Spying Documents Demanded Under Public Interest FOIA

By Pam Martens: July 10, 2013 

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to learn further details about the mass surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden. The nonprofit organization is demanding to know the scope of the programs, their operating guidelines and procedures, the retention of data collected through such programs, and internal evaluations attempting to justify these programs’ legality and constitutionality. 

The FOIA request reads in part: “The people of the United States have an urgent need for disclosure of the requested information regarding what appears to be the largest covert surveillance program directed against them in U.S. history. The U.S. government and its agencies that are carrying out these unprecedented surveillance programs are not entitled to hide these programs from the public.” 

In April, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund released new documents it obtained under a FOIA filing with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The documents showed that DHS, the sprawling Federal agency ostensibly created to combat terrorism after the September 11 attacks, routinely spies on peaceful First Amendment activities and required daily briefings on the extent of media attention being given to Occupy Wall Street activities.  

The Occupy documents showed that DHS was interested in the movement’s ability to gain momentum through social media. In an October 2011 memo, an agent wrote: 

“A distinct feature of OWS is how it was born from online organization and continues to use social media to spread its message, organize further protests, and keep protesters connected. OWS and the broader Occupy Together movement that organizes protests in other cities use services such as Twitter, Tumblr, Meetup, and Facebook to this end, as well as having set up a live video feed of the OWS encampment in New York. Announcements, videos, and images are all collected and disseminated via these social networks as well as on the OWS Web site.” 

Another memo notes: 

“Social media and the organic emergence of online communities have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement. In New York, OWS leaders have also formed ad hoc committees to organize protesters and manage communications, logistics, and security. The OWS encampment in Zucotti Park features a medical station, distribution point for food and water, and a media center complete with generators and wireless Internet. Organizers hold general assembly meetings twice a day and have established committees and working groups including an Internet Working Group and a Direct Action Committee, which plans protest activities and works to maintain peaceful and controlled demonstrations. This high level of organization has allowed OWS to sustain its operations, disseminate its message, and garner increasing levels of support.” 

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