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Undercover Supreme Court Police Deployed Outside Courthouse to Spy on Protests

When J. Edgar Hoover was FBI director, he wanted agents to enhance people’s paranoia and make them feel like there was an agent behind every mailbox. His agents were particularly targeting dissent. Now, these days, the use of undercover agents in criminal investigations or general operations has grown to such a degree that a citizen may feel like there is a federal agent behind every action.

According to a report from the New York Times based off information from officials, former agents and documents, there are forty different agencies granting their employees the authority to impersonate people. That is stunning in and of itself, because it is not only the FBI conducting undercover operations anymore. But what truly stands out is the fact that some of these operations are targeting protests at the United States Supreme Court.

William Arkin and Eric Lichtblau describe, “At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity.”

The country’s highest court has over 150 police officers, who are trained in undercover tactics. “At large protests over issues like abortion, small teams of undercover officers mill about—usually behind the crowd—to look for potential disturbances.”

A “federal law enforcement official” told the Times that the agents will often appear to be “youthful looking” by “dressing down” and wearing backs to blend in to the demonstration.

At one recent protest, an undercover agent — rather than a uniformed officer — went into the center of a crowd of protesters to check out a report of a suspicious bag before determining there was no threat, the official said. The use of undercover officers is seen as a more effective way of monitoring large crowds.

But one should not think that such operations are limited to monitoring crowds outside the Supreme Court for potential bomb threats and, therefore, acceptable. Any one of these undercover Supreme Court police or a whole team could be used to target and preemptively halt an act of protest.

CommunityThe Dissenter

Undercover Supreme Court Police Deployed Outside Courthouse to Spy on Protests

When J. Edgar Hoover was FBI director, he wanted agents to enhance people’s paranoia and make them feel like there was an agent behind every mailbox. His agents were particularly targeting dissent. Now, these days, the use of undercover agents in criminal investigations or general operations has grown to such a degree that a citizen may feel like there is a federal agent behind every action.

According to a report from the New York Times based off information from officials, former agents and documents, there are forty different agencies granting their employees the authority to impersonate people. That is stunning in and of itself, because it is not only the FBI conducting undercover operations anymore. But what truly stands out is the fact that some of these operations are targeting protests at the United States Supreme Court.

William Arkin and Eric Lichtblau describe, “At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity.”

The country’s highest court has over 150 police officers, who are trained in undercover tactics. “At large protests over issues like abortion, small teams of undercover officers mill about—usually behind the crowd—to look for potential disturbances.”

A “federal law enforcement official” told the Times that the agents will often appear to be “youthful looking” by “dressing down” and wearing backs to blend in to the demonstration.

At one recent protest, an undercover agent — rather than a uniformed officer — went into the center of a crowd of protesters to check out a report of a suspicious bag before determining there was no threat, the official said. The use of undercover officers is seen as a more effective way of monitoring large crowds.

But one should not think that such operations are limited to monitoring crowds outside the Supreme Court for potential bomb threats and, therefore, acceptable. Any one of these undercover Supreme Court police or a whole team could be used to target and preemptively halt an act of protest.

In a rare protest in February, Kai Newkirk interrupted oral argument in the Supreme Court and shouted, “Money is not speech,” “Corporations are not people,” and “Overturn Citizens United.” He was protesting the courts Citizen United decision that made it possible for huge amounts of money to be used by corporations or special interest groups to influence the outcome of federal elections.

Newkirk managed to get a recording device into the courtroom. It was one of the first times that footage from proceedings was taken and posted online. The Supreme Court instructed officers to more carefully scrutinize items when they were being brought in to the courtroom.

When officials talk about the Supreme Court police preventing “criminal activity,” one can easily bet that this type of protest activity, which gets the attention of the public, is what an undercover team would like to disrupt. A young looking agent is going to be deployed to eavesdrop on protesters and find out if anyone is sneaking in a recording device into a courtroom that still operates in the 19th Century by refusing to stream video of Supreme Court proceedings on the internet. (more…)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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