FBI recruiting informants to spy on RNC protest groups
COINTELPRO Déjà Vu: FBI Recruits Informers for the RNC
In a way, you have to feel for Paul Carroll. Not because he was busted for the minor crime of spray-painting the interior of a campus elevator. But for what happened to him after he was charged with a gross misdemeanor. As Matt Snyders, writing for City Pages, tells it Carroll was asked to meet with an FBI agent in a local coffee shop. Carroll, not the vandal’s real name, was offered an assignment by FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola, apparently her real name: to work as an informant.
For me, Carroll’s story serves up a large dose of déjà vu, taking me momentarily back to the early 1970s when the FBI, under COINTELPRO, did this sort of stuff on a regular basis. As an antiwar activist, I witnessed a lot of this as Nixon, the FBI, the CIA, and military intelligence attempted to “neutralize,” as the FBI liked to call it, people exercising their First Amendment right to petition the government.
Back in the day, as you may likely assume, such petitioning concerned the war in Vietnam, in particular Nixon’s attack into Cambodia, which he announced on April 30, 1970. A year later, a “Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI” removed secret files from an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and released them to the press. In short order we learned about the FBI’s dirty tricks, including infiltration of political groups, psychological warfare against targeted activists, harassment through the legal system, and even “extralegal” violence directed at dissidents, especially the Black Panthers, members of the American Indian Movement, and Puerto Rican activists. In dealing with the latter folks, nothing was out of the ordinary, including assassination. For instance, on December 3, 1969, Fred Hampton of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party was drugged by the FBI and then assassinated by the Chicago cops.
After the Citizens Committee spilled the beans on the FBI, the Church Committee was empaneled and after hearings and a published report we were told the FBI had reformed and the FBI had dismantled COINTELRPO a couple years before, in 1971. As members of the Church Committee discovered, under COINTELPRO’s “key activist” program, specific antiwar activists were put under “intensive investigation,” that is to say they were to be “neutralized,” not for specific or prosecutable criminal acts but because they opposed the Vietnam War.
“Neutralization, as explained on record by the FBI, doesn’t necessarily pertain to the apprehension of parties in the commission of a crime, the preparation of evidence against them, and securing of a judicial conviction, but rather to simply making them incapable of engaging in political activity by whatever means,” writes Paul Wolf.
Soon enough, though, the FBI would not need lurk around in the dark in order to betray the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. On December 4, 1981, Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, essentially legalizing COINTELPRO.
According to Ross Gelbspan in his book Break-Ins, Death Threats And The FBI, activists who opposed U.S. policy in Central America “experienced nearly 200 incidents of harassment and intimidation, many involving… break-ins and thefts or rifling of files.” Gelbspan is not a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist. He utilized thousands of pages of FBI documents secured through the Freedom of Information Act. In particular, according to a former FBI informant, Frank Varelli, the FBI went after CISPES, or the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. The FBI found it “imperative to formulate some plan of attack against CISPES,” not because of its suspected involvement in terrorism or criminal activity, but because of its association with “individuals [deleted] who defiantly display their contempt for the U.S. government by making speeches and propagandizing their cause,” in other words individuals who dared exercise their First Amendment right.
And then, in the 1990s, there was “Operation Thermcon” (”Thermite Conspiracy”) against environmental activists, specifically Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, victims of a car bombing allegedly pulled off by the FBI. “My own knowledge is that the FBI along with other Federal law enforcement agencies has been involved in a campaign of bombing, arson and terrorism in order to create in the mass public mind a connection between political dissidence of whatever stripe and revolutionaries of whatever violent tendencies,” former FBI agent provocateur David Sannes told WBAI radio.
That was then, this is now. Now we live in the wake of September 11, 2001, and a lot of people expect the government to go after terrorists, even American terrorists opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Of course, this makes sense, as there really is a dire shortage of Muslim terrorists lurking in the shadows here in America, and besides, first and foremost the FBI has served since its inception as a political police for the government, assigned to take down opponents. In fact, when the Justice Department created the Bureau of Investigation of its General Intelligence Division in 1919, headed up by a young and ambitious J. Edgar Hoover, one of its first assignments was to go after anarchists and “radical leftists.” This assignment was known as the Palmer Raids, named after Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson’s AG. Ever since, the FBI has served as a political police. In the intervening years the CIA and military intelligence have piled on.
So this brings us back to Paul Carroll and FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola. “She told me that I had the perfect ‘look,’” Carroll told Snyders of City Pages. “And that I had the perfect personality — they kept saying I was friendly and personable — for what they were looking for.” And what precisely was the FBI looking for? “What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant — someone to show up at ‘vegan potlucks’ throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protesters, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort’s primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division’s website, is to ‘investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines,’” guidelines obviously at odds with the Constitution, specifically the following, set out in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” you know, grievances such as the government invading small helpless countries and killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.
Considering all of this, it is perfectly rational to assume there are “perfect look” informers and, for lack of a better word “neutralizers,” in the antiwar, patriot, and 9/11 truth movements, people unable or unwilling to turn down the likes of FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, as did Mr. Carroll, or whatever his real name is. On occasion, such people rise to the surface and reveal themselves, as a certain provocateur does every time We Are Change visits Ground Zero in New York. In fact, it appears, at least within the ranks of the patriot and 9/11 movements, there is no shortage of “neutralizers,” informers, provocateurs, and disinfo agents. As the above instance reveals, the FBI is actively attempting to recruit people to discredit and even tag as terrorists demonstrators at the RNC.
Of course, the same is underway in regard to the Democrat convention in Denver, Colorado. It’s called “Recreate 68″ and promises to rival the bloody 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and the so-called “Days of Rage.” It may well do so, and thus discredit the larger antiwar movement, as the SDS and other infiltrated, compromised, and commandeered groups did in the 1960s and 70s at the behest of the government.
For as Paul Carroll’s story sadly reveals, some things never change.
In preparation for the Republican National Convention, the FBI is soliciting informants to keep tabs on local protest groups
Paul Carroll was riding his bike when his cell phone vibrated.
Once he arrived home from the Hennepin County Courthouse, where he’d been served a gross misdemeanor for spray-painting the interior of a campus elevator, the lanky, wavy-haired University of Minnesota sophomore flipped open his phone and checked his messages. He was greeted by a voice he recognized immediately. It belonged to U of M Police Sgt. Erik Swanson, the officer to whom Carroll had turned himself in just three weeks earlier. When Carroll called back, Swanson asked him to meet at a coffee shop later that day, going on to assure a wary Carroll that he wasn’t in trouble.
Carroll, who requested that his real name not be used, showed up early and waited anxiously for Swanson’s arrival. Ten minutes later, he says, a casually dressed Swanson showed up, flanked by a woman whom he introduced as FBI Special Agent Maureen E. Mazzola. For the next 20 minutes, Mazzola would do most of the talking.
“She told me that I had the perfect ‘look,’” recalls Carroll. “And that I had the perfect personality—they kept saying I was friendly and personable—for what they were looking for.”
What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant—someone to show up at “vegan potlucks” throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort’s primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division’s website, is to “investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines.”
Carroll would be compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest. No exact dollar figure was offered.
“I’ll pass,” said Carroll.
For 10 more minutes, Mazzola and Swanson tried to sway him. He remained obstinate.
“Well, if you change your mind, call this number,” said Mazzola, handing him her card with her cell phone number scribbled on the back.
(Mazzola, Swanson, and the FBI did not return numerous calls seeking comment.)
Carroll’s story echoes a familiar theme. During the lead-up the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division infiltrated and spied on protest groups across the country, as well as in Canada and Europe. The program’s scope extended to explicitly nonviolent groups, including street theater troupes and church organizations.
There were also two reported instances of police officers, dressed as protestors, purposefully instigating clashes. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, the NYPD orchestrated a fake arrest to incite protestors. When a blond man was “arrested,” nearby protestors began shouting, “Let him go!” The helmeted police proceeded to push back against the crowd with batons and arrested at least two. In a similar instance, during an April 29, 2005, Critical Mass bike ride in New York, video footage captured a “protestor”—in reality an undercover cop—telling his captor, “I’m on the job,” and being subsequently let go.
Minneapolis’s own recent Critical Mass skirmish was allegedly initiated by two unidentified stragglers in hoods—one wearing a handkerchief over his or her face—who “began to make aggressive moves” near the back of the pack. During that humid August 31 evening, officers went on to arrest 19 cyclists while unleashing pepper spray into the faces of bystanders. The hooded duo was never apprehended.
In the scuffle’s wake, conspiracy theories swirled that the unprecedented surveillance—squad cars from multiple agencies and a helicopter hovering overhead—was due to the presence of RNC protesters in the ride. The MPD publicly denied this. But during the trial of cyclist Gus Ganley, MPD Sgt. David Stichter testified that a task force had been created to monitor the August 31 ride and that the department knew that members of an RNC protest group would be along for the ride.
“This is all part of a larger government effort to quell political dissent,” says Jordan Kushner, an attorney who represented Ganley and other Critical Mass arrestees. “The Joint Terrorism Task Force is another example of using the buzzword ‘terrorism’ as a basis to clamp down on people’s freedoms and push forward a more authoritarian government.”
City Pages is the Online News and Arts Weekly of the Twin Cities