How I Exposed an Undercover Cop

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Spying on protesters is the worst violation of our freedom.

She was an undercover cop who called herself “Missy.” When I first met her four years ago, I couldn’t have known that the small-framed woman with spiky brown hair and intense eyes was anything but a fellow activist showing up for a protest in Washington, D.C.

I certainly didn’t know she was actually Nicole Rizzi, an undercover cop ordered to secretly spy on peaceful protesters, violate our freedom of speech and assembly, and disregard our right to privacy.

Sure, I thought something was odd about her. She stared just a little too long. Her irreverent sense of humor made the hair stand up on the backs of a lot of necks. Her favorite t-shirt read “OBEY” and it wasn’t clear that she wore it for the irony.

A “selfie” photo of Nicole Rizzi, a.k.a. “Missy,” posted to her own Twitter account on March 21, 2013. She posed as a protester at a Keystone XL pipeline demonstration that day.

When I looked at her rippling arm muscles, I wondered whether they came from workouts at some spy academy or a downtown yoga studio.

So sure, I did suspect from the start that she could be an FBI agent, a police officer, or something else. But if you start being suspicious of newcomers, every honest newbie will look like an infiltrator. I kept my paranoia mostly to myself.

It turns out that hanging out in bars every so often can make good things happen. One late night in November 2012, I was in a bar in D.C.’s bustling U Street neighborhood when a friend of a friend from out of town pulled up a Twitter account on her phone, @snufftastic. It belonged to a humorous motorcycle enthusiast and cop. She lives in the area, she said, asking if my friend and I knew her.

“I absolutely know who that is,” I said.

The Twitter account was shocking. There was “Missy” tweeting about the daily grind of working for the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department. There were photos of her at the shooting range and a photo of her giant walkie-talkie. There were tweets about “the academy” and “the new morgue.”

There was a comment about her working during Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration on “ninja assignment,” and a remark that reading Miranda rights isn’t actually required.

A “snuff007″ Tumblr account attached to her fan fiction site had a comment about her not dressing for “plainclothes assignments” but wearing “what would blend in.”

Spying on protesters is the worst violation of our freedom. It not only disregards the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and right to privacy of the people who are being spied upon, it makes us crazed and paranoid.

One person who turns out to be an infiltrator can keep us pointing fingers at each other for years. It makes us distrustful of people we don’t know, instead of finding safe ways to welcome newcomers and building vibrant social movements.

Distrust can mean slow death for a group of any kind.

I started warning my friends that “Missy” was a cop. Most weren’t surprised. But could she be a police officer attending protests in her free time, I wondered? After all, like all of us, police have the right to protest. Then I noticed a Tweet that complained of working outdoors on March 21, when I saw her at a march to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

On April 20, she complained again of working outdoors, and she showed up at a protest outside the World Bank.

That’s when I arranged a meeting with Jeffrey Light, a lawyer who works on police misconduct issues. With the help of Sean Canavan and the National Lawyers Guild, and the involvement of United Students Against Sweatshops, Light and Canavan dug up information on “Missy’s” true identity. They concluded that she was an officer named Nicole Rizzi who joined the D.C. police force in 2003.

In early August, we filed a suit against the District of Columbia seeking an injunction to stop this police spying and to find out more about their spy program.

It’s the first case that promises to prove that the police systematically spies on activists in our nation’s capital.

Now that we’ve blown officer Nicole Rizzi’s cover, “Missy” won’t be snooping on any more protests. But our First Amendment rights will continue to be thrown under the bus unless we fight to defend them.

  • Your gut is pretty good at detecting the disingenuous. Listen to it. It is not what people say; it is what people don’t say.

  • As someone who was involved in Occupy (in the flagship encampment at Zucotti) and who also wants to go into law enforcement, I don’t see the big deal. Let her spy on you, make friends with her, and maybe you can show the law enforcement community that there’s no need to be so wary of protesters. On the other hand, there are protests that go to far and if the police are undercover in those groups as well as others that can enable them to see the differences between those protesters and the peaceful ones. It’s a win-win.

  • Also, there’s no actual constitutional violation here. You were permitted to speak and assemble freely (1st amendment), and the things she spied on were going on in public anyway so she’s good as far as the 4th amendment’s concerned. When some protesters scream about constitutional abuses where there are none, it takes away from the credibility of other protesters who point out real constitutional abuses.

  • Lessons learned a few decades past. “Agent provocateurs” were a thing the FBI among others would send in to infiltrate protest groups. Seems they now have Twitter accounts.

  • Joshua

    You’re lucky she hadn’t really started any trouble. Usually when these undercovers join progressive organizations at some point they start trying to agitate for more and more aggressive actions usually involving serious violations of the law and violence by saying the other members weren’t serious about the cause or too passive. There was an undercover FBI back in the 60s in New Haven who actually orchestrated a murder in order to bring down the Black Panthers.

  • Mr. Mark Spencer

    Must say that Miss Rizzi and her boss must be really idiots! She is supposed to be working undercover and she has a twitter account???

  • Tim Ehrlich

    It has been reported that all the big Occupy groups were infiltrated and spied on . In Tampa where I live I was continually surprised and disappointed by the decisions the group made that continually reduced our exposure and impact. I felt we were being led an manipulated by those who wanted to destroy us.

  • What else did you do besides look at someone else twitter and recognize a photo? I think the term is ‘stumbled’ not ‘uncovered’

  • Kevin Zeese

    How many people would not have even made the connection even if they had the information? It is so important to be aware so you can put two and two together and make the connections. Bravo to Lacy for being aware to make the connection and expose this undercover officer.

  • Robin M. Donald

    Aaron, you’re post is so self-serving:

    “As someone who was involved in Occupy (in the flagship encampment at Zucotti) and who also wants to go into law enforcement, I don’t see the big deal.”

    Before you even become a cop, you are justifying cops spying on Occupy. Your advice to “make friends with her” shows your ignorance about how the surveillance/security state works. Undercover cops have even married protestors, had children with their spouses, and then busted them.

    You claim that “there was no actual constitutional violation here.” After being a cop, you are going to become a Constitutional lawyer? Have you never heard about the “chilling effect on the 1st Amendment that is caused when people fear that their exercise of free speech is being spied on? That’s probably not something that a wannabe cop who tells people that police spying can be a “win-win” situation either knows, or wants to share.

  • john doe


  • Kevin Zeese

    Below is one reason why it is important to take the problem of infiltrators seriously. They do not only monitor what movements do, they stop them from carrying out their goals, create divisions, make arrests, send the movement off in the wrong direction. This is not something we should be paranoid about but something we should be aware of and take seriously.

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  • Robert Brown

    The reason you should care that police (or other agencies) are spying (or doing whatever the h_ll other activities they do) on primarily peaceful, (presumably) law-abiding activists is that our country is over 18 trillion, and that don’t make us safer, no matter what security “experts” might say.