Monday, February 9, 2009

Targeting the RNC Welcoming Committee: A Case Study in Political Paranoia

Political repression comes in all shapes and sizes: from the beat cop smashing the head of a demonstrator to the bureaucrat adding a name to a watch list. While the former has an immediate and shocking effect, the latter, more insidious and far-reaching in its probable consequences to the individual, is less amenable to redress. Once indexed, always indexed.

Certainly one of the more sinister trends in America today are the multiplicity of partnerships among state security agencies and their analogues in the corporate world. Indeed, many CIA or FBI officers upon retirement join the highly-lucrative and unaccountable world of corporate spying. Nowhere are these revolving-door relationships more toxic to a democracy than in the area of political intelligence.

A March 27, 2008 document prepared by the now-defunct Highway Watch (HW), a "public-private partnership" administered by the virulently anti-union American Trucking Associations (ATA)--a key member of the oxymoronic Coalition for a Democratic Workplace--and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Operations Center (DHS) has been published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

Authored by Cory Kutcher, a former intelligence analyst with HW's Information Sharing & Analysis Center (ISAC) and now a government analyst "in the Defense and Space Industry" according to LinkedIn, the dossier is a veritable case study in political paranoia and pseudo-academic posturing. Breathless allegations and dire pronouncements abound which helped set the stage for wholesale repression.

The focus of Kutcher's report was the anarchist/anti-authoritarian RNC Welcoming Committee (RNC-WC). Right from the outset, misrepresentations served the purpose of eliciting a harsh response from police. Kutcher warns "it is likely that they [RNC-WC] will target transportation infrastructure."

In HW's paranoid scenario, blocking traffic and civil disobedience was transformed into a scenario where hordes of masked anarchists utilizing a "diversity of tactics" threatend chaos in the furtherance of "terrorism."


The Republican National Committee (RNC) held its quadrennial convention in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 1-4, 2008. As I reported in November ("Preemptive Policing & the National Security State: Repressing Dissent at the Republican National Convention," Antifascist Calling, November 18, 2008), the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management agency (HSEM), in tandem with the United States Secret Service (USSS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM) conspired to squelch dissent during the far-right conclave.

Having declared the RNC a National Security Special Event (NSSE), one that derived its "authorization" to target activists and journalists from the top secret 2006 National Security Presidential Directive-46/Homeland Security Presidential Directive-15 (NSPD-46/HSPD-15), local, state and federal law enforcement entities, the U.S. military, intelligence agencies such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and corporate partners in the telecommunications industry and elsewhere, preemptively disrupted legal political dissent by a score of protest groups.

Prior to and during the Convention, local and state police and the FBI, raided the homes and organizing spaces of activists and media workers, seizing video equipment, cameras, cell phones and computers that were to be used to document the event. Under the pretext of preventing "terrorism," agencies selectively targeted organizers on the basis of information provided authorities by informants and provocateurs.

The extent of state operations against dissenting citizens was revealed when Wikileaks published a leaked planning document, "Special Event Planning: 2008 Republican National Convention," a 31-page schematic compiled by HSEM.

As I reported in January ("Betrayed! FBI Provocateur Sets-Up Anti-RNC Activists on Trumped-Up 'Terrorism' Charges," Antifascist Calling, January 7, 2009), one FBI asset, Brandon Michael Darby, "carried out a thorough surveillance operation that dated back to at least 18 months before the Republican gathering," according The New York Times and a sworn affidavit by his handler, Special Agent Christopher Langert.

One of the defendants in the so-called "Texas Two" trial who were Darby's targets, David McKay, was freed on $25,000 bail February 3, after a mistrial was declared in his case according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A re-trial is set for March 16. McKay's codefendant, Bradley Crowder, pled guilty January 8 to charges of manufacturing explosive devices. Both face 10 years in prison.

The Wikileaks disclosure of Highway Watch's "Plans to Target Transportation Infrastructure Surrounding Republican National Convention," provides further documentation of extensive federal, state and corporate targeting of political dissent in America under the guise of "national security."

Long-time readers of Antifascist Calling are certainly aware of the protection afforded actual terrorists by the Bureau when it served the geopolitical interests of the national security state. The case of al-Qaeda triple agent Ali Mohamed is certainly one of many illustrative examples.

"Social Networking" as Political Paranoia

As a subset of applied mathematics, social network theory purports to uncover hidden links and relationships amongst social groups and networks and has over time, become an invasive tool deployed by private- and state intelligence agencies against political activists.

According to the theory, by monitoring the communication patterns between various targeted nodes, a networked structure is discernible, one amenable to infiltration and disruption by a security agency. Indeed, in the context of HW's discourse social network- and link analysis was applied for mass surveillance of dissident groups such as the RNC-WC prior to the Republican Party National Convention.

Having identified the RNC-WC as an enemy to be contained at all costs, HW cites the group's open, legal political organizing, including obtaining "financial support" and "increased membership via the internet" as well as "public appearances at various locations across the US," as a significant factor that rendered the group a legitimate target for surveillance and disruption.

One can argue, as did the late civil liberties scholar Frank Donner, that the RNC-WC's legal organizing made them doubly suspect in the eyes of securocrats. In so far as the group's stated goal was to expose the "enormous amount of ... horror and devastation currently experienced by the world and its peoples" by the Republican Party, their dissident stance transformed them into dangerous "others," ripe pickings for "aggressive intelligence." Donner wrote,

The FBI's assertedly modest intelligence function as an early warning alert to prosecutors and a decision-making resource masks its true role as a weapon against threats to the existing order. Planned injury, implemented by an illegal autonomous system of power, explains domestic intelligence far more convincingly than either the "pure" or "preventative" intelligence thesis. Investigation and accumulation of information are at root merely the means to the ends of punishment, intimidation, frustration, and defeat of movements for change of any kind. (The Age of Surveillance, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980, p. 177)

In the context of a private entity such as Highway Watch ("an autonomous system of power"), funded by a public (though largely unaccountable) agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a new hybrid methodology of repression emerges in the 21st century. Exempt from oversight by the citizens who fund it, Highway Watch and associated groups, combine the plausible deniability of intelligence agencies with a twist: as a private organization, public rules of disclosure and accountability do not apply. Right up front, HW asserts:

The following document is "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" and "LAW ENFORCEMENT SENSITIVE." It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act, (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to FOUO information and is not to be released to the public, the media, or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval of an authorized DHS official. No portion of this report should be furnished to the media, either in written or verbal form. Any requests for further dissemination outside of the intelligence and law enforcement community should be referred to the HWW-ISAC. (HW, p. 1)

As a direct action organization, RNC-WC endorsed disruptive but nonviolent tactics to bring the Convention to a halt. Civil disobedience and blockade tactics have long enjoyed a prominent place amongst left-wings groups and organizations, ranging from the Labor Movement of the 1930s to the Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements of the 1960s, through the Antinuclear, Antiapartheid and Central American Solidarity Movements of the 1980s and continue to do so today.

A central tenet guiding the organization of protest activities is the proviso that participants only engage in activities for which they are prepared--morally and legally. While some activists willingly engage in "self-defense" of blockade zones, others may not wish to risk arrest and therefore, exercise a purely support function. A wide diversity of tactics ensure the broadest participation. However for HW "intelligence analysts," this "layered approach" is indicative of nefarious intent.

The amount of information researched about the transportation infrastructure in the area is high (see Appendix 1 & 2). Overall, photographs placed on the RNC-WC website show a pattern of bridge and roadway pre-surveillance (Figure 1). RNC-WC's members have proposed numerous methods of disrupting or closing the RNC, using the transportation infrastructure. These methods include setting vehicle tires on fire underneath expressway bridges, to decrease motorist visibility, or planting stalled vehicles, to limit thoroughfare access. Also, members have suggested spreading large metal chains across highway lanes or placing star-nails (caltrops) on access roads to restrict access to the RNC. The group also disclosed plans to use dump trucks to spill dirt or other large materials onto the road. Law enforcement should consider monitoring all potential methods to restrict or block traffic. (HW, pp. 2-3)

The sources cited by HW for the RNC-WC's alleged plans to "target infrastructure" through sabotage? Two FBI Intelligence Information Reports, FBI IIR 4 201 1401 08 and FBI IIR 4 201 0748 08. The origin of these unsubstantiated claims most probably were provocateurs who themselves advocated these tactics as a means to set-up the RNC-WC for preemptive action by the Bureau.

To complete the picture of an out-of-control conspiracy, HW cites the RNC-WC's collaboration with "other anarchist/anti-authoritarian groups, such as Unconventional Action (UA)," as evidence of the group's illicit activity. As evidence of conspiratorial intent, HW avers,

The UA website posts copies of its own strategies, general anarchist guides/principles and a list of anarchist contacts across the country. On Feb. 9, 2008, the two groups co-sponsored an event called the "Northwest DNC/RNC Resistance Conference" at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. The "workshop" discussed topics "ranging from street tactics to supporting protests" and even had childcare available for its participants. Unconventional Action states that, after the completion of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), members will travel to Minneapolis to assist with the RNC effort. This will provide a quality venue for sharing information concerning general security procedures and effective counter-measures. Furthermore, at least one protest/anarchist group (i.e. PNC2RNC) is using an "open" wiki (accessible to the public, but only members can edit) as its website. Therefore, "private" wikis (only members can access and edit) may be in use to share tactics and/or strategy among these individuals or groups which are located across the United States. (HW, p. 4)

And in order to buttress its charge that RNC-WC and related anarchist groups are intent on violent confrontations rather than hard-edged civil disobedience, HW ominously declares:

The community at large appears to be a decentralized network since it does not possess one central hub; however, it does possess several important hubs. Consequently, these networks are more difficult to disrupt due to their loose connections and easy ability to replace damaged or compromised nodes. As such, the national convention anarchists are following the pattern of most terror networks in this aspect. (HW, p. 5, emphasis added)

Utilizing social network and link analysis to underscore their claims, HW purport that hyperlinks on various websites are indicative of the "power centrality" of the RNC-WC and UA to anti-Democratic and Republican Convention organizers. That like-minded groups pursuing a goal--the disruption of the political conventions of the major capitalist parties--would actually communicate with one another comes as a shock to these jokers!

The RNC-WC also possesses the highest amount of betweenness in this community. The Protest RNC 2008 and UA groups directly follow it. Overall, betweenness refers to the number of groups that a node, or individual group, has indirect ties to through the direct links that it possesses. In other words, it represents the number of times that a node lies along the shortest path between two others. Nodes with a high degree of betweenness act as liaisons or bridges to other nodes in the structure. Consequently, the concept shows the potential importance and information sharing capabilities that the RNC-WC, UA, Protest RNC 2008, and DNC Disruption 08 represent to the rest of the community. (HW, p. 5)

In the minds of HW analysts however, "the RNC-WC's early formation, comprehensive membership drives, strategic partnerships, and flexibility will likely result in a more robust and balanced effort than in recent conventions. Consequently, security will likely be more to difficult to maintain than in previous years."

But as we have seen, the national security state's response was to initiate a preemptive strategy that targeted activists, journalists and the public in order to keep the lid on, marginalizing dissenting citizens and portraying them as violent extremists to be repressed.


utopia or bust said...

pseudo-academic posturing is right! I can't find reliable documents, besides government ones, that discuss the nature of the ISACs. These "private-public partnerships" should be investigated more.

Also - I wonder what the phrase in the document "even had childcare" is supposed to mean, in reference to the Evergreen State College? It's documents like this, however, that remind me that DHS is always looking over our shoulders. I was at the RNC and DNC, you should check out my blog posts.

Great blog, I love the line, "Once indexed, always indexed."

utopia or bust said...

Just read your profile, and wanted you to know I will be at the Bay Area anarchist bookfair in March. Maybe I'll see you there.