Aletho News


Police video flap flares in Oakland

By Chris Reed | Cal Watchdog | August 31, 2015

Several local police forces in California got on the police body-cameras bandwagon well before police killings around the nation in the summer of 2014 triggered a broad push for their adoption. The Rialto Police Department was the focus of a 2013 New York Times story that emphasized how much body cameras improved interactions between officers and the public.

But in Oakland, it appears authorities will only release the body-camera videos when they exonerate police, and that the video will be kept from the public and the media in other circumstances on the grounds that it is part of an ongoing investigation. The East Bay Express recently reported on how the Oakland police are dealing with four police killings. In two cases, Police Chief Sean Whent won’t release any body-cam footage. In the other two cases, police wouldn’t release the footage to the public. Instead, on Aug. 19, the Oakland Police Department held a screening for 11 members of the media.

This account is from the East Bay Express :

[The] videos included police body camera footage taken by officers who were chasing Richard Linyard and Nathaniel Wilks (in two separate incidents). On July 19, Linyard was allegedly fleeing the police on foot when he was later found wedged between two buildings. A coroner’s report said Linyard died from injuries he suffered when he was apparently stuck between the buildings.

On August 12, Wilks allegedly fled the police in a vehicle and then on foot. Several officers confronted and shot Wilks near the intersection of 27th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

Watson said OPD showed videos to select members of the media in order to dispel inaccurate reports that officers beat Linyard, and claims that Wilks was shot in the back. Both incidents sparked protests. “We held the viewing in the interest of the public, to be able to share information through fair and balanced reporting,” said Watson.

Watson, however, said that the video footage will not be released to the broader public, and that OPD believes the California Public Records Act allows the department to withhold the footage because it is evidence in several ongoing investigations.

‘Completely wrong’ to withhold some video

As the Bay Area News Group reported, giving the police the right to pick and choose which videos to release outraged local civil-rights lawyer Jim Chanin. “I think it’s completely wrong to have selective showings of one shooting and not another shooting, depending on how the department feels . … There’s an inference now that if (police) don’t show you a video, there could be something wrong or improper about (another) shooting,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, a bill that would establish statewide procedures on access to and use of policy body-camera footage appears to have failed, U-T San Diego columnist Steve Greenhut wrote on Friday.

In April, a comprehensive bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, passed its initial committee vote. Per its official description, “Assembly Bill 66 would provide guidelines about when the cameras are to be operated, require notification of those being recorded, and prohibit law-enforcement officers involved in serious use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury or death from viewing the video until they have filed an initial report.” Whent, the Oakland police chief, testified in favor of the bill.

But Weber’s bill was effectively killed within weeks. As Dan Walters wrote in the Sacramento Bee :

Weber’s body camera bill was beaten up in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. Police unions, whose endorsements politicians crave, strongly opposed it as unfair, and the committee insisted that only local authorities decide when cops can see body videos.

September 1, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment

Law Enforcement Agencies All Over California Have Been Secretly Using Stingray Devices

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | March 14, 2014

More documents have been uncovered (via FOI requests) that show local law enforcement agencies in California have been operating cell phone tower spoofers (stingray devices) in complete secrecy and wholly unregulated.

Sacramento News10 has obtained documents from agencies in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Alameda County — all of which point to stingray deployment. As has been the case in the past, the devices are acquired with DHS grants and put into use without oversight or guidelines to ensure privacy protections. The stingrays in use are mainly limited to collecting data, but as the ACLU points out, many manufacturers offer devices that also capture content.

Some of these agencies have had these devices for several years now. Documents obtained from the Oakland Police Dept. show the agency has had stingrays in use since at least 2007, citing 21 “stingray arrests” during that year. This is hardly a surprising development as the city has been pushing for a total surveillance network for years now, something that (until very recently) seemed to be more slowed by contractor ineptitude than growing public outrage.

The device manufacturer’s (Harris) troubling non-disclosure agreement (which has been used to keep evidence of stingray usage out of court cases as well as has been deployed as an excuse for not securing warrants) rears its misshapen head again, mentioned both in one obtained document as well as by a spokesperson reached for comment. One document states:

“The Harris (REDACTED) equipment is proprietary and used for surveillance missions,” the agreement reads. “Its capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government. This equipment’s capabilities are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512.”

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept. had this to (not) say when asked about its stingray usage:

“While I am not familiar with what San Jose has said, my understanding is that the acquisition or use of this technology comes with a strict non-disclosure requirement,” said Under sheriff James Lewis in an emailed statement. “Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology.”

Law enforcement agencies are conveniently choosing to believe a manufacturer’s non-disclosure agreement trumps public interest or even their own protection of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

The devices aren’t cheap, either. Taxpayers are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for these cell tower spoofers, and the agencies acquiring them are doing very little to ensure the money is spent wisely. ACLU’s examination of the documents shows that many of the agencies purchased devices without soliciting bids.

It’s hard to know whether San José or any of the other agencies that have purchased stingray devices are getting good value for their money because the contract was “sole source,” in other words, not put out to competitive bidding. The justification for skirting ordinary bidding processes is that Harris Corporation is the only manufacturer of this kind of device. (We are aware of other surveillance vendors that manufacture these devices, though a separate Freedom of Information Request we submitted to the Federal Communications Commission suggests that, as of June 2013, the only company to have obtained an equipment authorization from the FCC for this kind of device is Harris.)

With Harris effectively locking the market down, buyers are pretty much ensured prices far higher than the market would bear if opened to competition. (Not that I’m advocating for a robust surveillance device marketplace, but if you’re going to spend taxpayers’ money on products to spy on them, the least you can do is try to get the best value for their money… ) Using federal grants also allows these departments to further avoid public scrutiny of the purchase and use by circumventing the normal acquisition process.

Beyond the obvious Fourth Amendment concerns looms the very real threat of mission creep. These agencies cite combating terrorism when applying for federal funds, but put the devices to use for ordinary law enforcement purposes. The documents cite stingray-related arrests, but since so little is known about the purchase, much less the deployment, there’s really no way to tell how much data and content totally unrelated to criminal investigations has been collected (and held) by these agencies.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oakland activist allegedly fired after police tracked him at protest, alerted his employer

RT | October 29, 2013

An Oakland, CA activist says local police officers sent surveillance footage of him participating in a protest last week to his employer, resulting in his firing Monday.

The activist, who goes by @Anon4Justice on Twitter, tweeted the details Monday morning in what appears to be police use of surveillance footage in combination with private and public records that identified @Anon4Justice and led to his employer.

The activist had called in sick to work Friday to take part in a protest of Urban Shield, an expo for SWAT teams, military contractors and police officers from all over the world.

Urban Shield, coordinated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, exists under the guise of fighting terrorism and “disaster preparedness” in heavily-populated areas. The event is partly a trade show for a myriad of militarized tactical gear and weapons, but there are also training exercises and war-game competitions that teams from California to Guam to Qatar took part in over the weekend. The exercises include protest suppression techniques and SWAT-team-raid simulations.

As the activist protested the militarized police event, paid for by the Department of Homeland Security, Oakland police produced surveillance footage of his participation in the demonstration and photos of his truck, which they sent to the his employer. The police called the employer, as well, to tell them though he said he was out sick, he was really taking part in a protest, which led to his firing.

The instance of @Anon4Justice’s tracking and firing, comes amid news that Oakland received $7 million, again from the Department of Homeland Security, for port security. Yet in addition to the use for ports, Oakland plans to spend the money on a vast surveillance “Domain Awareness Center,” as the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Privacy SOS blog pointed out Monday.

“From a central location, it will electronically gather data around the clock from a variety of sensors and databases, analyze that data and display some of the information on a bank of giant monitors,” the New York Times reported two weeks ago.

The city maintains the center will help reduce crime in a city that sees more than its share. Yet critics told the Times the program “will create a central repository of surveillance information” and “gather data about the everyday movements and habits of law-abiding residents,” calling into question the legality and ethics of such an operation.

As one Oakland City Council member told the Times, the center would have the capabilities to “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously on July 31 to adopt the plan to build the surveillance center, which officials have said will be staffed 24 hours a day. Lawmakers voted at the same meeting to ban hammers and spray paint cans at local protests in fear that the items will be used as weapons. Waiting outside, protesters admonished council members with chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The Times reported that this project is not the first time Oakland has sought to develop such technology. A city audit viewed by the paper revealed that lawmakers spent nearly $2 million in 2012 on police tools that did not work or could not be used for a variety of reasons.

The center will be operational by July 2014, and will eventually cost $10.9 million in federal grants, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Oakland has been the site of contentious, at times violent, confrontations between police and protesters in recent years, and beyond.

The City of Oakland and Alameda County agreed in June to settle a class action lawsuit by paying out $1.025 million to 152 people arrested in 2010 while protesting the leniency of sentence for a white transit officer who shot dead an unarmed black man, Oscar Grant.

Occupy Oakland and police clashed many times, most notably in late October, 2011 as Oakland police attempted to clear its encampment and disperse hundreds of protesters, later leading to Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen suffering a skull fracture caused by a non-lethal projectile shot by police.

Tear gas was also used on protesters during May Day 2012.

On top of the centralized surveillance operation, as Privacy SOS wrote, the allegations that surveillance data was used to undermine the exercise of free speech by @Anon4Justice could have a chilling effect among other activists.

“This kind of government action sends a chilling message to all Oakland residents: If you protest the police, they will use the powerful surveillance tools at their disposal to come after you and interfere with your life — regardless of whether or not you’ve done anything wrong.

“Was the compilation of photographs of @Anon4Justice part of the Urban Shield exercise the activist was protesting? Is it OPD policy to use photographs of people exercising their First Amendment rights to get them in trouble with their employers? Is this kind of McCarthyite political repression how Oakland residents — or the rest of the country — want their tax dollars spent?”

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oakland dedicating anti-terrorism funding to surveillance supercenter

RT | October 14, 2013

Three_Surveillance_camerasLawmakers in Oakland intend to spend millions of dollars awarded to the California city in a federal grant to a police dragnet that promises to examine surveillance footage, riling critics who assert the intention of the grant was to stop terrorism.

When the new program debuts in approximately one year police will be able to track drivers as they travel through tolls, scan license plates with the roughly 3,000 surveillance cameras placed throughout the city, and monitor social media platforms to learn about crimes before they occur.

The Oakland program, officially referred to as the Domain Awareness Center, according to the New York Times, comes at a time when police departments across the US are using federal money to launch similar surveillance efforts modeled after the New York Police Department. The NYPD, which operates within New York City as well as far outside, has used federal grants to build a massive surveillance network capable of linking cameras and license plate readers to criminal and suspected terrorist databases.

The Domain Awareness Center also plans to plant gunshot detection sensors through Oakland, which is consistently ranked among the most dangerous cities in the US. Forbes magazine reported that violent crime affects 1,683 of every 100,000 residents in the city, making it the third most dangerous city in America with a population between 100,000 and 499,000 in 2013.

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously on July 31 to adopt the plan to build the surveillance center, which officials have said will be staffed 24 hours a day. Lawmakers voted at the same meeting to ban hammers and spray paint cans at protests in fear that the items will be used as weapons. Waiting outside, protesters admonished council members with chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

“The Domain Awareness Center is the guard tower which will watch over every person in the city of Oakland,” shouted demonstrator Mark Raymond, as quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle. “This program is an attempt to criminalize and imprison all people who live and pass through Oakland.”

All told, the surveillance center’s costs are expected to total $10.2 million in federal grants, and while legislators said they were cognizant of residents’ security while drafting the bill some representatives were shouted down.

“We have tried our best to find the sweet spot where are going to take advantage of the tools that we have at hand to make our city safe… We have done everything we can to safeguard privacy,” said councilwoman Libby Schaaf before she was cut off by jeers and one protester who suggested she “go home to your mansion and kill yourself.”

Schaaf did admit that, while police have traditionally needed just a small evidence sample to arrest a suspect, the new center will have the capability to “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”

Oakland was awarded a federal grant to ramp up security near the Port of Oakland, a thriving cargo center that is one of the busiest in the US. The 19-mile waterfront is the fifth-busiest container port in the US, with 1,800 ships arriving every year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Over $14 billion in goods were exported from the bustling hub in 2012.

To protect the port, and watch civilians throughout the region, Oakland signed a contract with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to build the Domain Awareness Center. The company, which earns most of its $12 million in annual revenue from military contracts, also worked with the NYPD but later paid $500 million to avoid a federal prosecution for receiving illegal kickbacks.

The Times reported that this project is not the first time Oakland has sought to develop such technology. A city audit viewed by the paper revealed that lawmakers spent nearly $2 million in 2012 alone on police tools that did not work or could not be used for a variety of reasons.

Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said this project might work as intended, but that mere intention already creates a scary problem.

“What they did is approve a vast surveillance center without understanding the implications,” she said earlier this year. “The privacy policies would be drafted only after the center is built. At that point, what opportunity will there be for to determine if the safeguards are sufficient?”

October 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Oakland dedicating anti-terrorism funding to surveillance supercenter

Oakland’s Creepy New Surveillance Program Just Got Approved

By Linda Lye | EFF | August 1, 2013

Earlier this week, the Oakland City Council voted to approve the second phase of a $10.9 million surveillance center that would enable the City to engage in widespread warrantless surveillance of Oakland residents who have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever. This is a terrible blow to privacy.

The so-called Domain Awareness Center (DAC) would consolidate a vast network of surveillance data. The project was initially supposed to be about port security. But in a classic illustration of mission creep, the project as proposed would have pulled in over 1,000 cameras and sensors pointed at Oakland residents, including 700 cameras in Oakland schools. While surveilling schoolchildren is not going to secure the Port of Oakland, it would allow for the comprehensive tracking of innocent Oakland residents. The DAC would enable the city to track individuals when they visit the abortion clinic, the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or the union hall, or engage in other private activities. Although proponents of the project claimed that it did nothing more than consolidate existing surveillance systems, the mere combination of surveillance data is extremely intrusive. A mosaic depicts far more information than any individual tile.

Shockingly, the City Council was poised to approve the project even though there was no privacy framework in place whatsoever. Although the City’s proposed contract with a vendor to build the DAC took pains to prescribe in minute detail the precise manner in which, for example, metal framing systems are to be installed (studs are to be placed not more than 2 inches from abutting walls), there were no privacy provisions addressing key issues such as data retention and dissemination.

Disappointingly, and in the face of enormous opposition, the City Council voted on Tuesday to approve the DAC. The resolution it ultimately adopted requires the City Council to approve privacy policies and specifies which surveillance systems can be included in the DAC (the cameras in Oakland schools are no longer included). While the resolution contains a few nods to privacy, the City Council still put the cart before the horse. The City Council would never have approved a construction project, only to say that they’d review financial costs after the project is built. But it did just that with privacy costs.

You can follow Linda Lye on Twitter at @linda_lye.

August 2, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Comments Off on Oakland’s Creepy New Surveillance Program Just Got Approved

The Tool Kit

By Daniel Borgström | Dissident Voice | June 29th, 2012

An angry crowd, beating drums and waving pitchforks, clubs, and hammers, marches up the street, heading for the house of a local politician. It’s political theater, but the pitchforks, clubs and hammers are real. So, does the politician get out on her porch and meet the protesters with a shotgun? Or, as has become a standard response to protest in Oakland, does she call in riot police, armed with everything from tear gas to tanks?

This was the scene on June 11th, a public protest to an ordinance proposed by Oakland City Council member Patricia Kernighan to ban what she calls “Tools of Violence.”

It’s true that violence is a serious problem in Oakland. People shoot people, and the police also shoot people. Police are part of the problem. In February an officer killed a teenager and shot himself in the foot–literally. In dealing with political protests the OPD also has a terrible record, most famously on April 7, 2003 when 59 people were injured by attacking police; the incident was investigated by a United Nations commission, and the city received mention on the list of the world’s human rights abusers. The practice continues: At Occupy demonstrations last fall officers critically injured Iraq war veterans Scott Olsen in October and Kayvan Sabeghi in November. There’ve been numerous injuries, some major and many minor.

(It almost happened to me–on January 28 I happened to look up and see an officer aiming a shotgun at my face. For an instant I thought I was going to be the next Scott Olsen.)

This has been going on for years. It’s gotten to a point where a judge has warned that the OPD may be placed in federal receivership for failure to implement court ordered reforms. So Council member Pat Kernighan’s concern with violence might have seemed totally justified and downright commendable if it had been directed at the police rather than at peaceful protesters.

However, Kernighan’s ordinance targets protesters who, after Scott and Kayvan were injured, began carrying shields to protect themselves from police projectiles. The proposed “tools of violence” ordinance defines the “tools” so broadly as to include shields, as well as backpacks, and even water bottles and tripods for cameras. Obviously, the proposed ordinance has little to do with ending violence; it’s about suppressing First Amendment rights.

The situation called for creative theater, a dramatic response as bizarre as the proposed ordinance. So Occupy Oakland called a demonstration, inviting people to bring pots & pans and their favorite TOOL OF VIOLENCE. The event was publicized, both online and in leaflets, so Pat Kernighan obviously knew we were coming to visit her at her home on Monday, June 11th.

That evening a delegation of about fifty of us gathered at the northeast end of Lake Merritt. We were appropriately equipped with the various items of the Kernighan Tool Kit. One couple had brought a huge fork and spoon, some had shields, others wore bike helmets, and almost everyone had water bottles. Several carried hammers. Hammers, which would normally seem quite out of place at a demonstration, had now become a symbol of protest against the suppression of our First Amendment rights.

I brought my whole earth flag on a pole–the same flag I’ve been carrying for years at the Sunday peace walk. Although there has never been any complaint about my flag, Kernighan’s proposed ordinance would define the 6-foot pole as a club, and the penalty would be six months in jail. So that qualified my flag as appropriate for this event.

People carried all sorts of “tools.” My favorite of that evening was a large manure fork, carried by a hefty fellow looking like he was on his way to clean a barn. A standard farm tool, its long sharp prongs added a subtle touch of serious authenticity to our image.

After a brief rally, we set out marching up Lakeshore filling the right hand lane as usual, beating drums and chanting, “These are NOT–tools of violence!”

Some passersby gawked at us, staring wide-eyed at the bizarre display of tools, nearly enough to equip a hardware store. Others waved.

Police cars trailed behind, but didn’t interfere.

At the front of our column was a banner, reading “No justice, no peace.” We had several livestreamers, camera people, some in front and some in the middle.

Up Lakeshore Avenue, onto Walavista, and eventually up a long steep hill on Arimo Avenue towards where Councilmember Pat Kernighan lives.

“Patty! Patty! Can’t you see? You will live in infamy!” we chanted as we ascended the hill, also distributing leaflets as we went.

And what would we find on arrival? What would she do when she saw an angry crowd, beating drums and waving pitchforks, clubs, and hammers, marching up the street, heading straight for her door? Would she be standing on her porch, shotgun in hand, like in a Western movie? Or, as has become the pattern here in Oakland, would we be greeted by a phalanx of riot police? Perhaps even an armored vehicle–the one the sheriffs had brought out on May Day?

This was a relatively affluent neighborhood, and there were no potholes in this street. Houses up here were elegant, well kept up, but not really mansions. The inhabitants were clearly among the better off residents of Oakland’s District 2, but they didn’t appear to be the 1%. Some families came out and waved to us. Even up here, Occupy seemed to enjoy a bit of popular support.

And finally, along the crest of the hill, we came to a halt. This was where Pat Kernighan lived. It was a one-story house, pale green with white trim, and large windows across the front. Nice, but rather modest for an officeholder who serves the 1%.

No police. Not in front of her house anyway. There were just the two or three cop cars behind us. They stayed back, keeping their distance.

So where was Pat Kernighan? Three or four of our delegation went to ring her door bell, knocking on the door, peering in the windows. “Councilmember Kernighan, where are you? You have visitors. A delegation from Occupy Oakland. Don’t you want to come out and talk with us? No?”

The rest of us waited out in the street, watching. A TV camera, I think it was Channel 2, was filming the scene, as were several of our camera people.

Watching this, I thought of a demonstration I’d read about years ago which was held in front of a governor’s mansion. I forget which state, or who the governor was, but anyway. He came out and talked with the protesters, who must’ve been pretty surprised. It gave the appearance of a politician who listened, and it made the guy look good. And it occurred to me that if Pat Kernighan were to come out and talk with us, she might come off looking good this evening.

“Maybe she’s hiding in the basement,” quipped someone standing next to me.

“Leaving her house undefended? Look at those big windows. She’s been telling everyone that we’re a band of violent vandals.”

“She could’ve had riot police here to protect her home, but she didn’t bother to call them. Obviously she doesn’t believe we’re violent. It’s just something she talks about at the city council.”

We held a short rally, Bella Eiko and Elle Queue spoke while others leafleted the nearby houses, just to let Kernighan’s neighbors know why we’d came. Then we marched back the way we’d came, down the hill and back to the flatlands, beating drums, and waving flags, hammers and pitchforks.

*****Below is Council member Kernighan’s proposed ordinance (The numerous typos in the below are in the original):


Adopfion of this ordinance.
Respectfully submitted.
Barbara Parker
City Attorney
Attorney Assigned:
Mark Morodomi
City Attorney


SECTION 1. The following is added to the Oakland Municipal Code, Chapter 9.36 – Weapons.
Article VI.
Section 9.36.500. Tools of Violence at Demonstrations
A. Definitions.

The following definitions shall apply only for the purposes of this section.

“Club” means any length of lumber, wood, wood lath, plastic, or metal, unless that object is one-fourth inch or less in thickness and two inches or less in width or, if not generally rectangular in shape, such object shall not exceed three-quarter inch in its thickest dimension. Nothing in this section shall prohibit a disabled person from carrying a cane, walker, or similar device necessary for mobility so that the person may participate in a demonstration.

“Painting Device” means any aerosol paint can or pressurized paint sprayer, including but not limited to, any improvised device.

“Paint Projectile” means any container, including a plastic bag or balloon, and containing paint and designed to be thrown or projected.

“Shield” means any impact-resistant material held by straps or a handle attached on the holder’s side of the impact-resistant material and designed to provide impact protection for the holder. “Handle” does not include a stick or dowel used as a sign post. Paper, cloth, cardboard, or foam core less than one-quarter inch thick are not impact-resistant material for the purposes of this ordinance.

“Wrench” means a wrench with a span greater than or expandable to one and a quarter inches standard or 30 millimeters metric and of a length of 12 inches or more. B. Weapons and Vandalism Tools Prohibited.

No person shall carry or possess a Club, fire accelerant, fireworks, Painting Device, Paint Projectile, Shield, sling shot, hammer, or Wrench while participating in any demonstration.

C. Exemptions.

The prohibitions of this section shall not apply to any law enforcement agency employee, fire service agency employee, or public works employee who is carrying out official duties.

D. Penalties.

1. Any person violating Subsection B is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) or by both.

2. Remedies under this chapter are in addition to and do not supersede or limit any and all other remedies, civil or criminal. The remedies provided for herein shall be cumulative and not exclusive.

Daniel Borgström is an ex-Marine against the war, a veteran occupier. He writes about progressive actions. He can be reached at:

June 29, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Comments Off on The Tool Kit

Counter-Insurgency as Insurgency

The “99% Spring” Brings Co-optation into Full Bloom

By MIKE KING | CounterPunch | April 5, 2012

As the Occupy movement begins to come into full bloom across the country this Spring – with plans for massive days of action and demonstrations on May 1st, new campaigns for transit justice on both coasts, continued organizing against foreclosures and police violence, and a slight chance of a bank protest or two – there are several weeds sprouting in the prefigurative garden.  Not least of which is the “99% Spring” campaign, led and funded by every corner of the modern Democratic Party machine.  One might ask themselves “What is wrong with non-violent direct action?” or “How effective could the ‘Democratic Party machine’ actually be, anyway?”  There is nothing inherently wrong with civil disobedience and it surely remains to be seen if this campaign can train 10,000 people let alone the 100,000 they plan to.   The campaign director at, Ilyse Hogue, an organization that seems to be the key player in the 99% Spring, has recently written in the Nation that “Occupy is Dead” and that the 99% Spring will succeed where Occupy has failed – while mimicking their slogans.  What they lack in actual knowledge of Occupy’s health, they certainly make up for in co-optive obviousness.  Fertilized by decades of expanding inequality, Occupy needs to bloom and transform in the coming months, without getting mired in conflict with the various failed institutions of the organizational Left.  However, those flowers of resistance will have to rise above the weeds of a dying order, including the 99% Spring dandelions.

The organizations comprising this effort are a litany of individual trade unions, both trade federations, environmental groups, and a range of non-profits, including groups who have done very respectable work, such as Jobs with Justice.  There likely isn’t unified intent on behalf of every actor in this campaign.  In Oakland, I have heard of some local participants in the training having serious reservations about the effort, but are participating in it nonetheless.  The (potential) intent of these organizations, or the people they will train who will choose to lie down and get arrested, over some other tactics, isn’t the issue.  What matters is the effect of this effort in the existing political context of counter-insurgency, the dismissive, patronizing and divisive terms in which this is being put, and the timing – right before the presidential election.  If successful, this will undoubtedly serve as a wedge over tactics, exacerbating the “good protester / bad protester” trope that is always used, and that we have heard in the last few months already – from liberal Mayors to Fox News and everywhere in between.  This attempts to bring organizations with sordid histories into Occupy, who will invariably try to wrestle legitimacy from a popular, radical movement, into political groups that are reformist at best, wholly complicit with the current order at worst.  Hogue has stated that the plans for this effort pre-dated the formation of the Occupy movement in the U.S.  The original goal, likely, to generate systemically non-threatening actions to draw attention to inequality and injustice – not to stop it, but to gather votes for Democrats, who, ostensibly, address those issues.  Now that the Occupy movement has already done that, inadvertently, they seek to employ the same campaign to contain and defang that movement while preserving their positions as mostly poverty pimps and lazy labor bureaucrats that think strikes have lost their usefulness.

The existing powers, who some of these same progressives have consistently stood against (from their political position), deeply need to weld a safety valve on Occupy.  Homeland Security, who has been “advising” police and city governments nationally and who coordinated the mid-November 18-city raid on the Occupy movement, released an article this week entitled “The Occupy Movement: Rising Anarchy” which states:

“So far, Occupy protests in the United States exhibit a mostly peaceful nature. However, certain elements within Occupy that have been seen both here and abroad have the potential to inflict major damage to governments, people and the private sector. If not carefully monitored and mitigated, these elements pose a significant threat to modern democracies.”

The existing order needs an institutionalized, liberal super-hero-on-a-leash to be used (whether the organizations involved all intend to or not) disrupt, discredit and destroy, from the inside, those elements who organized the November 2nd General Strike in Oakland, the militant demonstrations against police violence in New York in recent weeks, or community-led, anti-capitalist efforts against foreclosures in Chicago, or those that set barricades aflame in Seattle on December 12, 2011, or the scores of lesser-reported militant action that have taken place in the last half-year, out of nowhere.  They also want to suck in the tens of thousands of young people all over the country, hoping to be able to do the same thing in their cities, into a more palatable strategy.  Those in power would like to see nothing more than for 100,000 people to be trained to chain themselves to local bank branches for 6-9 months, hooting about their “greedy side,” get disillusioned at how fruitless that is, and go back to playing video games and downloading pirated music after Obama’s re-election.

Counter-Insurgency by any other name

This is not primarily about tactics, it is about politics. and reactionary unions are not spearheading this for no reason.  Are we to believe that the same unions that discourage their members from taking non-violent direct action during labor disputes, have found both the time and the energy to do a solid favor for the radical Left, by resuscitating a movement they have mistakenly diagnosed as dead?  This is primarily about co-option and division, about sucking in a large cross-section of Occupy into Obama’s reelection campaign, watering down it’s radical politics, and using these mass trainings as a groundwork to put forward 100,000 “good protesters” to overshadow the “bad protesters” (who actually take personal risks and/or have radical politics), to ease the State’s ongoing campaign to pick us off one by one.  In the words of’s own campaign director, it is unabashedly and overtly a campaign of clear co-optation.  This is not a riding of the coattails of a hip social movement; this will be a form of counter-insurgency.  This will be used to disrupt, divide, discredit and destroy the Occupy movement.  The parameters of acceptable protest will be imposed, not by some local non-profit starving for funding or wanting to remain relevant, but by city officials, the police, the major media, Homeland Security, Chambers of Commerce, police front groups like “Stand for Oakland,” and on down the line.

The Occupy movement has broken with the Left’s long-standing, self-defeating tendencies of meaningless, police-choreographed marches, 1-day pageant strikes, movement discourse that thinks the logic of the lowest common denominator that wins elections will win social justice (99% frames not withstanding), and non-violent civil disobedience designed to curry favorable media attention that gets de-contextualized and buried in the sea on nonsense entertainment that is the media.  This scares the hell out of capital and the State.  99% Spring is not part of some nefarious conspiracy theory with Homeland Security or “the illuminati.”  99% Spring is not Wall Street.  But they sure as hell are doing their work, whether some of them want to realize that or not.

“Just Say, No” (to government-sponsored co-optation)

A New York lawyer and some folks from OWS have made an attempt to turn the direct democracy of Occupy into a representation democracy of elected “Occupy politicians” who would have a new-Constitutional Convention this July 4th weekend in Philadelphia, comprised of elected officials from the Occupy Movement (“rising anarchy,” be damned).  In short time Occupy Wall Street, from which these charlatans emerged, publicly denounced this attempted event at a General Assembly, along with Occupy Philadelphia.  We have (imperfect) emerging direct, democratic institutions in our cities that reflect the will of the movement.  We should use them.  We should address the Operation 99% Spring Co-optation initiative the same way that New York and Philadelphia dealt with the “new founding fathers.”  It is time to weed out our garden, so that real, social justice efforts can bloom.

My knowledge of the Occupy movement is derived primarily from my experience in Oakland.  We have seen counter-insurgent efforts of this type before: when Mayor Quan’s Block-by-Block campaign organization tried to set up a “peace camp” right before the raid of the second Occupy Oakland encampment; when the one singular thing reporters wanted to know from press contacts before the December 12th Port Shutdown was “How can we get the protesters to obey police orders?” or their myopic fixation on the property destruction that they consider “violence;” to Quan’s unheeded call for the “leaders of the Occupy movement” to condemn said “violence” (by which she means people carrying shields who were hit with projectiles and beaten, while groups of children were tear-gassed): or how permits, taken out behind Occupy Oakland’s back, were used to arrest people for possession of blankets in Oscar Grant Plaza – some of whom are facing prison time; to Quan’s use of non-profits as a palatable alternative to a violent, discredited, and costly movement in a press-release and subsequent “volunteer fair.”  All of this counter-insurgent misrepresentation, baiting, discreditation, and divisiveness is wearying and something we need to get better at combating.  It has also only been partially effective.  An Oakland Tribune poll found that 94% of Oaklanders support Occupy Oakland, even after all of the efforts I outlined above.  We shouldn’t find a false complacency in this.  It should be noted that even though most of these were attempts at co-optation, most came from clearly demarcated enemies.

99% Spring is attempting to graft itself to Occupy and hollow it out from the inside out, imposing rigid norms of non-violence and deference to police authority, while watering down our politics and introducing well-funded and trained institutions that are either fully invested in, or dependent upon, the existing power structure – and have the resources, connections and will of self-preservation to navigate the Occupy ship into a doldrums from which it will never emerge.  Despite the undemocratic and self-defeating norm of consensus, we, as an Occupy movement, still have a sense of what we came here to do.  We didn’t come here to sign petitions or to get Obama reelected.  We didn’t come here to “have a voice in the system”; we came here to flip it on its head.  We will not be co-opted.  We should not have our tactics determined by the Democratic Party.  We should not let ourselves be undermined from within.  We have the capacity to call the 99% Spring out for what it is – a deluded attempt by the Obama campaign to kill two birds with one stone, to take the hundreds of thousands in the street demanding real democracy (laying bare the utter failure of the Obama administration and the American State) and turn it into a vehicle to re-elect him.  So that he can bomb Iran with impunity, or continue to deport more undocumented immigrants than any other president, or cover-up more massacres in Afghanistan, or think that half-baked rhetoric about inequality coupled with more tax breaks for businesses represents “Change we can believe in.”

The Occupy movement may not have the power to change the talking points of duplicitous, liberal Mayors.  It may not have the capacity to change the preoccupations of the mainstream media.  It certainly doesn’t have much say in the manner in which the police try to suppress it.  But we do have control over what goes on in our own house.  These people only become part of the Occupy movement if we let them continue to say that they are out of one side of their mouth, while the other side says we are directionless, un-strategic and “dead.”  Every single Occupation that doesn’t want to turn into nothing more than an ample pool of chumps registering people to vote for the same Obama administration that has declared an all-out war against us, should bring forward a resolution at their General Assembly to condemn this clear attempt to destroy our movement.  This isn’t about violence versus non-violence; this is about autonomy versus co-optation.  History will not forgive us if we let the 99% Spring Trojan horse into out movement so that the injustices we rose up against can be perpetuated with our own sanction, in our own name.

Mike King is a PhD candidate at UC–Santa Cruz and an East Bay activist, currently writing a dissertation about counter-insurgency against Occupy Oakland.  He can be reached at mking(at)

April 5, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Comments Off on Counter-Insurgency as Insurgency