Newly-released records show the Federal Bureau of Investigations used counter-intelligence measures to monitor several Occupy Wall Street protests, at times labeling their actions as "Anarchist" and investigating them as potential domestic terrorists, the New York Times reported Monday.
The documents, which were obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund in redacted form, show that the bureau began monitoring the movement as early as August 2011, when Occupy was establishing itself in Zuccotti Park in New York City. The fund's director, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, said the findings prove authorities overstepped their bounds in gathering information against lawful protesters.
"The collection of information on people’s free-speech actions is being entered into unregulated databases, a vast storehouse of information widely disseminated to a range of law-enforcement and, apparently, private entities," she said. "This is precisely the threat -- people do not know when or how it may be used and in what manner."
One memo from the bureau's New York City field office described a meeting between officials there and from the New York Stock Exchange dealing with a "planned Anarchist protest titled 'Occupy Wall Street,'" on Sept. 17, 2011. Protesters in the New York camp were forcibly evicted from the park by hundreds of police officers that November.
As Occupy camps spread around the country, the documents show the FBI trading information with local authorities; one October 2011 memo sent by the bureau's office in Jacksonville, Florida, was titled "Domain Program Management Domestic Terrorist." Demonstrators have long accused federal and local officials of engaging in collusion in an effort to stop the movement, particularly after a group of U.S. mayors engaged in a conference call in November 2011.
A bureau spokesperson, Paul Bresson, told the newspaper the public should be wary of "drawing conclusions" from redacted documents.
"While the F.B.I. is obligated to thoroughly investigate any serious allegations involving threats of violence, we do not open investigations based solely on First Amendment activity," Bresson said. "In fact, the Department of Justice and the FBI's own internal guidelines on domestic operations strictly forbid that."
[Image via Agence France-Presse]