Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tell The Truth -- Tell Me Who's Been Spyin' On You!

You wouldn't want to miss this piece by Alyssa Giachino in The Villager, but please don't tell anybody you heard about it from me:

Police spied on many local groups during convention
With the public release of more than 600 pages of surveillance notes by the New York Police Department last week, organizations that protested at the 2004 Republican National Convention confirmed their suspicions that dozens of nonviolent groups were being monitored.

Some reacted with outrage, saying civil liberties were trampled on and that public expression of political dissent is under attack. Others were gleeful, feeling vindicated that their paranoia about infiltration proved valid.

Then there was the reaction of civil rights attorney Ronald Kuby, who said he is deeply offended that his name was not included.
Poor Mr. Kuby. At least his name has now been mentioned on a very prestigious blog -- not!

But the damage had been done:
“My street credibility has been seriously compromised,” Kuby said sarcastically. “Am I not a greater threat to national security than LL Cool J? Have I not protested the war more loudly than Alicia Keys?”

Kuby was referring to the surprising appearance of several household names in hip-hop and R & B in the police documents, which also listed Russell Simmons and Jay-Z, all of whom were invited to participate in the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network concert that was scheduled during the R.N.C.
Speaking of "No Big Surprise", they didn't have me on their list either.
Many of the organizations that participated in organizing activities related to the R.N.C. were aware of police surveillance, and even joked during planning meetings about the presence of undercover police or federal agents.

“It’s interesting to see hard proof, hard copies,” said Nancy Kricorian, director of the New York chapter of the antiwar group Code Pink, which is mentioned numerous times in the police documents. “Because you can have your suspicions. It’s kind of affirming to see the evidence.”

Although Kricorian was not surprised that Code Pink was mentioned in the documents, she said, “That doesn’t make it right.”
Right or not, is it not inevitable?
“For women whose immigration status is an issue or for women whose communities have contentious histories with the police, the fear of police surveillance might make them think twice about participating in political organizing or in showing up at a demonstration,” she said. “That is why there are civil liberties protections against this kind of spying — the spying itself has a chilling effect on organized dissent.”
Which is exactly why they do it! No?
It is unclear which elements of the surveillance program may have violated civil rights. Police say much of the material was collected from Web sites and listservs, and many of the planning meetings were open to the public.

“Some information is not solely based on Internet stuff, and that is of questionable legality,” Kuby said. “There has to be some kind of criminal predicate to investigate political activity.”
There may be questions about information learned off the Internet, but regardless of legalities, it should be clear that organizing an effective secret political resistance group using the Internet is not possible.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which together with The New York Times, sued the city to obtain the police records, has called the surveillance program “broad, clumsy and often unlawful.” The monitoring of the diverse groups that participated in events around the R.N.C. equated political dissent with violence, the N.Y.C.L.U. said.
Nonsense! The monitoring of diverse groups shows that this administration -- this Rove-Bush-Cheney-RNC administration -- sees all dissent as dangerous, violent or not. As well they should. When you're lying as much as they are, and implementing a set of policies as vicious and evil as their legislative agenda, all forms of dissent -- especially those containing the truth about what you're doing -- are very dangerous indeed.
Civil liberties attorney Martin Stolar said the documents are “just the tip of the iceberg,” and other kinds of surveillance likely took place that the public is still unaware of. Dozens of groups appear in the files, including Not In Our Name, Kensington Welfare Rights, New York City Anarchist Tribes, United for Peace and Justice, Grandmothers Against the War and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, as well as the magazine High Times.

“These organizations that are not talking about anything criminal end up in police files,” Stolar said. “That’s of concern because it harks back to the old days when they used to keep files and dossiers on organizations and groups that did nothing illegal but had dissenting opinions.”

However, he also said, “Unless you’ve been sleeping through the late 20th and early 21st centuries, you are kind of aware of [police surveillance]. It’s to be expected.”
Unless you've been sleeping? Unless you've been sleeping under a rock!! And yet so many people appear to have been doing just that very thing!
The surprise seems to lie in the detail with which the police recorded the minutiae involved in coordinating multiple organizations.

“The whole thing was surprising because it’s such a bizarre waste of resources,” Kuby said. “There are real terrorists who want to kill all of us; none of them made it on the list. For every Depends-wearing granny using a walker that is being followed by the police, there is some loonzy kazooney jihadist that is going unmonitored.”
Wrong! Right! Right! Wrong! Right! and Wrong again!! Score three out of six for our friend Kuby there.

It's not surprising at all. It is a bizarre waste of resources. There are indeed real terrorists. Some of them may want to kill a lot of people, but nobody wants to kill us all! Kuby may be right to say no terrorists got on the list, but it was very wrong and very dumb to equate the number grannies against the war (of whom there are doubtless a great many) to the "loonzy kazooney" jihadists, of whom there are relatively few, especially if we don't count those who were motivated and trained in their "personal jihad" by "trusted associates" who just happened to be working for the FBI, or the NYPD.

Street cred ain't what it used to be, Sir Kuby. Sorry about that, sir!
John Penley, a longtime Yippie activist, criticized the lack of transparency and local input into the monitoring program, and said the Police Department has likely overreached its authority by expanding into states other than New York, and even outside of the United States.

“The N.Y.P.D. has now expanded to an international intelligence-gathering service,” he said. “You can see how easily they can overstep their boundaries, and there is apparently no civilian oversight. As history tends to show, police departments tend to abuse things like this.”
Yep. That's what they do.
Aron Kay, better known as the “Yippie Pie Man,” is named multiple times in the police documents, where he was identified as an “eccentric activist” who was “calling for like-minded activists to target President Bush for a ‘pie in the face’ attack during his appearance at the RNC.”
Some may think such a gesture would have been perfect. I happen to agree with them.
The Villager appears to have fans in the N.Y.P.D., as one of the documents mentioned that “Local media reports quote Kay as stating that denial of camping permits in New York City Parks could potentially incite violent protest action.” An article had appeared in the Feb. 25, 2004, issue of The Villager in which Kay was quoted saying that a denial of the Yippies’ request for a camping permit for Tompkins Square Park “May cause a problem; it may cause a riot.” Kay subsequently said he had only intended to invoke 1968’s Chicago Riots, rather than current events, and regretted having made the comment.
It's always unfortunate when historical parallels go unnoticed. Or when historical allusions go unchecked. Or when comments require to be regretted.

Note that it didn't matter whether a protest or a protest group were violent or non-violent; the super spies spied on everybody:
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, which provided meeting space for planning activities and meals for thousands of protesters during the R.N.C., is named in the police documents, as well.

Reverend Frank Morales said, “It is immoral, potentially illegal and inappropriate” for the police to monitor peaceful meetings inside a church. “St. Mark’s has traditionally championed the right of protest but also the importance of the ethic of nonviolence,” he said.
So, ... How free is freedom of speech? And what happens if you speak freely through a battery-powered amplifier?
Geoffrey Blank, who earned notoriety for using a battery-powered megaphone without a permit in Union Square, said he is “exuberant” that the documents were made public.

He plans to use the references to him as evidence that the police targeted him for arrest during the R.N.C. In October 2006, Blank was convicted on two counts of resisting arrest and one count of using amplified sound without a permit, all from incidents in 2004.

“I remember the police following me, so it’s not like this is some mystery to me,” he said. “I was saying [during the trial] these charges have nothing to do with resisting arrest. These charges are just a smokescreen for silencing me because of what my message was because I was outspoken against Bush, against the war in Iraq.”
Wow! "Using amplified sound without a permit" is a crime? All those years I played in rock bands we never had a permit -- not once!! Is there a new law or something? And is it retroactive?

In other words, how much trouble am I potentially in, here. And furthermore, is there a category for "Satire without a Permit"?
Robin Eublind, an actor with Billionaires for Bush, a satirical street theater group [photo], said the multiple appearances of his group in the police documents is part of the Billionaires’ nefarious strategy to dampen the impact of other protest groups.

“We’re trying to usurp their media hit on the revelation of surveillance,” he said, adding that the Billionaires thrive on media attention.

“There’s no such thing as bad press or bad surveillance when you’re media whores,” he said.