On April 10, the organization Restore the Fourth (Rt4) called for the shutdown of fusion centers, which are police-run spy centers supposedly created to monitor terrorist threats. Protests were held in at least nine cities, including outside the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) at the Boston Police Headquarters. The rally was focused on the misuse of BRIC resources to target activists and others for non-terrorism related investigations. BRIC is primarily funded by Massachusetts taxpayers, but also receives money from the Department of Homeland Security.
The event included speeches and a formal records request for documents from the BRIC as well as a request that a BRIC representative meet with the group.
Restore the Fourth exists to protect the Fourth Amendment. According to National Director Alex Marthews, “The purpose of the fourth amendment is to identify a meaningful limitation on the power government that they cannot conduct searches and seizures ahead of time on everybody for any reason.”
Journalist Chris Faraone of DigBoston spoke about how the BRIC misuses resources to spy on activists, including peace activist Carlos Arredondo, who many consider to be a hero of the Boston Marathon bombing.
“I wanted to talk about resources and priorities of the Boston Police Department and the BRIC in particular," Faraone said. "It really blows me away that media outlets can report on Carlos over and over and fail to acknowledge this ironic twist that the resources had been spent following peace activists in the Boston area."
"I think it would be a slippery slope to link this lapse in judgment in how resources are used to connect that directly to what happened last April," Faraone said, referring to the bombing. "At the same time, we can say this is clearly what they weren’t doing and this is what they were doing.”
Nadeem Mazen of the Cambridge City Council also spoke about BRIC's monitoring of activists. “It is a uniquely un-American and anti-American activity,” he said.
This week, the Partnership for Justice Fund (PFJF) released a report on the role fusion centers played in monitoring Occupy protests which supports and builds on the stated issues that Restore the Fourth and the activists outside the BRIC spoke about.
According to the report:
Fusion Centers used their vast anti-terrorism and anti-crime authority and funds to conduct a sprawling, nationwide and hour-by-hour surveillance effort that targeted even the smallest activity of peaceful protestors in the Occupy Movement in the Fall and Winter of 2011. This enormous spying and monitoring apparatus included the Pentagon, FBI, DHS, police departments and chiefs, private contractors and commercial business interests.
The Boston Police Department stated in 2012, according to The Boston Globe, that the “Boston Regional Intelligence Center … does not conduct surveillance on protest groups without reason to believe they are tied to crime or terrorism.” In the Fall of 2011, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) devoted significant resources including deployment of intelligence analysts to a detailed monitoring and cataloging operation, issuing twice-daily “Situation Awareness” Bulletins on Occupy Boston. We have obtained over 1,200 pages of these bulletins which have not been previously disclosed.
One document shows in an email chain that this article was initially circulated through the subscription website activistmap.com, which is billed as the “Domestic Terrorism Tracking System.” The keywords associated with this Domestic Terrorism Tracking System include: anarchist(s), animal rights, environmentalist, protesters, socialist(s), communist(s), civil disobedience, social justice and global justice, among others.
After the speeches, Rt4 entered the Boston Police Headquarters and waited with Sergeant Martin Kraft for around an hour, waiting to turn in a records request and to set up a meeting with a BRIC representative. Kraft, a 32 year veteran of the Boston police, made $209,862.25 in 2013.
Kraft instructed Alex to turn in the records request “the normal way,” but would not say what that way is. Under Massachusetts state law, a records request must be accepted when it is brought in person.
The BRIC declined to send their privacy officer down nor would they would they send down any other representative. Alex Marthews offered to set up a meeting “no matter how far out” with the BRIC privacy officer, but Kraft refused to even say what the procedure for setting up a meeting is or how one might find out what the procedure is.
“Well, I guess we have to be done. It’s very disappointing that they [i.e., anyone from the BRIC] won’t meet with the public,” Marthews said. The Bay State Examiner remained at the police headquarters site to attempt to set up a meeting with a BRIC representative, leading to a situation that will be covered in a separate article. Our attempt to set up a meeting was likewise unsuccessful.
Sergeant Kraft told the Restore the Fourth protestors that they no longer had any business at the Boston Police Headquarters and instructed them to leave which was clearly incorrect because he had not taken the records request as required to under state law. Lead by Kraft and Deputy Superintendant Michael Cox, who made $173,663.12 in 2013, Boston police staged a wagon to make arrests and surrounded the Rt4 protesters.
One protestor told us that the assembled officers threatened the group, quoting one as saying something to the effect of, “See all these officers here? They're here to help escort you out in case you are unable to do so by yourself.”
At this point, Restore the Fourth left the Boston Police Headquarters under duress and without being allowed to hand in their records request.
A written records request must be accepted when given in person, but the Boston police instead chose to disregard the law and threaten the people attempting to make it. This same tactic was used by Boston police Lieutenant Detective Bernard E. Greene when I attempted to make a public records request at the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.
The Boston police eventually came outside and accepted the records request, after the Rt4 protesters waited outside of the building for a considerable amount of time.
The records request drew a boilerplate response letter response from the Boston police claiming that the records request could not be processed in the ten days mandated by state law due to the overwhelming number of requests that Boston police receive. This is a not valid response to a records request under state law.
The Rt4 experience in the Boston Police Headquarters highlighted much of what is wrong with fusion centers. They are secretive and impossible to contact, yet they regularly violate peoples' privacy by collecting, storing, and distributing information about the legal activities of ordinary people. When private citizens attempted to address the fusion center about their Fourth Amendment rights being violated, the police responded by threatening them. Public records are not made available even if you brave the police intimidation to turn one in. Ultimately, message on display at the Boston Police Headquarters on April 11 is that the public fusion center has the right to privacy, while private citizens do not.