EXCLUSIVE: New Documents Show FBI Targeted NATO Protesters

In the lead-up to the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, federal agents teamed with local police to find and interrogate suspected anarchists.

Joel Handley January 21, 2015

Protesters at the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 19, 2012. (Bartosz Brzezinsk/Flickr/Creative Commons)

We Sur­veil and Pro­tect” is an ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into the tech­niques and tech­nol­o­gy that the Chica­go Police Depart­ment employs to spy on activists, unions and heav­i­ly policed com­mu­ni­ties of color.

When a protester was arrested by the CPD for a 'violent outburst' at an Occupy Chicago event, FBI agents interrogated him separately from police, asking if he was part of any 'Anarchist type groups' or had been 'invited to attend any meetings relating to G-8/NATO.'

New­ly released doc­u­ments give hard evi­dence of an amor­phous FBI inves­ti­ga­tion into the polit­i­cal lives of Occu­py par­tic­i­pants, one appar­ent­ly ani­mat­ed by a belief that adher­ents to the polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy of anar­chism are prone to crim­i­nal activity.

Fol­low­ing the protests of the May 2012 NATO Sum­mit in Chica­go, rumors and reports abound­ed of local police and FBI agents raid­ing apart­ments, infil­trat­ing meet­ing places, and ques­tion­ing activists — par­tic­u­lar­ly anar­chists, or those appear­ing to iden­ti­fy as anar­chists — in the months lead­ing up to the sum­mit. A num­ber of the first­hand accounts of encoun­ters with the FBI and Chica­go police came from Occu­py Chica­go activists, who housed out-of-town pro­test­ers and planned many of the weekend’s actions. The exis­tence, if not the full extent, of the Chica­go Police Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tion was con­firmed dur­ing the tri­al of three young sum­mit pro­test­ers dubbed the NATO 3. In tes­ti­mo­ny from the under­cov­er police behind the arrests, it emerged that plain­clothes offi­cers with the CPD Intel­li­gence Unit had vis­it­ed cof­fee shops, restau­rants and con­certs to try to find anar­chists dis­cussing the summit.

But the FBI, which has long regard­ed anar­chists as a domes­tic ter­ror threat and mon­i­tored events like the G8 and World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion meet­ings, has nev­er con­firmed inves­ti­gat­ing anar­chists in advance of the NATO Sum­mit. And a doc­u­ment trove released in Decem­ber 2012 about FBI mon­i­tor­ing of Occu­py protests around the coun­try didn’t include any men­tion of Chicago. 

Now, three FBI doc­u­ments released to inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist and In These Times con­trib­u­tor Yana Kuni­choff in Octo­ber 2014 in response to a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act request — pub­lished here for the first time — indi­cate that the agency gath­ered intel­li­gence about Occu­py Chica­go gen­er­al assem­blies, and coor­di­nat­ed with local police to find and inter­ro­gate sus­pect­ed anarchists.

One of the doc­u­ments, an Octo­ber 2011 Poten­tial Activ­i­ty Alert titled Anar­chist Advo­cates Adopt­ing the St. Paul Prin­ci­ples for Occu­py Chica­go,” sug­gests that law enforce­ment either elec­tron­i­cal­ly sur­veilled Occu­py Chica­go gen­er­al assem­blies (GAs) or had an infor­mant there.

The St. Paul Prin­ci­ples are a code of con­duct for pro­test­ers devel­oped at the 2008 Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion and adopt­ed by Occu­py Chica­go in advance of the NATO Sum­mit (local activists now call them the Chica­go Prin­ci­ples).. They seek to lim­it pub­lic crit­i­cism of oth­er pro­test­ers’ actions and oppose giv­ing any assis­tance to law enforcement. 

An FBI agent appar­ent­ly found the intro­duc­tion of the prin­ci­ples to the GA by an Occu­py par­tic­i­pant sig­nif­i­cant enough to war­rant a report. The Poten­tial Activ­i­ty Alert, which includes the text of the prin­ci­ples, was shared with the high­est-rank­ing agents in the FBI’s Chica­go Divi­sion, as well as the Chica­go Police Depart­ment, the CPD-DHS fusion cen­ter, and Law Enforce­ment Online — an infor­ma­tion-shar­ing net­work between the FBI and police across the country.

Claim­ing sen­si­tive source infor­ma­tion,” the report does not dis­close how the FBI observed the GA. The descrip­tion of the Occu­py par­tic­i­pant as an indi­vid­ual involved in anar­chist activ­i­ty” sug­gests, how­ev­er, that the FBI had been pre­vi­ous­ly track­ing the sub­ject and made note of his polit­i­cal beliefs.

A sec­ond doc­u­ment, a sev­en-page inter­ro­ga­tion report from Novem­ber 2011, shows how con­cerned the FBI was about the prospect of Occu­py activists protest­ing the upcom­ing NATO Summit

When a pro­test­er was arrest­ed by the CPD for a vio­lent out­burst” at an Occu­py Chica­go event, FBI agents inter­ro­gat­ed him sep­a­rate­ly from police, ask­ing if he was part of any Anar­chist type groups” or asso­ci­at­ed with indi­vid­u­als in the Anar­chist move­ment.” They also asked if he had ever been approached to par­tic­i­pate in any ille­gal activ­i­ty relat­ed to anar­chist extrem­ism,” to be recruit­ed into an anar­chist group,” or invit­ed to attend any meet­ings relat­ing to G‑8/NATO.” (The G8 Sum­mit was orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled to be held along­side the NATO Sum­mit in Chica­go, until Pres­i­dent Oba­ma moved its loca­tion to Camp David.) The sub­ject respond­ed that he was not part of, nor ever asked to take part in, any such groups or activities.

An admin­is­tra­tive note that pref­aces the report shows the FBI’s elas­tic log­ic to jus­ti­fy inves­ti­gat­ing peo­ple with anar­chist beliefs while main­tain­ing that it is not vio­lat­ing the First Amend­ment. It states that the subject’s inclu­sion [in the report] is not intend­ed to direct­ly or indi­rect­ly asso­ciate the pro­tect­ed activ­i­ty” though it is pos­si­ble the pro­tect­ed activ­i­ty could invite a vio­lent or oth­er­wise incen­di­ary reac­tion towards the sub­ject indi­vid­ual or oth­ers in retal­i­a­tion.” In oth­er words, a sub­ject may freely prac­tice or believe in anar­chism, but because oth­er peo­ple might hurt him or oth­ers for doing so, the FBI may freely spy on any­one sus­pect­ed of being an anarchist.

The note adds that if no such [vio­lent or crim­i­nal] reac­tion occurs,” that no fur­ther record” will be kept. Why this report still exists two years lat­er is unclear, espe­cial­ly as the indi­vid­ual denied any asso­ci­a­tion with anar­chist groups. The infor­ma­tion includ­ed in the sev­en-page report deals pri­mar­i­ly with the subject’s tran­sient lifestyle and his­to­ry of men­tal illness.

The FBI with­held eight addi­tion­al pages, which it argued would dis­close tech­niques and pro­ce­dures for law enforce­ment inves­ti­ga­tions or prosecutions.”

The third doc­u­ment, three unclas­si­fied pages of a 30-page report from March 2012, shows the lev­el of coop­er­a­tion between fed­er­al and local law enforce­ment agen­cies — even out­side the city of Chica­go — and offers fur­ther evi­dence of the FBI’s obses­sion with find­ing anar­chists amid Occu­py activists.

After the sub­ur­ban Naperville Police arrest­ed a man for caus­ing a dis­tur­bance” on an Amtrak train out of Chica­go, they tipped off the FBI that the sub­ject was involved in Occu­py Wall Street,” was head­ing to Nebras­ka to meet up with oth­er like mind­ed anar­chists,” and planned to return for the NATO Sum­mit. Under lat­er joint ques­tion­ing by FBI agents and Amtrak inves­ti­ga­tors, the sub­ject refused to elab­o­rate” on his plans and said he would not return for the summit.

As a whole, the doc­u­ments also bring up issues around the FBI’s coop­er­a­tion with FOIA requests. Open records advo­cates rou­tine­ly crit­i­cize the FBI for its lengthy delays and out­right denials in respond­ing to FOIA requests. When inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request with the FBI in 2011 seek­ing doc­u­ments about Occu­py Wall Street, the agency said that none exist­ed. In response to a FOIA request by the Part­ner­ship for Civ­il Jus­tice Fund lat­er that year, the FBI released 112 pages of doc­u­ments. At the time, the PCJF called the release the tip of the ice­berg,” fil­ing an appeal demand­ing the agency release more records of the FBI’s files on the Occu­py Move­ment, but there has been no update in the two years since.

The delay of the release of the doc­u­ments to Kuni­choff until Octo­ber 2014 — more than two years after her ini­tial request — and their ram­pant redac­tions give cre­dence to such crit­i­cisms. The doc­u­ments pro­vid­ed here weren’t released to Leopold and the PCJF, despite being arguably with­in the scope of their requests. Addi­tion­al­ly, the FBI’s response to Kuni­choff stat­ed that the agency did not search its indices when ful­fill­ing her request—a com­mon tac­tic the FBI uses to lim­it the doc­u­ments turned up by a request.

The agency’s admis­sion that it did not under­take a tru­ly exhaus­tive search — along with the numer­ous reports of FBI activ­i­ties dur­ing Occu­py Chica­go and the NATO Sum­mit — sug­gest there are still more doc­u­ments to be found.

This inves­ti­ga­tion is fund­ed by the Leonard C. Good­man Insti­tute for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing.

Joel Han­d­ley, a for­mer assis­tant edi­tor at In These Times, is a Chica­go-based inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist and free­lance editor.
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