Attack of the Blue Meanies

When the police and FBI raided the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley August 27 with guns drawn, seizing every computer in the building, looking through files, and breaking locks, they were probably hoping they would scare us, disrupt our operations, and distract us from radical work and into a defensive-mode.

While the raid against our volunteer-run library and radical community center was an outrageous attack on a peaceful community of free-thinkers and activists, we are bruised but not defeated. In the weeks since the raid, the Long Haul scene and our supporters around the world have rallied. Long Haul remains open the same as before the raid — full of life, events and energy. Many concerned individuals have donated computers to replace the ones stolen by the police, some of which are still being held hostage in an FBI forensics lab somewhere as of press date. Our resolve to struggle for people over profits, local control, and environmental sustainability is stronger than ever.

Anatomy of a police raid

No one was at Long Haul at the time of the raid and as of press date, no one has been arrested for any crime related to the raid. University of California police — even though Long Haul is 2 miles from campus — obtained an extremely broad search warrant after they traced a number of threatening emails that were sent to UC Berkeley animal researchers to the dsl internet connection at Long Haul. The cops never would have gotten such a broad search warrant if the computers had been at a public library, rather than at a radical Infoshop.

The raid by 7 officers — UCPD plus a county sheriff and one federal agent — started at 10:15 a.m. and lasted for an hour and a half. UCPD police spokesperson Mitch Celaya claimed the raid included members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, according to the Berkeley Daily Planet. City of Berkeley police were not involved in the raid nor were they provided advance warning of the raid, as is the usual procedure according to City Council member Kriss Worthington.

When Long Haul volunteers arrived shortly after the raid began and asked police to see a search warrant, the police said they would only provide a copy of the warrant after the raid. The cops refused to allow volunteers inside the building during the raid. Police seized 14 computers including computers from a free public access computer room and two computers used by Slingshot collective to publish this newspaper and our organizer. They looked at lending library records and other files. They also took most of our music CDs perhaps thinking they might have computer data on them. Luckily, they didn’t take the dumpster-dived vinyl record collection, which is the real backbone of Long Haul’s music reality.

Long Haul is a non-profit corporation that operates a community center, library and historical archive at 3124 Shattuck Avenue. It hosts the Long Haul Infoshop as well as the Slingshot collective and East Bay Food Not Bombs and provides space for various community activities ranging from a needle exchange to Pilates to the People to East Bay Prisoner Support. Long Haul features a free, public access computer room so folks can use the internet — before the raid it featured 8 computers that were used by hundreds of people.

The police raid’s official goal was to seize those public computers and records of who might have been using them. Although the search warrant implies the cops were interested in public access computers, police ended up seizing all computers in the building including Slingshot and East Bay Prisoner Support computers that were not available to the public, but that shared a common dsl line.

Search warrant or blank check?

Police got a court order sealing the application for the search warrant from public view. Luckily, Long Haul got a copy of it anyway after a confused court clerk in-training released it to an ABC tv reporter. The statement of probable cause submitted by UCPD officer Kasiske to obtain the warrant shows that he thought the threatening emails were sent from a public computer at Long Haul. The police obtained records from Long Haul’s ISP as well as Google tracing emails sent from gmail accounts accessed through the Long Haul dsl line. The warrant application discusses recent home demonstrations at UC Berkeley and implies that they may be linked with two firebombings against animal researchers in Santa Cruz on August 2. The application also mentions the Animal Liberation Front.

Kasiske wrote that: “I learned that at the time the harassing email messages were sent . . . the subscribers address was 3124 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. I recognized this address as belonging to the Long Haul Infoshop. I know that the Long Haul is a resource and meeting center for radical activists. I know that animal rights activists have held meetings at the Long Haul. The Long Haul’s website advertises that they offer a computer room with four computers for ‘activist oriented access.’”

Kasiske’s search warrant application lists six allegedly threatening email messages sent from the Long Haul dsl line in June. Given that the purportedly illegal threatening emails were sent from a public computer in June and that the raid was in August — with hundreds of people visiting Long Haul during that time — one might think that trying to find a particular person who sent six emails would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Was the police’s real purpose to find a suspect, or to disrupt a known radical community center and conduct a fishing expedition of computer information from hundreds of people who used Long Haul computers unrelated to any threatening emails?

Kasiske’s search warrant application went on to state: “I know establishments that offer public computer access often have some type of system for patrons to sign in or register to use the computers. A search of the Long Haul’s premises could reveal logs or sign-in sheets indicating which patrons used the computers on particular dates. This information would aid in identifying the suspect who sent the threatening email messages using the Long Haul’s computers. It is likely that the suspect who sent the threatening email messages used the computers for other purposes as well. A search of the computers at the Long Haul could reveal information the suspect stores on the computers, websites the suspect accessed, or other email accounts the suspect used. This information would aid in identifying the suspect. Due to the complexity of searching computer systems and the need to properly maintain evidence stored on computer systems, a detailed search would need to be conducted off-site by a computer forensics specialist.”

The police uncertainty about whether Long Haul might have maintained records of who used its computers is interesting. Long Haul — like the public library — does not maintain such records precisely to protect computer users from government snooping. (Also, in Long Haul’s case, it is due to disorganization and lack of resources.) The search warrant application makes clear that police are familiar with Long Haul’s role in the community and its operations as a radical space. It is unclear what surveillance they may have carried out prior to the raid. If they had sent even a single undercover officer to ask to use a computer prior to the raid, it would have been clear to the police that no records are kept and that volunteers staffing Long Haul cannot see the door of the computer room to know who goes in and out. If it eventually turns out police knew this full well, their real reason for seeking a search warrant against Long Haul will be transparent: harassment not law enforcement.

The judge issued a warrant permitting a search for: “Any written, typed, or electronically stored documents, papers, notebooks, or logs containing names or other identifying information of patrons who used the computers at the Long Haul Infoshop.” The warrant also covered “All electronic data processing and storage devices, computers and computer systems including, but not limited to, central processing units, external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, diskettes, memory cards, PDAs, and USB flash drives.”

The search warrant application continued: “Search of all of the above items is for files, data, images, software, operating systems, deleted files, altered files, system configurations, drive and disk configurations, date and time, and unallocated and slack space, for evidence. With respect to computer systems and any items listed above, the Peace Officers are authorized to transfer the booked evidence to a secondary location prior to commencing the search of the items. Furthermore, said search may continue beyond the ten-day period beginning upon issuance of this Search Warrant, to the extent necessary to complete the search on the computer systems and any items listed above.”

The raid at Long Haul was followed only days later by raids in Minneapolis/St. Paul against activists involved in Republican National Conventions there. The search warrant application in that case makes it clear that RNC Welcoming Committee activists were under constant surveillance and infiltration for a year. It is worth noting that Unconventional Action Bay Area held a spokes council meeting about the RNC at Long Haul only days before the raid. Moreover, Long Haul has served as a base for various radical activists in the East Bay for decades. Long Haul was founded in 1979 and the Infoshop project celebrated its 15th birthday in August. It all raises the question of whether the raid was just about threatening emails, or whether it was part of a larger intelligence gathering operation against radicals.

Long Haul has a posse

In the wake of the raid, Long Haul has been flooded with messages of support and donations from as far away as Tasmania. In particular, numerous individuals donated computers to replace the ones seized in the raid. A benefit concert the night after the raid was mobbed by supporters and raised hundreds of dollars. Activists around the country have stepped up to organize benefits and protests for Long Haul. The outpouring of support has been humbling — it is no joke to say that there is a radical community that has your back when you need it.

Several dozen lawyers volunteered to help Long Haul respond to the raid, including excellent activist lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild and heavy hitters from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. As anarchist-oriented folks who are skeptical of bourgeois, mainstream legal solutions to problems, the Long Haul crew had a great discussion of the merits of using the court system to defend Long Haul against the police raid. The real anarchist, direct action response to a police raid is to keep Long Haul open and not let the police distract us from our mission of changing society, building community, fighting capitalism, struggling for people over profit, and defending the earth. Having said that, bourgeois legal action — along with protests and media action — is a tool open to Long Haul. Generally, Long Haulers want to do what we can so this kind of raid doesn’t happen to any other infoshops in the future. That means we want to expose the flimsy grounds for the raid and make the raid as expensive, embarrassing and inconvenient for the police as possible.

Big Brother is Watching

By seizing the public access computers, the FBI got access to hundreds of individual people’s personal information that may have been left on the public computers. No one knows what people left on those computers or what the FBI forensics experts might be able to recover. Even when you hit the “delete” button on a computer, your work is left on hard disk drives. Long Haul had no security measures on its public access computers (or Slingshot computers) prior to the raid. However, in the aftermath, Long Haul computer experts are figuring out ways to make the computers more secure, even though total security is impossible. One idea has been hard disk encryption. Another idea is to remove hard drives entirely from the public access computers and load an open-source operating system each time they are turned on. That way, all information would disappear each time they are turned off.

In general, it appears that the police did not get crucial Long Haul or Slingshot information during the raid. Some Slingshot articles written for this issue were seized and since they were not backed up, had to be rewritten. It was sheer luck that we weren’t right in the middle of making the Organizer or this issue — if that had been the case, the raid could have set Slingshot collective back weeks. Some un-backed up internal Slingshot collective files were also lost. It does not appear that the police got a copy of the Slingshot mailing list (for sending out papers) or other sensitive Long Haul data. Most of that information was kept at another location on different computers. This arrangement was partly for ease of access — the Slingshot mailing operation does not run out of Long Haul — and partly out of security concerns at Long Haul. Prior to the police raid, Long Haul has been subject to half a dozen burglaries of uncertain origin.

We now know how easily the police can track an email to a physical location. It seems reasonable to assume that if that location is an infoshop or other radical space, the chance of having computers seized is higher than if an email is traced to a public library.

The real danger may still be on the horizon. In the search warrant application, it is clear that the police are investigating recent animal rights protests and are looking for links between legal, public protests and recent firebombings against animal researchers in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles. The weekend after the raid, the National Lawyers Guild conducted a Know Your Rights workshop at Long Haul to review how folks can react if the police make further raids, seek to interview Long Haul users, make arrests, or seek to subpoena anyone before a Grand Jury. Under these circumstances, folks need to avoid paranoia and being paralyzed from taking any action, while being extra sensitive and careful.

It is hard to measure the overall sense of tension, anxiety and trauma coming out of the police raid. Having your home base invaded by police is ugly, scary and brutal. It is hard to prepare for such a violation and it is hard to pick up the pieces afterwards. Long Haul volunteers are slowly sharing their emotions and I can say for myself that I feel a keen need to be around my comrades and share support with them in this time of stress. It has been great to make this issue of the paper during this time since it gives us endless opportunities to share community. That helps break the isolation and fear.

The raid and its aftermath have been stressful yet in the end, Long Haul is in it for the long haul and the struggle continues. The police sought to disrupt us and scare us off, but we’re coming out stronger and more determined than ever.