A long-term undercover intelligence operation hangs in the balance as the District of Columbia appeals a circuit court judge’s ruling ordering the Metro Police Department to reveal the identities of all undercover officers who have infiltrated and become active in a controversial anti-Bush group.
As part of an ongoing intelligence operation, D.C. undercover officers had posed as activists and infiltrated the International Action Center, or IAC, and its affiliates.
The officers attended the center’s meetings, including those held in members’ homes.
Some of the officers have been on long-term assignment and continue to operate undercover and provide law-enforcement agencies with intelligence data.
The D.C. Circuit Court’s order followed a motion filed by the IAC that sought to discover the identities of any undercover officers who had infiltrated the group or its related organizations.
The motion is part of an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2001, charging the U.S. government, the Bush-Cheney Presidential Inaugural Committee and the District of Columbia with constitutional violations. They include the use of government agents provocateurs who allegedly assaulted protesters lining the inauguration parade route, the discriminatory operation of security checkpoints to deny access to protesters and unconstitutional disruption tactics of the police Civil Disturbance Units.
The plaintiffs allege covert law-enforcement personnel beat, pepper-sprayed, intimidated and terrorized peaceful protesters. They also contend a key checkpoint that was supposed to be manned by either the Secret Service or the Metro Police Department was instead delegated to the control of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, a private corporation, that subsequently detained protesters for hours while allowing Bush supporters to pass.
Lawyers from the Partnership for Civil Justice are working the case on behalf of IAC.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the Presidential Inaugural Committee and compensatory damages from the District of Columbia, as well as the filing of various permanent and declaratory injunctions.
What is the IAC?
The IAC describes itself as an unincorporated political association that fights racism, sexism, oppression of “gays,” war and militarism, and the program of the Bush administration.
The group shot to prominence when it created an anti-war coalition named International ANSWER, immediately after 9-11.
ANSWER was formed to combat the “criminal conduct” of the U.S., and went on to organize and dominate the recent anti-war demonstrations.
Some see ANSWER as little more than an ideological tool of the IAC, which key activists and writers on both the right and the left claim is a front for the Workers World Party – a group condemned by critics as hypocritical because of its support of China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian revolution and Tiannemen Square protests, and its adulation of Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-Il.
The IAC and WWP also oppose U.S. interventionism abroad, and act and publish material in support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and National Liberation Army – both of which are labeled terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department.
Adding to the controversy surrounding the group, the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet intelligence community, Ion Mihai Pacepa, recently stated that the Workers World Party was created in 1959 by the KGB’s disinformation department and was tasked with portraying the U.S. as a war-mongering country full of political prisoners.
Pacepa also identified the IAC and ANSWER as front groups for the Workers World Party, something WorldNetDaily reported in November of 2002.
Pacepa says WWP leaders were originally trained and indoctrinated by the KGB overseas. The former intelligence chief defected in 1973 and allows that the group may have taken on a life of its own since then, even as the message remains the same.
Two of the plaintiffs in the case, Larry Holmes and Brian Becker, are described in court documents as co-directors of the IAC.
Both also are decades-long members of the secretariat of the Workers World Party, an affiliation not noted in court filings.
Protest group to ‘evaluate conduct’ of officers
Judge Gladys Kessler agreed with the protesters that revealing the undercover officers’ identities was necessary so IAC leaders could effectively “evaluate” the conduct of the officers and determine whether additional acts of alleged misconduct have occurred.
The Office of the Corporation Counsel – attorneys for the Metro Police Department – is appealing the decision, arguing the plaintiffs have consistently failed to identify the “disruptive conduct” or specify any illegal or otherwise actionable conduct, whether or not they suspect it was committed by an undercover officer.
Assistant Chief of Police Alfred Broadbent previously testified to concerns for the safety of the officers and their families, stating while many protest organizations are peaceful, there had been incidents across the country and locally where police officers have been “seriously injured and even killed.”
The court ruled the assistant chief’s concerns were invalid because he could provide no evidence that the officers would be in danger and because he was unable to identify any violent incidents from members of the organizations being investigated.
Previous attempts by the defendants to obtain through the court names of members of the plaintiffs organizations, political activities of the members and contributor lists were ruled violations of the protesters’ First Amendment rights and were not allowed by the court. The IAC successfully argued the defendants were using the litigation process “for intelligence purposes” and to create “an enemy’s list of all persons who have ever engaged in political dissent.”
Broadbent also voiced concerns that revealing the undercover officers’ identities would end the ongoing intelligence operation: “[This] intelligence information [is used] to make decisions on how to ensure the safety of the citizens and general public.”
The court acknowledged the police department’s concern that such an order would bring its intelligence operation to an end, flatly stating, “The identification of these undercover officers has been ordered by Judge Kessler and this disclosure will effectively terminate any ongoing investigations into the Plaintiff’s organizations being conducted by these officers.”
A subsequent hearing was charged with the seemingly oxymoronic task of choosing a method of “disclosure” that provided maximum confidentiality to the officers: Ten personnel members of the IAC were to be allowed to view photos of the undercover officers, and their aliases were to be revealed.
Also to be revealed, per the judge’s order, were the dates, times and locations of IAC events that the undercover cops had attended.
“I think this says it all about Kessler,” said writer Michael Tremoglie, a former Philadelpia police officer. “She says it is imperative that the Metro D.C. Police Department release confidential information that might endanger the lives of U.S. citizens, yet a government commission cannot release info of possible criminal conduct of labor unions and the Democratic Party.”
Tremoglie was referring to a 2001 decision by Kessler blocking the Federal Election Commission from re-releasing public documents from an FEC probe of AFL-CIO dealings with the Democratic Party. Kessler’s order sought to protect “proprietary information,” including campaign strategies and employees’ names of the DNC.
Kessler also made headlines in August 2002 when she ordered the government to release 9-11 detainees’ names, a decision which was overturned by a federal appeals court.
Appealing the decision
In its appeal, the Office of the Corporation Counsel is arguing while no officer has been harmed, the threat of harm still exists, particularly for an officer who has been in a long-term undercover assignment.
The defendants also argue revealing undercover officers identities’ would “chill” the police department’s ability to recruit officers, who enter such assignments with the understanding and belief that their identity will not be disclosed by the department.
The IAC has contended the intelligence activities are illegal or unconstitutional, alleging such investigations are based not on suspected or potential criminal activity but on the political affiliations and First Amendment conduct of the plaintiffs.
The Metro Police Department states its operations are based on preventing the widespread destruction of property and violence that has occurred at numerous mass demonstrations that preceded the presidential inauguration.
They also have characterized undercover investigations conducted in preparation for inaugural events as seeking to identify, monitor and report on persons and/or groups that may be planning to disrupt the events, threaten property or public safety, or otherwise violate the law:
“[T]he Metropolitan Police Department’s intelligence-gathering methods, including the use of undercover investigations, have been integral to the Department’s success in minimizing property damage, violence and physical injuries at mass demonstrations. In contrast, since November 1999, there has been violence, significant property damage and physical injuries at mass demonstrations throughout the world, including Seattle, Wash.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Prague, Czechoslovakia; Quebec, Canada; and Genoa, Italy.”
The defense has also stated law enforcement’s ability to prepare for and provide security at demonstrations that occur in Washington, D.C. will be impaired if the identity of undercover officers is disclosed and that such intelligence gathering activities have been recognized as lawful for many years.
The defense lawyers argued the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs the IAC’s stated need for disclosure.
Links to terrorist groups
WND asked the Office of the Corporation Counsel what bearing, if any, the IAC’s relationship to terrorist groups had on potential court outcomes.
Peter Levallee, public information officer for the office, indicated they were unaware of any links between the IAC or its affiliates to terrorist groups.
In August 2001, IAC leaders shared their Washington, D.C., protest plans at an El Salvador meeting hosted by the Latin American revolutionary group Farabundo Marti National Liberation of El Salvador, which featured speakers (and attendees) from the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the Revolutionary Forces in the Dominican Republic, the National Liberation Army of Columbia, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The IAC has sent delegations to FARC, met with its leaders, slept in its encampments in the Columbian jungle, videotaped and relayed messages from leaders, agitated in support of the groups’ goals as well as those of the National Liberation Army, and published material in support of the groups.
The Workers World Party has published communiqu?s from military leaders of the Latin American terror groups signed with the slogan, “Liberation or death.”
The International Action Center strongly disagrees with the State Department’s assessment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army as terrorist.
Both groups have made worldwide headlines for assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, disruption of the infrastructure and ties to the drug trade. In addition, a two-month investigation by U.S. News reported support cells for Islamic terrorist groups Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamiyya al Gammat were operating in Venezuela, and the country was in turn aiding Columbian rebels, a conclusion also supported by Gen. James Hill, the head of the U.S. Southern Command.
WND and UPI have also reported on Venezuelan government defectors who allege the Chavez government supports al-Qaida – a concern amplified by Venezuela’s close proximity to the U.S., in particular to Florida.
Wealth of security data turned over
Despite its support of terrorist groups, the International Action Center has succeeded in obtaining, by court order, large amounts of security data related to D.C. police operations and the presidential inauguration.
D.C. has already provided in excess of 1,000 pages of documents, 38 videotapes and numerous photographs and audiotapes related to D.C. police tactics, training and planning and the 2001 presidential inauguration
The information provided by the D.C. Metro Police Department by court order to the IAC so far includes:
- Lesson plans and handbooks on use of aerosol sprays, force and tactical batons;
- Management of Mass Demonstrations, Civil Disturbance Units training documents;
- MPD instruction on use of firearms and other service weapons;
- Portions of Operations Plan, Parade Manual and Civil Disturbance Unit Response Plan for the 54th Inauguration of the President of the United States;
- All rooftop and street-level surveillance videotapes of the presidential inauguration;
- The identities of all of the MPD officers who were detailed for Inauguration Day to intelligence teams;
- Redacted logs from the Synchronized Operations Command Center and the Running Resume for the Inauguration Day intelligence teams; and
- The identification of all plainclothes MPD officers who were detailed for the Inauguration.
Broadbent had previously testified that “disclosing the Department’s intelligence reports, Intelligence Operational Plan or the identity of any undercover officers that may have been conducting an investigation … would undermine significantly the Department’s ability to plan for and provide security at mass demonstrations.”
District defendants object to producing intelligence reports and the Intelligence Operational Plan developed for the presidential inauguration, arguing that it is information protected by law-enforcement privilege.
They point out the need for such a privilege is also recognized in the Freedom of Information Act, which contains an exemption for investigatory records, and that courts have historically recognized their release might create a risk of circumventing the law.
MPD has refused to produce a copy of the department’s training video on “crowd control formations,” arguing it’s not relevant to the case and is information that could be misused to forewarn suspects and suspect groups, providing them with sensitive law-enforcement information, including possible strategies, procedures and directions for confidential investigations.
The IAC has also sought through the court stored images of the presidential inauguration from the Command Center, all departmental e-mails related to the protest and inauguration, and related departmental databases accessed by police officers.
The Metro Police Department has responded that there are no stored images, an e-mail search with related keywords turned up nothing and that the databases are irrelevant to the IAC’s case.
Judge Kessler, who rendered the decision to reveal the undercover officers’ identities and to grant or prohibit discovery requests by both parties, was nominated to her present position by President Bill Clinton in March 1994 and was confirmed by the Senate in June 1994.
Phone calls seeking comment from the Partnership for Civil Justice, legal representatives for the plaintiffs, were not returned.