Profiles of Provocateurs

This week Kristian Williams, the author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America Recent published a collection of short case studies on Portland IMC regarding the use of agents provocateurs, including warning signs and practical advice. Click here for the full article. An excerpt of Williams’ article follows:

A recent article in Seattle’s Stranger detailed a long-term police operation to monitor, infiltrate, and entrap activists in Seattle: The Long Con,” by Brendan Kiley, May 4, 2011.

The story is long, convoluted, and more than a little absurd; it’s all rather like the plot of a Coen Brothers’ movie. But the short version is that an undercover Seattle cop infiltrated an after-hours party scene—what prosecutors called “underground illegal gambling enterprises (concurrent with illegal liquor sales).” (All quotes in this section are from the Stranger article.) The SPD hoped to find some dirt on local politicians, the FBI hoped to find a connection to the Earth Liberation Front, and after two years they finally managed to hook someone with a drug scam:

“Bryan [Owens] had been pushing Rick [Wilson]—and everyone in their social set—for years to help him buy ever-larger amounts of cocaine. . . . he tried to play on people’s greed. ‘He’s like, “I can make you a millionaire,”‘ Rick remembers. . . . ‘He said he would pay for the drugs and I would take no financial risk. I told him to go fuck himself. He kept pestering me. I did, to my eternal shame, help him out,’ Rick says. ‘I asked around to some people who asked around to some people who eventually gave him some.'”

Owens then asked Wilson to come along when the exchange happened, just in case things went bad. On the way, a SWAT team surrounded Wilson’s car and arrested him. It turns out Bryan Owens, purported trust fund kid and environmental activist, is really Bryan Van Brunt, Seattle Police Detective.

When Wilson was interrogated, the cops were particularly interested in asking about the ELF. They told him, “We have hundreds of hours of surveillance, wire, video. . . .” The Stranger adds, “SPD surveillance logs show that police were following the families of suspects, their sisters and mothers, and that some family members’ homes . . . were raided and turned upside down for evidence.”

Wilson was convicted of the drug crime, and also of an unrelated offense he’d committed years earlier—running guns to Chiapas for the EZLN. He was sentenced to 40 months. A handful of other party regulars were charged with “professional gambling in the first degree.”

The usual criticisms—that these sorts of operations waste money, only stop crimes that the cops themselves create, and threaten our freedom—have already been made elsewhere. So I want to turn instead to the question of how activists might avoid this sort of infiltration and entrapment. After all, it makes no difference whether you take technical precautions like encrypting your email if it is your co-conspirator who is collecting the evidence against you.

With this in mind, Williams’ case studies sum up three recent cases involving the use of provocateurs against the anarchist and radical environmentalist movements. He also points out some of the warning signs that should have made people wary. Once again,  click here for the full article. And then pass it on…

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