precautions. Don\’t discuss sensitive matters on the telephone, through the mail, by email, or in your home, car or political office/center. Keep written materials and lists of individuals secure and never bring address books to protests where arrest is possible – if you\’re arrested, the police may investigate all your friends.

Never discuss illegal activity

It is never okay to:

  • ask about someone else\’s illegal activities;
  • discuss your involvement or someone else\’s involvement with an underground group;
  • discuss someone else\’s desire to get involved with such a group;
  • talk about your participation or someone else\’s participation in any action that was illegal;
  • talk about someone else\’s advocacy for such actions
  • discuss your plans or someone else\’s plans for a future action.

    The only time it\’s okay to speak about illegal actions is when you are planning them with the small group of trusted people who will be doing the action with you.

    Adopt a Security Culture

    Activists organizing mass protests, direct action or anything illegal should make it as difficult as possible for police agencies by adopting a security culture. Activists who are part of a security culture know behaviors that compromise security and quickly educate anyone who acts in a way that violates or threatens security. When all members of a scene understand security and correct mistakes, unsecure behavior should become unacceptable and will stop. This frustrates police surveillance and infiltrators because they can\’t obtain information or plant it.

    People in the scene who gossip, brag or ask for unnecessary information about underground groups or illegal activities are a severe danger to the movement. The first time this happens, take such a person aside and gently educate them in private about why such talk is a danger. Be careful not to preach, injure the individual\’s pride, or raise defenses and prevent them from absorbing the advise. If an individual repeatedly engages in gossip, bragging and/or seeking unnecessary information about inappropriate topics after repeated educational talks, the person should be removed from any position of trust in movement by being kicked out of meetings, organizations, base camps, etc. Such a person is a grave risk at best, and a police agent looking to provoke or entrap others at worst.

    Infiltrators

    Infiltrators attempt to get information about organizations, disrupt them by creating splits and disorganization in meetings and in individual\’s lives, and entrap activists by urging insecure illegal activity. They often disrupt groups, ironically, by promoting destructive witch hunts for infiltrators! Carefully check out the authenticity of any disturbing letter, rumor, phone call etc. before acting on it. Ask the supposed source if she or he is responsible. Don\’t try to expose a suspected agent or informer without solid proof. It generally works better to criticize what a disruptive person says and does without speculating as to why. Avoid entrapment by only doing illegal direct action with people you know well and trust. Avoid government-sponsored splits in movement groups by dealing openly and honestly with differences within our movements in race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc. before the FBI can exploit them.

    Grand Juries

    If you are subpoenaed by a grand jury, don\’t try to deal with it alone. Contact a lawyer and movement friends for support immediately. Grand juries have the power to hold you in prison for months if you fail to answer questions, and lying to a grand jury is a serious crime.

    For more information, read War at Home by Brian Glick from South End Press, 116 S. Botolph St., Boston, 20115.

    (By the way, after the raid, police chief Timoney displayed items seized during the raid, which included \”two massive slingshots.\”)