A demonstration organized by Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine against the Israeli occupation and in solidarity with the Occupy movement held at Occupy Boston in Dewey Sq., Boston, MA. Tuesday Oct’ 18, 2011 . Photo: T.Scheflan/ Activestills.org
The Boston Police Department, working in conjunction with the FBI, tracked and monitored anti-war activists, including Palestine solidarity activists, for a number of years, according to documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Massachusetts.
The ACLU exposed Boston police officers who worked with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), one of many “fusion centers” ostensibly meant to counter the threat of terrorism. Fusion centers bring together the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and local law enforcement and are the focus of the ACLU’s expose.
Boston law enforcement “monitor demonstrations, track the beliefs and internal dynamics of activist groups, and document this information with misleading criminal labels in searchable and possibly widely-shared electronic reports,” according to the ACLU’s report (pdf) on their findings.
Boston law enforcement officers have also videotaped peace activists and retained the data. The retention of surveillance on the activists “violates federal privacy regulations and the BRIC’s own privacy policies,” the ACLU states.
The ACLU has obtained and published 13 “intelligence reports” from Boston law enforcement that show how police have tracked and monitored demonstrators. The documents reveal that “officers investigate the beliefs and communications of peaceful demonstrators, giving them labels like ‘extremists’ even when the officers could not plausibly suspect them of any crime,” according to the civil liberties group.
The documents were exposed as part of a lawsuit filed in 2011 on behalf of four activists questioned about their political activism when they were arrested, as well as five peace and justice groups. The National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU filed the suit, and the groups involved include CODE PINK, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights and the Greater Boston Stop the Wars Coalition.
Among the documents are “intelligence reports” that detail the police’s surveillance of Palestine solidarity activism. In January 2009, the Boston Police Department authored an “intelligence report” on a “die-in” action at the Israeli consulate at the time when Israel was then waging Cast Lead, an all-out assault on Gaza. The “intelligence report” was labeled “Criminal Act: Groups-Extremist.” The report details the interrogations of four activists who were arrested as part of the action. “The purpose of the interviews was to attempt to create a dialogue with these activists in the hopes that these activists may reach out to officers in the future regarding any future actions relating to the current situation in Gaza,” the police wrote.
A March 2009 “intelligence report” shows that Boston police officers monitored another Palestine solidarity protest outside a hotel hosting a dinner. The report specifically noted that “women believed to be associated with Code Pink were prevented from getting into the dinner by private security.”
“When law enforcement officers start investigating protected ideas rather than crimes, they threaten our right to free expression and assembly protected by the First Amendment,” the ACLU report on the Boston police states. “The unchecked political surveillance our lawsuit uncovered undermines our core values by chilling the speech of people who wish to participate in our democracy.”
The expose of Boston’s fusion center comes on the heels of a Senate report that revealed how fusion centers across the country spy on U.S. citizens, particularly Muslims. Both the ACLU and Senate reports say that law enforcement may have broken U.S. laws that prevent the collection and sharing of information related to First Amendment activity.
It’s not only the Boston police department that have spied on activists, though. In March 2012, the Associated Press revealed how the New York Police Department, in addition to widespread spying on Muslims in the Northeast, also tracked activists around the country. An NYPD document reported on the planned activities of Palestine solidarity groups and activists, as Mondoweiss reported.
The ACLU is calling for the halting of the surveillance and for the Massachusetts legislature to cease funding fusion centers in the state.