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Was there coordination between Homeland Security and police departments in clearing out Occupy encampments?

Posted by Charles II on December 3, 2011

There has been one of these episodic s–t storms in the blogosphere over whether Naomi Wolf’s allegation that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated with local police departments in evicting campers from Occupied sites. Wolf’s original article said, “As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.”

Now the evidence was circumstantial, and Wolf’s writing style did not help. So, here’s a summary of her evidence:
* The Occupy movement would like to clean up politics, break up the connection between investment banking and commercial banking that led to the financial crisis, and end congressional trading the stock market on confidential information they receive. These goals threaten the powers that be and that therefore provide a motive for the extraordinary violence deployed against Occupy
* Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said she was a on a conference call with other mayors on “how to suppress” the protests, constituting method
* The Department of Homeland Security is not some random agency. It gets its money and its mission from Congress and the president, so the involvement in a phone call on how to suppress protests implies directives at the highest levels of government
* the evictions showed similar tactics, consistent with coordination
* The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists filed a FOIA to see if there was federal involvement in attacks on journalists by police, so Wolf is not alone in her belief that there may have been federal coordination. In Wolf’s own words, “members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent”

Now, this is thin evidence indeed that the suppression of the protests was coordinated by, much less ordered by Washington. But it does offer both motive and method for what did seem to be very similar and extremely violent responses to very different encampments, such as Oakland and OWS, and with very different local leadership, Jean Quan vs. Michael Bloomberg, who recently bragged that the NYPD is his “personal army.” In These Times’ Allison Kilkenny was struck by the similarity as well.

Holland says Wolf’s evidence is this:
* there were five simultaneous evictions
* the “Police Executive Research Forum, PERF, organized two conference calls between local law enforcement officials to share information on OWS, including, presumably, how best to evict them.”
* “The US Conference of Mayors organized two conference calls between various city officials to discuss the same issues”
* DHS and the FBI shared information with local law enforcement, but local law enforcement ran the show. Source: the Examiner
* A lobbying firm with strong ties to Republican leadership tried to sell the Bankers Association on smearing the Occupy movement, but this story emerged after the evictions [but here, Holland is arguing a non-sequitur, since the smear effort was clearly not a cause of the evictions, but a signal of the depths to which opponents of Occupy would go. As I recall, Hayes himself said, in effect, this is one memo that leaked. Who knows how many other smear proposals are out there?]
* DHS vehicles were seen near an eviction
* Some congressmen are, through a legal loophole, trading the stock market on confidential information they receive as congressmen
But that, Wolf’s additional evidence is defective because:
* Wolf has confused the Mayor’s conference call with the police officers’ conference call
* Wolf erroneously reported that Alternet had broken a story that “a shadowy private police consultancy” was ordering local police departments around. [Wolf was indeed wrong on this. Not only is PERF very unshadowy and has only weak links to DHS, no such story has appeared on Alternet]
* Holland has never heard Occupy members complain about congressional insider trading
* Wolf thinks that police spies have discerned Occupy’s agenda before Occupy itself has formulated an official agenda, which Holland apparently thinks is ridiculous. [And here, Holland is ridiculous. The people who started Occupy were smart enough not to state an agenda, but one need not be an informer to know, more or less, what it is. Police informers simply add confirmation and a high level of detail]
* Wolf claims that “DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King… directly, above King, to the president,” while the reality is that DHS reports up the chain of command to the president, and doesn’t report to Congress except in the form of reports and hearings. [this is basically a slap at Wolf’s sometimes sloppy writing; I feel confident she knows how Washington works]

Naomi Wolf has now replied. In fact:

* She cited Wonkette as the source of the claim that DHS was involved specifically with the mayors’ conference calls, and Wonkette in turn cited Rick Ellis of the MN Examiner, who had a source inside the Justice Department.
* “I am certain that NYPD coordinates with federal authorities in OWS-related arrests because an NYPD official informed me that they did so through the bars of my cell” [Here, Wolf is extrapolating. Apparently a sergeant told her that he would send her fingerprints to the feds if she got arrested again. While this is certainly outrageous, unconstitutional, and possibly criminal blackmail by a police official, it does not add up to DHS coordination.]
* In its response to FOIA requests on the issue of federal coordination, DHS is not denying any involvement in coordination, but it is trying to limit the FOIAs to activities by senior DHS officials. [Again, Wolf is reading into this more than it actually contains. But FOIA filers would be fools to accept DHS conditions, since a classic form of official lawbreaking is, wink-and-a-nod, to let subordinates do activities that senior officials know are proscribed.]
* “Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the DC Partnership for Civil Justice Fund [has said]…’Our constitutional rights litigation on behalf of demonstrators over the years has uncovered time and again federal agency involvement in what were initially claimed to be local police actions'”
* “LAPD has also acknowledged to him [Jason Leopold of Truthout] giving information about the protests to DHS
* Adrian Chen of Gawker has already reported on conservative Thomas Ryan reporting to the FBI on Occupy
* DHS has been establishing “security zones” for a long time: NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “has confirmed to the New York Times and others close DHS-NYPD cooperation in the creation of DHS-managed surveillance zones where public protest is federally tracked”
* DHS has given billions of dollars to local police departments
* Tom Hayden, in summarizing FBI-local coordination, shows that Washington exaggerates threats to justify local crackdowns.
* As someone who has does journalism inside the Beltway, Wolf is much more familiar with the systems of influence than Holland is

In my eyes, this entire miniature manure hurricane comes down to the question of appearance vs. proof. There is only one bit of solid evidence of federal direction of the attacks on encampments, and that is a single source from Rick Ellis. But the appearance of coordination and perhaps even direction? There’s plenty of that.

The difference between evidence and appearance is investigative journalism. The filing of FOAIs is a vital first step. This issue, of whether our federal government is in effect manipulating local police departments to shut down protests, is so d–n serious that it should not become the object of bickering. Journalists: do your job.

7 Responses to “Was there coordination between Homeland Security and police departments in clearing out Occupy encampments?”

  1. Mark Gisleson said

    Question: what good do FOIAs do when the government coaches its people on how to stall and ignore FOIAs?

    • Charles II said

      Well, you have an excellent point, Mark, and it has been driven home to me even more sharply as I read Mitgang’s Dangerous Dossiers. As he showed, when the government does not want to answer a FOIA, they are quite capable of outright lying.

      But that’s the essence of non-violent resistance: make your opponents engage in actions so fundamentally despicable that individuals inside the power structures start to crack and expose the wrongdoing. If Wolf is right, and the federal government is, indirectly or directly, getting police departments to clear out encampments, apply enough pressure, and someone inside the system may talk. Without the pressure of making them lie, nothing happens.

  2. jo6pac said

    Here’s a little more on this and I’ll go with Wolfe also.

    Came by way of Ives site.

    • Charles II said

      Interesting. Blumenthal thinks that PERF (the not-so-shadowy organization on the police conference calls) is much closer to DHS than Holland does:

      Some of the police chiefs who have taken part in JINSA’s LEEP program have done so under the auspices of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a private non-governmental group with close ties to the Department of Homeland Security. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of PERF, was so enthusiastic about the program that by 2005 he had begun organizing trips to Israel sponsored by PERF, bringing numerous high-level American police officials to receive instruction from their Israeli counterparts.

      PERF gained notoriety when Wexler confirmed that his group coordinated police raids in 16 cities across America against “Occupy” protest encampments.

      From the streets of Tegucigalpa to the streets of Oakland, methods of suppressing dissent honed on a generation of Palestinians… what’s next? Operation Cast Lead, NYC?

  3. If there’s any coordination happening, it’s probably between the FBI and groups like the LEIU or Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit, which is an organization made up of local and state-level police officers and which has for many years worked with the FBI.

  4. Bud said

    Speaking of Israeli influence on the Obama administration, it’s policy now to do stuff and never admit it:

    The ultimate crime of the Bush administration: Brag about what you’re doing.

    • Charles II said

      Good link, Bud. I do think Bush deserves more …credit …for the breadth of the conflict, since American troops were inserted into dozens of countries on his watch. We’ve been covering the covert war in Iran since the beginning and continue to lament the besmirching of our national honor through dishonorable and unnecessary wars.

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