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Homeland Security Department Records Reveal Details on Role in Crackdown on Occupy Protests

(photo of section of DHS bulletin)

The independent news website Truthout obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request documents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Occupy Wall Street. They were requested by the website’s investigative reporter Jason Leopold.

The news outlet was the first to request the records. The request was made in October of last year. “All records, including emails, memoranda, letters, audio/video, transcripts, reports, including Threat Assessments, related to the protest movement known as ‘Occupy Wall  Street,'” were requested.

DHS had Truthout limit the request to “responsive records from DHS senior officials only.” Truthout agreed to limit the scope of the request.

According to Leopold, the documents show DHS “closely” monitored Twitter about OWS protests and activities. They were monitoring the moves of organizers too. The agency was “very hands on.”

The documents show how DHS fixated on the role of hacktivist group “Anonymous” in Occupy Wall Street. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis put out a bulletin on the upcoming US operations by “Anonymous” on September 17, 2011 (the kickoff date for Occupy Wall Street). The bulletin highlighted the call to action put out by Adbusters and the ideology within the call.

The bulletin concluded:

The ideologies set forth by Adbusters seem to align at a basic level with the stated intent of Anonymous’ newly adopted Hacktivist agenda. The protests are likely to occur due to the high level of media attention garnered by the partnership between Adbusters and Anonymous. Though the protests will likely be peaceful in nature, like any protest, malicious individuals may use the large crowds as cover to conduct illegal activity such as vandalism. Judging based on past behaviors by the group, Anonymous’ participation in these protests may include malicious cyber activity, likely in the form of distributed denial of service attacks targeting the computers of financial institutions and government agencies.

Another bulletin previously released and posted to features identical content, but the format of the bulletin is different. This version, however, was put out by the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, which is where the Office of Intelligence and Analysis got the material for their bulletin.

DHS was particularly concerned with the possible threat to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). A bulletin noted a supposed threat made by “Anonymous” to “erase” the NYSE and suggested the group might go beyond typical DDoS attacks and  “attempt to disable actual trading on the exchange.” But, it also included a mention of the possibility that law enforcement had planted this threat against the NYSE as a way to “step up action against the group and turn public opinion against their cause.”

This all affirms the idea that Homeland Security’s chief interest in controlling Occupy may have been how it could inspire cyber attacks from “Anonymous.” Recall, a report WikiLeaks published in the Stratfor emails release showed the concern about the involvement of “Anonymous” members.

This bulletin included the comments:

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has notified the FBI, Treasury and Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center of the threat and remains in contact with law enforcement and private sector partners to ensure any additional threat information is disseminated in a prompt manner. To date, US-CERT has not received additional information concerning this threat from law enforcement channels.

The section is noteworthy because it calls into question the FBI’s claim that they “cannot locate any OWS records responsive to a FOIA request.”

Obtained email correspondence on Occupy Wall Street shows that a month after Occupy Wall Street began DHS still considered the protests to be peaceful. In response to a Wall Street Journal inquiry, a senior official named Robert M. Davis said, “We are treating all of these protests nationwide as peaceful demonstrations.”

The correspondence also suggests Federal Protective Services (FPS) only helped remove protesters once and that was in Portland, Oregon. The FPS helped the Portland police arrest people at the federally-owned Terry Schrunk Plaza.

DHS was getting multiple inquiries from CBS, AP, Reuters, Daily Caller, Salon and others on an “un-sourced piece” that said the DHS and FBI were “collaborating with cities by providing tactics and information on removing Occupy protestors.” Matthew Chandler, a senior official with DHS, did a check and found this was not going on “in any wholesale manner.”

In response to the inquiries, the following clarification consisting of multiple talking points was fed to media:

Any decisions on how to handle specific situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location. If a protest area is located on Federal property and has been deemed unsanitary or unsafe by the General Services Administration (GSA) or city officials, and they make a decision to evacuate participants, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) will work with those officials to develop a plan to ensure the security and safety of everyone involved.

Richard K. Cline provided details to CBS on the nature of FPS’ cooperation with Portland Police:

On Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at approximately 4:30 am FPS and Portland Police Bureau officers moved into Terry Shrunk Park in downtown Portland to evict a number of “Occupy Portland” protesters who had set up tents in the federal park. Approximately 12 tents had been set up and about 20 protesters were present. FPS personnel ordered the protesters to depart since overnight camping is not allowed in the park and about half of the people present complied and departed. 10 protesters refused to leave and were arrested for failure to comply with the lawful order of a Federal police officer. [emphasis not added]

On the issue of fusion centers possibly being involved, it appears the centers tried to either cover their tracks or keep a distance so that they didn’t attract scrutiny. Senior official Andrew Lluberes, director of communications for the Intelligence and Analysis Office of Public Affairs wrote in an email on November 16, 2011:

As I thought, I&A scrupulously avoided any connection with the Occupy movement/protests/dismantlings. We cannot speak for any individual fusion center or other departmental component, but we issued no product to our customers and held no conf call with our field IOs on the subject.

An IP contractor posted an uncleared Tripwire product to the website, but it was pulled down. A recipient of that product then had it posted to the DSAC website—which I’ll forward separately—and DUS Scalici had it pulled down.

It appears they are referring to an intelligence product posted that was titled, “DHS Special Coverage: Occupy Wall Street.” That product was available for a period of time to anyone with access to the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC) portal.

According to DSAC’s website, the Council is “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector, enhances communications and promotes the timely and bidirectional effective exchange of information keeping the nation’s critical infrastructure safe, secure and resilient.” Members of Stratfor apparently had connections to people in this “strategic partnership” because the intelligence product being discussed here in this email is what WikiLeaks uncovered when it began to release the Stratfor emails.

With the exception of Occupy Portland, the records do not exactly confirm the suspicions that DHS was conspiring with law enforcement to squash the Occupy movement. But, this information reported is from all non-intelligence related documents.

There may be more to report on DHS’ involvement in the crackdown, as Truthout is waiting on a batch of records that DHS “forgot” to send.

Stay tuned.

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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."