Some fascinating and very underreported details are emerging from the City Council's WTO investigation.
The most interesting concerns the Investigations Ordinance—that blessed quirk of '70s law that prohibits cops from investigating and keeping files on lawful political activity. The Investigations Ordinance was signed into law for good reason: to counter decades' worth of unlawful police repression of political dissent in Seattle. It has served as an essential protection for Seattle protesters, and the cops hate it.
After the WTO, the Seattle Police Department, with the able assistance of Mayor Paul "Something, Anything to Blame" Schell, called for the repeal of the Investigations Ordinance on the ludicrous grounds that it had crippled SPD's ability to find out what protesters were going to do during WTO. Schell emphasized during the debacle, and repeated thereafter, that the police were taken by surprise; they allegedly had no idea that the Direct Action Network was going to try to shut down the WTO talks, even though DAN held a press conference the previous week to announce it to the world.
And the reason they had no idea? The Investigations Ordinance supposedly barred police from gathering information on DAN and like-minded groups or even getting info from other law enforcement agencies that were investigating them.
SPD's After Action Report, released in April, devoted a whole section to this preposterous theme. Violins, please: "On balance, the Investigations Ordinance created significant problems for SPD during the planning phases for WTO. The SPD Criminal Intelligence Section [CIS] contributed little hard intelligence because of our inability to investigate any of the individuals or groups that ultimately did the most damage. This was due to the fact that these groups were politically motivated and consequently enjoyed the full protection of the ordinance. . . ."
But the Investigations Ordinance prohibits investigating lawful political activity. It doesn't bar investigation of illegal activity, including civil disobedience—such as shutting down the WTO. And we learn, buried farther along in the same paragraph (on page 20 of the report) "that SPD ultimately obtained authorizations pursuant to the requirements of the ordinance on September 28th." In other words, they had two full months to investigate the Direct Action Network, Ruckus Society, the Eugene anarchists, and other groups the cops had identified early on as potential trouble.
Undercover cops and protesters
And they did investigate. What we now learn from the City Council probe is that SPD knew exactly what was going to happen, and Chief Stamper and Mayor Schell were told beforehand exactly what was going to happen. (Thanks to my colleague Rick Anderson for digging through stacks of paper to find these gems.)
A recap of a November 23 Intelligence Briefing Paper prepared by CIS discussed the anarchist groups and direct action activists. In the recap, we learn that "considerable specificity is evident regarding the disruptive plans set for 11/30." The documents show police intelligence knew in detail about the assault on the Paramount Theater, knew that it was a pie-shaped strategy, and knew that tripods and other blockade technology would be deployed. They even knew anarchists were planning to target specific downtown businesses. Furthermore, according to SPD's response to the City Council probe, "Mayor Schell was briefed personally by CIS on 11/28."
Reading between the lines, it is evident that SPD used its two months of authorized investigation to infiltrate the Direct Action Network, which wasn't all that hard—you could just walk in the door of the Convergence Center on Denny Way a week before the big November 30 protest and read, on the wall, everything that was going to happen.
At another point, SPD discusses the tactics displayed at the Ruckus Society's Arlington "training camp" for protesters in late September. This camp was extensively reported on in the media, and this "resulted in SPD Intelligence initiating an authorized investigation" (i.e., one permitted under the Investigations Ordinance).
The new City Council revelations decisively prove two other important things:
1) Law enforcement agencies and Mayor Schell knew ahead of time with astonishing specificity what the plans of WTO protesters were. Their direct knowledge came from at least two months of SPD infiltration or close observation of protest groups. Claims that decision-makers "didn't know" or were "lied to by protesters" regarding protesters' intent are pure bullshit. They have nobody to blame but themselves for their perceived disaster.
2) The SPD's claim that it was crippled by the Investigations Ordinance is also bullshit. It got all the information it needed. The law worked exactly as it should, and it should be retained.
Our new police chief would acquit himself well by disavowing the SPD's efforts to lobby for the repeal of the Investigations Ordinance. The last thing needed by a police department distrusted by a wide segment of the community is for it to insist that it needs to spy on law-abiding citizens. Chief Kerlikowske should show that he trusts the citizens of Seattle and that he trusts democracy in action.