Inside the Phoenix PD's Use of Federal Anti-Terrorism Resources to Track Valley Protesters

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The feds also gathered the phone records and tracked the movements of a Fox News reporter while he was developing leads on stories.

In Phoenix, Occupy organizers say they, too, were targets of undue government scrutiny doled out strategically and intentionally by police to hamper their ability to protest.

Cops call it intelligence gathering. Organizers call it spying and infiltration.

"It's like killing an ant with a shotgun," says Diane D'Angelo, an Occupy Phoenix member and spokeswoman. "It's absurd . . . to investigate protesters [who] care about people getting their homes foreclosed on. When you're treating people occupying Cesar Chavez Plaza with the same kind of rigorous attention as someone who's a member of al-Qaeda, that's pretty scary!"

To be sure, some Occupy-related events across the country, including in Oakland and in New York, saw episodes of violent clashes between cops and protesters. Most arrests, however, resulted in loitering or urban-camping charges.

Like police agencies across the country, the PPD devoted the resources of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center to track members of the Occupy movement. Such information centers also are known as "fusion centers" because they pull together various law enforcement agencies.

In Arizona, the center touts itself as monitoring "all hazards" and potential terror threats. It's comprised of 25 law enforcement agencies, also including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Tempe and Mesa police departments, and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The details of journalist Hodai's report were gleaned from thousands of pages of public records he obtained from local, state, and federal agencies. They reveal that as organizers met to plan protests and advance the Occupy movement in metro Phoenix, city police officials sent an undercover officer to pose as a Mexican eager to support the cause.

The Phoenix cop attended public group meetings but also spent time with organizers in the park and on other occasions to gather details about protests and report them to superiors.

At the same time, an analyst with the PPD's Homeland Defense Bureau, part of the fusion center, monitored Occupy protesters' Facebook and Twitter accounts or used advanced technologies, such as facial recognition, to identify members of the movement.

The Occupy movement in Phoenix never burgeoned as it did in other American cities, but the PPD cautiously and vigorously tracked it as though it were a huge threat.

Although initial demonstrations attracted sizable crowds, subsequent rallies drew 50 or fewer protesters. On some days, attendance was so low that it prompted "mockery within the ranks" of the police department, Hodai reports.A Phoenix police detective working as a terrorism liaison officer for the Arizona Counter Terrorism Intelligence Center sent a law enforcement brief on trends his colleagues in other states had observed at Occupy events.

The police sergeant who received the detective's brief on December 28, 2011, commented sarcastically that the national report failed to "mention the four people we have demonstrating at Chavez Plaza."

Other police records show that daily monitoring of social-media accounts linked to members or sympathizers of the Occupy cause revealed "concern and frustration [among organizers] over the consistently low level of community involvement in the movement," according to city records obtained by Hodai.

Even so, his report notes, the PPD spent $245,200 "directly related to the policing of Occupy Phoenix during the first three days of the movement's existence."

The resources of the counter-terrorism center, well-funded by federal dollars, were spent to keep track of various Occupiers. Hodai noted that Phoenix received more than $1 million in grant money from the Department of Homeland Security in September 2010 to fund, in part, an intelligence analyst.

Brenda Dowhan, the civilian analyst hired by the PPD, and her counterpart in the Tempe Police Department commented in one e-mail exchange about how pleased they were that their "interference" helped foil a plot by activists to use a piece of vacant land in Tempe for urban gardening.

Dowhan wrote: "Every site I've been on, they know we're watching them."

But cops were doing more than "watching" — they were tracking.

Monitoring protesters isn't exactly what the feds had in mind as they poured as much as $1.4 billion since 2003 into creating and expanding 70 fusion centers across the United States.

In fact, a bipartisan probe in 2012 by a U.S. Senate subcommittee was critical of fusion centers for wasting money, getting used in ways that weren't strengthening counter-terrorism efforts, and stepping on Americans' freedoms.

The subcommittee investigation found the intelligence coming from the centers was "oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and . . . occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism."

The bottom line is that the October 2012 subcommittee findings severely question the value of the feds' investment in the fusion centers.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo