After years of complaints by privacy advocates, the company said it will stop the practice on its free email service to eliminate confusion around its advertising policies.
A corporate database used by banks and other institutions to screen clients for crimes such as money laundering and terror financing has labeled dozens of U.S. citizens as connected to terrorism on the basis of outdated or unsubstantiated allegations. An analysis of a 2014 copy of the database, which is known as World-Check, also indicates that many thousands of people, including children, were listed on the basis of tenuous links to crime or to politically prominent persons. The database relied on allegations stemming from right-wing, Islamophobic websites to categorize under “terrorism” people and groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), several mosques, and national and regional Islamic organizations. Political activists also had World-Check listings originating from old, minor infractions. For instance, 16 Greenpeace activists who were arrested for protesting the “Star Wars” missile-defense program in 2001 were listed under the general “crime” category, though they ultimately pled guilty to misdemeanor trespassing and never served time. World-Check, which is owned by Thomson Reuters, contains over 2 million entries, most of them for people who are in government, on international sanctions lists, or have convictions for financial crimes. Thomson Reuters claims that World-Check is a risk-assessment tool, not a blacklist, and that a listing is not necessarily meant to imply wrongdoing. Yet many of the entries, especially for activist groups, raise questions about World-Check’s criteria. Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior flagship remains docked in the port of Acapulco, in Mexico, on January 17, 2014. Greenpeace was added to World Check apparently after the Rainbow Warrior damaged a coral reef in the Philippines in 2005. Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images Greenpeace International earned a listing as an organization apparently because of a 2005 accident when one of their ships damaged a coral reef. The entry for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals links to comments the group’s founder made in support of militant animal liberation activists. Other activist nonprofits, such as Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch are listed without any specific allegations. World-Check’s data “frankly is nothing more than a Google search sometimes, at best,” said Farooq Bawja, a British lawyer who has led legal action against the company. Thomson Reuters boasts that 49 of the top 50 banks in the world and 300 global government and intelligence agencies use World-Check to screen clients or job applicants. Nonprofits also use it to check out grant recipients. In some cases a World-Check listing has led to organizations having bank accounts closed, and may have other untold ramifications. “This kind of list reminds me of those early years after 9/11 when almost every Muslim active in the American Muslim community was on some sort of list that caused them to be stopped or searched at the border,” said Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky. Bagby is named in World-Check under the “Terrorism” category, apparently because he was a former board member of CAIR. His World-Check profile links to right-wing sites that circulate a decades-old, chopped-up quote about Muslims in the United States. When told about the World-Check listing, Mark Floegel, research director for Greenpeace, said, “There is no justification for placing peaceful protesters on a watch list meant to monitor against crimes such as money-laundering or terror-financing. Peaceful protest is not an invitation to permanent interference in the lives of citizens.” A copy of the World-Check database from 2014, containing some 2.2 million entries, was discovered online last year by security researcher Chris Vickery; it had been left unprotected on a third party’s servers. The Intercept worked with media organizations across the world to analyze and research the World-Check database. They were: The Times of London, NPO Radio 1 Argos/OneWorld in The Netherlands, De Tijd in Belgium, La Repubblica in Italy, and NDR/Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany. The work was supported by Journalismfund.eu. “I don’t know why it was exposed to the public internet or what the reasoning was, it just was,” Vickery told The Times. He shared the database with these organizations on the condition that it not be made public in its entirety, partly out of concern that the records include unsubstantiated allegations against many individuals. The Intercept is not naming individuals that are on the list that we were unable to contact before publication. In February, Finsbury Park Mosque — the target of a deadly terror attack last week — won a judgment against Thomson Reuters after its World-Check listing led to HSBC closing the mosque’s bank account. Bawja, who led the suit, told The Intercept’s Dutch partner that he has roughly 20 other clients preparing to file claims against World-Check in the wake of the Finsbury case. “I want them to start cleaning up their act, rapidly,” Bawja said. “And start apologizing to the victims.” More than 400,000 American citizens are on the 2014 list. Some of them are connected to a category of criminality like terrorism, organized crime, or narcotics. The vast majority are, or are linked to, “Politically Exposed Persons”— people who might be able to abuse their public roles to corrupt ends. Thomson Reuters notes in a 2008 white paper that “PEPs are by no means necessarily money launderers or embezzlers, nor automatically involved in corrupt financial practices.” World-Check’s PEP listings include not just members of Congress and high-level federal officials, but extend also to state-level administrators, their spouses, and other family members. These often include children. One former big-city mayor is listed, as are three of his children, the youngest of which was an infant at the time she was entered into World-Check. (We are not naming the mayor since he could not be reached for comment.) The Times of London noted that a 9-month-old baby had been listed as a relative of a PEP; her father is a distant member of the British royal family, 43rd in line for the throne. None of the U.S.-based World-Check listees contacted by The Intercept had experienced bank account closures or other financial irregularities, but the effect of a listing is hard to judge. Most people likely never know that they are on World-Check; Thomson Reuters doesn’t inform them, and banks don’t usually reveal to people the reasons why they were denied service. “How often are people actually being denied accounts or having accounts closed, or being denied commercial mortgages or loans?” said Bagby. “It’s not having an impact on me, to my knowledge, but this is very disturbing.” In a statement, a senior vice president for Thomson Reuters, David Crundwell, said that he could not comment on individual listings, but pointed to the company’s privacy statement, which “sets out how any individual can contact us if they believe any of the information held is inaccurate, and we would urge them to do so.” He also said that “all profiles on World-Check are regularly reviewed” and that “it is important to point out that inclusion in World-Check does not imply guilt of any crime.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sponsors a town hall for members of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center mosque March 17, 2017 in Falls Church, Va. CAIR, which is one of the leading Muslim advocacy groups in the country, is described by World-Check as a “Hamas-affiliated” organization. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images Tenuous Terror Ties The Intercept examined the World-Check entries for roughly 1,300 U.S. citizens labeled with the category “terrorism,” and found dozens who had never actually been convicted of terror-related offenses. In advertisements, World-Check boasts that its screeners go beyond official sanctions or law-enforcement lists to include people and groups who are “reported to be connected to sanctioned parties” or “investigated or convicted” of a variety of crimes. Thomson Reuters claims that information comes from “reputable public domain sources.” For terror-related entries, in particular, it notes that it makes use of tens of thousands of records “that reveal human terror networks.” But World-Check’s definition of “reputable” seems flexible. Many of the entries for Muslim groups cite right-wing islamophobic websites. Vice, which also accessed Vickery’s leaked database, in July identified 15,000 entries that cited Wikipedia. And, as the publication separately reported in February 2016, World-Check often links to the websites of Steve Emerson, Daniel Pipes, and David Horowitz, all described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “anti-Muslim extremists.” For instance, the Muslim Students Union at the University of California, Irvine is listed in World-Check as a “Hamas supporter” with a link to an article on Horowitz’ Frontpage Mag about a film screening the group put on in 2008. Current MSU board members contacted by The Intercept were unaware of the controversy, and said that the group’s finances are controlled by the university. Vice noted that CAIR and its director, Nihad Awad, were listed under “Terrorism” by World-Check. The data analyzed by the Intercept includes 14 current or former CAIR staffers or board members who have no terror-related charges or convictions. CAIR, which is one of the leading Muslim advocacy groups in the country, is described by World-Check as a “Hamas-affiliated” organization, and tied to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas charity convicted of funneling millions to Hamas before it was shuttered in 2001. Awad characterized his profile to Vice as “”inaccurate, bigoted garbage.” (A spokesperson for CAIR said that they did not have information to add about the listing.) CAIR was among 300 plus organizations and individuals listed as unindicted co-conspirators in that trial. They were not charged with any crime, and in 2007 CAIR complained to a judge that publicly naming them as unindicted co-conspirators was an unfair “demonization of all things Muslim” which would taint their reputations. And indeed, years later, CAIR and many other individuals are on the World-Check list apparently only because of that designation. Among them is Parvez Ahmed, a professor of finance in Florida. He used to be on CAIR’s national board but cut ties with the group in 2008. The CAIR link to the Holy Land case has been used against him in local politics, when he ran, successfully, for his city’s human rights commission and later during a controversy over a local art exhibit. “I myself was never named as an unindicted co-conspirator but it was used by the usual suspects, the anti-Muslim crowd,” Ahmed told The Intercept. “There is this whole circular logic to this attack against Muslim groups — someone cites something and it’s an echo chamber of citations but they are all single source and based on allegations that just don’t hold up.” Crundwell, of Thomson Reuters, said that World-Check’s research domains are “led by subject matter experts with deep domain knowledge focused on topics such as sanctions, terrorism and insurgency, organized crime,” and that “blog content” is used only “as a secondary source.” He said that World-Check encourages its users to independently verify the information before taking any action. Not all the people in the “terrorism” category are Muslim. In addition to right-wing anti-government extremists and anarchists convicted of terrorism-related charges, the list includes some figures publicly associated with the Klu Klux Klan or other white nationalist groups. It also includes animal rights activists who have made controversial statements about the use of violence against animal researchers. The Intercept’s international partners also found instances of people listed under terrorism on the basis of outdated or debunked information. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Belgian League of Muslims were wrongly labeled, as was a German sociologist who was arrested on suspicions of terrorism for writings on urban policy in a widely protested case; he was released without charges in 2007, but remained in World-Check years later. Many former Guantánamo detainees are also listed, including a man named Naquibullah who was about 14 when he was released from the U.S. detention center. Tom Keatinge, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, told the Times of London that World-Check “creates a vast amount of redundant work” for banks and authorities looking out for terrorist activity in the financial system. Automated alerts based on World-Check, he said, could be contributing to an onslaught of suspicious activity reports that British banks submit to authorities. An HSBC ATM machine in London in 2014. HSBC paid $1.9 billion in a settlement over money-laundering allegations in 2012, an issue that World-Check is advertised to prevent. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/AP The Problem With PEP Banks and other institutions do have to take steps to comply with sanctions and international and domestic laws against money laundering and terror financing, which have only grown more numerous and complex since the 9/11 attacks. Thomson Reuters advertises World-Check with warnings about recent fines and settlements against banks for violating sanctions; HSBC’s historic $1.9 billion payment to U.S. authorities to settle money-laundering allegations in 2012 is the most famous example. “PEP risk is the very real possibility that over breakfast tomorrow morning, you will read that your bank holds the accounts of one of the world’s most corrupt leaders — and you had no idea, and you are being held responsible,” reads a 2008 company white paper aimed at potential clients. So-called “Know Your Customer” efforts, aimed at ferreting out criminal intent, require combing through massive amounts of publicly-available data, World-Check notes in a company presentation. That means dealing with “extreme volatility of information” and repeatedly facing a “struggle to ensure accurate information about a customer.” Thomson Reuters claims that World-Check adds 20,000 profiles a month and updates 40,000. According to a recent brochure, 75 percent of the listings are PEPs — that is, government functionaries and their families or “close associates.” In Thomson Reuters’ 2008 definition, an associate could be an adviser, consultants, colleague, or shareholder. Additionally, World-Check contains groups and individuals with public profiles that don’t have official PEP status. For instance, World-Check includes many international entities — the IMF, the World Bank, various U.S. government agencies — full of politically prominent people. Wikileaks and Anonymous are listed, as is Occupy Wall Street (the entry for the amorphous activist movement notes, “members reportedly arrested in Brooklyn, New York.”). Some of the non-profits and political entities it includes, however, seem arbitrary. The Tibetan Youth Congress, a prominent diaspora organization, is listed with only a link to a 2008 China Daily article in which the Chinese government accuses them of being a terrorist group. (A request for comment went unanswered by the youth group.) Human Rights Watch is listed with no rationale given, beyond a link to 2000 article about a report the group did on the FARC in Colombia. The head of HRW’s Americas division, José Miguel Vivanco, has his own listing, which describes him as “involved in the intents to prosecute former General Pinochet in Chile,” referring to the brutal military ruler who was the subject of hundreds of criminal complaints in his home country, indicted by a Spanish judge, and whose regime was the focus of a national truth commission and a U.S. Senate money-laundering investigation. “We are surprised and puzzled to find ourselves and Mr. Vivanco in this database and can’t imagine what standards are being applied,” said HRW’s general counsel, Dinah PoKempner. The Rainforest Action Network, an environmental activist group, is listed in connection with the journalist Jacob Appelbaum, who once volunteered there, and who is in turn listed for his work with Wikileaks. (Appelbaum did not respond to a request for comment, but Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told La Repubblica that he had long been aware that he, Appelbaum, and other Wikileaks associates were listed in World-Check, which he called “a secret financial blacklist.”) A spokesperson for Rainforest Action Network, Chris Herrera, said that the World-Check listing was “alarming to us especially at this moment when dissent and protest are under such scrutiny.” World-Check is also used by non-profits in order to screen grantees. Several U.S. government development organizations, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation, have World-Check subscriptions, according to public contracting documents. “It’s a part of the non-profit sector that came about during the [George W.] Bush era,” said a source who works at a U.S.-based charitable foundation. “It was a way of us checking to make sure we weren’t funding terrorism. They used it to blacklist people.” As a subscriber, the source discovered that her foundation was itself listed. (She requested anonymity because her organization’s work has already suffered through association with its World-Check profile.) According to World-Check’s privacy statement, individuals may write to Thomson Reuters to request their information and challenge its accuracy. When told about their listing by The Intercept, PETA contacted Thomson Reuters and a spokeswoman said that their information was removed within a day. She added, “we would have demanded its removal long ago had we known about it.” The foundation staffer said that when her group tried to contact World-Check, the company would not engage. “I said, ‘this is ridiculous, the info is so bogus’ — and they flat out said no,” to taking her organization off. “They said ‘no, this is public domain info and it’s allowed to be there.’” Years later, still required to subscribe to World-Check, she looked her group up again and it had been removed. The source said she would still run all potential grantees through World-Check, and “if it was a hit, I usually would say no.” But knowing from experience the sometimes erroneous nature of a listing, she said, “I would verify, I would look at what the links were that they included, I’d go to the website and actually read the link.” The post Flimsy Evidence and Fringe Sources Land People On Secretive Banking Watch List appeared first on The Intercept.
Researchers have given the first demonstration of 3-D imaging of objects through walls using ordinary wireless signal. The technique, which involves two drones working in tandem, could have a variety of applications, such as emergency search-and-rescue, archaeological discovery and structural monitoring.
Daily surveillance of the general public conducted by the search engine, along with Facebook, is far more insidious than anything our spooks get up to. When Edward Snowden first revealed the extent of government surveillance of our online lives, the then foreign secretary, William (now Lord) Hague, immediately trotted out the old chestnut: “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.” This prompted replies along the lines of: “Well then, foreign secretary, can we have that photograph of you shaving while naked?”, which made us laugh, perhaps, but rather diverted us from pondering the absurdity of Hague’s remark. Most people have nothing to hide, but that doesn’t give the state the right to see them as fair game for intrusive surveillance. By now, most internet users are aware that they are being watched, but may not yet appreciate the implications of it. Continue reading…
The agency failed to limit the number of people with access to top-secret data as it tried to prevent another security breach, the Pentagon watchdog found.
On a freezing night in November, as police sprayed nonviolent Dakota Access Pipeline opponents with water hoses and rubber bullets, representatives of the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, and local law enforcement agencies frantically exchanged emails as they monitored the action in real time. “Everyone watch a different live feed,” Bismarck police officer Lynn Wanner wrote less than 90 minutes after the protest began on the North Dakota Highway 1806 Backwater Bridge. By 4 a.m. on November 21, an estimated 300 water protectors had been injured, some severely. Among them was 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky, who nearly lost her arm after being hit by what multiple sworn witnesses say was a police munition. The emails exchanged that night highlight law enforcement efforts to control the narrative around the violent incident by spreading propaganda refuting Wilansky’s story, demonstrate the agencies’ heavy reliance on protesters’ social media feeds to monitor activities, and reveal for the first time the involvement of an FBI informant in defining the story police would promote. The exchange is included in documents obtained by The Intercept that reveal the efforts of law enforcement and private security contractors to surveil Dakota Access Pipeline opponents between October and December 2016, as law enforcement’s outsized response to the demonstrators garnered growing nationwide attention and the number of water protectors living in anti-pipeline camps grew to roughly 10,000. Although the surveillance of anti-DAPL protesters was visible at the time — with helicopters circling overhead, contingents of security officials watching from the hills above camp, and a row of blinding lights illuminating the horizon along the pipeline’s right of way — intelligence collection largely took place in darkness. In addition to the email communications, The Intercept is publishing 15 internal situation reports prepared by the private security firm TigerSwan for its client, Dakota Access parent company Energy Transfer Partners, as well as three PowerPoint presentations that TigerSwan shared with law enforcement. The documents are part of a larger set that includes more than 100 internal TigerSwan situation reports that were leaked to The Intercept by one of the company’s contractors and more than 1,000 Dakota Access-related law enforcement records obtained via public records request. Last week, The Intercept published an exclusive report detailing TigerSwan’s sweeping enterprise, over nine months and across five states, which included surveillance of activists through aerial technology, social media monitoring, and direct infiltration, as well as attempts to shift public opinion through a counterinformation campaign. The company, made up largely of special operations military veterans, was formed during the war in Iraq and incorporated its counterinsurgency tactics into its effort to suppress an indigenous-led movement centered around protection of water. An image of a gorilla overseeing the Standing Rock camp appears in an October 18, 2016, daily intelligence update the private security firm TigerSwan circulated to law enforcement. Photo: Daily Intelligence Updates Federal Agencies Circulate Dubious Theories Roughly eight hours prior to Sophia Wilansky’s injury, Bismarck police officer Lynn Wanner — who, records indicate, acted as a liaison between intelligence agencies and field officers throughout the anti-DAPL protests — alerted local, state, and federal law enforcement partners that an “FBI inside source” was “reporting propane tanks inside the camp rigged to explode.” Wanner’s email about the FBI informant echoes the story the Morton County Sheriff’s Department would later tell journalists about Wilansky’s injury. “We probably should be ready for a massive media backlash tomorrow although we are in the right. 244 angry voicemails received so far,” wrote Ben Leingang, a North Dakota state official, at about 10 p.m. on November 20. By morning, images of Wilansky’s severely injured arm were circulating online. TigerSwan fretted about the backlash, too. “Protesters are claiming over 100 injuries associated with the demonstration and will surely contort video of the event into anti-DAPL propaganda,” the security firm noted in its internal report the next morning. As another day passed, U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Intelligence Specialist Terry Van Horn sent an email to members of various federal agencies noting the FBI’s claim that “a source from the camp reported people were making IED’s from small Coleman type propane canisters.” Van Horn added that Wilansky “was witnessed throwing an IED while on the bridge, it detonated early and caused the below injuries (see graphic photos).” Less than an hour later, Van Horn emailed to the thread the text of a Facebook post from the page Netizens for Progress and Justice. “This wasn’t caused by law enforcement, it was caused by dumbass ‘direct action’ protesters that think they are doing the right thing without any consideration for the safety and welfare of honest protesters nearby that are caught up in things,” the post read, going on to describe a theory of the injury that conflicted even with law enforcement’s propane tank theory. “How can we get this story out?” replied Maj. Amber Balken, a public information officer for the National Guard, which was also involved in policing the protests. “This is a must report,” Balken added, suggesting the name of a local conservative blogger. Cecily Fong, a public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, replied by promising to “get with” the blogger to circulate the article. As The Intercept reported last week, Netizens for Progress and Justice also frequently published content produced on behalf of TigerSwan, including videos critical of pipeline opponents. Fong declined to comment on the exchange. Neither Van Horn nor Balken replied to a request for comment. The FBI declined to comment on any involvement it had in the protests, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to a request for comment. Ultimately, police promoted a story about the incident that echoed the claims of the FBI informant. On November 22, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department distributed two press releases implying that Wilansky’s injury had been caused by a protester’s IED. The Intercept reached Lauren Regan, an attorney representing Sophia Wilansky, and read the text of Van Horn’s email to her over the phone. “So much of it is totally factually incorrect,” Regan said. “There has never been any evidence I have seen or heard of that gave any credibility to the allegation that propane tanks were being rigged as explosive devices,” continued Regan, who is a staff attorney at the Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center. “To me, the timing of that revelation, in light of their having just basically blown a white woman’s arm off, always seemed extremely dubious.” Sophia Wilansky’s father, Wayne Wilansky, agreed that “there’s not a shred of truth” to Van Horn’s account of Wilansky’s injury. “Obviously, disinformation is a major component of how they dealt with the protests,” he told The Intercept. A water protector loads up on goggles and milk of magnesia in anticipation of a confrontation with police as she prepares to cross the bridge to Turtle Island at Standing Rock on Nov. 24, 2016, during an ongoing dispute over the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty Images Surveillance Reports Paint Protesters as Desperate and Deviant The internal situation reports from around the time of Wilansky’s injury contain their own examples of disinformation, invasive intelligence-gathering practices, and a fixation on the purported violence of DAPL’s opponents. At times, TigerSwan refers explicitly to informants and infiltrators. A document from October 3, for example, explains the ways the company monitored members of the American Indian Movement “mostly through social media” and “informant collection” in order to gauge the effectiveness of their security practices and “develop possible counter-measures moving forward.” The documents, four of which were first published by Grist, include the names of dozens of pipeline opponents, labeling some as “persons of interest.” They describe meetings with law enforcement, including campus police at the University of Illinois and Lincoln Land College, as well as TigerSwan’s attempts to pressure officers into more aggressive action against protesters. In the reports, TigerSwan declares success in accessing hard-to-find Facebook content, noting in an October 10 document, “The social media cell has harnessed a URL coding technique to discover hidden profiles and groups associated with the protesters.” But TigerSwan’s intelligence was far from perfect and its interpretation of events was frequently off. For example, one document referenced a shell necklace that, TigerSwan speculated, marked members of the Mississippi Stand group who “have been arrested for the cause.” Mississippi Stand member Alex Cohen told the Intercept that the necklaces had nothing to do with arrests and were merely gifts given to a number of members by people indigenous to the area of one of their camps. Overall, TigerSwan depicted the situation on the ground as volatile, at times painting the anti-pipeline camp as rife with drug use and “sexually deviance,” its inhabitants likely to stir violence.” The security company found ways to interpret even the most benign social gatherings as potentially dangerous. One document previewed a casino concert featuring Jackson Browne and Bonnie Rait, fretting that it would draw “numerous outside influencers.” The document predicted, “Depending on the progress of drilling by then, the project could be adversely affected if not counter measured.” After November 8, TigerSwan noted that “the election of President-elect Trump is likely to have a positive effect for the project overall and cooperation from the Federal level will likely improve after 20 JAN.” At the same time, TigerSwan commented on protesters’ post-election “despair,” writing on November 12 that “the DAPL protesters are inherently desperate and are not looking for a peaceful solution regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in turn we can expect this situation to become more volatile than it has ever become before.” On November 13, TigerSwan again insisted on the likelihood of violence erupting. “Most locals are now carrying weapons to protect themselves, their families and their property,” that report notes. “They have also expressed frustration with what they see as a lack of action by law enforcement.” At the same time, TigerSwan and law enforcement expressed concerns about the impact the death of a protester might have on the pipeline project. “The use of force or death of a protester or rioter will result in the immediate halt to DAPL operations, which will likely permanently halt the entire project,” the PowerPoint presentations TigerSwan shared with law enforcement warned. Weeks later, the Obama administration would deny the pipeline company a key federal permit, putting construction on hold. In January, President Donald Trump revived the project. The pipeline began service to customers last Thursday. A fusion center in Maryland. Photo: Robert A. Reeder/Washington Post/Getty Images Fusion Centers and the “Surveillance-Industrial Complex” The email chain from the night of the Backwater Bridge incident and other documents represent detailed illustrations of the work of a so-called fusion center. In 2007, President George W. Bush signed the 9/11 Commission Act, which allocated $300 million to the Department of Homeland Security for the establishment of fusion centers, originally intended to facilitate sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies. According to the DHS website, there are currently 77 fusion centers nationwide, with every state home to at least one. Brendon McQuade, a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York, Cortland, who is working on a dissertation on fusion centers, said that the records pertaining to the North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center’s monitoring and repression of Standing Rock demonstrations offer unique insight into how fusion centers have expanded well beyond their original intent. “We’ve seen hints of this monitoring of the online presence of Black Lives Matter and Occupy protests, but never such explicit evidence of it as in the documents you’ve collected,” he told The Intercept after reviewing a selection of the documents. According to former FBI Special Agent Michael German, who is now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, fusion centers have become part of a broader “surveillance-industrial complex” in which security agencies and the corporate sector merge together in a frenzy of mass information gathering, tracking, and surveillance. Federal support for fusion centers is predicated on increased government access to “non-traditional information sources,” he notes. And one of the goals of fusion centers is to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, 85 percent of which is owned by private interests. “The insidious thing is that the role of private-sector entities in fusion centers has grown up without any specific legislation authorizing it,” said German, who co-authored a 2007 report on behalf of the ACLU called “What’s Wrong with Fusion Centers?” “Instead, the development of these techniques and relationships, such as the one involving TigerSwan and North Dakota law enforcement, has occurred within the closed-off world of law enforcement.” A private security guard and guard dog threaten protesters at a work site for the Dakota Access Pipeline near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Sept. 3, 2016. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images Legal Ambiguity TigerSwan’s status as a private company has enabled it to operate with virtually no transparency or oversight. The North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board confirmed in an email to The Intercept this week that TigerSwan still has not obtained a license to work as a private security firm in the state despite nine months on the ground. The company’s close collaboration with law enforcement, to which it has regularly fed intelligence, raises serious questions. “The line between private security and law enforcement at DAPL has been nonexistent,” Bruce Ellison of the National Lawyers Guild, who also works with the Water Protector Legal Collective, told The Intercept. “They have been one in the same.” Still, it’s not clear that either TigerSwan or law enforcement crossed a legal line. Private companies have few obligations to protect constitutional rights to free speech, association, or privacy. And while public agencies, including law enforcement, do have that obligation, they also have ample leeway to operate in invasive and unethical ways that are nonetheless legal. As The Intercept reported in January, detailed guidelines govern the FBI’s activities involving confidential informants and covert online work. But the guidelines are filled with loopholes that ultimately allow FBI agents to spy on just about anybody if they get the right approvals. If TigerSwan were meeting regularly enough with the FBI, acting at the bureau’s behest, or even simply feeding agents information, it could represent an end-run around FBI rules. However, as Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law who directs the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project, put it, “The guidelines are one thing, but the legal baseline for what’s constitutional and what’s not constitutional is another.” To a large degree, unless they were found to be acting at the direction of government, TigerSwan’s agents would likely be held to similar standards as regular citizens, their most likely violations being things like trespassing. Despite the legal ambiguity, TigerSwan’s actions raise questions. “You have these privatized actors that are performing what are commonly understood to be government functions — whether or not we’ve agreed that these are acceptable government functions,” said Kassem. “Private corporations are taking these actions on a scale that is unheard of before — this isn’t your local private eye investigative service, we’re talking about tactics that the military uses overseas.” “We need to be looking at whether our laws are sufficient to protect political groups from disruption, interference, and a tax by people who are infiltrating or surveilling their activities,” said Kris Hermes, who has worked for decades with the National Lawyers Guild providing legal support at protests. “What it has done is thrown a chilling blanket over political organizing today whereby everybody feels that they should be engaging in some kind of security culture to avoid the snooping of law enforcement or private security firms. That has a far-reaching effect that I don’t think is appreciated enough. It prevents people from engaging effectively in First Amendment activity.” Modern-Day Pinkertons The privatization of law enforcement and its subjugation to corporate interests are hardly a novelty, though the increased militarism of the domestic policing of dissent has taken on sinister overtones in the wake of the so-called global war on terror. In the late 19th century, Allan Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency offered private detective and security services to public and corporate clients. The “Pinkertons,” as they were known, relied heavily on undercover agents and often acted as agents provocateur, triggering violence as much as they engaged in surveillance and propaganda. Through their involvement as armed guards during labor conflicts, the Pinkertons “became a shorthand for the abusive power of unchecked capitalism,” Paul O’Hara, a history professor at Xavier University who wrote a book about them, told The Intercept. To workers, the Pinkertons were “hired thugs for capital” and “a symbol of corporate power,” he wrote. Their activities led to two congressional investigations and the Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893, which barred the federal government from contracting with the Pinkertons and similar groups. But the act largely failed in its intent, and the Pinkertons set the stage for public partnerships with mercenary groups continuing to this day. TigerSwan never responded to The Intercept’s repeated requests for comment, oscillating instead between following and blocking these reporters on Twitter. The company did, however, retweet a comment by a reader of The Intercept. He had called TigerSwan “modern day Pinkertons.” Documents published with this story: Law Enforcement Email Thread 2016-11-22 Intel Group Email Thread 2016-11-20 Shared Daily Intelligence Update 2016-10-20 Shared Daily Intelligence Update 2016-10-19 Shared Daily Intelligence Update 2016-10-18 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-12-21 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-21 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-19 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-18 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-17 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-13 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-12 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-11 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-10 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-09 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-08 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-07 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-11-06 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-10-10 Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2016-10-03 The Intercept has redacted the names of persons identified in internal TigerSwan and public documents unless those persons have directly communicated their willingness to be included. The names of senior TigerSwan and law enforcement personnel have not been redacted. To search all TigerSwan documents published by The Intercept, go to the TigerSwan project page on DocumentCloud. Top photo: Military veterans confront police guarding a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 1, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, N.D. The post Standing Rock Documents Expose Inner Workings of “Surveillance-Industrial Complex” appeared first on The Intercept.
The latest nightmare for the agency, which is responsible for eavesdropping, code breaking and cyberespionage, appears to be far from over.