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Police spying/mass surveillance and urban warfare tactics in Berkeley
On Tuesday Oct 15th, the Berkeley police review commission (PRC) is presenting their recommendation to renew all 48 mutual aid contract and agreements which the police department is currently entered into, as well as the 8 protocols for multi-agency cooperation. The mutual aid compendium includes surveillance agreements with intelligence gathering agencies:
Berkeley city council to vote on renewal of police mutual aid agreement compendium:
Old City Hall - 2134 MLK Way, Berkeley California
Tuesday October 15 7PM
The Berkeley police review commission (PRC) is presenting their recommendation to renew all 48 mutual aid contract and agreements which the police department is currently entered into, as well as the 8 protocols for multi-agency cooperation. The mutual aid compendium includes surveillance agreements with intelligence gathering agencies:
* Department of Homeland Security
* The FBI
* NCRIC (Northern California Regional Information Center)
* UASI (Urban Area Security Initiatives)
Details of these contracts are secret to the public, including to city government. Some details of these intelligence gathering agreements are even secret to members of the police department.
Only 4 of the mutual aid agreements were discussed openly in session by the police review commission. The PRC only publicly released 4 agreements in which there is no public controversy. PRC communications regarding the mutual aid compendium only included information on the following contracts:
* Memorandum of understanding between A Safe Place and the BPD, offering assistance to victims of domestic abuse.
* National Crime Bureau vehicle use agreement to investigate insurance fraud.
* Operational agreement with the Elder Abuse Advocacy and Outreach Program.
* Operational agreement with CALICO, to assist abuse victims who are children or adults with developmental disabilities.
None of the above 4 mutual aid contracts are controversial, yet these were the only contracts made public available through the PRC information packet, and were the only contracts discussed in session. There was no public information given regarding the other 44 contracts, many of which involve police surveillance programs and suppression of free speech activity such as journalism and protest activity. As it was not clarified that the totality of the mutual aid compendium is up for renewal by city council, members of the community who may have wanted to speak to the police review commission regarding surveillance and data collection by law enforcement, may not have been aware that they had the opportunity to do so. As such, these contracts for intelligence gathering programs have been re-approved by the PRC without public debate.
Leaks by Edward Snowden have given the public a basic understanding as to the breadth of surveillance and data collection by government agencies and private contractors. The role local police play in these vast data collection programs have not been explored by the Berkeley PRC or city council. There has not been a investigation into the type and scope of police surveillance in Berkeley. There has not been a public hearing giving members of the community including journalists a chance to make inquiries into police surveillance.
Back on July 11th, Daniel Ellsberg spoke to an audience in Berkeley as to how excessive mass surveillance can be used outside the purview of criminal investigation, such as for purposes of intimidation and blackmail. Ellsberg warned, "We are a turnkey away from a tyranny in this country, right now. This is not a police state... but it could become a police state almost overnight."
On Sept 24th at Berkeley City College, Ellsberg noted that new surveillance technologies and data mining tools are available to local police agencies such as the BPD, and that it would be worthwhile for the public to get involved on the local level with lawsuits for information into Berkeley police surveillance agreements with intelligence agencies.
In the mutual aid compendium protocols, it is stated that surveillance is to be done only in cases where there is reasonable suspicion a crime is being organized or is going to occur. However, even peaceful acts of protest can be deemed criminal; activities such as camping, chalking, use of amplified sound, etc can be classified as criminal. If local police use federal standards for intelligence gathering, even acts of journalism can be seen as criminal. At the level of federal agencies, everyone can be suspect or can be connected to someone who is; essentially everyone's data is being collected by the NSA. If local police use federal standards, anyone in Berkeley can be suspect, or connected to someone who is, and thus be a target of surveillance.
The mutual aid protocols contains procedures for undercover police operatives. It is stated that undercover intelligence gathering can only be implemented when there is reasonable suspicion a crime is being planned or will occur. But the standard of what constitutes criminal activity leaves little restriction to when undercover agents can be used. The current investigation into NYPD Wojciech Braszczok, who took part in a beating of a SUV driver, raises new awareness and concerns about how undercover operatives are used in this county. In persona, Braszczok did deep surveillance on Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Sandy Relief. The NYPD officer lived as a protester, even attending birthday parties. Including meetings, rallies, and protests, the Berkeley PD protocols do state that an undercover officer can attend religious events with their surveillance targets; depending on the situation, that could require gaining a substantial level of trust and camaraderie before hand. The Berkeley PD protocols do not explicitly regulate the type of personal and intimate behavior officers can participate in while in persona, or what kind personal and intimate relationships in officer can participate in while undercover.
Information gathered by police surveillance gets logged in 'suspicious activity reports', sending reports up the surveillance chain to federal agencies. Suspicious activity reports, even if erroneous, make people stand out as targets for deeper surveillance by federal agencies and contractors. Suspicious activity reports can have peoples phone and internet metadata tagged for further analysis.
Along with expanded surveillance powers, mutual aid agreements with Homeland Security and UASI promote militarization of local police. UASI gives urban warfare training to police agencies, including the Berkeley PD. Military-grade vehicles, drones and weapons can be obtained by the Berkeley police through UASI or homeland security for use against protests. In various cities across the US, equipment and vehicles designed for war-zones are increasingly being used in crowd control situations, such as heavily armored carriers, and LRAD sonic weapons. At this time the Berkeley police have not obtained any heavy vehicles or weapons, but these contracts leave channels open to do so in some point in the future.
The Berkeley mutual aid compendium is part of a larger debate over surveillance and militarization of police forces. The mutual aid compendium has a shared context with the federal surveillance programs which are the subjects of leaks by Snowden. The PRC never took into account the leaks regarding surveillance programs, and didn't consider the implications the leaks have towards local surveillance. The PRC did not take into account the national debate about surveillance that is occurring in the streets and in senate hearings. Contracts trending towards increased military force by police, and intrusive mass surveillance are up for renewal on the local level by city council, yet there has been no research or debate into these contracts by the police review commission or by city government.