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Why the ‘Hoo-Ha’ About DHS ‘Spying’ on the Occupy Movement Is Reasonable

Zuccotti Park right after Occupy Wall Street was evicted (photo: david_shankbone)

WikiLeaks published a Homeland Security Department (DHS) report yesterday that showed DHS had been monitoring the Occupy movement. Naturally, those that had been participating in Occupy protests reacted to the news. They were outraged that DHS would suggest that growing support for the Occupy movement increased the possibility of violence. They were upset that Homeland Security put together a report that suggested the Occupy movement posed “risks” or “threats” to “critical infrastructure” in the country.

John Hudson of The Atlantic, however, finds the “hoo-ha” about DHS “spying” on the Occupy movement “adorable,” and by that he has a banal and condescending view of the Occupy movement’s reaction to the report.

Hudson writes:

Perhaps Homeland Security’s fear of the movement is exaggerated but this summary merely reads like a worst-case-scenario research document compiled from publicly available sources. Could Occupy protesters pose a risk to “critical infrastructure”? Sure. So could scores of Justin Bieber fans. In any event, it’s not a breach of civil liberties to draw up such a document. Mostly, it shows how boring it must be to work at DHS, scheming up scenarios that are probably never going to happen.

The Dissenter‘s coverage was mentioned in Hudson’s post. So, I feel compelled to challenge Hudson’s conclusions and failure to understand why the report is troublesome.

Hudson used this quote from me in his post:

The suppression of Occupy is nothing less than an attack on those who would try to exercise their civil liberties, their rights and seek to energize democracy.

In doing so, Hudson totally ignored the key point that the report WikiLeaks uncovered led me to make.

The report alluded to the potential risks the Occupy movement posed to “critical infrastructure.” What influence, if any, did this report have on decisions by political leaders or law enforcement to crackdown on Occupy groups?

Hudson dismisses the possibility that the conclusion in the report had any bearing on the Occupy movement by saying it must be “boring” to work at DHS  and scheme up “scenarios that are probably never going to happen.” But, that ignores the reality, which is that these “scenarios that are probably never going to happen” are what heads of police departments and mayors of metropolitan areas repeated to justify bringing an end to ongoing 24/7 Occupy protests back in November and December of last year.

What kind of life does a report like this have? Surely, it was not only read by employees of Stratfor. It presumably was read by other officials in the country. It possibly helped influence many leaders’ views on the Occupy movement.

Additionally, since Hudson’s post seems to be all about accuracy and not distorting the actual content of the report, it is worth sharing that I did not read the Rolling Stone article from Michael Hastings and then write a post designed to agitate the Occupy movement. I read the report itself and posted just about the same time that Rolling Stone went to publish Hastings’ article. I drew my conclusions without reading Hastings’ “ominous appraisal.” And, Firedoglake and Truthout may be part of the Occupy information bloodstream, but given that the movement has reawakened democracy in this country (something TIME magazine acknowledged), I see that as an honor and not something that makes Firedoglake or Truthout less sophisticated than the Rolling Stone or The Atlantic.

Cenk Uygur’s point on The Young Turks was misguided. The issue is not that the Tea Party was monitored or not monitored or that it was not monitored as closely as the Occupy movement. The issue is the fear and hyperbole in the report that may have influenced how political leaders and members of law enforcement responded to the presence of the Occupy movement in cities and states all over the country.

Do I think that the report shows the Occupy movement was “spied” on by DHS? No. I think that the employees that put together the report, whether they were part of a private contractor or the department itself, were simply pulling sections of articles and piecing together a report. That’s why I used the word monitored.

And, actually, Hastings never called it “spying” either. Kilkenny did in her headline. This is important because Hudson seems to be suggesting that Hastings and I played a role in making the Occupy movement go hysterical. Well, a significant portion of the Occupy movement reacted like that because they recalled seeing vehicles marked Homeland Security near their encampments or daily protests. It had nothing to do with misrepresenting the contents of the report. In fact, a number of people in the movement tweeted at me saying something to the effect, “Really? We needed WikiLeaks to tell us this was happening?” or “Is this really news?”

The outrage stemmed from the fact that they believed their suspicions of being watched might have been confirmed, which is not wholly unreasonable. If the Office of Infrastructure Protection put together a report on the Occupy movement, other divisions of DHS were probably doing work involving the Occupy movement too.

Hudson has only written a couple of posts on the Occupy movement. He thinks the Stratfor release from WikiLeaks has been mostly dull so far. That may be why he scoffed at this report. In any case, he chose to deride those who truly considered the implications of the report and overlooked the reality that citizens in the Occupy movement have been rightfully concerned about Homeland Security’s possible role in cracking down on the movement for months because they themselves were victims of the crackdown.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."