Valley law enforcement’s internet “Red Squad” takes center stage at International Social Media and Surveillance Conference

from Down and Drought

A group of law enforcement officers who coordinated the crackdown on Occupy Phoenix, and regularly monitor the pages of activists through internet surveillance, are scheduled speakers at next week’s “Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement” (SMILE) three day conference.  The Phoenix Police Department are the host agency for this year’s conference,  Detective CJ Wren and  Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO) All Hazards Analyst Brenda Dowhan will be representing Phoenix,  Detective Chris Adamczyk, a TLO from Mesa Police Department will also be presenting.

What they will be presenting on, should be of interest to anyone concerned with the powers given to police agencies to spy and collect information on individuals and groups engaged in political activity.  While the justification has been provided that these departments are concerned with anarchists and “criminal activists,” much of the documentation surrounding Occupy Phoenix revealed that these individuals and their respective police organizations (Phoenix PD and Mesa PD coordinating with other departments through the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC)) were using secretive technologies to identify individuals who merely criticized department policy.

Journalist Beau Hodai obtained thousands of pages of documents from various law enforcement agencies on the varied multi-agency responses to  Occupy Phoenix, and related events.  What Hodai learned was that the counter-terrorism infrastructure established in Arizona, through the ACTIC fusion center, worked closely with corporate partners to pass information along information on protests being organized against them.

We made good use of the Hodai’s source materials, which were generously posted online, to write a series of stories that Hodai had not covered, including the revelations that a co-owner of Changing Hands Books was passing information about Occupy Phoenix along to the Phoenix PD.  Another unsettling story we covered was on the Facial Recognition Unit within ACTIC that was using a facial recognition software to scan the state’s drivers license database to identify participants in protests, using photos found on social media.  Given that most of the information regarding the activities of ACTIC, and the TLOs involved in targeting Occupy Phoenix, is approaching four years old, the upcoming SMILE conference affords us the opportunity to shine a light on these digital spies.  Here are some highlights from the conference agenda:

TLO All Hazards Analyst Brenda Dowhan is giving a presentation on Using Social Media for Event Planning and Real-time Monitoring, in her event description Dowhan advocates for “pro-active policing,” citing an anti-police protest as an event which “could impact public safety and the community.”  Given what we know from Dowhan’s history with the Occupy protests, anarchist events, and marches affiliated with indigenous causes, her objective is not to merely pass along information to other regional TLOs about a possible protest or activist gathering, but to coordinate disruption.  Hodai noted in his “Dissent or Terror” article that after Tempe Homeland Defense Unit Detective Derek Pittam wrote of a guerrilla gardening event successfully disrupted by Tempe police, Dowhan responded with “Good to hear. Every site I’ve been on, they know that we are watching them.”

Dowhan was often aided by Mesa Detective Chris Adamczyk, a TLO and self-described expert in “subversive organizations.”  Adamczyk will also be presenting to other officers on the topic of  Unmask the Movement: Using social media to assess the risks of subversive organizations.  In his description, Adamczyk laughably describes the “dark side of social media,” the world of street gangs, syndicates, criminal activists, and terror organizations. In addition to his obsessing over the Facebook page of Food Not Bombs, Adamczyk has launched a private enterprise to share his unique skill set.  His website and smartphone app, called the Protestus Project, claims to be”making sense of the world of activism,” but for who?  The site is updated infrequently, and appears to rely of the same open source information that Adamczyk receives on the daily from his position as a TLO at the Mesa Police Department.  The website and app are uneven in what information is shared, for example the website documents an activist group involved in recent anti-police protests and provides analysis of the local Black Lives Matter/Rumain Brisbon protests, while the app appears to be an alphabetized threat assessment of local activist groups.  It’s unclear if Detective Adamczyk writes all content for the website or app.

Perhaps nothing is more humorous than the presentation given by Detective CJ Wren on Stalking 2.0 ~ Stalking in the Social Media Era, which is apparently about a man who found 30 social media pages belonging to the police and saved the info to disk, and why police officers should lock down their social media profiles.  Detective Wren is the Arizona Chapter President at Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, and Law Enforcement President of the Arizona Terrorism Liaison Association.  Despite Detective Wren’s counter-terrorism expertise and his online privacy tips for law enforcement, a simple Google search reveals that Wren himself has a revealing social media footprint.  Perhaps he should consider using his own online activities as a case study!  This is all the more laughable considering his employment (along with Dowhan and Adamczyk) relies on him stalking radicals, anarchists, indigenous activists, and immigrant rights groups on their respective social media pages and storing the information forever through a joint partnership with the Federal government.

Detective Wren would like to have it both ways; an open internet for for Wren, Dowhan, and Adamczyk to prowl, collecting “open source intelligence” to share with their TLO partners and the FBI through ACTIC; and, under the justification of officer safety,  a closed internet to protect the identities, actions, and opinions of police officers, shielding them from criticism. These agents of the law are speaking at SMILE because they are skilled in the use of surveillance, disruption, and repression to halt protests and groups opposed to the actions of government and business.

Creepy name aside, networking hubs such as SMILE, the ACTIC fusion center, and the activities of the anti-protest “Red Squad” counter-terrorism departments must be dragged out into the light.  The increasing efforts of local police departments to spy on and disrupt the efforts of activist groups and political protest goes hand in hand with the riot police using military equipment to intimidate and control people when they sign off from the internet and take to the streets.