Documents Show FBI Monitored Movements of Black Lives Matter Activists

Posted on March 28, 2018

 The Intercept reveals that the FBI has developed and implemented a practice of monitoring the physical movements of activists associated with Black Lives Matter. In addition to providing further evidence of FBI tailing nonviolent demonstrators, the piece also sheds light on the methods FBI employs.

FOIA documents obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change show that, in November 2014, the FBI tracked the travel patterns of an activist traveling from New York to Ferguson. There is no mention of concerns or assessments of possible violence or other criminal acts, as would normally be required of law enforcement to authorize such tracking.

The FBI maintains that it  monitors only acts of violence or serious criminality, and not First Amendment-protected speech, but the document fails to outline any such valid law enforcement grounds. The language of the report, which refers to other agency material on the target, implies that the FBI maintains a larger file on the targeted individual, but requests to search other FBI databases for such a file returned nothing.

Mike German, a former FBI agent and current Brennan Center for Justice fellow, remarked that he could not determine any apparent justification for the Bureau’s activities in this case.

“This is clearly just tracking First Amendment activity and keeping this activity in an intelligence database,” German said.

Accompanying internal records obtained through the FOIA request, pertaining to several other Black Lives Matter demonstrators in November 2014, prove that FBI also deploys traditional, on-the-ground surveillance by agents and informants. Intelligence reports, for instance, show that the FBI staked out a group of activists in undercover vehicles, and that they located their surveillance targets with the help of a human intelligence asset of some kind, most likely an informant.

Perhaps the most disturbing development is that a document known internally as the “Race Paper,” maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, was also alluded to as part of the FOIA disclosure, but the government has refused to release it or publicly discuss it in any detail. According to lawyers working to secure its release, it has to do with supposed “radicalization” of black activist figures or movements. Emails relating to the “Race Paper” also repeatedly mention such terms as “drivers” and “indicators,” which may point to yet more surveillance infrastructure operated by the FBI, DHS, or possibly other agencies working in tandem with them designed to aggregate and parse for such signs.

This evidence of the wide spectrum of surveillance techniques brought to bear on peaceful civil rights activists, and the lack of any plainly legitimate law enforcement pretext for conducting intelligence operations against these targets, is alarming. Moreover, the fact that these actions were taken under the Obama administration, which took a comparatively restrained approach to policing First Amendment exercises, raises even greater concern for the integrity of free speech under the Trump administration which has, among other things, sanctioned the aggressive prosecution of Inauguration Day protesters and attempts to subpoena identifying metadata from visitors to an anti-Trump protest site. Revelations such as those made by The Intercept’s recent reporting are key to identifying, and eventually thwarting through accountability and reform, encroachments on First Amendment freedoms.

You can read the full article from The Intercept here.