Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Phoenix Thing -- and Why This Surveillance Thing Matters

Phoenix Po Po -- illustration by Justin Renteria for the Phoenix New Times

I've been meaning to deal with the Phoenix Thing for some time but haven't gotten around to it because of all the hullabaloo over Greenwald's latest pissing matches on Twitter, and the Snowden Thing's endless twists and turns. I mean, there are priorities here, no?

In all the screaming about "Pay attention to the NSA! Only that! Nothing else! It's the only thing that matters!" it's been obvious to me that the NSA is not  the only thing that matters. This story will never really resonate with the People (as opposed to "Civil Liberties Extremists" -- who are not particularly representative of the popular interest and will in this country) unless they are able to see how it affects them.or the people they know personally.

Those stories are starting to be told, but you will not find them in the major mass media -- at least not for quite some time to come -- and you're even unlikely to find them in the Guardian, focused as it is on the Global Saga of Edward Snowden and the Other Players.

 So. What's been going on that might affect everyday people, and why should they care about it?

The story of the Phoenix Thing is one element; there are many hundreds of others, and when they are all put together, there is no one who is untouched in some way and on some level by the massive domestic surveillance apparat, no one who hasn't felt its consequences.

The Phoenix Thing is the story of what happened to Occupy Phoenix -- and by extension the Occupy Movement as a whole in this country -- as authorities assembled the necessary information and tools to brutally crush its public aspects and to turn its internal workings against itself.

The story is told in great detail by Monica Alonzo in the Phoenix New Times, based on interviews with some of those involved and documents pried out of officials. It is a harrowing tale of surveillance and official coordination for the suppression of dissent. Alonzo's report is based in part on material assembled by the Center for Media and Democracy, published by DBA Press in late May of 2013 titled:

Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street

Of course, there's been a certain level of "Oh, we knew that," casual indifference to the revelations and documentation, because in fact, most of those involved with Occupy knew from the outset that their actions and communications would be subject to intense surveillance by the authorities, and that those authorities were likely to include Our Fatherland Security Apparat.

Sure enough.

I think we were surprised, however, at the coordination and the brutality of the crackdown that ensued.

Phoenix and Sacramento may have been the first cities riot-clad police squadrons were deployed to suppress Occupy from the get go. Both, of course, are capital cities which may have had something to do with it. On the other hand, our dauntless po po, wherever they are, have to try out their intimidation gear and tactics in order to see if they work, and what better than to use them on such willing subjects?

The bulk of the Dissent or Terror report focuses on Arizona, particularly on Phoenix, and this is the description in the Phoenix New Times report:

Freelance reporter and DBA Press publisher Beau Hodai's in-depth report "Dissent or Terror" details how law enforcement officials used the resources of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, its Terrorism Liaison officers, and an intelligence analyst to track and report on the movements of individuals affiliated, or believed to be affiliated, with the Occupy Phoenix movement.

And, the author reports, this information — obtained using these taxpayer-funded resources — promptly was shared with those whom Occupy organized to protest. Police officials passed along details to downtown Phoenix bank executives and the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that joins corporate executives and lobbyists with lawmakers to produce conservative "model" laws. For instance, ALEC created the framework for Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the state's draconian anti-immigrant law.

Beginning to see how no one, ultimately, is immune from the gentle ministrations of the Police State?

As was the case elsewhere in the country, the crackdown on the extremely modest Occupy Phoenix effort was coordinated through the anti-terrorism Fusion Centers, some 70 of which have been established around the country with funding provided by the DHS.

Monitoring protesters isn't exactly what the feds had in mind as they poured as much as $1.4 billion since 2003 into creating and expanding 70 fusion centers across the United States.

In fact, a bipartisan probe in [October of] 2012 by a U.S. Senate subcommittee was critical of fusion centers for wasting money, getting used in ways that weren't strengthening counter-terrorism efforts, and stepping on Americans' freedoms.

I would, however, question just what it was the Feds had in their minds when setting up these Fusion Centers, because it appears their primary function has been to surveille and monitor leftish protesters and dissenters and to provide law enforcement coordination for the inevitable -- and often brutal -- crackdowns against demonstrators.

To continue:

The subcommittee investigation found the intelligence coming from the centers was "oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and . . . occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."

 Yes, well. Just redefine "terrorism" and they're home free.

Which is essentially what's happened over the past decade or so. Terrorism now includes practically any action or public statement which challenges authority (as long as it's from the "left"), or even, as I found out when dealing with  former revolutionary firebrand Mark Rudd at an Occupy event in Albuquerque, the wearing of certain clothing (let's say black) and disguises (such as Guy Fawkes masks and, most especially, bandanas.) All of these things and more can easily lead to a suspicion or determination of terrorism or at least terrorist "intent."

The Phoenix story details one part of a massive and intrusive surveillance infrastructure that goes far beyond the current focus on NSA surveillance. By comparison, in some ways NSA surveillance is probably less intrusive and pervasive than surveillance conducted at ground level by local and state police, National Guard  and military forces, and various other agents of state and -- more and more -- corporate power.

This surveillance drills right down to the individual and household level -- something NSA surveillance ordinarily doesn't do -- and combined with various other aspects of the Surveillance State can be as chilling as anything undertaken by surveillance/police states of past infamy. You think the Stasi was bad? Well, hang on, then.

Combined with McClatchy's reports on the Federal Services' institution of the "Insider Threat" program,  these reports of what is really being done day to day to keep tabs on the People on the one hand and to enforce conformity and compliance the other should be alerting everyone to the reality that we are living in a police state.

Instead of focusing on Glenn Greenwald's latest pissing match on Twitter, or Edward Snowden's dramatic revelations and escapes, or even on the various NSA surveillance programs, I think it would be much more useful to pay attention to what is going on in our own backyards, and what has been going on for years now.

How surveillance is being undertaken and used as a tool of suppression by local, state and corporate authorities has more direct effect on all our lives than what the NSA is doing on a national and international scale.

Which is not to say that the various Shadow-Surveillance and Super-Spy programs don't need attention and curbing as well. But if we're actually to have an informed debate about these things, it's worthwhile to know just how close the issue is to every one of us.

Here's Democracy Now's coverage of the Dissent or Terror report:

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