By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
On March 6 members of an off-shoot of Anonymous, Lulzsec, were arrested as a result of an FBI informant, Sabu, who the media describes as a Lulzsec leader. The six arrests were for people allegedly involved with Lulzsec which became known for targeting Sony, the CIA, the U.S. Senate, and FBI, as well as Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal.
Exactly one year ago to the day of the arrests, The Guardian published an article headlined, “One in four US hackers 'is an FBI informer.'” The article described how the FBI had used the threat of long sentences to turn some members of Anonymous and similar groups into informants. It also described how the group was open to infiltration. On Democracy Now, Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who is an expert on digital media, hackers and the law, said: “There had been rumors of infiltration or informants. At some level, Anonymous is quite easy to infiltrate, because anyone can sort of join and participate. And so, there had been rumors of this sort of activity happening for quite a long time.”
In Part I of this series, Infiltration to Disrupt, Divide and Mis-direct are Widespread in Occupy, we described reports of widespread infiltration of the Occupy. In this article we will describe the history of infiltration of political movements in the United States and the goals of infiltration. Part III of this series will describe behavior of infiltrators, how other movements have countered infiltrators and what Occupy can do to minimize the damage from infiltrators.
Infiltration is the Norm, not the Exception, of U.S. Political Movements
When the long history of political infiltration is reviewed, the Occupy Movement should be surprised if it is not infiltrated. Almost every movement in modern history has been infiltrated by police and others using many of the same tactics we are now seeing in Occupy.
Virtually every movement has been the target of police surveillance and disruption activities. The most famous surveillance program was the FBI’s COINTELPRO which according to COINTELPRO Documents targeted the women’s rights, Civil Rights, anti-war and peace movements, the New Left, socialists, communists and independence movement for Puerto Rico, among others. Among the groups infiltrated were the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, Congress for Racial Equality, the American Indian Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, the National Lawyers Guild, the Black Panthers and Weather Underground. Significant leaders from Albert Einstein to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who are both memorialized in Washington, were monitored. The rule in the United States is to be infiltrated; the exception is not to be.
The Church Committee documented a history of use of the FBI for purposes of political repression. They described infiltration efforts going back to World War I, including the 1920s, when agents were charged with rounding up “anarchists and revolutionaries” for deportation. The Church Committee found infiltration efforts growing from 1936 through 1976, with COINTELPRO as the major program. While these domestic political spying and disruption programs were supposed to stop in 1976, in fact they have continued. As reported in “The Price of Dissent,” Federal Magistrate Joan Lefkow found in 1991, the record “shows that despite regulations, orders and consent decrees prohibiting such activities, the FBI had continued to collect information concerning only the exercise of free speech.”
How many agents or infiltrators can we expect to see inside a movement? One of the most notorious “police riots” was the 1968 Democratic Party Convention. Independent journalist Yasha Levine writes: “During the 1968 protests of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which drew about 10,000 protesters and was brutally crushed by the police, 1 out of 6 protesters was a federal undercover agent. That’s right, 1/6th of the total protesting population was made up of spooks drawn from various federal agencies. That’s roughly 1,600 people! The stat came from an Army document obtained by CBS News in 1978, a full decade after the protest took place. According to CBS, the infiltrators were not passive observers, monitoring and relaying information to central command, but were involved in violent confrontations with the police.” [Emphasis in original.]
Peter Camejo, who ran for Governor of California in 2003 as a Green and as Ralph Nader’s vice president in 2004, often told the story about his 1976 presidential campaign. Camejo able to get the FBI in court after finding their offices broken into and suing them over COINTELPRO activities. The judge asked the Special Agent in Charge how many FBI agents worked in Camejo’s presidential campaign; the answer was 66 agents. Camejo estimated he had a campaign staff of about 400 across the country. Once again that would be an infiltration rate of 1 out of 6 people. Camejo discovered that among the agents was his campaign co-chair. He also discovered eavesdropping equipment in his campaign office and documents showing the FBI had followed him since he was a student activist at 18 years old.
The federal infiltration is buttressed by local and state police. Local police infiltrators have a long tradition dating back to the Haymarket riots of 1886 and the 1904 “Italian Squad in New York City. In addition to political activity they were also involved in infiltrations of unions especially around strikes. Common throughout the United States were the so-called “Red Squads” a 1963 report estimated 300,000 officers were involved in surveillance of political activities. These were local police focused on the same types of people as the FBI. Some of their activities included assassinations of political activists.
In fact, a predecessor to the modern Occupy, the Bonus March of 1932 was infiltrated by federal agents. Their focus was on radicals, anarchists and Communists who might be in the movement. The infiltration resulted in greatly exaggerated reports about radicals inside the Bonus encampments, which were primarily made up of veterans and their families that were used to help justify their removal by President Herbert Hoover with military troops acting against veterans under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, assisted by then-colonels Eisenhower and Patton.
Another predecessor to the Occupy, Resurrection City of 1968, a “community of love and brotherhood,” that occupied the Washington, DC mall for four months was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign fulfilling a plan made prior to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Resurrection City was heavily infiltrated by layers of police including the FBI, military, Park Police, Secret Service and Metropolitan DC police. FBI director Hoover had agents go to press conferences with false media identification, stationed FBI agents around the perimeter of the encampment and authorized an expensive informant program. After the FBI, the most expensive infiltration of Resurrection City was military intelligence which conducted an unlawful surveillance program, intercepting radio transmissions, monitoring radio traffic and intercepting all communications which were then passed on to the FBI, Secret Service, DC police and Park Police. The military also sent fictitious media to press conferences. The Metropolitan DC police “red squad” sent undercover officers into the camp and took mug shots of its members.
Infiltration tactics continue, perhaps have even escalated today. In a recent report the ACLU writes: “Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined. The FBI, federal intelligence agencies, the military, state and local police, private companies, and even firemen and emergency medical technicians are gathering incredible amounts of personal information about ordinary Americans that can be used to construct vast dossiers that can be widely shared with a simple mouse-click through new institutions like Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers, and public-private partnerships. The fear of terrorism has led to a new era of overzealous police intelligence activity directed, as in the past, against political activists, racial and religious minorities, and immigrants.” There have also multiple reports of the CIA working with New York City police for years, an activity that is almost certainly illegal.
Not only have budgets increased in the post-911 world, but restrictions on spying have been weakened and court review has become rarer. The government, often with corporate interests, are gathering huge amounts of data on Americans and targeting a wide range of groups and individuals for intelligence gathering and infiltration. The extent of spying is so widespread that it is more than this brief article can examine, but the ACLU provides a state-by-state review.
We will not know the extent of current infiltration and the activities of government agents for quite some time, but in the post-911 world, with record intelligence budgets and a massive new homeland security bureaucracy, spying is very likely more extensive than ever. Add to that the private security of corporations and political organizations tied to the two political parties and the extent of Occupy infiltration is very likely quite extensive.
What Have Been the Goals, Strategies and Tactics of Past Infiltration?
The most common purpose of infiltration is the intelligence function of gathering information, but the goals are commonly more aggressive. Herbert Hoover ordered FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of these movements and their leaders according to COINTELPRO Documents.
According to, Surveillance and Governance: Crime Control and Beyond, the goal of COINTELPRO was also to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize” groups. FBI field operatives were directed to:
1. Create a negative public image for target groups by surveiling activists and then releasing negative personal information to the public.
2. Break down internal organization by creating conflicts by having agents exacerbate racial tensions, or send anonymous letters to try to create conflicts.
3. Create dissension between groups by spreading rumors that other groups were stealing money.
4. Restrict access to public resources by pressuring non-profit organizations to cut off funding or material support.
5. Restrict the ability to organize protests through agents promoting violence against police during planning and at protests.
6. Restrict the ability of individuals to participate in group activities by character assassinations, false arrests, surveillance.
The COINTELPRO documents disclose numerous cases of the FBI's intentions to stop the mass protest against the Vietnam War. Many techniques were used to accomplish the assignment. The documents state: “These included promoting splits among antiwar forces, encouraging red-baiting of socialists, and pushing violent confrontations as an alternative to massive, peaceful demonstrations.”
Infiltration to gather intelligence and intentionally disrupt and break up social movements is common in the United States. At this point in history when the degree of wealth inequality has reached such staggering proportions that the richest 400 people have the same wealth as the bottom 154,000,000 people, when unemployment and foreclosures rates are high, when tens of millions can’t afford health care and students can’t afford to go to college, those in power are fearful that the people will rise up. Events of the past year, particularly the Occupy, reveal that this uprising has begun. It is likely that the powerful will use the tools available to stop Occupy, including infiltration to disrupt, divide and misdirect.
In Part III, we will describe common behaviors of infiltrators and how other social movements have tried to minimize the impact of infiltration. We will then examine the basic structure of the Occupy and analyze its strengths and weaknesses in the context of infiltration. Our hope is that this series will lead to a broader discussion within the movement so that efforts can be made to balance the strengths of Occupy with actions necessary to protect the movement from disruption and division.
If you have experience with your Occupy responding to infiltration please send them to email@example.com. Experiences that have worked and failed are of interest.
This is Part I of a two part series on infiltration of Occupy and what the movement can do about limiting the damage of those who seek to destroy us from within. This first article describes public reports of infiltration as well as results of a survey and discussions with occupiers about this important issue. The second article will examine the history of political infiltration and steps we can take to address it.
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
In the first five months, the Occupy Movement has had major victories and has altered the debate about the economy. People in the power structure and who hold different political views are pushing back with a traditional tool – infiltration. Across the country, Occupies are struggling with disruption and division, attacks on key persons, escalation of tactics to property damage and police conflict as well as misuse of websites and social media.
As Part II of this discussion will show, infiltration is the norm in political movements in the United States. Occupy has many opponents likely to infiltrate to divide and destroy it beyond the usual law enforcement apparatus. Others include the corporations whose rule Occupy seeks to end, conservative right wing groups allied with corporate interests and other members of the power structure including non-profit organizations allied with either corporate-funded political party, especially the Democratic Party which would like Occupy to be their Tea Party rather than an independent movement critical of both parties.
On the very first day of the Occupation of Wall Street, we saw infiltration by the police. We were leaving Zucotti Park and were stopped in traffic by the rear of the park. We saw an unmarked van open, in the front seat were two uniformed police and out of the back came two men dressed as occupiers wearing backpacks, sweatshirts, and jeans. They walked into Zucotti Park and became part of the crowd.
In the first week of the Occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC we saw the impact of two right wing infiltrators. A peaceful protest was planned at the drone exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. The plan was for a banner drop and a die-in under the drones. But, as protesters arrived at the museum two people ran out in front, threatening the security guards and causing them to pepper spray protesters and tourists. Patrick Howley, an assistant editor for the American Spectator, wrote a column bragging about his role as an agent provocateur. A few days later we uncovered the second infiltrator when he was urging people on Freedom Plaza to resist police with force.
There have been a handful of other reports around the country of infiltration. In Oakland, CopWatch filmed an Oakland police officer infiltrating. And, in another video CopWatch includes audio tape of an Oakland police chief, Howard Jordan, talking about how police departments all over the country infiltrate, not just to monitor protesters but to manipulate and direct them.
There were also reports in Los Angeles of a dozen undercover police in the encampment before they were forcibly evicted by the police. The raid by the LA police was brutal and resulted in mass arrests, with most charges dropped, but with others mistreated in jails. Similar pre-raid undercover activities were reported in Nashville,Tennessee.
Los Angeles also had infiltrators from the right wing group, Free Republic. They posted on their webpage a call for infiltrators to block a vote concerning an offer from the City of Los Angeles for virtually free space for Occupy LA: “Need LA Freepers to show up to block this vote by the Occupy LA General Assembly. How brave are you?” In the end, the LA occupy decided not to accept the offer from the city, something also opposed by other elements in the encampment.
In New York, there were reports of infiltration. For example, a protester described how undercover police infiltrated a protest at Citibank and were the loudest and most disruptive protesters. Later at the station listening to the police the protester said in an interview: “It was a bit startling how inside their information was – how they were being paid to go to these protests and put us in situations where we’d be arrested and not be able to leave.”
Survey and Interviews of Occupiers Shows Common Tactics, Common Infiltrators
These scattered reports seem to be the tip of the iceberg. As a result of experiencing extreme divisive tactics and character assassination on Freedom Plaza against us we began to hear from occupiers across the country about similar incidents in their occupations. We decided to speak to and survey people about infiltration and have found similar stories around the country.
Recently we toured occupations on the west coast, where we spoke to many occupiers and have attended General Assemblies at Occupy Wall Street and Philadelphia. We heard stories in Arizona of someone with website administrative privileges deleting the live stream archive which included video that was to be used in defense of some who were arrested. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania someone took control of the email list, making it an announce-only list and when the police threatened to close the camp, that person put out a statement that the Lancaster occupiers had decided to go without any conflict. In fact, no such decision had been made and 30 occupiers had planned to risk arrest when the police tried to remove them. The false email resulted in no resistance.
Our west coast trip ended at the Occupy Olympia Solidarity Social Forum. We were able to survey 41 people representing 15 different occupations primarily on the west coast but including Missoula, MT and New Orleans, LA. Participants were questioned about 10 different behaviors. The most common behaviors, seen in roughly two-thirds of those surveyed and covering 12 of the 15 occupations, were:
1. Disruptions of the General Assemblies and attempts to divide the group: Individuals would interrupt General Assemblies with emergency items or sidetrack the agenda with their personal needs or issues. When proposals were presented to the General Assembly on principles for the occupation or plans to prevent division, individuals would question the authority of the writers of the proposal, launch personal attacks or question their abilities. There were frequent attacks on people who did the most work and were perceived as leaders. The anti-leadership views of many occupiers were used to essentially attack the most effective people. Sue Basko wrote about this in Los Angeles in a comment on a Chris Hedges article, writing that there was an “ongoing campaign of harassment and coercion against the Occupy LA participants and volunteers. Each day is a fresh set of victims.” She describes the use of Twitter, list serves and blogs to “defame and harass anyone giving their efforts to help Occupy LA.” This has included attacks on “social media workers, the website team, the lawyers (including me), the medics, the livestreamers, the writers, and on and on.” She also writes “there is the very strong belief that some among them are FBI or DHS agents placed there to start the group, egg it on, control it.” Conversations with others in Los Angles confirmed this report. Our experience in the area of personal attacks included outlandish lies calling us criminals and thieves and near daily email attacks since early December. We found that when we respond and correct lies, it does not stop them and have concluded that if someone has the intention to be a character assassin there is nothing you can do to stop them except to expose them. While that does not necessarily stop them, it at least gets those in the occupation who are not gullible to doubt the undocumented personal attacks.
2. Individuals who took over the website and/or social media and then removed them or hacked them and took control: As noted above, these networks have been used in personal attacks, as well as to send inaccurate messages to the media and other occupiers. One mistake made is to allow a large number of people to have administrative privileges on the website. Being an administrator allows people to erase critical information as occurred in Phoenix. In Washington, DC we have been removed as administrators of a Facebook page we created because we allowed people who turned out to be untrustworthy to have administrative privileges. Note, people can blog or post to Facebook or websites without being administrators.
Division over how money was being spent was an issue reported by 50% of respondents and in 12 out of 15 occupations, individuals persistently questioned transparency and use of funds. In General Assemblies in New York and Philadelphia we saw disruption by people who complained about money issues. In New York, an argument about access to free Metro Cards resulted in a 30 minute argument. In Philadelphia, it was a vague complaint about “where is the money?” We saw something similar at a 99%’s meeting in San Francisco where one of the questioners complained about missing money. And, we have seen the same in Washington, DC with false accusations of missing money. Sometimes these disruptors seem like homeless or emotionally disturbed individuals. They could be acting out their concerns or they could be encouraged by police to attend meetings to cause disruption and could be paid a small amount to do so. Whether paid or not, the impact is the same – it takes the Occupy off of its political agenda and turns people off to participating in the movement.
Finally, the issue of escalation of tactics to include property damage and conflict with police: The euphemism for this is “diversity of tactics.” In fact, there is great diversity within nonviolent tactics. This is really a debate between those who favor strategic nonviolence and those who favor property destruction and police conflict. In 11 of 15 occupations there were reports of verbal attacks on police and/or escalation of tactics from nonviolence to property destruction or violence. In one occupation, an individual took over the direct action working group and escalated the tactics used beyond what the group had agreed upon. In one occupy, the GA approved putting up a structure but agreed that if the police wanted it taken down they would promptly do so in order to prove the structure was temporary. When the structure was up, a handful of people refused to take it down causing a 10 hour police conflict and undermining public support for the occupy. In another occupation, because a minority of the occupy refused to adopt nonviolent strategies, a protest with the teacher union was cancelled preventing a major opportunity to expand the movement. When it comes to the issue of violence vs. property damage, it is particularly hard to tell whether the differences are political or instigated by infiltrators.
Participants were asked about attempts at co-optation by law enforcement, individuals or organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party and about suspected infiltration by right wing groups: 8 of the 15 occupations (41% of respondents) reported Democratic groups attempted to co-opt the occupation, using it to push or prevent a legislative agenda or using the occupation’s social media to change the times of protests or meetings. Far fewer reported suspicion or evidence of right wing infiltration (12% of respondents in four occupations), most stating that the corporate media provided poor or misleading coverage. The most common form of infiltration was by law enforcement agencies (49% of respondents; 11 of 15 occupations). Some respondents reported having video evidence, some reported law enforcement officers having more information than they had been given, police using names of occupiers when names had never been provided and some suspected police infiltration but had no proof.
Of course, there is a lot of suspicion, but people are rarely able to prove infiltration. These incidents could be people with real political disagreement within the Occupy, or they could be people who are emotionally disturbed, mentally ill or who bring other personal challenges with them. Or, it could be an infiltrator manipulating these people, playing on their fears and prejudices. This is not a simple issue, as we will discuss in Part II, it is best to judge people by their actions and not label them as infiltrators without direct proof.
Some may wonder why Democrats or groups closely affiliated with the Democrats like MoveOn, Campaign for America’s Future, Rebuild the Dream or unions like SEIU would want to infiltrate the Occupy (note: individuals who are Democrats, union, MoveOn or members of other groups are not the same as the leadership). Essentially, leaders of these groups see Occupy as the Democrats’ potential answer to the Tea Party. Occupiers do not see themselves that way, but these groups want the Occupy to adopt their strategy of working within the Democratic Party. In one example, Eric Lottke, a senior policy analyst for SEIU who has been involved in Occupy DC, appeared on a radio show with two other occupiers from Occupy Washington, DC and Occupy Oakland. Lottke said he was speaking as an occupier from Occupy DC and talked about ‘taking back Congress in 2012′, the need for an electoral strategy and gave the usual Democrat rhetoric about Obama needing more time. The two other guests said Lottke was completely out of step with most Occupiers who say we should not focus on electoral politics but instead should build an independent movement to challenge the corrupt system. We doubt the Occupy DC General Assembly agreed with Lottke’s pro-Democratic Party, pro-Obama views but Lottke had positioned himself to speak for them. Van Jones of Rebuild the Dream similarly was appearing in the media as if he were an occupy spokesperson claiming there will be 2000 “99% candidates” in 2012; again trying to push Occupy into Democratic electoral politics. These are just two examples of many Democratic Party operatives trying to send Occupy into Democratic Party politics despite the movement consistently describing itself as independent and non-electoral.
In Washington, DC we have seen some occupiers attacking the National Occupation of Washington, DC (www.NOWDC.org) scheduled for this April, while other occupiers have shown enthusiasm for it. Solidarity with NOW DC has been shown by 19 General Assemblies of occupations from around the country. InterOccupy classifies it as a national Occupy event. The attackers have been criticizing NOW DC by attacking the authors of this article. This attack is occurring at the same time that Democratic Party aligned groups have announced their own project which occurs at the same time as NOW DC, the “99%’s Spring.” Thus far the dividers have succeeded in preventing solidarity from the two DC occupations with the rest of the Occupy Movement. Is the timing a coincidence?
No doubt the information in this article is incomplete. We have only been able to survey and talk with people at about 20 occupies. We would very much like to hear from others around the country about experiences at their occupation as understanding these tactics is the first step to confronting and addressing them. (Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In Part II of this series we will focus on the history of government infiltration and destruction of political movements and political leaders and will examine steps that can be taken to minimize the damage from these tactics. One thing evident from the history: infiltration has been common in political movements for a century and the tactics of division, attacks on leaders, escalation of tactics, fights over money and misinformation to the public are common throughout that history.
This article was originally published in Truthdig.