The Guardian: “Revealed: anti-terror center helped police track environmental activists”

Cross-posted from the Guardian

Revealed: anti-terror center helped police track environmental activists

Observers argue efforts by the Oregon Titan Fusion Center to disseminate information about protesters violates state law

By Will Parrish and Jason Wilson

A federally sponsored anti-terrorism fusion center in Oregon assisted a taskforce monitoring protest groups organizing against a fossil fuel infrastructure project in the state, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

The Oregon Titan Fusion Center – part of a network set up to monitor terrorist activities – disseminated information gathered by that taskforce, and shared information provided by private security attached to the gas project with some of the task force members.

Observers, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argue these efforts break Oregon law.

Previously, the Guardian revealed the existence of the South-western Oregon Joint Task Force (SWOJTF), a group spearheaded by the Coos county sheriff’s office (CCSO), and its surveillance of those opposing the Jordan Cove energy project: a $10bn proposed liquid natural gas project that would include a new export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon.

The sheriff’s office passed on information harvested from social media accounts and emails to a network of local, state and federal police agencies. In addition to monitoring non-violent protests by Jordan Cove opponents, the SWOJTF has also tracked individuals’ attendance at regulatory hearings and routine campaign emails circulated by grassroots groups such as Southern Oregon Rising Tide, Rogue Climate and 350 Eugene.

Chuck Cogburn, who is currently an analyst with the Oregon Titan Fusion Center, has been among the regular recipients of SWOJTF emails, records obtained by the Guardian via open records requests show.

On 8 November 2018, Cogburn, who until 2015 also served as the director of the fusion center, responded to an email circulated by the CCSO deputy Bryan Valencia on a pipeline protest at a Medford Chamber of Commerce meeting, by telling Valencia he will “put this out as a SAR”, which fusion centers define as a “suspicious activity report”.

Later, on 22 March, Cogburn forwarded an email from a private firm providing security services for Pembina, the project’s owner, to Valencia and Strain. The initial email read: “There is a protest scheduled in front of our Klamath office next Thursday from 12-2pm. The local Democrat Party dropped the poster below at the chamber office, and then joined the chamber.

It then reproduced the text of a poster for a “block the pipe party” protest held at a theater in Klamath Falls on 5 April.

Cogburn forwarded it with the message, “FYI. Not sure if you get these.”

The national network of fusion centers were created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as focal points for cooperation and information sharing between federal, state and local agencies in detecting and responding to terrorist and criminal activities. In 2018 the House homeland security committee counted 79 fusion centers around the country.

In its own materials, the Titan Fusion Center is described as “a collaborative effort of state and federal law enforcement agencies”, focused on “terrorism, organized crime and gang-related criminal activity”.

The center also says that it “may retain protected information that is based on a level of suspicion that is less than ‘reasonable suspicion’, such as tips and leads or suspicious activity report (SAR) information”.

National fusion center materials say that they “receive information from a variety of sources, including suspicious activity reporting (SAR) information from stakeholders within their jurisdictions, as well as federal information and intelligence”.

The center also says that it “will not seek or retain information about an individual or organization solely on the basis of their religious, political, racial, or social views or activities; their participation in a particular non-criminal organization or lawful event”.

The center states that its activities are governed by Oregon statutes that prevent the gathering of “information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities”.

But it is precisely such statutes that observers like the ACLU of Oregon say that SWOJTF, and the fusion center, are breaking.

Kelly Simon, an ACLU of Oregon staff attorney, said: “These communications are just more evidence of the Coos county sheriff’s and Titan Fusion Center’s utter disregard for the bedrock principle of freedom of expression and of Oregon’s anti-profiling laws”.

National and local environmental leaders agree.

Meanwhile, 45 leaders from international, national and Oregon-based organizations sent a letter to Governor Kate Brown on 26 September calling on her to withdraw the state’s cooperation with any surveillance of activists, citing the Guardian’s reporting on the SWOJTF last month. Prominent activists, including Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, argued that “monitoring and compiling information about Oregonians’ political or social views, activities, or associations violates Oregon law”, and ask that the governor “protect the civil liberties of your constituents by withdrawing all Oregon resources and participation in the SWOJTF immediately”.

University of Southern Maine criminologist Brendan McQuade, the author of a recent book on fusion centers, says fusion centers and other law enforcement taskforces frequently help law agencies get around laws like the one in Oregon.

“The structure allows the police to take advantage of the unevenness of the laws in different jurisdictions, by utilizing the differing powers afforded to state, local and federal agencies as part of a flexible overall operation,” McQuade said.

Chuck Cogburn, the analyst, did not respond to emailed questions from the Guardian, but his LinkedIn page lists his duties as: “Support Fusion Center operations. Provide analytical support. Produced risk, threat, vulnerability assessment.”

At the state level, the center falls under the purview of the Oregon department of justice (DoJ). A DoJ spokesperson did not respond to a detailed request for comment on adding the Medford protest to a SAR, or on the composition of the taskforce. Asked about passing on information from a private firm about the Klamath Falls protest to CCSO, the spokesperson said, “Mr Cogburn forwarded on a notice for an advertised event. It was public information, so it was not considered confidential material.”

The Titan Fusion Center has encountered criticism before regarding its monitoring of left-leaning activists on social media. In 2016, a fusion center investigator allegedly violated Oregon law by using a software package, DigitalStakeOut, to monitor the head of the civil rights unit in the Oregon department of justice.

In that instance, the investigator used DigitalStakeout to geographically isolate the source of tweets which used the #blacklivesmatter hashtag to the Oregon DoJ headquarters. The tweets had been sent by Erious Johnson, the head of the civil rights unit. Some of the tweets which put Johnson under surveillance were about the hip-hop group Public Enemy. Johnson sued the state over the surveillance, settling in 2017.

In 2016, the fusion center investigator, James Williams, said that he had not been aware that Oregon law made his surveillance illegal. Reportedly, it was Cogburn who had arranged for the center to receive the trial of the software which allowed Williams to pinpoint Johnson’s tweets.

The CCSO spokesman, Captain Gabriel Fabrizio, has described SWOJTF as having been “created to ensure a multi-agency approach to any and all contingencies. Coos county, due to the potential sighting [sic] of the terminal on the Coos Bay, has been conducting drills and planning regarding all hazards since Jordan Cove has made its intentions known.”

In fact, the fusion center appears to have played a key role in setting up the southern Oregon taskforce. In an April 2017 letter to Oregon legislators supporting a boost in Fusion Center funding, the Coos county sheriff, Craig Zanni, wrote that “[t]he Oregon Titan Fusion Center has provided leadership and guidance that is facilitating the formulation of the Southwestern Oregon Joint Task Force.”

Zanni wrote in the same letter that the taskforce would “be instrumental in combating the extremist agenda in Southern Oregon”.

CCSO did not respond to a detailed request for comment about SWOJTF’s relationship with the fusion center, and what the “extremist agenda” in southern Oregon amounts to.

In the wake of the 2016-17 Dakota Access pipeline movement, the Department of Homeland Security and seven state fusion centers produced a nationally circulated bulletin that had similarly claimed the NoDAPL movement has been associated with a rise in “environmental rights extremism”.

Lauren Regan, the executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, said labeling of activists as “extremists” is part of a strategy for marginalizing them from potential supporters.

“The use of the term ‘extremism’ is a government calling card when it intends to use repressive criminalization against a social movement,” Regan added.

Guardian: FBI and police revealed to be monitoring Oregon pipeline fighters

cross-posted from the Guardian

By Will Parrish and Jason Wilson

August 8, 2019

Emails show the latest example of environmental groups facing increased surveillance by law enforcement

Law enforcement groups, including the FBI, have been monitoring opponents of a natural gas infrastructure project in Oregon and circulated intelligence to an email list that included a Republican-aligned anti-environmental PR operative, emails obtained by the Guardian show.

The South Western Oregon Joint Task Force (SWOJTF) and its members were monitoring opponents of the Jordan Cove energy project, a proposal by the Canadian energy company Pembina to build the first-ever liquefied natural gas terminal on the US west coast, as well as a new 232-mile pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas to the port of Coos Bay.

The Trump administration has named Jordan Cove as one of its highest-priority infrastructure projects. Jordan Cove opponents have raised concerns about the project’s significant environmental impacts, impacts on public lands, indigenous rights and climate change.

The emails, obtained via open records requests, reflect the increased scrutiny and surveillance to which law enforcement agencies are often subjecting indigenous and environmental groups, activists say.

It also comes amid an uptick in civil disobedience and direct actions challenging fossil fuel infrastructure projects – particularly in the wake of the Native American-led struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 and 2017. They also reflect a nationwide tendency for rightwing partisans, law enforcement agencies and the fossil fuel industry to ally with one another in the suppression of such activities.

An email distribution list associated with the taskforce included addressees in the FBI, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Justice (DoJ), the National Forest Service (NFS), Oregon state police (OSP), and various Oregon municipal police and sheriffs departments. But some of its recipients are outside any government agency, most notably Mark Pfeifle, the CEO of the political consultancy Off The Record Strategies.

Pfeifle was previously a Bush administration PR adviser on national security. More recently, Pfeifle worked with law enforcement on a counter-information operation against the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.

When contacted by telephone about the Jordan Cove project, Mr Pfeifle said “I just don’t have anything for you, I’m not up on it,” before ending the conversation.

Emails circulated on the SWOJTF email list include activists’ social media posts, emails and rally announcements.

Pfeifle appeared on the distribution list of a November 2018 email from the list’s apparent keeper, the Coos county deputy sheriff, Bryan Valencia, which described a recent protest action by Southern Oregon Rising Tide, a direct action climate justice group.

“These are the tactics that are currently being used to forcibly insert their narrative into the conversation,” Valencia wrote. He noted: “There has long been a call for a ‘Standing Rock’ action by the Klamath Tribe in Klamath county.”

Don Gentry, the chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said Valencia’s characterization is false – his tribe has never put out such a call. “We’re working through the readily available channels to get this project stopped,” Gentry said.

In January 2019, Valencia circulated information on Facebook event attendance to a smaller group of SWOJTF officers, related to an upcoming Oregon department of state lands hearing, to some members of the taskforce, despite stating there was a “lack of a criminal nexus”.

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The Coos county sheriffs office (CCSO) public information officer, Gabriel Fabrizio, wrote in response to emailed questions that SWOJTF had been set up to “ensure a multi-agency approach to any and all contingencies”.

Fabrizio added: “As potential dangers to the safety of the citizens and businesses of the county are identified, we monitor groups as long as necessary to determine if they will become a danger to others. Once it’s determined a group has not or likely will not conduct criminal activity, we discontinue monitoring.”

He also wrote that “Mr Pfiefle has no relationship with the Coos county sheriff’s office or with the SWOJTF. He was involved with training that was presented by the National Sheriffs Association to emergency responders in Coos county.”

He also denied that SWOJTF had been engaged in surveillance. “Surveillance implies an active gathering of data and images, and any monitoring we have conducted has been passive, simply watching for information,” he said.

The records reveal the existence of other law enforcement intelligence activities related to monitoring the work of environmental groups.

In a November 2018 email to Valencia, a BLM law enforcement analyst noted her role in the “Forest Intelligence Group (FIG)” that is also tracking activists. “I appreciate anything you find, and I am glad to share likewise,” the analyst wrote.

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Fabrizio said in an email response to questions that FIG “began its life as a timber investigators meeting in the mid eighties … It has been sharing information about activity including criminal activity in our regions forests since that time. The intent of the group is to identify activities that may require sharing of resources or have an impact across traditional jurisdictional lines.”

In a telephone interview, a spokesman for the US attorney in Oregon also confirmed the existence of another body mentioned in the emails: a “domestic terrorism working group” led by the assistant US attorney, Craig Gabriel, that meets “roughly quarterly” in Portland. He said that the group was mostly made up of federal agencies but included some local law enforcement.

“It’s really just to discuss any current issues in the domestic terrorism arena. This could be local issues, all the way up to international issues,” the spokesman said. He said protest movements would be “within the scope” of its discussions even if no criminal activity had occurred.

In another email exchange, an FBI agent, Michael Frost, offered “open source and social media training” to the Coos county sheriffs, writing to Valencia that “with the significant social media presence of the anti-pipeline individuals, I figured your office would be a good place to start”.

The flyer for the training promises law enforcement officers information on tracking individuals online while minimizing their “digital footprint”, and indicates that it would be hosted by yet another law enforcement “task force”: the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Portland.

A spokesperson for the FBI’s Portland field office said in an email: “The FBI does not comment on what may or may not be an ongoing investigation. However, it is important to note that the FBI can never initiate an investigation based solely on first amendment-protected activity.”

On the training session, the spokesperson said: “The FBI’s Portland field office regularly provides training to local law enforcement agencies. This training covers a wide range of law enforcement topics, including appropriate and legal use of open source material in investigations.”

Fabrizio said that the offer of training had not been taken up.

Although Coos Bay is located more than 200 miles away from Portland, the Portland police bureau (PPB) officer Andrew Hearst is also part of the SWOJTF email list. Hearst told Valencia in January 2019: “As always if we hear anything about our people heading down to your area we will alert asap.”

Jordan Cove opponents expressed alarm upon learning about the level of scrutiny they are receiving from so many different law enforcement entities.

“It is outrageous that our Oregon public agencies are actually working to plan how to stifle the very southern Oregonians whose drinking water, property and communities are threatened by this project,” said Sylvia Mangan, a retired public health nurse who lives on one of the proposed pipeline routes.

Asked why Pfeifle was included in the distribution of intelligence on protest groups, Fabrizio wrote: “Open source information is posted on public forums and not considered sensitive.”

He added: “Anyone who may be affected by potential actions are involved as an effort in community outreach and according to the tenets of community policing.”

Pfeifle previously described his work with law enforcement at Standing Rock during a 2017 presentation to oil, gas and banking executives during a pipeline conference in Houston. “A lot of things that we were doing were being done to put a marker down for the protesters. And, ‘OK, if you’re going to go protest somewhere? There’s going to be consequences from it.’”

In an email comment, the ACLU of Oregon questioned the legality of the activities revealed in the emails.

“Monitoring and compiling information about Oregonians’ political or social views, activities, or associations violates Oregon law,” said the spokeswoman Sarah Armstrong.

Lauren Regan, the executive director of the Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center, says the SWOJTF’s activities reflect a nationwide trend. “Police and corporations are working together to suppress movements against fossil fuels,” she said.

Holly Mills of Southern Oregon Rising Tide, a group regularly subjected to scrutiny in the records obtained by the Guardian, said: “We know that the state, police and corporations have often tried to stop movements like this one by using fear as a tactic and repressing dissent. We have prepared ourselves with this in mind, and we communicate on social media and over email with the assumption that cops might be reading.”