Spies and Provocateurs: Police Spying on Occupy Movement not Likely Limited to Los Angeles

Word that the Los Angeles Police, who sent in 1200 officers in riot gear to violently rout a few hundred Occupy Movement demonstrators from their LA encampment last week, had earlier sent 12 undercover young officers into the peaceful occupation camp to spy on the activists should come as no surprise.

Nor should wild and unsubstantiated claims–clearly bogus–that these spies overheard some of the protesters supposedly planning to sharpen bamboo sticks to use as weapons against police, come as a surprise either. Since the national Occupy Movement is by design rigorously non-violent, and since there has been not one example of occupiers using violence against police, even when attacked, if any of the police spies really heard such talk it had to have been coming either from some provocateur on the payroll of the FBI or one of the plethora of other federal intelligence agencies, or from another of the 12 LAPD undercover cops were so well disguised they didn’t recognize each other. (No such handmade weapons were in evidence during the police assault on the occupation, and no arrests were made of anyone allegedly making such plans.)

The LAPD has a long, sordid history of undercover activity, including provocateur activity, being used against peaceful protesters and anti-establishment groups, dating to the early part of the last century. More recently, the late LAPD police chief Daryl Gates famously operated, first under Chief Ed Davis, when Gates was director of the so-called Public Disorder Intelligence Division (PDID) and later as chief of the department, a massive spying operation that boasted dozens and perhaps over 100 officers working undercover. These cop spies were used not to attack organized or serious crime, but to monitor and gather dossiers on nonviolent political activists, nearly entirely on the left.

In the 1950s, LAPD “red squad” spies regularly infiltrated leftist labor and political organizations considered to be Communist or “fellow travelers” of the CP, as well as civil rights organizations. In the ‘60s, the PDID was used extensively to infiltrate anti-war organizations and black nationalist organizations.

In the mid-1970s, as the anti-war movement faded away, the PDID spy net widened substantially. I had my own experience with the broad reach of this LAPD’s spy unit, when I was a co-founder of a non-sectarian leftist alternative weekly newspaper, the Los Angeles Vanguard.
The LAPD Red Squad spy operation has a long ugly history of repressionThe LAPD Red Squad spy operation has a long ugly history of repression

I and my fellow Vanguard members learned, several years after our venture had folded for economic reasons, that the PDID had sent a young officer tasked to it who was just out of the Police Academy to join our staff as a volunteer. The woman, Connie Milazzo, posed as a journalist wannabe, and asked for assignments, which we dutifully gave her. She also often volunteered to answer the phones in our office when we’d go to lunch — which gave her an opportunity to talk to our sources if they called, and also to rifle our files, which of course were left on our desks.

Even worse, the LAPD, we later learned, went to the executive of an ad agency we had hired to sell corporate ad space for us, and used the drug arrest of his son to extort him and get him to have the person assigned to sell ads for us only pretend to be trying to do so, while collecting a significant part of our weekly revenues. This deceitful tactic succeeded in driving us out of business, as we simply concluded that we could not generate enough co-op ads to support the operation, and folded it in 1978.

When we finally learned, long after the paper had been shut down, of Milazzo’s true identity, and it became clear she had also infiltrated a number of other left groups, it led to a lawsuit by the ACLU of Southern California which uncovered the truth that the PDID had sent out 20 such young officers as spies to infiltrate 200 Los Angeles organizations, including such “dangerous” outfits as the National Organization for Women, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, and the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky!

Much of what the PDID did in its heyday was laughable, in retrospect, but much of it was truly horrible. One undercover operative actually wormed his way into membership in a left-wing political party, and became the live-in lover of a woman member of that group for nearly a year–a long sexual and “romantic” relationship which of course was simply a cynical sham and a cover for the operative (with privileges). This is the depths to which the LAPD can sink. The anti-nuclear movement in LA also reported at the time that a man later identified as one of the PDID spies had been pushing in meetings for acts of sabotage and for violent actions in demonstrations against power plants like Diablo Canyon that later are recognized to face Fukushima-like dangers from earthquakes and tsunamis. No one went along with his suggestions.

The disclosure that the LAPD, with its long history of abuses, was infiltrating the Occupy Movement should lead to an immediate lawsuit against the department to ferret out exactly what these undercover cops actually did. How much of their activity was simply intelligence gathering — bad enough of a violation of the civil rights and First Amendment freedoms of the activists, who were committing no crimes–and how much was provocateur-type work, trying to set the movement, or people in it, up for planning violence against property or the police? We need to know. Hopefully, in addition to filing a lawsuit, the LA Occupy activists will simultaneously conduct an investigation among themselves to try and ascertain who those cops where and what they were saying and doing as they posed as activists.

But the revelation that the LAPD was spying should also alert the Occupy Movement groups across the country that they too were and probably still are being infiltrated and spied on. The pattern of attacks on occupation encampments around the country over the last two weeks has been so similar, and the information about national coordination so convincing already, that it seems almost certain to me at least that it is as likely that police everywhere were spying and perhaps engaging in provocateur activities as we know it was that they shared strategies like attacking encampments at night, using overwhelming numbers, force and violence, applying weapons like pepper spray, rubber bullets and batons, and keeping the press at bay.

It is all of a piece.

My suggestion at this point is that the Occupation Movement, at least in cities where there is a Federal Reserve Bank, which would include San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston, move their operations to those federal properties. That puts the onus for future repression out of the hands of local police and directly on the Obama administration. If nothing else, it eliminates any chance of the Democratic Party trying to co-opt the movement, since any attacks on those encampments would be directly tied to the Obama Administration’s “Justice” Department and Homeland Security Department. Federal Reserve Banks are protected by Federal Reserve Police, who after 9-11 were designated by an act of Congress as Federal Law Enforcement officers. As such they are answerable to the Homeland Security Department and ultimately to the White House.

Like other federal and local police, these guys can be heavily armed. They are also authorized to carry pepper spray, which seems to be the popular weapon of choice for the new American gestapo to use against demonstrators against capitalism’s crimes, so demonstrators should be prepared.

But at least by forcing the federal government to be the assailant in confrontations over demonstrations and occupation encampments, the real enemy will be made more clear. It is not, after all, city governments that have been catering to, empowering and fawning on the corporate oligarchy, but rather the federal government–both Congress and the White House.

An additional benefit of adopting the tactic of occupying federal property is that it would make the charges filed against activists federal, instead of local, and would put the cases in federal courts, where there is at least more of a likelihood than in corrupt state and municipal courts of getting a decent judge who respects the Constitution and its protection of the right of assembly, free speech and address of grievances. This is particularly true in relatively liberal districts like San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.