“Given the long-standing and unconstitutional pattern of state surveillance of black-led political movements, it bears repeating that FOIA is about transparency, not protecting government agencies from embarrassment.”
The Department of Homeland Security has refused to release any version of a report that the agency’s Intelligence and Analysis Office produced and referred to as the “Race Paper.”
In response, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Color of Change, one of the United States’ largest racial justice organizations, filed a motion to force DHS to disclose the document.
The motion [PDF] is part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was submitted against DHS and the FBI in October 2016.
As the motion notes, the FOIA lawsuit was pursued to uncover information on the U.S. government’s “surveillance and monitoring of the Movement for Black Lives (MBL),” which is a part of the movement more commonly known as Black Lives Matter.
Transparency was demanded to understand the “apparent targeting of MBL and allied activists for their public criticism of police violence and calls for accountability.” The request for documents was mindful of the history of the government deploying military and counter-terrorism resources against black activists.
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“DHS I&A’s chosen terminology for its as yet entirely redacted report—the Race Paper—pointedly suggests law enforcement agencies’ possible use of racial identity as a criteria for assessing security threats and raises the specter of particularly infamous episodes in federal law enforcement history.”
The motion further contends, “Given the potential for DHS embarrassment that scrutiny of the Race Paper might produce—but also the undeniable public value of the document—the court should be all the more attuned to the possibility that the sweeping exemptions DHS claims are designed to conceal, rather than serve bona fide national security or intelligence interests.”
From May to December of 2017, CCR and Color of Change received hundreds of pages of emails, policy papers, reports, and records from surveillance. Most were fully or partially blacked out. But the substance led the organizations to conclude the FBI and DHS had engaged in surveillance against M4BL, as well as other black activists and organizers.
One of the more alarming documents that was fully censored but turned over was the “Race Paper.”
“All versions of the “Race Paper” itself were produced to us, but in completely redacted form—nothing, not even the official title of the document, is visible,” according to CCR. “Considering the documents are all fully black out, we are thus left to speculate, as to why DHS would prepare a document it refers to only as ‘the Race Paper’ and then closely guard its contents, even to the point of concealing its actual title and a basic description.”
Two FBI intelligence reports obtained reveal details on how the government tracked movements of activists. One from November 25, 2014, shows the FBI in Chicago had a “confidential human source” (or informant) outside of a targeted residence in Ferguson, Missouri, where Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown.
The other report from November 21, 2014, involved FBI coordination with Monsanto. It responded to information provided by a lieutenant at the Creve Couer Police Department about a protest planned for Thanksgiving.
“The protest is believed to start at Monsanto and head to Ferguson. Believed to be over 100 protestors. There has been $10,000 raised for bond money and $6,000 for direct action devices (unknown what those are at this time). There is more money believed to be acquired for protestors going to the ‘Stand Up For Ferguson Organization.’ It is unknown if the protestors are planning to get arrested,” according to the report.
The FBI notes that a certain individual is flying from New York to Ferguson and was arrested at a previous demonstration. It tracked this person as they traveled cross-country.
Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson declared, “Black communities know all too well how poisonous this kind of surveillance and intimidation is for social justice movements.”
“During the civil rights era, agents with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program vigorously sought to discredit and destroy black leaders and movements while they did nothing to address the injustices our communities were protesting. We can’t allow the FBI to essentially operationalize COINTELPRO for the twenty-first century without a fight.”
“Up until recently, we’ve known very little about the government’s surveillance of our communities. But by forcing the disclosure of more information about these surveillance efforts, including our demand today for the full and unredacted ‘Race Paper,’ we can better understand these attacks on black activism and fight to prevent a new generation of black activists from demonization, incarceration, intimidation, and punishment.”
“Black and brown activists and the public in general should not be left to speculate as to why DHS prepared a document called the ‘Race Paper,’ circulated multiple versions of it, and called for in-person meetings to discuss its contents, but now fights to keep every word from seeing the light of day,” asserted Omar Farah, a senior staff attorney for CCR.
Farah concluded, “Given the long-standing and unconstitutional pattern of state surveillance of black-led political movements, it bears repeating that FOIA is about transparency, not protecting government agencies from embarrassment.”
Top Photo | A young boy holds his fist up while wearing tape over his mouth during a Black Lives Matter protest at an entrance to Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in response to the police shooting deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla. and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C.
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