Redacted FBI Documents Show Plot to Kill Occupy Leaders If ‘Deemed Necessary’

Posted on Jun 29, 2013

 

tsuihin – TimoStudios (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Did the FBI ignore, or even abet, a plot to assassinate Occupy Houston leaders?” asks investigative reporter Dave Lindorff at WhoWhatWhy. “What did the Feds know? Whom did they warn? And what did the Houston Police know?”

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund yielded an FBI document containing knowledge of a plot by an unnamed group or individual to kill “leaders” of the Houston chapter of the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement.

Here’s what the document said, according to WhoWhatWhy:

An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] 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. (Note: protests continued throughout the weekend with approximately 6000 persons in NYC. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests have spread to about half of all states in the US, over a dozen European and Asian cities, including protests in Cleveland (10/6-8/11) at Willard Park which was initially attended by hundreds of protesters.)

Paul Kennedy of the National Lawyers Guild in Houston and an attorney for a number of Occupy Houston activists arrested during the protests said he did not hear of the sniper plot and expressed discontent with the FBI’s failure to share knowledge of the plan with the public. He believed that the bureau would have acted if a “right-wing group” plotted the assassinations, implying that the plan could have originated with law enforcement.

“[I]f it is something law enforcement was planning,” Kennedy said, “then nothing would have been done. It might seem hard to believe that a law enforcement agency would do such a thing, but I wouldn’t put it past them.”

He added that the phrase “if deemed necessary,” which appeared in the bureau’s report, further suggests the possibility that some kind of official organization was involved in the plan.

Texas law officials have a history of extreme and inappropriate violence. “Last October,” Lindorff writes, “a border patrol officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety, riding in a helicopter, used a sniper rifle to fire at a fast-moving pickup truck carrying nine illegal immigrants into the state from Mexico, killing two and wounding a third, and causing the vehicle to crash and overturn.”

Kennedy has seen law enforcement forces attempt to secretly entrap Occupy activists and disrupt their activities in the city. He represented seven people who were charged with felonies stemming from a protest whose organizing group had been infiltrated by undercover officers from the Austin Police department. The felony charges were dropped when police involvement with a crucial part of that action was discovered.

A second document obtained in the same FOIA request suggested the assassination plans might be on the plotters’ back burner in case Occupy re-emerges in the area.

When WhoWhatWhy sent an inquiry to FBI headquarters in Washington, officials confirmed that the first document is genuine and that it originated in the Houston FBI office. Asked why solid evidence of a plot never led to exposure of the perpetrators’ identity or arrest, Paul Bresson, head of the FBI media office, deflected the question. According to WHoWhatWhy, he said:

The FOIA documents that you reference are redacted in several places pursuant to FOIA and privacy laws that govern the release of such information so therefore I am unable to help fill in the blanks that you are seeking. Exemptions are cited in each place where a redaction is made. As far as the question about the murder plot, I am unable to comment further, but rest assured if the FBI was aware of credible and specific information involving a murder plot, law enforcement would have responded with appropriate action.

Lindorff wants us to note that “the privacy being ‘protected’ in this instance (by a government that we now know has so little respect for our privacy) was of someone or some organization that was actively contemplating violating other people’s Constitutional rights—by murdering them.” He says “[t]hat should leave us less than confident about Bresson’s assertion that law enforcement would have responded appropriately to a ‘credible’ threat.”

When the Houston Police department was asked about its knowledge of the plot, public affairs officer Keith Smith said it “hadn’t heard about it” and directed future questions to the Houston FBI office.

The obvious question to ask in attempting to determine the identities of the planners is this: Who has sniper training? A number of Texas law enforcement organizations received special training from Dallas-based mercenary company Craft International, which has a contract for training services with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The company was founded by a celebrated Army sniper who was killed by a combat veteran he accompanied to a shooting range.

Remington Alessi, an Occupy Houston activist who played a prominent role in the protests and hails from a law enforcement family, agrees with attorney Kennedy that the plot likely did not originate with a right-wing group. “If it had been that, the FBI would have acted on it,” he said. “I believe the sniper attack was one strategy being discussed for dealing with the occupation.”

The grotesque irony here, Lindoff writes, is that “while the Occupy Movement was actually peaceful, the FBI, at best, was simply standing aside while some organization plotted to assassinate the movement’s prominent activists.”

Lindorff concludes: “The FBI’s stonewalling response to inquiries about this story, and the agency’s evident failure to take any action regarding a known deadly threat to Occupy protesters in Houston, will likely make protesters at future demonstrations look differently at the sniper-rifle equipped law-enforcement personnel often seen on rooftops during such events. What are they there for? Who are the threats they are looking for and potentially targeting? Who are they protecting? And are they using ‘suppressed’ sniper rifles? Would this indicate they have no plans to take responsibility for any shots silently fired? Or that they plan to frame someone else?”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Editor’s note: A paragraph reporting the killing of undocumented immigrants by Texas border patrol officers in October 2012 was added after the initial publication of this piece.

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Has U.S. started an Internet war?

By Bruce Schneier, Special to CNN

updated 10:46 AM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013

Editor’s note: Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive."

(CNN) — Today, the United States is conducting offensive cyberwar actions around the world.

More than passively eavesdropping, we’re penetrating and damaging foreign networks for both espionage and to ready them for attack. We’re creating custom-designed Internet weapons, pre-targeted and ready to be "fired" against some piece of another country’s electronic infrastructure on a moment’s notice.

This is much worse than what we’re accusing China of doing to us. We’re pursuing policies that are both expensive and destabilizing and aren’t making the Internet any safer. We’re reacting from fear, and causing other countries to counter-react from fear. We’re ignoring resilience in favor of offense.

Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier

Welcome to the cyberwar arms race, an arms race that will define the Internet in the 21st century.

Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued last October and released by Edward Snowden, outlines U.S. cyberwar policy. Most of it isn’t very interesting, but there are two paragraphs about

"Offensive Cyber Effect Operations," or OCEO, that are intriguing:

"OECO can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging. The development and sustainment of OCEO capabilities, however, may require considerable time and effort if access and tools for a specific target do not already exist.

"The United States Government shall identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power, establish and maintain OCEO capabilities integrated as appropriate with other U.S. offensive capabilities, and execute those capabilities in a manner consistent with the provisions of this directive."

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These two paragraphs, and another paragraph about OCEO, are the only parts of the document classified "top secret." And that’s because what they’re saying is very dangerous.

Cyberattacks have the potential to be both immediate and devastating. They can disrupt communications systems, disable national infrastructure, or, as in the case of Stuxnet, destroy nuclear reactors; but only if they’ve been created and targeted beforehand. Before launching cyberattacks against another country, we have to go through several steps.

We have to study the details of the computer systems they’re running and determine the vulnerabilities of those systems. If we can’t find exploitable vulnerabilities, we need to create them: leaving "back doors" in hacker speak. Then we have to build new cyberweapons designed specifically to attack those systems.

Sometimes we have to embed the hostile code in those networks, these are called "logic bombs," to be unleashed in the future. And we have to keep penetrating those foreign networks, because computer systems always change and we need to ensure that the cyberweapons are still effective.

Like our nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, our cyberweapons arsenal must be pretargeted and ready to launch.

That’s what Obama directed the U.S. Cyber Command to do. We can see glimpses in how effective we are in Snowden’s allegations that the NSA is currently penetrating foreign networks around the world: "We hack network backbones — like huge Internet routers, basically — that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one."

The NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command are basically the same thing. They’re both at Fort Meade in Maryland, and they’re both led by Gen. Keith Alexander. The same people who hack network backbones are also building weapons to destroy those backbones. At a March Senate briefing, Alexander boasted of creating more than a dozen offensive cyber units.

Longtime NSA watcher James Bamford reached the same conclusion in his recent profile of Alexander and the U.S. Cyber Command (written before the Snowden revelations). He discussed some of the many cyberweapons the U.S. purchases:

"According to Defense News’ C4ISR Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, Endgame also offers its intelligence clients — agencies like Cyber Command, the NSA, the CIA, and British intelligence — a unique map showing them exactly where their targets are located. Dubbed Bonesaw, the map displays the geolocation and digital address of basically every device connected to the Internet around the world, providing what’s called network situational awareness. The client locates a region on the password-protected web-based map, then picks a country and city — say, Beijing, China. Next the client types in the name of the target organization, such as the Ministry of Public Security’s No. 3 Research Institute, which is responsible for computer security — or simply enters its address, 6 Zhengyi Road. The map will then display what software is running on the computers inside the facility, what types of malware some may contain, and a menu of custom-designed exploits that can be used to secretly gain entry. It can also pinpoint those devices infected with malware, such as the Conficker worm, as well as networks turned into botnets and zombies — the equivalent of a back door left open…

"The buying and using of such a subscription by nation-states could be seen as an act of war. ‘If you are engaged in reconnaissance on an adversary’s systems, you are laying the electronic battlefield and preparing to use it’ wrote Mike Jacobs, a former NSA director for information assurance, in a McAfee report on cyberwarfare. ‘In my opinion, these activities constitute acts of war, or at least a prelude to future acts of war.’ The question is, who else is on the secretive company’s client list? Because there is as of yet no oversight or regulation of the cyberweapons trade, companies in the cyber-industrial complex are free to sell to whomever they wish. "It should be illegal,’ said the former senior intelligence official involved in cyberwarfare. ‘I knew about Endgame when I was in intelligence. The intelligence community didn’t like it, but they’re the largest consumer of that business.’"

That’s the key question: How much of what the United States is currently doing is an act of war by international definitions? Already we’re accusing China of penetrating our systems in order to map "military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis." What PPD-20 and Snowden describe is much worse, and certainly China, and other countries, are doing the same.

All of this mapping of vulnerabilities and keeping them secret for offensive use makes the Internet less secure, and these pre-targeted, ready-to-unleash cyberweapons are destabalizing forces on international relationships. Rooting around other countries’ networks, analyzing vulnerabilities, creating back doors, and leaving logic bombs could easily be construed as an act of war. And all it takes is one over-achieving national leader for this all to tumble into actual war.

It’s time to stop the madness. Yes, our military needs to invest in cyberwar capabilities, but we also need international rules of cyberwar, more transparency from our own government on what we are and are not doing, international cooperation between governments and viable cyberweapons treaties. Yes, these are difficult. Yes, it’s a long slow process. Yes, there won’t be international consensus, certainly not in the beginning. But even with all of those problems, it’s a better path to go down than the one we’re on now.

We can start by taking most of the money we’re investing in offensive cyberwar capabilities and spend them on national cyberspace resilience. MAD, mutually assured destruction, made sense because there were two superpowers opposing each other. On the Internet there are all sorts of different powers, from nation-states to much less organized groups. An arsenal of cyberweapons begs to be used, and, as we learned from Stuxnet, there’s always collateral damage to innocents when they are. We’re much safer with a strong defense than with a counterbalancing offense.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Schneier.

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