Recently released FBI files about the Occupy movement do not reveal the kind of dirty tricks J. Edgar Hoover's bureau used against demonstrators in the Bay Area during the '60s, but they present some striking parallels to those dark days and have rightly raised concern among civil libertarians.
Though fragmentary, the records provide a window on the FBI's monitoring of protest and show that over the decades the machinery of surveillance remains much the same, even as expanded intelligence powers and technological advances magnify potential abuse.
As in the '60s, the FBI reports use sweeping language like "potential terrorist threat" to characterize nonviolent dissent. As then, the bureau exchanges information with a vast network of federal agencies, state and local police, campus cops and corporate security. And once again the FBI is invoking great secrecy. Such activity, Congress found in the '70s, contributed to massive intelligence abuses.
The FBI released 99 heavily redacted pages and withheld 288 more in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a public-interest legal organization in Washington, D.C. The records show the complexity and contingencies in government preparation for demonstrations that could disrupt businesses and public places. They reflect official concern about violent individuals possibly joining protests unbeknown to protest planners, as well as opponents' threats against Occupy.