Newly released emails show that counter-terrorism officials have been called on to monitor Black Lives Matter protests in California.
The emails and other documents, released by the Bay Area's East Bay Express, illustrate specific internal communications between the California Highway Patrol and its "Terrorism Liaison Officers."
"Reminder for Tonight and this week: Do Not Advise Protesters That We Are Following Them on Social Media," read the subject line of an internal email obtained by the publication. "We want to continue tracking the protesters as much as possible. If they believe we are tracking them, they will go silent," the note read in part.
Other emails show that counter-terrorism officials were at times embedded with protesters in Oakland. Another shows Oakland police flagged a local church visit by Michael Brown Sr., father of the late Ferguson, Mo. teenager, with a "situational awareness" tag for state authorities to potentially monitor.
The obvious should be stated. If you publish something on social media that is publicly viewable, then people will view it and take it into account, including officers of the law. The assassination of two police officers in Brooklyn last December was announced over social media before it occurred, and authorities took notice. "If you see something on social media that is a threat against a police officer, call 911 immediately,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the incident.
"We cannot take this lightly," he said.
But many things remain unclear about social media monitoring programs like the one in California. "We don't know as much about the [California] program as we should," Nadia Kayyali, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the East Bay Express. "We don't know what their standards are, their policies with respect to limits and privacy."
A California Highway Patrol official told the Express that it did not have any policies regarding its monitoring of social media, but that they ""search for any and all 'open source,' or publicly available, information related our public safety assessments."
The paper also with some of the activists it found counter-terrorism officials were tracking, like Twitter user @DomainAwareness, a digital privacy activist who asked not to be identified. "It's the coordination [of the tracking] that's disturbing," the Twitter user said. "Everything's totally fusion center-oriented and the information is going very high up."
Fusion centers are real time "receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information" hubs, whose whose stated purpose is to facilitate communication between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the event of a major terrorist attack or catastrophic natural disaster, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS grants fund the centers' equipment and facilities, though operations are often left in control of local officials.
Several of the emails released from East Bay Express originated inside of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a fusion center which the paper says "connects police agencies from Monterey County to the Oregon border."
"They've built this big network and they have tremendous resources," commented @DomainAwareness about the use of the fusion centers to monitor Black Lives Matter protests.
Unfortunately, at least one alleged terrorist plot has been planned in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests. In November, two members of the St. Louis chapter of the New Black Panthers were busted by the FBI when they allegedly bought pipe bombs from undercover agents, which they planned to use against "people, buildings, vehicles and property" during the unrest that was sweeping the region at the time. The duo was formally indicted for the alleged plot in early April. They have both pleaded not guilty.
Three days after they were arrested, a grand jury made its announcement not to press charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. Riots and violence spread through St. Louis and the city of Ferguson after the announcement.
Richard Callahan, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, said that the disruption of the plot "saved some lives" of both protesters and law enforcement.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.