Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 13, 2011

Domestic spy operations: Fake activists, self-appointed leaders and sockpuppets

By Brenda NorrellCensored News
Collage by Censored News: COINTELPRO targeted black leaders and the American Indian Movement.

There appears to be a systematic operation underway, placing fake activists or self-appointed leaders, into grassroots movements. They are easy to identify as they quickly set out to dishonor the original purpose, gather information, cause internal disunity, promote violence and defame the organization.

Their purpose is to neutralize, coop and take over the movements. One tactic is the hit and run on Facebook, where a self-appointed leader coopts one movement after another to deflate or destroy it, while gathering information and identifying those who speak out. Another tactic is to distract the movement with meaningless information and futile efforts.

Some of the movements, such as the American Indian Movement and Black Panthers, were always targets of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO includes covert operatives, provocateurs, who are there for the purpose of provocation. Now, peace activists and Indigenous grassroots movements are also targets. The current effort likely has a new name, while making use of COINTELPRO tactics. It is very systematic.

It goes beyond the regular informant, or snitch, who is trying to avoid jail time, get out of prison early, or pump up his ego or bank account. It is not just about gathering information. It is about disrupting and destroying a movement from within. The goal is to replace longtime organizers with new self-appointed leaders.

Some of it seems very personal, like the longtime vendettas of retired law enforcement. Other times, the goal appears to be the protection of destructive corporations, such as mining. In these cases, it is all about the money, including the money for politicians who are fed contributions from the corporations. Still other times it involves clowns in local law enforcement, who are very good at blowing the cover of their snitches.

As a news reporter in the early 1990s, I covered the federal court trial of Earth First! defendants in Prescott, Arizona. It was my introduction to the sleazy world of informants and snitches and the underbelly of US-orchestrated crimes and criminals.

Later, the police spy files on Denver activists, and more recently, the police files on peace activists across the country, offered new insights into entrapment, failed justice and the demise of the criminal justice system in the United States. In the Denver spy files, police spied on numerous attorneys and supporters of all the movements. Denver police even filed a report on an 80-year-old woman just because she had a Leonard Peltier bumper sticker on her car. It was only by accident, by way of discovery in another case, that the massive spy files were revealed.

For young and naive activists in social justice movements, it is good to become aware of how it works. With video cameras tiny enough to fit inside an ink pen, key chain, watch or belt buckle, there's a good chance that most organizing meetings are being recorded. Also, if someone is spending money on you, and has no job, you might want to consider that the cash flow is coming from your future arresting officer. If you don't have a vehicle, and a new friend offers to drive you to commit a crime, best to read up on domestic spy operations before wrapping yourself in Ninja gear.

Further, most anything you write on a computer, or say on a telephone, can be hacked into, or tapped into, and used as background to gather other evidence, or used to track or intimidate you. If you think that a legal defense of entrapment will get you off the hook, that isn't likely to happen in federal court, where the federal prosecutors and federal judges are on the same team.

The most disturbing aspect of these domestic covert operations, is the new trend of fake activists and self-appointed leaders who are attempting to coop, destroy and defame movements from within, movements which are designed to build a better world, promote justice and protect Mother Earth.

One reader, who asked that their name not be used, responded. "It is appalling how little these new 'activists' seem to care about security. There are now 'organizations' being supported based on little more than a facebook page and a handful of sockpuppets. An organization that used to require its chapter leaders to be -- experienced, Indian and activists -- is now giving chapters to people who are none of the above.

"I think some former leaders are so desperate for help and support that they are not doing even the most rudimentary background checks on those who volunteer. People who thirty years ago no one would have spoken to or trusted in the slightest are now being given chapters. They stand up as movement leaders, and no one really knows them. As far as most people know, they didn't exist until two years ago when they showed up on Facebook and promptly friended thousands of activists.
And then people are surprised when it all goes bad.

"Violent, career criminals who have always badmouthed certain activist organization are getting out of prison early, or are not arrested at all on serious charges, then they turn up at that group's meetings. And many of the young, inexperienced, or naive people are welcoming them. Then they wonder why everyone in the group is now fighting and not trusting one another. They wonder why women activists are disappearing. It's because they chose to trust and welcome a provocateur, or a violent criminal snitch that just had to be pointed in the chosen direction. Some of them even look the other way when a known abuser joins a group, even when he has a history of physically assaulting other activists.

"Under the banner of 'Unity' and 'Let's All Get Along' they welcome the exact wrong people -- snitches who are tasked to disrupt the group -- and rather than set limits on the agent provocateurs, the group falls apart.

"And I've seen old-guard activists called paranoid when they warn newer people not to hold meetings on Facebook. Then a few weeks later the person crying 'paranoid' now has known informants on his friends list, and is chatting away as if nothing is wrong.

"The only way we can have unity is if people understand security, do background checks, listen to the people someone has worked with before, and make people earn any roles that require responsibility. Trust must be earned, over time. It's not unity to let in provocateurs and abusers. It is unity and self-preservation to be cautious, require trusted references, and cut out cancers when they are found."


Anonymous said...

I have found it is often rather hard to teach basic elements of security culture. Furthermore, many of the tools exist and remain freely available in the wild, often produced by people who are themselves deeply concerned with promoting freedom, but so few know of them let alone understand how to use them. How those that produce and those who needs they are producing for can come together I have been thinking a lot about the past few months, but came to no clear answers as yet. Even little things now long available, like gpg enigmail, otr instant messaging, zrtp voip, all seem to remain untenable to most, let alone knowledge of how to use such things effectively.

JuliaV said...

Re: ". . .in federal court, where the federal prosecutors and federal judges are on the same team." Add "federal defenders" to that list.