Documents obtained by Lucy Parsons Labs under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) appear to confirm the US government is aggressively investigating a journalism non-profit as “criminal hackers” for publishing original reporting.
The documents, first obtained and published by the transparency non-profit Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS), provide an intimate look into police agencies and fusion centers across the country. Established after 9/11 to disrupt terrorism plots, fusion centers have instead been challenged for massive privacy and civil liberties violations. DDoS obtained over 270 gigabytes of data from fusion centers and police departments and published the release in what it billed the #BlueLeaks release.
Journalists and researchers immediately started combing through the BlueLeaks release to reveal that police were obsessed with left-wing movements and ignoring far-right domestic extremism. BlueLeaks further revealed that law enforcement inflated threats after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis with some police stating, without evidence, that “Antifa” would carry out car bombings. This behavior is neither new nor surprising, as the gathering and dissemination of shoddy intelligence by fusion centers is well documented.
Nonetheless, authorities moved swiftly to crack down on DDoS’s right to publish, first by seizing its server in the middle of the night, presumably on behalf of the FBI. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), one of the largest agencies within DHS, questioned unaffiliated individuals hosting an archives of the BlueLeaks and even offered them money to become informants. The documents published this week by Lucy Parsons Labs confirm DHS considers DDoS “criminal hackers” and not journalists.
The government’s aggressive push to name DDoS as “criminal hackers” is a dangerous, unprecedented territory that criminalize everyone’s right to publish online under the First Amendment. Publishing information, even information obtained illegally, is protected under the First Amendment so long as the publisher does not participate in illegal activity to gather the information. This right extends even to the publishing of classified information, as the Supreme Court upheld in the infamous case of the Pentagon Papers. (Almost all of the data published in the BlueLeaks was unclassified.)
The confirmation of an investigation by DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) reflects a growing pattern of DHS investigating journalists as threats to national security. Just this month in Portland, I&A created “baseball cards” of journalists, a practice most commonly used by the military in hostile conflict situations. Other DHS agencies have recently tracked media at the US-Mexico border in secret databases. While HSI is thought to be the government agency investigating DDoS, it is not uncommon for them to open investigations on behalf of other agencies (such as the FBI) in order to hide the existence of an official investigation. In the last few years, we have seen the FBI using secret rules to open investigations on journalists through national security letters, which do not require judicial review. As recently as 2018, the Freedom of the Press Foundation revealed the existence of a separate secret channel for investigation on media organizations through secret FISA court orders.
Our documents published today reveal a troubling criminalization of journalism by the alphabet boys that constitute the national security state.