It is time to be honest about the impact of spying on our quality of life and the future of the planet.

June 25, 2013

By Keith McHenry, co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement
June 25, 2013

“Since when did feeding the homeless become a terrorist activity?” asked ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson on May, 18, 2005. “When the FBI and local law enforcement target groups like Food Not Bombs under the guise of fighting terrorism, many Americans who oppose government policies will be discouraged from speaking out and exercising their rights.”

The information revealed by Edward Snowden is not news to those of us who have been the target of government and corporate intelligence operations. What is new is the much needed discussion about the impact of covert actions by the government and private intelligence programs on our future. Closing down the intelligence industry must be our first priority if we want to solve any of the other crisis we face today.

Domestic spying on the U.S. public is not as benign as its supporters are claiming. The data and personal information that is collected is used to stop a wide range important efforts. Even if not the target of these programs they have had a damaging impact on nearly everyone because those controlling the intelligence industry have used this power to interfere with nearly every effort to change our society for the better. The most important message to understand here is that there is more to surveillance than listening to phone calls and reading emails.  The information collected is used to implement a complex system of programs designed to disrupt and stop perfectly legal community efforts. Changes in our society that you and your friends might support.

The information gathered by the intelligence industry is used more than most people realize to determine the direction of society and the health of our environment. No organization or person is immune from disruption.  As Snowden pointed out “Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.”  The intelligence industry is able to determine the outcome of all important questions facing the public because they can use the information they gather to control people and organizations at every level of society.

My friends and I have been the target of disruptive intelligence operations and have direct experience with the devastation that can result from being the focus of the intelligence industry.  I helped start the Food Not Bombs movement in 1980. We collect organic food that would otherwise be discarded, prepare vegan meals we share on the streets with literature suggesting we could end hunger and poverty if we redirected some of the military budget to healthcare, education and other domestic programs.

Surveillance has real consequences for those of us seeking to change society. I have been the target of a covert campaign of disruption by the intelligence industry since at least 1980 when 32 letters containing checks donated to Food Not Bombs were “damaged in route” by coffee on the stamp end of each envelope. I can only surmise that the authorities needed to make photo copies of the checks. During that same period our neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts reported that they had been questioned by the FBI about our work with Food Not Bombs and the secretary of Cambridge City Council told me that someone from the CIA had asked about me and a protest I was helping organize outside Draper Laboratory on August 6, 1981.

Food Not Bombs was first described as “one of America’s most hardcore terrorist groups” in the fall of 1988 during a three day training course for the National Guard on the threat of domestic terrorism.  Even though we had been under investigation before 1988 the formation of a second Food Not Bombs chapter seemed to be threat to the authorities. A threat described in a 2009 State Department lecture that claimed we were more dangerous  than Al-Qaeda because Americans visiting our meals were being moved to support a reduction in military spending.

An internal police memo dated September 27, 1988 explained that the information they over heard by listening to a telephone conversation I had with a friend in Boston ” was a great asset to ” their investigation. My friend and I expressed excitement about the fact that Food Not Bombs would be sharing food at protests against the war in El Salvador on October 15th in Boston, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The first time Food Not Bombs would be providing food at  protests in three cities on the same day.  The police were able to interpret our conversation to support their plan to beat and arrest me during a protest against the war in El Salvador on October 15, 1988.

The memo to Deputy Chief Frank Reed Patrol Bureau from Acting Captain Richard Holder Commanding Officer at Park Station reads in part as follows. (this memo can be seen at
“As per your request, I have conducted an investigation regarding the planned activity of the “Food Not Bombs” organization on October 15, 1988 at the Presidio. During my investigation, I was able to obtain the private phone number of “Food Not Bombs” organizer, Keith McHenry, who unknowingly was a great asset to this investigation.”

“As part of a nationwide anti-war protest scheduled for October 15, 1988, “Food Not Bombs”, plans to blockade all the entrances to the Presidio to support similar activity at the Pentagon and other military organizations. The goal is to shut down the Presidio all day by blocking and feeding demonstrators at the gates to the post. “Food Not Bombs” anticipates that this demonstration will draw more participants, 3000, than the last major demonstration at the Presidio on 03/26/88.” I was sharing meals at the Nevada Test Site on March 26th and had not taken part in the planning of the protest at the Presidio. All we had planned to do was provide lunch to those participating in the protest.
A local activist videotaped the October 15th protest filming a “protester” as he threw a metal police barricade at a line of riot police. The video that we now call “The Food Not Bombs Greatest Hits” shows that he was dressed in the same type of clothing I had also worn that day. The video also shows the same man walking through a group of protesters pointing out the “organizers” to a squad of riot police that would arrest those he fingered. Protesters were upset at his actions and started to yell at him. The film shows him backing up against my truck as the activists yell at him for fingering the organizers. This was interrupted by more yelling as the people who were helping me pack up the Food Not Bombs supplies became upset at being pushed aside by riot police on their way to smash me to the pavement and arrested on charges of throwing a barricade at the police. The charges were dropped but I sustained many more arrests and beatings over the following ten years all facilitated by information obtained covertly from programs similar to those exposed by Snowden, Hammond and the other whistle blowers being prosecuted by the Obama administration. At no time did the authorities provide evidence that a warrant had been obtained for the many cases of my phone, email and personal effects being monitored.

The information gathered on me and my friends has been used to formulate plans to deny us permits, create disinformation campaigns, and prepare for our arrests and beatings while sharing food or supporting protests. On one occasion the police arrived to a rally against cuts in San Francisco General Hospital walked up to me hitting me with a large metal flashlight before throwing me to the ground. My attorney suggested this was done to discourage coalition building. Information covertly collected by the authorities have been used to develop smear campaigns that have reduced financial support for Food Not Bombs.  Knowledge of my schedule was used to stop me on my way home from work where I would be arrested and taken to the Special Operations office at 850 Bryant Street in San Francisco where  my clothes were torn off of me before being lifted by my arms and legs and smashed against the concrete floor as my tendons and ligaments were torn. I was placed in a tiny stress position cage for several days. Oddly I was not questioned even though the process is classified as “Information Extraction.”  Information collected by intelligence operatives on other occasions were used to formulate a plan to frame me on violent or serious felonies where I faced 25 to life in prison and did more than 500 days in jail.

The intelligence industry has also worked to disrupt the work of many other Food Not Bombs volunteers.  One of the  first high profile attempts to frame and discredit one of our volunteers was the case against Connor Cash in Long Island accused of recruiting his high school friends to burn down some model homes in a disputed wetlands in 2000. He was acquitted by a jury on all charges in May 2004 but not before the media had associated Food Not Bombs and him as belonging to a terrorist cell.

Soon after Connor was prosecuted by Federal authorities in New York Food Not Bombs activists Josh Connole was arrested on September 12, 2003 as a suspect in the arson of 133 Hummers and other SUV’s at a Chevrolet-Hummer dealership in West Covina, California. Four days later, Caltech Physics Grad Student, Billy Cottrell, was arrested after emailing the media that Josh was not responsible. His case is a perfect example of how false information collected covertly can be used to falsely accuse some one of terrorism and aid in creating at basis for additional restrictions on our rights. Connole became a suspect after a neighbor became suspicious based on his anti-war politics, and electric car, then called in a tip. The police had cultivated a citizen watch program used to target activists.

The media in Orange County reported that “Agents placed the commune under surveillance and developed a political profile of the residents, discovering the owner of the house and his father have posted statements on websites opposing the use of fossil fuels.”   An officer monitoring the activities of Connole and his roommates told reporters that after watching the house they discovered that  “the owner had ties to a local chapter of Food Not Bombs, an anarcho-vegan food distribution group.” The FBI settled a civil rights lawsuit with Josh by paying him $100,000 and the city of West Covina paid him an additional $20,000 for false arrest. US Attorney General John Ashcroft spent the month of September 2003 touring the United States speaking to the media about the need for stronger anti-terrorism laws using the case of Josh Connole, and the arson in West Covina as the example of the extreme dangers facing America.

Even though there was no evidence that Food Not Bombs was planning to violate any laws the FBI paid an informant Anna at least sixty thousands dollars to infiltrate our movement. The FBI directed Anna to pretend to be interested in Eric McDavid. The FBI paid her to draw Food Not Bombs volunteers Eric McDavid, Lauren Weiner, and Zachary Jenson into a plot to bomb dams, banks and other targets. They refused but were arrested anyway. Eric was sentenced to 20 years in prison after the FBI pitted Wren against Eric. They used the information they gained through electronic surveillance and Anna against Wren knowing that she cared deeply for Eric and would be angry that he was attracted to the informant.

ACLU Attorney Mark Silverman showed an Australian journalist the FBI memos that detailed the government’s campaign to frighten Food Not Bombs volunteers from participating in the 2004 gathering. F.B.I. agents in Colorado, Kanas and Missouri made visits to people who were planing to attend questioning them about legal activities. The activists in Lawrence, Kansas stopped doing Food Not Bombs all together after the visit.   The FBI didn’t stop investigating and intimidating Denver Food Not Bombs once they had disrupted the World Gathering. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a December 7, 2004 FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) documents about an FBI “routine” investigation into Food Not Bombs. A December 7, 2004 memo to the Denver FBI office from a Denver Squad 5/JTTF Special Agent reads, “Synopsis: To document information regarding Sarah Bardwell and Food Not Bombs.”

It goes on to say “Details: as previously noted in serial 4, Colorado has several active Food Not Bombs (FNB) groups in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Durango.”
The memo continues, “On August 1, 2003, eight individuals were arrested at the so-called Denver FNB house at 1435 Lipan Street. The Charges included obstruction police/fire, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and assault. These arrests were noted in this investigation due to (i) the close association between FNB and Anarchist Black Cross movement and (ii) the close proximity of the FNB house to 923 Lipan Street, the location of the Anarchist Black Cross Denver.”  As it turned out the flyer announcing the formation of Anarchist Black Cross Denver was published by the F.B.I. to provide probable cause for the investigation.

On March 8, 2006 FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent G. Charles Rasner  gave a presentation entitled “Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Texas” to a U.S. Law and National Security class at the University of Texas School of Law. He used PowerPoint slides to illustrate the nature of the terrorist threat in Central Texas. Rasner listed Indymedia, Food Not Bombs, and the Communist Party of Texas as “Terrorist Watch” cause groups in Austin. The word “Unclassified” appeared prominently in bold red letters on the opening PowerPoint slide.

In the year before the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis the F.B.I. and local authorities infiltrated Food Not Bombs and the RNC Welcoming Committee. Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Officer Marilyn Hedstrom used the name “Norma Jean Johnson” joined Food Not Bombs claiming she loved dumpster diving and had recently been divorced. She and the other informants  Ramsey County Corrections Officer Rachel Nieting known by local activist as “Amanda Clara” or  “Amanda Amey,”Chris Dugger and Andrew Darst would “joke” about bombing the police or Republican delegates while participating in meetings with Food Not Bombs.  Their statements suggesting the use of violence were used to request a warrant against the RNC Welcoming Committee.  The Food Not Bombs house was raided the day before the conference and eight volunteers were charged under the state’s Patriot Act.

Most recently the use of covertly collected information from programs like those exposed by Snowden were used to disrupt Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund reported that “FBI documents revealed that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at Occupy protests.”

“FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.”
The infiltration and surveillance on the occupations included a campaign in Cleveland organized by the  FBI office in the Northern District of Ohio. Brandon Baxter and  Connor Stevens cooked with Cleveland Food Not Bombs and helped cook for the occupation. I had worked with them from time to time. The FBI targeted five cooks at Occupy Cleveland sending an agent and paid informant Shaquille Azir to the kitchen on October 21, 2011. Azir had had a 20 year criminal history and was paid by the FBI to encourage the occupiers to participate in a bombing plot. The FBI was able to involve them in their May Day plot to bomb a bridge after offering the money, beer and showers.

Terry Gilbert, Stevens’ defense attorney, told reporters that he wondered why the FBI  would send “a plant into a peaceful demonstration with a very ambiguous claim of criminal behavior. Once you get an informant in there, they have every motive to get a case. They are trying to make money or are working off a criminal case.”
Arun Gupta’s December 1, 20012 article in “The Guardian” outline the FBI’s effort to recruit Occupy activists for their campaign to discredit the movement.  He reports that ” After Hayne agreed to testify, Wright, Baxter and Stevens accepted guilty pleas 5 September, gambling that Dowd would reduce their sentences based on mitigating factors. But this nixed the defense plan to argue entrapment, detailing how Shaquille Azir, a paid FBI informant with a 20-year criminal record, facilitated every step in the plot.”

“Azir molded the five’s childish bravado and drunken fantasies into terrorism. He played father figure to the lost men, providing them with jobs, housing, beer and drugs. Every time the scheme threatened to collapse into gutterpunk chaos, he kept it on track.”

“FBI tapes reveal Azir led the brainstorming of targets, showed them bridges to case out, pushed them to buy C-4 military-grade explosives, provided the contact for weapons, gave them money for the explosives and demanded they develop a plan because “we on the hook” for the weapons. At one point, Azir burst out in frustration at their ineptitude: “every time we meet, we leave saying, we’re doing some research. And then get back together and go back to square one.”
There was a concerted effort to reestablish the occupations on May Day but news stories about the Cleveland bombing plot, Black Bloc destruction in Seattle and Oakland and a phony story about the mailing of a suspicious white powder having been mailed to bankers in New York City made the news that morning portraying our movement as violent. This nationwide coordinated effort by the Obama administration was enough to stop our attempt  to re-occupy the public square.
The investigation released by the  DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy in May 2013 details more about the impact that  intelligence operations like those exposed by Snowden and Hammond can have on constitutionally protected protest.  The report details the use of “fusion centers” to coordinate the disruption of the occupations. This was not the first time “fusions centers” focused on disrupting community efforts. In August 2009 Food Not Bombs organizer  Brendan Maslauskas Dunn learned that his friend John Jacob was in fact  military intelligence officer John J Towery working at the Force Protection Unit and Fusion Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) directed by his superiors to infiltrate the anti-war group Port Militarization Resistance (PMR), Food Not Bombs, and anarchists groups in Olympia and Tacoma. Dunn told me about his friend John and his help in organizing the protests against the shipment of weapons to Iraq when I spoke in Tacoma. Dunn told me John  was a janitor at the base providing valuable information on the movement of armored vehicles to ships in the Puget Sound.  It is easy to understand how devastated he would be on learning John’s true identity.
The documents in the 20013 report “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street” show that corporate and government intelligence operations coordinate their efforts to disrupt community organizing that  if not interfered with could be of value to most Americans.  The authorities claim that the military can assist in disrupting the democratic process if their agents are assigned to a “fusion center” justifying the introduction of the military in domestic spying.
Most chilling are the FBI’s documents regarding their surveillance of the Occupy protests obtained by The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that stated that someone “planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”  The names of those planning to kill the perceived leadership of the occupation was redacted by the FBI.

The examples of intelligence operations implemented against myself and the other Food Not Bombs volunteers could fill a book, a book I have been writing for over a year already. Friends like Hugh Mejia have killed themselves as a result of the stress and lies generated by some of intelligence programs I will outline.  Others like Michael Taylor  have been murdered and still others like Eric McDavid and Jeremy Hammond  languish in prison. Many others have given up trying to seek to change society.  I am reminded every day of the very real harm caused by the intelligence industry and facilitated by the not so benign surveillance  programs like those now being debated.

On June 24th Ed Schultz  told his radio audience that he thought Snowden should return to the United States saying he could get a fair trial but it is clear that Snowden was correct to reveal news of the NSA programs from a hotel room in Hong Kong. There is no way he could have gotten a fair trial in the United States.  Even with Amnesty International announcing I would be considered a prisoner of conscience I could not get a fair trial and all I had done was suggest we divert our taxes from paying for the military to healthcare and education. With Senators and congress people claiming Snowden is a traitor he would be crazy to come anywhere near the United States. Snowden must have known about the brutal treatment of Bradley Manning for providing evidence of war crimes to Wikileaks.  If the United States could capture Julian Assange he would also face life in prison for the “crime” of  exposing the criminal actions of those in power and consider the fate of  Food Not Bombs activist Jeremy Hammond, prosecuted for sharing details about the work of the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting Inc. or Stratfor with Wikileaks. He faced life in prison and has been held without bail since his arrest in March 2011, often in solitary confinement. He was pressured into pleading guilty in exchange for the lighter sentence of ten years in prison. The Stratfor files show that there is has been a global program of surveillance designed to protect the interest of transnational corporations and their government supporters from legal community opposition. Even before brave people like Manning,  Hammond and Snowden exposed the extent to which the intelligence industry is collecting information about the public those of us that had been working for change had direct experience with covert efforts to stop our progress.

Almost any threat to corporate power can inspire the system to start a program of disruption using information covertly collected by the intelligence industry to inform their strategy.  San Francisco Food Not Bombs had less than ten volunteers and shared vegan meals once a week at Golden Gate Park when the full force of the intelligence industry first implanted their covert war against our totally innocent project. Fortunately their efforts back fired as we can see time and time again and their unreasonable campaign against us inspired solidarity and the formation of Food Not Bombs groups in over 1,000 other cities.
There are no limits to the methods deployed by government and corporate security departments in defense of profit and power.  No one is immune. Not judges, politicians or lawyers. Information can be manipulated against even the most powerful.  Information collected on those working for the environment, animals, civil rights, peace and justice have faced  brutal campaigns of infiltration, criminal prosecution, disinformation, injury, and even death.
Imagine if the security forces had not used billions of our tax dollars to interfere with efforts of concerned individuals, community groups and social movements. We may have transitioned to sustainable energy decades ago and would not be confronted with extreme weather, massive forest fires, droughts and the climate crisis. Efforts to improve the economic system could have saved millions of Americans from foreclosure had the intelligence community not subverted organizations working to build popular support for changes in banking policies.  Every American might have the benefits of universal healthcare and affordable education. Instead of one out of two Americans struggling to survive most of us could be living relaxed lives of dignity.  Millions of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan might be alive today if the intelligence industry had not interfered with the peace movement. The threat of an attack on the United States by people angry from decades of war would never have become a reality.

Almost every aspect of society has been manipulated by the intelligence industry. Not one reform of our political or economic system is possible as long as we are subjected to the surveillance state. We will never have freedom and democracy until we dismantle the web of intelligence programs that control our society. Closing down the intelligence industry must be our first priority if we want to solve any of the other crisis we face today.


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