At 4:30 PM on Thursday, August 16, 2007, a group of citizens — taxpayers, voters, war veterans, dissidents, and workers — gathered at the American Legion Building in downtown Spokane. The purpose of the event was to publicize and protest the presence of Spokane-based psychologists working with the CIA and the US Department of Defense to develop ever harsher techniques for torturing other human beings in the many-fronted U.S. wars of aggression, occupation, and subversion around the world.
An hour or so before that protest began, Spokane Police warned union picketers at a construction site a block away in front of the nearby U.S. Bank Building that violence was expected at the American Legion site and therefore suggested people stay away.
A Spokane Police car with officer aboard sat at the corner of Washington and Riverside throughout the protest at the American Legion Building. Later that evening, several hours after the event ended, an unmarked Spokane Police car remained parked in the parking spot of Spokane Coin Exchange behind the American Legion Building.
Of course, the PJALS-organized event went off without incident and certainly without violence. So what were Spokane Police doing issuing a warning to union picketers to be prepared for violence if they attended the anti-torture protest a block away?
If the Spokane Police acted on alleged “information” in issuing this warning to union picketers, did the information come from their own intelligence operations or was it passed to them by the FBI or other law enforcement intel units? Or was it classic law enforcement “cointelpro” tactics at work?
In either case, it was in the end bogus information.
It goes without saying that this protest on August 16, 2007 would draw the attention of agencies beyond just the Spokane Police Department. For one, the SERE/JPRA program is a highly secret U.S. government program which is now the subject of widespread media and congressional scrutiny and will be the subject of international legal actions in the future. For another, the severe and illegal torture techniques reverse engineered by Spokane’s Mitchell Jessen and Associates from SERE resistance training for use in the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” are the subject of extreme controversy and near universal condemnation. In addition, they have cost the U.S. immeasurably in terms of global credibility.
It is known from the legal work of the ACLU and the reporting of the Spokesman-Review that Spokane organizations such as PJALS (Peace and Justice Action League) have been victims of FBI infiltration and spying. The Spokane Police Department’s warning to union picketers on August 16, 2007 provides further evidence that the surveillance, intimidation and repression of Spokane activists and dissidents goes well beyond just dislike of their politics. (See the very limited portion of surveillance files on PJALS released on April 30, 2007 by the FBI to the ACLU under a freedom of information request).
Law enforcement — local, state and federal — is interested in and more than prepared to monitor, intimidate, infiltrate, provoke, and actively suppress local activists and dissidents. Over the last few years and at an accelerating rate, there have been police actions in Spokane against people involved in protesting and advocating changed policies in regard to several issues: 1) the war in Iraq, 2) disgraced and now-resigned U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 3) military recruitment, and 4) SERE/JPRA and CIA torture training, as well as those 5) advocating bicycle use and those 6) upholding the tradition of free speech this country loves to flaunt. These groups include PJALS, ASAP, MoveOn.org, and Critical Mass. Individuals not affiliated with organizations have also been the subject of FBI and SPD surveillance and actions.
A wide-ranging conversation about police surveillance of non-violent citizens engaged in legal protest and constitutionally protected free-speech and free-assembly activities is long over due in Spokane and must be part of any future police oversight process.
Not long ago, the only daily publication in the area — The Spokesman-Review — reportedly decided not to publish a photo of an undercover Spokane Police officer at the request of that police officer. The photo reportedly captured an interaction between said undercover police officer and a participant in the July 4, 2007 picnic and protest in Spokane’s Riverfront Park. That event was brutally brought to an end when Spokane Police and Park Security guards attacked participants, arresting 17. (On July 6, 2007, S-R editor Steve Smith wrote on the S-R blog News is a Conversation that the S-R employee who initially reported the officer’s request was mistaken and that no such request occurred and that no such photo existed).
It is always in the hands of the people to push the envelop of protest and freedom. The mainstream media, non-governmental organizations, and the churches are almost always followers.
Likewise, given that it is the people themselves who are on the frontlines, it is always in the hands of the people themselves to assure their own collective self-defense.
And protecting oneself requires knowledge not only of one’s rights and duties as a citizen but also of the history of repressive state action in the United States and the techniques used by the FBI and other police organizations in surveilling, harassing, repressing, and neutralizing individuals and organizations.
Reference: Domestic Surveillance Programs cast wide net (ACLU info on LInX, JTTP, CIFA, TALON, and NCTC)