The outing of an undercover officer by Minnesota activists targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last Fall has shed further light on the infiltration of protest movements by American law enforcement. The Twin Cities-based Anti-War Committee has received several grand jury subpoenas regarding communications with organizations in Colombia and Palestine.
According to organizers, “Karen Sullivan” first appeared in April 2008 during the organizing efforts for protests against the Republican National Convention to be held later that summer. In the middle of 2008, the RNC Welcoming Committee was the target of several preemptive raids by law enforcement, with more than 100 people arrested. Two activists, Bradley Crowder and David McKay, were accused of preparing Molotov cocktails by Brandon Darby, a FBI informant who had gone undercover as an activist in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In a December 29, 2008 open letter, Darby admitted to his role as an informant. Darby brought Crowder and McKay to Minneapolis with him from Texas. Other activists accused Darby of acting as a provocateur by goading Crowder and McKay into traveling to the RNC with him to commit property damage.
Sullivan reportedly also played a critical role in the Anti-War Committee, rising to become a figure of prominence who had access to the group’s office space and financial records. The alleged undercover officer gave speeches still available on the AWC’s website, and participated in actions against Plan Colombia, the School of the Americas and attended the 2010 United States Social Forum, a national gathering of activists. Sullivan also took part in a planned visit to Palestine last year, and was denied entry to Israel along with three activists.
Sullivan’s apparent exposure comes less than a week after environmental activists in the United Kingdom outed two police officers who infiltrated efforts to shut down power plants and industrial facilities. According to the Guardian, one of the outed agents, Mark Kennedy (aka Mark Stone), spent eight years undercover, attending almost every major protest in Europe during that period.
It is clear that law enforcement on both sides of the Atlantic are intent on gathering invaluable “human intelligence” on protest movements. The FBI’s monitoring of domestic protests, sometimes under the rubric of terrorism (a practice the Department of Justice’s Inspector General warned against as early as 2003), has been reinvigorated in the decade following September 11th. A September 2010 report by DoJ’s Inspector General found a number of issues with the FBI’s handling of such investigations. Here are a few prominent examples from the IG’s report:
- “in some cases, we found that the FBI extended the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without sufficient basis. This has practical impacts on subjects, whose names were maintained on watchlists as a result and whose movements and interactions with law enforcement were tracked.”
- “we found instances in which the FBI used questionable investigative techniques and improperly collected and retained First Amendment information in FBI files.”
- “In some cases, the FBI classified some investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its ‘Acts of Terrorism’ classification:
During the Oscar Grant protests, confidential informants provided information from the crowd in Downtown Oakland on July 8th, and may have been sent to planning meetings for the verdict day protests. Detail about their exact activities and connections to law enforcement are unknown.