Controversy swelled this week after an oil-and-gas industry conference in the Hyatt Regency Hotel of Houston, Texas, once again surrounding the state and industry reaction to peaceful protesters. Labeling activists as insurgents and admitting to the employment of former military psychological operations (psy-ops) specialists, industry executives waxed strategic about the importance of militarized responses to contemporary threat of environmentalists.
Matt Carmichael, of Anadarko Petroleum, instructed his audience of industry insiders and professionals to “[d]ownload the U.S. Army-slash-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.”[i] In a different talk, natural gas corporation Range Resource’s communications director, Matt Pitzarella, said,
“We have several former psy ops folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments. Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of psy ops in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”[ii]
Although Pitzarella disagreed with Charmichael’s initial comments with regards to an environmentalist insurgency, declaring, “You’re not dealing with insurgents, you’re dealing with regular people who live in towns and want to know what you’re doing,”[iii] his actions in hiring private security firms with military psy ops specializations illustrates that he is utilizing forms of low intensity warfare against not only insurgents, but the general populous. At the same time, Charmichael defended his comments, declaring his intent to “embrac[e] a broader move toward more active community engagement and increased transparency, as it’s very important to build fact-based knowledge to maintain public trust amidst special interests that often use misinformation to create fear.”[iv] Like Pitzarella, his comments further illustrate that the natural gas industry is not targeting insurgents, but a broader based, grassroots movement to stop drilling.
Whether they call the resistance to natural gas drilling terrorism or insurgency or simply “regular people,” many natural gas firms are hiring private security firms to investigate activists who raise awareness in local communities, and in some cases they are able to convince local governments to investigate citizens as well. In 2010, through what Charmichael calls “build[ing] fact-based knowledge,” the Department of Homeland Security in the State of Pennsylvania was found to enlist private intelligence corporations, like the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR), to investigate citizens with ties to activist organizations or causes. Former OHS director, James Powers, explained in an email to ITRR, “We’re not looking for [surveillance professionals] to dump everything on us that occurs in their jurisdiction, only that which relates to the critical infrastructure. In turn, we’ll provide it to you for the analysts to review and make further findings.”[v] Powers’s description of the monitoring of citizens shows that OHS is paying private corporations to monitor citizens—most of them nonviolent antiwar, gay rights, and environmental activists—in order to create a backlog of information that may come in handy at some stage. There is no provocation to incite the monitoring; it is simply ‘just-in-case’, and the hypotheticals are endless.
On August 25, 2010, Pennsylvania Director of Homeland Security James Powers shot an email to his colleague, Mike Perleman, cofounder of ITRR, about an intriguing subject: “Somewhere out there,” Powers insisted, “is a nexus between the drug traffickers and those criminals desiring to harm us—whether at the local level or organized, home-grown, splinter-cell would-be terrorists. Have our analysts uncovered any indication of drugs and all the protest group activities they’ve been reporting?”[vi] As cofounder of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response, Perleman worked closely with Powers, to monitor activists and create vast databases on peaceful antiwar, environmentalist, and gay rights protesters. “I don’t think we’ll see much organized drug activity from the anarchist/eco groups,” Perelman replied, “Not because they’re clean, but because they’re paranoid. They know they’re always one step away from ‘police repression.’”[vii] For Perelman, the completely fabricated admixture of drugs, activism, and terror bears “shades of Al Qaeda.”[viii]
The association of environmentalists with terrorism is not new, and is perhaps best obviated by the opening of secret, experimental prisons in the US, built specifically to contain exclusively Arab prisoners under suspicion of terrorism and environmentalists. Called Communications Management Units (CSUs), these prisons were inaugurated in 2006 with the silent opening of Terre Haute, Indiana, and then redoubled with the 2008 opening of Marion, Illinois. Two activists have been contained in CMUs, dubbed “Little Gitmo” or “Guantanamo North”—environmentalist Daniel McGowan and animal rights activist Andy Stepanian.
In 2007, Daniel McGowan was sentenced to seven years in prison after accepting a plea bargain admitting to conspiracy and two counts of arson. He and a group of friends had planned and executed an arson against a controversial lumber mill that had been sawing timber wrought from Oregon’s historic old growth forests, and another arson against a poplar tree farm, which they believed falsely to be growing genetically modified, lignan-reduced plants. In a communique released after the burning of the lumber mill, McGowan’s group, which operated under the banner of the Earth Liberation Front, declared, “Pending legislation in Oregon and Washington further criminalizing direct action in defense of the wild will not stop us and only highlights the fragility of the ecocidal empire.” Extrapolating from this statement a desire to use coercion to influence governmental policy, a US district court in Eugene, Oregon, declared McGowan a terrorist, and handed him a strict sentence in accordance with a “terrorism enhancement” rule.[ix] Although McGowan’s crime neither led to the injury of a single person, nor stated an overt political purpose other than shutting down an operation deemed immoral, McGowan was remanded to the custody of the state, shunted around prisons throughout the US, and placed eventually in the CMU at Marion.
McGowan would be followed shortly by Andy Stepanian, whose transfer was explained by the fact that he “has known connections to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), groups considered to be domestic terrorist organizations,” and “[e]nhanced review and control of inmate communications, is required to assure the safe functioning of the correctional facility, surrounding community and American public.”[x] It was alleged that Stepanian had been placed in the CMU, not because of his behavior, but because the government feared that his words would inspire others. However, he was assured he would be released by a different guard, who told him, “You’re nothing like these Muslims. You’re just here for balance. You’re going to go home soon.”[xi] According to the guard, Stepanian was one of the “balancers” sent to Little Guantanamo to reduce the concentration of Arabs and Muslims in order to dispel accusations that the CMUs were simply designed to segregate the prison population.
While connecting environmentalists to terrorists has proven politically exigent in numerous ways for the US government, what is unique about the most recent attempts to connect environmentalists to drug cartels is the apparent desire to combine the tactics of the War on Terror with the War on Drugs and the Green Scare. However, it is not unprecedented. In September 2010, the FBI staged coordinated raids in Chicago, Minneapolis, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Charlotte of numerous antiwar and solidarity activists’ residences, seizing valuable property and organizing materials. Twenty-three activists related to the raids were later subpoenaed to grand juries on the basis of their alleged connections to “norcoterrorists” and Arab insurgents. Former FBI agent Mike German explains that the FBI was, in this case, interested in “address books, computer records, literature and advocacy materials, first amendment sort of materials,” adding that “unfortunately, after 9/11, [investigation standards] have been diluted significantly to where the FBI literally requires no factual predicate to start an investigation.”[xii] Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act presents the FBI with the authority to seize “any tangible things” without a warrant, provided that they are protecting the country from terrorism. The merit of this warrantless seizure is determined by a secret national-security court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). According to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2002, “All 1,228 applications presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2002 were approved,” while the year before saw only 934 applications approved. FISC application approvals peaked between the years 2005-2007 at slightly less than 2,500, and tapered off to 1,329 in 2009 before jumping 12% to 1,506 requests in 2010, a year in which, like 2002, no requests were denied. According to a Justice Department report, the FBI made 24,287 National Security Letter requests in 2010 for information pertaining to 14,212 different U.S. persons. By contrast, 2009 saw only 14,788 national security letter requests regarding 6,114 persons.[xiii] According to activist and grand jury resister, Maureen Murphy, who was one of the activists indicted during the raids of 2010,
“The activists who have been ensnared in this fishing net with different groups to end the US wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to end US military aid for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and US military aid to Colombia, which has a shocking record of repression and human rights abuses. All of us have publicly and peacefully dedicated our lives to social justice and advocating for more just and less deadly US foreign policy.”[xiv]
These fishing nets have been cast throughout the US to silence dissent in environmentalist and other activist communities by drawing out time consuming and labor intensive legal battles that waste efforts of activists who have scant financial and legal resources.
Recent free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama, crafted through the Bush Administration’s policy of using “trade as a weapon against terrorism” and pushed through Congress by Obama’s neoliberal agenda, have revealed the forward economic policy that comprises the other side of state repression of activists. As activists helping to support democracy in Colombia are targeted, their criticisms of the uncanny relationship between FTAs and the drug trade are stifled. The clearest example of this relationship between drugs and free trade is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to former DEA official, Phil Jordan, “For Mexico’s drug gangs, the NAFTA was a deal made in narco-heaven. But since both the United States and Mexico are so committed to free trade, no one wants to admit it has helped the drug lords. It’s a taboo subject… While I was at DEA, I was under strict orders not to say anything negative about free trade.”[xv] At a time when, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, 80% of cocaine entering the US entered through Mexico, the US ambassador to Colombia declared that “using the argument that any increase in trade could increase drug trafficking and money laundering was not a sufficient argument to overcome the need of the United States for increasing markets for its exports abroad and also to engage in greater trade with countries of the region.[xvi] The silencing of criticism from within government was breached in 1998, when a confidential report by US Customs Service entitled Drug Trafficking, Commercial Trade and NAFTA on the Southwest Border declared that drug traffickers effectively utilized “commercial trade-related businesses… to exploit the rising tide of cross-border commerce.”[xvii] As Colombia’s exports to Mexico increased more than seven times over, while Mexico’s trade with the US doubled, Central America became a pipeline of drugs, enforced by murder and torture.
By 2011, the US government would have shelled out $1 trillion for the drug war, not counting the building of the border wall and anti-immigration militarization, but much of the money has gone towards the suppression of land-based, anti-neoliberal communities in impoverished southern regions of Mexico, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, Atenco, and in the uncharted indigenous territories of the Colombian Amazon, where communal ties to the land have prevented industrial expansion. Commenting on using drug war funds to combat the Popular Revolutionary Party (ERP), which asserts its support for the Zapatista uprising, US Ambassador to Mexico stated in the mid-1990s that, “Whatever [the Mexican government] needs, we will certainly support. The United States has much experience tracking rightwing militias, which could be of great use to Mexico. Like armed militias, (the ERP) has weapons and munitions capabilities. Terrorist groups operate much the same all over.”[xviii]In 2002, President Bush supported a measure to dispose of Colombian regulations blocking anti-drug money from being spent on counterinsurgency campaigns against groups they had deemed terrorists.[xix]
More recently, the Department of Defense has been sending School of the Americas-trained Lt. Col. Geoffery Demarest to Colombia and Oaxaca to “map” informally owned land holdings. These apparently passive operation, which function under prosaic names like Mexico Indigena) are actually crucial first steps in the aggressive campaign to expropriate ecologically protected lands for private ownership and industrial exploitation. According to Oliver Freuhling, geographer and academic director of the Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Earth) in Oaxaca City,
“The Mexico Indigena project subscribes to a military/political strategy. We cannot forget that the mapping begins amidst talks for a US military funding packet known as the Merida Initiative. The control and displacement of indigenous communities intends to remove potential political hot spots, contribute to military control of the region, and ultimately ‘liberate’ natural resources for the benefit of the government and, in turn, its transnational allies.”[xx]
The Merida Initiative in Mexico, and its counterpart, Plan Colombia, consist of US military funding programs that run in the billions of dollars. Although over 41,000 people have died in Mexico alone due to the drug war over the last five years, militarization is still being used to confront the war on drugs through a generalized approach to property and security.
Journalist Simon Sedillo expands on Demarest’s ideology, saying, “In Demarest’s approach to property and security, existing private property of real value, must be made secure from nearby and potentially unsettled poor communities, through a phenomenon he describes as the ‘architecture of control.’”[xxi] This architecture of control is based on seizing communally held lands, cutting them up into smaller plots, and then granting them back to their inhabitants in the form of title deeds, with the injunction that they be used as collateral for capital loans. By fragmenting these peaceful, mostly-indigenous (as the title Mexico Indigena suggests) communities in a manner reminiscent of the Dawes Act of 1887, the architecture of control will inevitably spill over into a system of dispossession and economic disparity which already provides the greatest fuel to the drug war.
While Mexico and Colombia form the front lines of the war on drugs’ misplaced attack on communal land holdings, Panama’s role as intermediary—playing host to number of drug-related front companies—cannot be ignored. Cables leaked this year show that not only was money from the US going directly to arming the paramilitaries, security forces and Colombian military, facilitating the use of spy drones and allowing illegal raids on Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama, but funds have also been appropriated to drug cartels posing as legitimate security interests in Panama, Colombia and Afghanistan. The corporation, Vertical de Aviacion, subcontractor of US mercenary corporation DynCorp, and its predecessor company, Helitaxi, has had ties with military contracting, drug cartels and the Colombian government since the late seventies, when its suspicious financial dealings raised inquiries from the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Eric Jackson of The Panama News notes,
“It looks like the US government may have directly and indirectly been doing business with a politically connected drug cartel front in connection with the “War on Drugs” and the Afghanistan War… [These cables] suggest a long-standing pattern of corruption and impunity within the US-directed “War on Drugs,” which would explain one of the reasons why this decades-long and expensive effort has failed to come remotely close to accomplishing its stated purpose of ending the illegal drug business.”[xxii]
As the US supports drug traffickers with counterinsurgency funds, it is opening a free trade pipeline of drug trafficking straight through Central America and up to the borderlands where the War on Terror spreads throughout the country via ICE immigration sweeps, Arpaio’s jails and the detention centers of private security firms. As it diffuses within the US, counterterrorism is being mixed with the local version of the War on Drugs, the “War on Crime.”
The mounting repression of young people of color in urban areas corresponds to the repression of rural areas in agricultural centers such as California’s famous “salad bowl”. There, the interagency Monterey County Gang Task Force, called the Black Snake for its black-themed uniforms and vehicles, relies on the tactics of mass-arrest, random traffic stops, and regular searches of paroled gang members in hispanic and latino areas, both urban and rural, to keep the peace. Monterey’s Naval Postgraduate School has had a hand in supervising the strategies and tactics of the Black Snake of Monterey County. Although there are laws against military participation in civilian law enforcement, combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as dirty wars in Latin America, serve as “voluntary” counterinsurgency advisors to police, bringing computerized community policing along with a more aggressive style. ICE has also been so active in Black Snake activity during what Salinas Mayor Dennis Donahue has dubbed “our surge” that Monterey County now leads the nation in the deportation of non-criminals. According to Leonard A. Ferrari, provost of the Naval Post-graduate School, “The $1 trillion invested so far in Iraq and Afghanistan could pay a dividend in American streets. [The Monterey County approach could become] a national model.”[xxiii]
To wit, this national model of counterinsurgency is increasingly coalescing into a unified organ of state control under the Department of Homeland Security, and the problem is being exacerbated by mounting dispossession caused by economic accumulation and climate change. As the drug war intensifies in coming years and the War on Terror comes home to roost from Iraq and Afghanistan, the crackdown against activists of all colors in the US may reach a level of epochal proportions. DHS and FBI activity against environmentalists on behalf of industry may be prominent in Pennsylvania, but it is also pervading the entire country. Author of Lockdown America and Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, Christian Parenti, explains, “private security firms are definitely going to be looking for more business after getting out of Iraq, and the draw down in Afghanistan. This is the classic problem of mercenaries: they need something to do after the war. [This] is the making of Green Scare 2.0.”[xxiv]
[v] Donald Gililand, “Pennsylvania Homeland Security office engaged in domestic surveillance, compared political groups to Al Qaeda”, pennlive.com, November 07, 2010, http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2010/11/pennsylvania_homeland_security_1.html
[ix] Shane Harris, “The Terrorism Enhancement: An obscure law stretches the definition of terrorism, and metes out severe punishments”, National Journal, July 13, 2007, http://shaneharris.com/magazinestories/terrorism-enhancement-obscure-law-stretches-the-definition-of-terrorism-and-metes-out-severe-punishments/
[x] Alia Malek, “Gitmo in the Heartland”, The Nation, March 10, 2011, http://www.thenation.com/article/159161/gitmo-heartland
[xii] Maureen Murphy, “I Have Been Summoned to Appear Before a Grand Jury”, Counterpunch.org, January 25, 2011, http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/01/25/i-have-been-summoned-to-appear-before-a-grand-jury/
[xv] Cristian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos, Nation Books 2011, pp 201
[xvi] Ibid 202
[xx] “DOD funded mapping project ‘Bowman Expeditions / Mexico Indigena’ to participate in The 2011 World Human Geography Conference”, El Enemigo Comun, September 24, 2011,
[xxi] Simon Sedillo, The Demarest Factor: The Ethics of U.S. Department of Defense Funding for Academic Research in Mexico, Elemigocomun.net, March 25, 2009. http://elenemigocomun.net/2009/03/demarest-factor/
[xxii] Eric Jackson, “Another War on Drugs debacle comes to light, cables by the US State Department,” Panama News, Volume 17, Number 3, March 7, 2011, http://www.thepanamanews.com/pn/v_17/issue_03/news_07.html
[xxiii] Kristian Williams, “The Other Side of the COIN”, 2011, http://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/the-other-side-of-the-coin-counterinsurgency-and-community-policing/
[xxiv] Interview, 11.11.11