Paul Carroll was riding his bike when his cell phone vibrated.
They were looking for an informant to show up at "vegan potlucks" throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors. Once he arrived home from the Hennepin County Courthouse, where he’d been served a gross misdemeanor for spray-painting the interior of a campus elevator, the lanky, wavy-haired University of Minnesota sophomore flipped open his phone and checked his messages. He was greeted by a voice he recognized immediately. It belonged to U of M Police Sgt. Erik Swanson, the officer to whom Carroll had turned himself in just three weeks earlier. When Carroll called back, Swanson asked him to meet at a coffee shop later that day, going on to assure a wary Carroll that he wasn't in trouble.
Carroll, who requested that his real name not be used, showed up early and waited anxiously for Swanson’s arrival. Ten minutes later, he says, a casually dressed Swanson showed up, flanked by a woman whom he introduced as FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola. For the next 20 minutes, Mazzola would do most of the talking.
"She told me that I had the perfect 'look,'" recalls Carroll. "And that I had the perfect personality — they kept saying I was friendly and personable — for what they were looking for."
What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant — someone to show up at "vegan potlucks" throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort's primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division's website, is to "investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines."
Carroll would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.
"I'll pass," said Carroll.
For 10 more minutes, Mazzola and Swanson tried to sway him. He remained obstinate.
"Well, if you change your mind, call this number," said Mazzola, handing him her card with her cell phone number scribbled on the back.
(Mazzola, Swanson, and the FBI did not return numerous calls seeking comment.)
Carroll's story echoes a familiar theme. During the lead-up the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the NYPD's Intelligence Division infiltrated and spied on protest groups across the country, as well as in Canada and Europe. The program's scope extended to explicitly nonviolent groups, including street theater troupes and church organizations.
There were also two reported instances of police officers, dressed as protestors, purposefully instigating clashes. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, the NYPD orchestrated a fake arrest to incite protestors. When a blond man was "arrested," nearby protestors began shouting, "Let him go!" The helmeted police proceeded to push back against the crowd with batons and arrested at least two. In a similar instance, during an April 29, 2005, Critical Mass bike ride in New York, video footage captured a "protestor" — in reality an undercover cop — telling his captor, "I'm on the job," and being subsequently let go.
I blogged about the infiltration of protest groups at the 2004 RNC when it happened - and when it was finally proven.
I also blogged about a similar (although much smaller) incident that took place in Canada, when rock-throwing "protestors" at the SPP summit were revealed to be undercover cops. I know it happens here, too. With yet another death-by-taser execution in the news today, Canadians should harbour no illusions about the bruatality of so-called law enforcement here.
As is often the case, the difference between the US and Canada on this score is a matter of degree. But it's many, many degrees.
When is a peaceful protestor not a peaceful protestor? When he's a terrorist.
Undercover Maryland state troopers infiltrated three groups advocating peace and protesting the death penalty — attending meetings and sending reports on their activities to U.S. intelligence and military agencies, according to documents released Thursday.
The documents show the activities occurred from at least March 2005 to May 2006 and that officers used false names, which the documents referred to as "covert identities" - to open e-mail accounts to receive messages from the groups.
Also included in the 46 pages of documents, obtained by the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, is an account of an activist's name being entered into a federally funded database designed to share information among state, local and federal law-enforcement agencies on terrorist and drug trafficking suspects.
ACLU attorney David Rocah said state police violated federal laws prohibiting departments that receive federal funds from maintaining databases with information about political activities and affiliations.
The activist was identified as Max Obuszewski. His "primary crime" was entered into the database as "terrorism - anti govern(ment)." His "secondary crime" was listed as "terrorism - anti-war protestors." The database is known as the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA.
"This is not supposed to happen in America," said Mr. Rocah. "In a free society, which relies on the engagement of citizens in debate and protest and political activity to maintain that freedom ... you should be able to attend a meeting about an issue you care about without having to worry that government spies are entering your name into a database used to track alleged terrorists and drug traffickers."
Mr. Rocah called the surveillance "Kafka-esque insanity."
Despite the source, the story is worth reading.
ACLU info here.