Intelligence Operations Threaten Democracy – Restore the Fourth


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The national conversation inspired by revelations about the NSA spy program by Ed Snowden is failing to discuss one of the most devastating aspects of the crisis. “Since when did feeding the homeless become a terrorist activity?” asked ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson on May, 18, 2005. “When the FBI and local law enforcement target groups like Food Not Bombs under the guise of fighting terrorism, many Americans who oppose government policies will be discouraged from speaking out and exercising their rights.” Along with discouraging participation in groups like Food Not Bombs but the work and lives of those who do participate are sabotaged using the information covertly collected by government and corporate intelligence operations.

Domestic spying on the U.S. public is not as benign as its supporters are claiming. Democracy is not possible until we make minimizing the impact of the intelligence industry our first priority. The data and personal information that is collected is used to stop a wide range important efforts from ending poverty and war to stoping the use of genetically modified foods, campaigns to slow climate change and the protection of the environment. Even if not the direct target of these intelligence programs they have had a damaging impact on nearly everyone, a growing climate crisis, devastating poverty, high healthcare and education costs all because of the covert disruption of the government and their corporate allies.   The most important message to understand here is that there is more to surveillance than mega data collection, the listening of phone calls and reading emails.

The information gathered by the intelligence industry is used more than most people realize to determine the direction of society and the health of our environment and community.  No organization or person is immune from disruption.  As Snowden pointed out “Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.”  The intelligence industry is able to determine the outcome of all important questions facing the public because they can use the information they gather to control people and organizations at every level of society.

The information collected is used to implement a complex system of programs designed to disrupt and stop perfectly legal community efforts. This information can be used to build profiles and understand the relationships between groups and the people in those organizations. Patterns of travel, personal schedules and other details that can be used to validate false criminal charges, smear campaigns and aid in the disruptions of bank accounts, employment, phone, email and other communication systems. Covertly collected information can be used for blackmail or to build campaigns to discredit activists, organizations or encourage mistrust or infighting. It can break up marriages, end friendships and can be so stressful activists give up or even kill themselves.  The information collected can be very useful in developing programs to stop dissent.

Surveillance has real consequences for the people working to change society. Food Not Bombs has been the target of a covert campaign of disruption by the intelligence industry since at least 1980 when 32 letters containing checks donated to Food Not Bombs were “damaged in route” by coffee on the stamp end of each envelope. I can only surmise that the authorities needed to make photo copies of the checks. A July 3, 2013 New York Times article “U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement” shows that the authorities are still disrupting the mail of community activists.  Every copy of my book “Food Not Bombs – How to feed the hungry and Build Community” was confiscated on route to those who ordered using Pay Pal. I lost more than one hundred copies to the postal system in just one year causing distrust of those buying the book and wasting tremendous amount of time and money. While the New York Times article claims that a warrant is needed to open the mail The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program and the 100 year old surveillance system called mail covers can remove packages and letters from the postal system so they are never delivered.

An internal police memo dated September 27, 1988 explained that the information they over heard by listening to a telephone conversation I had with a friend in Boston ” was a great asset to ” their investigation. My friend and I expressed excitement about the fact that Food Not Bombs would be sharing food at protests against the war in El Salvador on October 15th in Boston, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The first time Food Not Bombs would be providing food at  protests in three cities on the same day.  The police were able to interpret our conversation to support their plan to beat and arrest me during a protest against the war in El Salvador on October 15, 1988.

The memo to Deputy Chief Frank Reed Patrol Bureau from Acting Captain Richard Holder Commanding Officer at Park Station reads in part as follows. (this memo can be seen at

“As per your request, I have conducted an investigation regarding the planned activity of the “Food Not Bombs” organization on October 15, 1988 at the Presidio. During my investigation, I was able to obtain the private phone number of “Food Not Bombs” organizer, Keith McHenry, who unknowingly was a great asset to this investigation.”

“As part of a nationwide anti-war protest scheduled for October 15, 1988, “Food Not Bombs”, plans to blockade all the entrances to the Presidio to support similar activity at the Pentagon and other military organizations. The goal is to shut down the Presidio all day by blocking and feeding demonstrators at the gates to the post. “Food Not Bombs” anticipates that this demonstration will draw more participants, 3000, than the last major demonstration at the Presidio on 03/26/88.” I was sharing meals at the Nevada Test Site on March 26th and had not taken part in the planning of the protest at the Presidio. All we had planned to do was provide lunch to those participating in the protest.

A local activist videotaped the October 15th protest filming a “protester” as he threw a metal police barricade at a line of riot police. The video that we now call “The Food Not Bombs Greatest Hits” shows that he was dressed in the same type of clothing I had also worn that day. The video also shows the same man walking through a group of protesters pointing out the “organizers” to a squad of riot police that would arrest those he fingered. Protesters were upset at his actions and started to yell at him. The film shows the plainclothes officer backing up against my truck as the activists yell at him for fingering the organizers. This was interrupted by more yelling as the people who were helping me pack up the Food Not Bombs supplies became upset at being pushed aside by riot police on their way to smash me to the pavement and arrested on charges of throwing a barricade at the police. The charges were dropped but I sustained many more arrests and beatings over the following ten years all facilitated by information obtained covertly from programs similar to those exposed by Snowden, Hammond and the other whistle blowers being prosecuted by the Obama administration. At no time did the authorities provide evidence that a warrant had been obtained for the many cases of my phone, email and personal effects being monitored.

Food Not Bombs activists Josh Connole who was arrested on September 12, 2003 as a suspect in the arson of 133 Hummers and other SUV’s at a Chevrolet-Hummer dealership in West Covina, California. His case is a perfect example of how false information collected covertly can be used to falsely accuse some one of terrorism and justify the disruption of groups like Food Not Bombs. Newsweek journalist Michael Iskoff reported that “In their wrongful-arrest lawsuit, [Josh] Connole’s lawyers demanded to know why the FBI looked at Connole in the first place. Court documents show agents were initially tipped off by a neighbor to ‘suspicious’ activity at the commune the night of the attacks. (In fact, says Connole, members were simply helping one of the residents move out.) Agents placed the commune under surveillance and developed a political profile of the residents, discovering the owner of the house and his father ‘have posted statements on websites opposing the use of fossil fuels,’ one doc reads. Another says the owner had ties to a local chapter of Food Not Bombs, an ‘anarcho-vegan food distribution group.'” Four days after the FBI arrested Connole, Caltech Physics Grad Student, Billy Cottrell emailed the media claiming he had burned the SUV’s and that Josh was not responsible.

Most recently the use of covertly collected information from programs like those exposed by Snowden were used to disrupt Occupation Movement.  The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reported that “FBI documents revealed that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at Occupy protests.”

“FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.”

The infiltration and surveillance on the occupations included a campaign in Cleveland organized by the  FBI office in the Northern District of Ohio. Brandon Baxter and  Connor Stevens cooked with Cleveland Food Not Bombs and helped cook for the occupation. I had worked with them from time to time. The FBI targeted five cooks at Occupy Cleveland sending an agent and paid informant Shaquille Azir to the kitchen on October 21, 2011. Azir had had a 20 year criminal history and was paid by the FBI to encourage the occupiers to participate in a bombing plot. The FBI was able to involve them in their May Day plot to bomb a bridge after offering the money, beer and showers.

Terry Gilbert, Stevens’ defense attorney, told reporters that he wondered why the FBI  would send “a plant into a peaceful demonstration with a very ambiguous claim of criminal behavior. Once you get an informant in there, they have every motive to get a case. They are trying to make money or are working off a criminal case.”

Arun Gupta’s December 1, 20012 article in “The Guardian” outlines the FBI’s effort to recruit Occupy activists for their campaign to discredit the movement.  He reports that ” After Hayne agreed to testify, Wright, Baxter and Stevens accepted guilty pleas 5 September, gambling that Dowd would reduce their sentences based on mitigating factors. But this nixed the defense plan to argue entrapment, detailing how Shaquille Azir, a paid FBI informant with a 20-year criminal record, facilitated every step in the plot.”

“Azir molded the five’s childish bravado and drunken fantasies into terrorism. He played father figure to the lost men, providing them with jobs, housing, beer and drugs. Every time the scheme threatened to collapse into gutterpunk chaos, he kept it on track.”

“FBI tapes reveal Azir led the brainstorming of targets, showed them bridges to case out, pushed them to buy C-4 military-grade explosives, provided the contact for weapons, gave them money for the explosives and demanded they develop a plan because “we on the hook” for the weapons. At one point, Azir burst out in frustration at their ineptitude: “every time we meet, we leave saying, we’re doing some research. And then get back together and go back to square one.”

The investigation released by the DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy in May 2013 details more about the impact that  intelligence operations like those exposed by Snowden and Hammond can have on constitutionally protected protest.  The documents in the 2013 report “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street” show that corporate and government intelligence operations coordinate their efforts to disrupt community organizing that  if not interfered with could be of value to most Americans.  The authorities claim that the military can assist in disrupting the democratic process if their agents are assigned to a “fusion center” justifying the introduction of the military in domestic spying.

Most chilling are the FBI’s documents regarding their surveillance of the Occupy protests obtained by The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that stated that someone “planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”  The names of those planning to kill the perceived leadership of the occupation was redacted by the FBI.

Almost every aspect of our society considered a threat by corporate power in their government leaders has been manipulated by the intelligence industry. Not one reform of our political or economic system is possible as long as we are subjected to the surveillance state. We will never have freedom and democracy until we dismantle the web of intelligence programs that control our society. Closing down the intelligence industry must be our first priority if we want to solve any of the other crisis we face today.

Additional supporting links:

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

First Wiretap memo about phone call of Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry

Profiling: How the FBI Tracks Eco-Terror Suspects, Nov 20, 2005 – Michael Isikoff, Newsweek

Biography of Keith McHenry, co-founder of the Food Not Bombs Movement

Food Not Bombs
P.O. Box 424
Arroyo Seco, NM 87514 USA