Why Are We Marching to Jail?

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According to a new ACLU report, pro-active California police haven't just been spying on anti-war protesters. They've been leading them:

Two Oakland police officers working undercover at an anti-war protest in May 2003 got themselves elected to leadership positions in an effort to influence the demonstration, documents released Thursday show.

The extent of the officers' involvement in the… march May 12, 2003, led by Direct Action to Stop War and Others, is unclear. But in a deposition related to a lawsuit filed by protesters, Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan said activists had elected the undercover officers to "plan the route of the march and decide I guess where it would end up and some of the places that it would go."

Full report here.

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  1. Inspector Clouseau could handle something like this, but if it was a plot element in a James Bond movie it would be laughed off the screen.

    It’s getting really hard to say, “That’s just paranoia.”

  2. Police officers can’t be anti-war?

  3. So, how many of the Reason writers do you think are police infiltrators?

  4. There’s nothing wrong with the government spying on it’s citizens, Hitler did it all the time.

    Sorry, it’s Friday and I need a drink…

  5. So, how many of the Reason writers do you think are police infiltrators?

    And how many of the commenters??? 😉

  6. So, how many of the Reason writers do you think are police infiltrators?

    I never thought of this before, but Nick Gillespie probably is. Because of the leather jacket. In college I knew a cannabiphile who told me you can always spot the undercover police officers because they always wear leather jackets.

  7. As an Oakland resident, I’m thrilled to know the boys in blue are keeping tabs on the anti-war protesters. They could be responsible for the string of bodies found in abandoned cars last spring, after all. Just because it’s not likely doesn’t eliminate the need to squander precious resources spying on a bunch of peacemongers.

  8. I’m reminded of a subplot in a story I once read, wherein the main character was working for the CIA to go undercover in an anti-goverment group. On the day of the big takeover rally, he was told not to go to avoid the blood bath that would take place. Nobody showed. Turns out that EVERY member of the group (including the leader) was a member of some policing agency, trying to catch anti-government types.

    By 2010, I bet we’ll see it for real.

  9. I remeber this joke about the Soviet Union from my childhood:

    Whenever 3 anti-revolutionaries have a clandestine cell meeting, two of the members are KGB agents and the third is a fool.

    Obviously there is a need to rewrite the joke for today’s America.

  10. “So, how many of the Reason writers do you think are police infiltrators?

    And how many of the commenters??? ;)”

    Jessee Walker. He is the only writer I ever see at the monthly IPRs with my handler.

  11. In a way, it’s not surprising.

    Generally, people in rebel groups tend to be those who cannot function within the society, which tends to skew the membership to have unusually high levels of people who are disorganized and incapable of executing plans competently.

    The infiltrators sent by the police tend to be amongst the most copetent members of the group and thus naturally get elected to positions of leadership. They also tend to be the financial backbone of the organization because they pay their dues on time.

    I suspect that we will be seeing more of this. It used to be that prosecutors could not get a conviction if the police infiltrator had helped organize the criminal act. In this day and age, judges seem unwilling to rigorously defend defendants against civil rights violations. I expect that that would extend to weakened protections against police entrapment, meaning that police will be bolder about setting trusted men in positions of authority in reb el groups to either diffuse their activities or heighten them as required.

  12. Heh, I can totally see Nick Gillespie doing interviews with potential interns, pulling out a knife, holding it to their throat, saying “TELL ME THAT YOU’RE A FUCKING COP!!! TELL ME!!”

  13. I have a dream. Someday, we’ll all be government employees. Only then will we be free.

  14. Real life now resembles the plot of a Philip K. Dick novel.

    This story does provide useful tips on how to spot the undercover cops inside an anti-war group. Just look for the ass kissing overachievers that actually want to lead the group.

  15. This also resembles the plot of an old P.J. O’Rourke story from National Lampoon. Was based on true story, iirc.

  16. They should cut out the middleman and organize a peace protest completely made up of undercover cops. Then we could get the rest of the cops to go beat them down, and use the incident to justify hiring more cops.

  17. “They should cut out the middleman and organize a peace protest completely made up of undercover cops. Then we could get the rest of the cops to go beat them down, and use the incident to justify hiring more cops.”

    I think they actually did that with the KKK. There were KKK marches in the 1980s were over half of the marchers were working for the FBI. It gave both the FBI and the Sothern Poverty Law Center something to do as well as giving the last four remaining legitimate KKK members someone to hang out with.

  18. Scott, you mean that the Japanese and the Nazis won the war? Egad. I’m not leaving my office.

  19. Philip K. Dick, National Lampoon, some story I read. I’m disappointed in all of you. The most famous literary example of this type of thing (rebel group consisting entirely of infiltrators) has got to be G.K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday”.
    And now that I’ve made this overly pedantic post, everybody drink!

  20. mean that the Japanese and the Nazis won the war?

    It’s a darn good thing Japan didn’t win the war … otherwise we’d all be driving Toyotas and eating sushi.

  21. Philip K. Dick, National Lampoon, some story I read. I’m disappointed in all of you. The most famous literary example of this type of thing (rebel group consisting entirely of infiltrators) has got to be G.K. Chesterton’s…

    Yeah, but “chestertonian” is not as much fun to write or say as “phildickian.”

  22. The O’Rourke story was reprinted in “Age & Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut.”

  23. …people in rebel groups tend to be those who cannot function within the society, which tends to skew the membership to have unusually high levels of people who are disorganized and incapable of executing plans competently…

    Just because you personally see all anti-war protestors as scruffy, aimless, jobless hippie freaks doesn’t mean this is true of “rebel” groups. Members of the KKK and other white supremacist groups are (and historically have always been) exceptionally well-camouflaged as respectable and productive members of the community.

    Look at the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Hezbollah’d be a hell of a lot easier to target if they’d only wear neon green hats with “Hezbollah” stitched on them. They’re a militant group who happens to blend in pretty damned well with their surrounding society.

    Look around your office; chances are some of your co-workers in their tidy golf polos and Dockers, with their Dilbert squeezie toys resting atop their monitors, are believers in “creation science” who’ll happily and infuriatingly debate you that there’s no way we descended from monkeys. Yes, I’ve got some of those nutters in my office.

    Local homophobic gasbag Ken Hutcherson is a clean-cut former pro footballer and McChurch pastor whose chief business these days is making sure gay couples can never marry. Now there’s an upstanding, taxpaying citizen who functions just fine in society. Somebody please run over him with a bus.

    Unless you’re talking about those property-destroying freaks in PETA and ELF, I’d have to say you’re way off. “Rebels” are destructive and unlawful. When more than half the country thinks the Iraq war is a lousy idea, it’s time to stop calling them rebels or “the far-left fringe.” Anti-war is now the mainstream.

  24. and this is why i have so much respect for the citizen militias in new hampshire.
    and with that im gonna drop some addy and commence the drinking.

  25. fishfry,

    Shows what you know–I’m eating sushi and driving a Honda. And my girlfriend’s son is obsessed with some manga/anime called Naruto.

    Wakarimasen!

  26. For all that people get in a tizzy about data mining and communications incepts such remote methods do have the virtue of avoiding the agent provocateur problem.

    Of course, sometimes having a government spy around is a good thing. Back in the early 70’s John Kerry’s old protest outfit the VVAW seriously voted on whether or not to assassinate US senators, the FBI informant in the group recorded that Kerry voted nay. Without the FBI confirmation, Kerry might have been in political trouble when he ran for president.

  27. “Of course, sometimes having a government spy around is a good thing. Back in the early 70’s John Kerry’s old protest outfit the VVAW seriously voted on whether or not to assassinate US senators, the FBI informant in the group recorded that Kerry voted nay. Without the FBI confirmation, Kerry might have been in political trouble when he ran for president.”

    Yes, of course, Shannon, our lives would all be so much better if we were monitored 24 hours a day by law enforcement agents because that way we would all have airtight alibis any time a crime is committed!

  28. Coming in late here, but on topic.
    How long will it be before towns (such as Sinincincinnati) across this fair land demand a hundred FEWER cops instead of a hundred more of ’em?

    Cops are running a protection racket so blatant, it’s a wonder they don’t occasionally, accidentally arrest themselves.

  29. “How long will it be before towns (such as Sinincincinnati) across this fair land demand a hundred FEWER cops instead of a hundred more of ’em?”
    from Ruthless
    I think the answer is forever. People loved cops (and federal cops, drug wars, etc.) before 9/11. Now there is even more incentive to point to some nonexistent menace and demand a larger police force.

  30. Yes, of course, Shannon, our lives would all be so much better if we were monitored 24 hours a day by law enforcement agents because that way we would all have airtight alibis any time a crime is committed!

    The Truth Machine; James L Halperin; 1996

  31. sr,

    Yes, of course, Shannon, our lives would all be so much better if we were monitored 24 hours a day by law enforcement agents because that way we would all have airtight alibis any time a crime is committed!

    Please look up the definition of “sometimes”.

  32. “Cops are running a protection racket so blatant, it’s a wonder they don’t occasionally, accidentally arrest themselves.”

    actually, they sometimes shoot each other here in nyc.

  33. being a cop should be a respectable profession….

    why don’t they live where they work?

  34. What does a scanner see?

  35. Is this a surprise? The FBI gave free combat boots to some crazy guys and then tried to get them to commit to blowing up a building.

    From what I’ve read, if the FBI agent hadn’t been such a taskmaster the crazy guys would have gotten distracted by the shinny metal on the boots, and today they’d still be running around Miami talking about how they train mentally from the Bible to develop their bodies so they can serve Allah.

  36. thoreau,

    I thought you advocated the use of informants instead of data mining and communication intercepts. I think the phrase you used in the past to describe the activities of uncover officers was “good ol’fashion detective work.”

    If those we task with preventing terrorist attacks can’t data mine, can’t intercept communications and they can’t place undercover agents, what methods are left to use, Ouija boards?

  37. Shannon-

    Informants should gather information on what other people are doing, not try to whip crazy guys into some semblance of organization and get them to form a plan that merits prosecution. If the crazy guys show no signs of any sort of competence or coherent plan then they shouldn’t be charged with terrorism. They should, however, be closely monitored to see if they get their act together in the future.

    And I’m all in favor of electronic surveillance, as long as it’s targeted rather than indiscriminate. If the crazy guys are disorganized, don’t arrest them for a conspiracy that doesn’t yet exist, and don’t try to help them reach the stage where they can be prosecuted under conspiracy laws, but by all means keep an eye on them.

  38. One other thing: While I’m all in favor of tapping the phone of the guy who professes a desire to join Al Qaeda, don’t tap my phone. I have no interest in joining Al Qaeda.

    If at some point I go completely insane and express an interest in joining Al Qaeda, and an informant gets wind of that, by all means, tap my phone. But if I become distracted by the shiny metal on my new combat boots, don’t send me to federal prison. Put me on some anti-psychotic meds instead. It will be cheaper for the taxpayers than a maximum security prison, and probably just as effective in protecting public safety.

  39. thoreau,

    In all your arguments you presuppose the existence of some piece of evidence that will provide probable cause to initiate intercepts or to otherwise launch and investigation. Lets call this piece of information, Information Zero. Yet you never explain where you think information zero will come from.

    For example you say: While I’m all in favor of tapping the phone of the guy who professes a desire to join Al Qaeda, don’t tap my phone. Yet you do not explain how those tasked with fighting terrorist will ever know that some random person out of 300 million American residents professes a desire to join Al Qaeda. Merely, communicating with known or suspected terrorist is not enough to trigger an investigation because that is what the NSA intercept program in based on and you pilloried them for that. Data mining is out. “Spying” on Mosque is out. And on it goes.

    You see what I mean? You demand that the authorities have information before they act but you don’t approve of any of the means that they could practically use to get that information. You want to only use these techniques to confirm or refute suspicions raised by other sources of information. I think you do so because you think of the problem as a civil criminal one in which the existence of the crime such as a dead body, provides the information zero. With terrorism, however, we want to prevent the attack in the first place. Most terrorist plots will exist only as information until very shortly before the actual attack. Look at 9/11. Had the perpetrators not broken any civil laws, nothing they did would have risen to the level of probable cause unless we access to their communications.

    Finding a few hundred highly dangerous individuals out of a population of hundreds of millions before they act constitutes an enormous information analysis problem. The standard tools of crime fighting won’t help.

  40. http://www.commondreams.org/news2004/0319-11.htm
    SAN FRANCISCO – March 19 – Over 500 Bay Area residents marked the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by taking direct action at the headquarters of the Bechtel corporation to protest their exploitation of the Iraqi people and misuse of U.S. tax dollars. Two marches converged on Bechtel’s offices, one led by teachers holding a banner reading “Education Not Occupation,” and one led by healthcare workers marching with banners reading “Healthcare not Warfare” and “Democracy Not Empire”. The march was flanked by a marching band, yogis for peace, colorful puppets, cyclists, and banners protesting the US occupation of Iraq. While the crowd occupied the street, several dozen people engaged in civil disobedience by blocking the entrances to the building. By noon over twenty-five people had been arrested. The actions were organized by local grassroots mobilization Direct Action to Stop theWar (DASW) and will be among the first of hundreds of anti-war actions happening this weekend in 250 U.S. cities and over 50 countries.
    Wow-what a scary violent group -those teachers holding banners or maybe the colorful puppets are what prompted an infiltration by the police?
    I looked at about 10 links on google and no where was there any standout leader, call for funds etc.
    Everywhere was a call for non-violence.

    I think that some of the police should work for corporate security and stop pretending they aren’t whores for Halliburton & Bechtel.
    Next they’ll send the FBI to investigate the Quakers-oh, that’s right they already have.

  41. Shannon – the problem is, though, that when you’re waging a war on “terror”, where is the accountability and responsibility of those trying to find “terrorists”? I see your point, but I absolutely agree with thoreau that it’s unacceptable for undercover agents to prod folks into doing something that they may or may not have had the skills/inclination/ability/etc to pull off. (I would also like to know how the individuals in Florida came to the attention of our government agents…you’re saying that we must root things out before they get started…so then how did those individuals come to the govt’s attention?)

    It is like A Scanner Darkly where you’ve got these paranoid undercover agents trying to manufacture the very thing they’re paranoid of.

    Also, I have to wonder just how worried we should be about terrorists. Yes, they can cause havok and kill many of our fellow citizens. Don’t misunderstand me, because I do not want to minimise the horrible pain and loss such a thing produces, but are these terrorists really a major threat to our way of life? I would posit that the greater threat to our way of life is unbridled power given to our government and it’s agents.

  42. this just shows what complete, naive, blithering idiots this protest group is filled of

    they frigging elected these undercover officers to lead them within hours of meeting them

    iow, they acted emotionally, with little evidence or research.

    why does this not surprise me

    stupid is, as stupid does

  43. Shannon-

    First, I just said that I am fine with information zero coming from informants. There’s a difference between the informant who informs and the informant who sets himself the task of whipping some crazy guys into shape so that they can become an organized terror cell that’s worthy of arrest.

    Second, we don’t live in a world where the starting point is impossible to find. There are known radical groups out there. We already have information on them. Not enough, but something. Why not use that info as the starting point? I’d be fine with tapping the phones of, say, somebody known to associate with people who are already known to be bad. I’d be fine with sending undercover agents to known recruiting areas for radical groups. I’d be fine with monitoring known recruiting areas. I’d be fine with monitoring web sites where known violent radicals hang out.

    I don’t know exactly how much info our government has on Islamic radicals, but they have something. Whatever they have, let’s call that the starting point, and proceed from there. It seems to be more efficient than tapping 300 million phones.

    Indeed, I seem to recall that when the Bush administration was criticized for not acting soon enough prior to 9/11, Condoleeza Rice said (paraphrase) “Well, yes, we did have a memo warning us that something big was coming from Al Qaeda, but we had so much info that it was hard to know what to act on.” That would seem to warn against tapping 300 million phones.

    Finally, I’ll offer a scenario where it would be fine to tap the phone of an innocent guy like myself: Let’s say I am the advisor to a grad student who, unbeknownst to me, is tied to radical groups. By day, he’s just a normal grad student, but at night he’s studying nuclear physics textbooks. The feds have, by one means or another, identified him as a threat, and they know that I am in close contact with him. They would be justified in tapping my phone as long as they have him under surveillance. Even if they satisfy themselves that I am not a knowing accomplice of his, there may still be info that they could glean from listening to me, info concerning him. (e.g. He and I discuss some diffusion problems. I think he’s interested in the diffusion of photons in tissue, or growth factors near tumors, two problems that I’m working on, but in fact these problems are mathematically equivalent to a neutron diffusion problem that he needs to understand so he can build a better nuclear bomb.)

    But once he was busted, I would hope that they would stop tapping my phone. Especially if I cooperated.

    Anyway, I think it’s clear that:

    1) We do have ways of getting information zero. We don’t live in a world where we have no clue who any of the violent radicals are.
    2) Adding more hay to the stack won’t help us find needles.
    3) My notion of who should or shouldn’t be tapped is a reasonable one. I just came up with a very plausible scenario where an innocent person like myself could be justifiably spied on.

    You always come here and explain that it’s paramount to stop these guys, so anything and everything that might stop them should be justified. And I keep trying to explain that a more intelligent approach will not only protect my privacy, it might even make for a more, well, intelligent investigation, a more successful one.

  44. lowdog,

    I see your point, but I absolutely agree with thoreau that it’s unacceptable for undercover agents to prod folks into doing something that they may or may not have had the skills/inclination/ability/etc to pull off.

    I agree and so would everyone running such operations. Its a long known problem called the “Agent Provocateur problem.” We might like to imagine that the agent can function as just the quite guy in the back of the room who never leads anything but as a practical matter agents almost always must become involved and they must often use inducements to gain entry, especially to the leadership circle. An outsider cannot gain entry into such a group quickly and reliably without bringing something important to the table. They also face time constraints. Undercover operations are taxing on people and expensive to run. The temptation to try to bait the group to see if they might be more than talk in order to save time is nearly overwhelming. Using undercover agents always raises the possibility that the actions of the agents caused the conspiracy they sought to prevent. No one can ever be sure that they did not.

    The benefit of signal intelligence in this regard is that it is passive and does not in of itself alter the behavior of the observed. You can be fairly confident that information uncovered represents the true intent and capabilities of the group.

    I would posit that the greater threat to our way of life is unbridled power given to our government and it’s agents.

    That is a valid fear but I would point out that historically, no liberal order as slowly evolved into an authoritarian one by increasingly effective police powers. History shows that liberal orders that cannot maintain basic order reach a crisis and then suddenly collapse into authoritarian states. If we do not prevent terrorist attacks from any source, the use of the tactic will spread. Eventually, enough people might conclude that the American liberal order simply no longer worked and they might start looking at authoritarian solutions.

    (Communist often tried consciously try to create this situation using terrorism because they thought a polarized authoritarian order was easier to subvert than a liberal one. Usually, they were right.)

    Look at what happened with crime in the 60-80’s. The resulting sense of chaos and disorder resulted in the popularity of characters like Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, whose explicit appeal was a crypto-facsist disregard for formal law. It seemed to many that the rule of law had functionally broken down and only someone operating without constraint could solve the problem. Fortunately, a reversion to traditional approaches to crime control and other factors stopped the slide. I don’t think, however, that we can assume that the same thing will happen with terrorism. It is a new threat made possible by technological and cultural change. We have no historically effective methods to revert to. When you add in the fact that terrorist maybe able to eventually launch attacks that kill millions, then the threat that they will drive dangerous political change is very real.

    I think it far safer to create an effective system to prevent attacks. If no attacks occur, then there will be no political drive for more powers. I believe that because of technological change, we do have to create a monitoring system in cyberspace just as we once had to build radar to monitor airspace. Its grim but I believe that terrorism will be the principle form of warfare in the 21st century. If we do not effectively defend ourselves from it, then we will lose or freedoms one way or the other.

  45. Let’s keep in mind that there’s a big difference between the undercover guy who tries to join an existing organization, and the undercover guy who is approached by wannabes trying to join an organization.

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