Occupy Wall Street activists are up in arms over a new report describing Homeland Security officials monitoring Occupy demonstrations, but a closer look reveals much ado about nothing.
The government paranoia machine took off last night after Rolling Stone contributor Michael Hastings published an exclusive on e-mails obtained from the global intelligence firm Stratfor via WikiLeaks. In his ominous appraisal of a Department of Homeland Security document, he notes that DHS officials read "OWS-related Twitter feeds" and other "publicly available sources" to keep tabs on the movement. "The government has a long and disturbing history of justifying the curtailing of civil liberties under the cover of perceived, and often manufactured, threats," he wrote. The article passed quickly through the Occupy information bloodstream.
"The DHS document appears to be more concerned with protecting the mechanisms of the financial sector than in ensuring the safety of citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights," wrote Allison Kilkenny in Truthout. "The suppression of Occupy is nothing less than an attack on those who would try to exercises their civil liberties, their rights and seek to energize democracy," wrote Fire Dog Lake's Kevin Gosztola. The article was re-blogged across scores of Occupy tumblers including Anticapitalist, Occupy All Streets and #Occupy Wall Street.
On Current TV last night, host Cenk Uygur blasted the agency for focusing exclusively on Occupy Wall Street. "The Tea Party... that happens to be pro-corporate America is not anywhere to be found here [but] when Occupy Wall Street is not pro-corporate America, all of a sudden, they need to be investigated by the Department of Homeland Security." Of course, the Tea Party has also been observed by DHS but that's beside the point.
Is DHS really curtailing the rights of Occupiers? Outside of reading newspapers and Twitter about Occupy events, the report is merely a summary of the movement and an assessment of what dangers it may pose. As one line reads:
“Mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas. Large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.”
The report even acknowledges the peaceful nature of the movement. According to Hastings "The most ominous aspect of the report, however, comes in its final paragraph." He pastes this passage from the report:
The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged.
Perhaps Homeland Security's fear of the movement is exaggerated but this summary merely reads like a worst-case-scenario research document compiled from publicly available sources. Could Occupy protesters pose a risk to "critical infrastructure"? Sure. So could scores of Justin Bieber fans. In any event, it's not a breach of civil liberties to draw up such a document. Mostly, it shows how boring it must be to work at DHS, scheming up scenarios that are probably never going to happen.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.