America's 'private' political police:

Militant demonstration denounces the
Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit

by Eric, Seattle


, The LEIU (Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit) held its annual conference in Seattle, June 2-6. The conference was greeted by 500 to 600 protesters bent on bringing attention to this secretive organization. Capitalist media reports on the protest featured interviews with various spokespeople for the organization, feigning gratitude to the protesters for "bringing media awareness to our organization", and claiming that "if people could attend, they'd find it all pretty innocuous". However, the organization has been caught, through various lawsuits and FOIA requests, keeping files on legal political activity. Hardly "innocuous" at all. The LEIU is a secretive organization that has a very definite political policing role and the protesters were right to seek to bring it into the limelight.

. The LEIU is a nominally private organization, which allows them to skirt the limits which official police agencies are under. While there are mounds of evidence that the official agencies around the country violate these prohibitions frequently and often with impunity, prohibitions such as unapproved wire taps, infiltration of legal political groups, and theft of documents, these agencies are somewhat constrained by the law, and more so by public outcry when these activities come to light. By its nature, a secretive extra-legal organization is far less constrained in these ways. Evidence which official law enforcement agencies are prohibited from keeping is often passed to and archived by LEIU. Its founding purpose, in the Cold War atmosphere of 1956, was "to promote the gathering, recording, and exchange of confidential information not available through normal police channels, concerning organized crime" (as quoted in the Seattle Weekly). Since then, it has been used to circumvent some of the minimal laws for police accountability and governmental openness that do exist. It has been found to have engaged in extensive spying and tracking of activists engaged in legal political activity.

. For their part, the Seattle police were apparently putting on a show of their "crowd control" drilling for the LEIU participants, who watched from the hotel windows above. The SPD used bicycles, teargas and rubber bullets, threw targeted protesters over the police barricades, tackled others on the concrete at a full run, and otherwise attacked a spirited but peaceable crowd, often brutally. These techniques were the same ones they have been drilling on, having been trained by the NYPD in "crowd control" (really, suppression of mass demonstrations) techniques in recent months. In the face of these attacks by police, the crowd showed notable militancy and savvy, refusing to give ground until forced by the police lines, and refusing to be stampeded into an all-out retreat by the gas and rubber bullets.

Broader moves toward a police state

. LEIU is only one part of a raft of governmental moves to strengthen police powers over the last several decades. Under the so-called "war on drugs", capitalist politicians have expanded, militarized and integrated the police forces, often using high technology and "less-than-lethal" weaponry, targeting working class neighborhoods and particularly focusing on minorities and youth. The courts have also curtailed a number of legal rights for the masses. Recently this has been stepped up, with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 being used to justify the repressive "Patriot Act", the huge Department of Homeland Security, as well as a number of repressive executive orders.

. Nor are the Seattle police the only local police department stepping up attacks on mass demonstrations. Local police forces around the country have used supposed fears of terrorism as a pretext to deny and attack demonstrations against government policy. The government is dramatically stepping up its dictatorial police and governmental powers: search and seizure without warrants or notification, legal kidnapping and secret detention, military tribunals, and spying. The capitalist politicians justified earlier police state moves with the claim that they were protecting the citizens from drugs and crime. The "war on drugs" has been an utter failure if the aim is to eradicate drug use or addiction, or drug-related criminal activity, or any of the other justifications. It has, on the other hand, succeeded in stripping people's rights, and provided justifications for attacks on the poor, people of color, and immigrants, and for granting new powers to the police. During numerous militant, but essentially peaceful demonstrations, including the anti-WTO protests in 1999, it became clear that much of the money given to the local police forces under the "war on drugs" has actually been spent to train police how to break up protests, and to supply them with "riot"-control guns, ammunition, uniforms and armored vehicles.

. Now, this process has been accelerated in the domestic side of the war on terror. The capitalist politicians of both parties claim they are just trying to protect the citizens from terrorism, citing the atrocity of September 11 (and to be clear, it was an atrocity), however, the ruling class is acting to protect only its own class interests against hostile terrorism. Like the "war on drugs", the "war on terror" hides bigger aims. These aims include using the police state under construction to suppress internal opposition to its policies, and further put the screws to the working class. These moves are a "preemptive strike" against the dissent they know will arise as they pursue stepped-up policies of imperialist globalization, unending imperialist war, massive handouts to the financial and corporate masters, fleecing the masses of people, destroying the environment, and racial discrimination, all to increase profits for the capitalists.

. President Bush Jr. , and more broadly the right-wing clique behind him, many of whom were instrumental in developing and carrying out the anti-people program of the Reagan and Bush Sr. years, have been working to remake politics in this country. Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft and co. have been on a rampage, using the excuse of Sept. 11 to carry out their long-held plans for conquest abroad and repression at home. They championed the vile Patriot Act I of Oct. 2001. This act broadens the definition of terrorism to include just about any mass struggle not approved of by the US government, makes it easier to imprison non-citizens on the slightest pretext and allows for the whole population to be spied upon. The administration now hopes to push Patriot Act II through Congress. This act goes further down the same repressive road. It paves the way for secret arrests of anyone alleged to be an evildoer by Bush. It defines terrorism in such a way as to include even peaceful civil disobedience and allows the government to wiretap people and groups engaged in such protests, seize their assets, and even revoke their citizenship! It makes it easier for the government to extradite American citizens for trial by foreign dictatorships. It allows the government to access all e-mail communications and see what internet sites anyone visits simply by asserting that it's relevant to any sort of criminal investigation, whether or not the person who's being spied on is the target of the investigation. Also Patriot Act II allows immigrants to be deprived of a serious deportation hearing even if they are in the country legally. And there are many more Big Brother measures as well, including reviving the "TIPS" program where family members, coworkers and neighbors are encouraged to spy on each other for the authorities, reporting whatever they imagine is suspicious behavior.

. The first target of the Bush administration's repression rampage has been the Arab and Southeast Asian immigrant communities. Over 1,000 mainly Arab immigrants were imprisoned though the government admitted that only a few were tied to the Sept. 11 tragedy. Many thousands more were targeted for questioning. Those imprisoned were held for months without charges or held on technicalities or deported without a chance to defend themselves. They were often deprived of legal counsel or contact with their families. And the government has done its best to keep their alleged "evidence" secret from the public. The Bush administration's hysteria against terrorism has also helped legitimize the ever more brutal police attacks on anti-war and anti-globalization protesters. While Bush claims the "war on terrorism" is against those who would deny democratic values, he is creating a police-state in the US

. Some of the Bush administration's measures go too far even for some of the capitalist politicians, and thus we see the beginnings of a debate in ruling circles over just how much repression is enough. However, it is important to understand that, despite their differences with the worst abuses by the right, the Democrats are not the great defenders of civil rights that they portray themselves to be. All but a few Democrats voted for the Patriot Act, only now claiming that they "didn't know", and were stampeded into voting for it. But even before that, the Democrats have supported all kinds of repressive legislation. For example, Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty and the Prison Litigation "Reform" Acts into law in the mid 90's. These acts greatly limit appeals in death penalty cases, force federal judges to uphold lower court rulings even when they consider them to be wrong, as long as they aren't "unreasonable", prohibit prisoners from bringing proof of their innocence into the appeals process (if such proof surfaces after the trial, tough luck), limiting them to rearguing only those issues that were raised in their original trials, and limit awards and attorney fees for successful lawsuits over prison conditions. These days, with the frequent revelations of prisoners being exonerated after decades in prison or even on death row, and with the frequent revelations that it was "prosecutorial misconduct" (read "hiding evidence and threatening witnesses") or "over zealous policing" (read "planting evidence and beating confessions out of prisoners") that put them in prison in the first place, it is clear that reducing access to appeals accomplishes nothing but to condemn more people to rot in prison or be executed for the crime of being poor and unable to afford a slick lawyer.

. Other examples in the Clinton legacy include militarization of the US-Mexico border, a crackdown on illegal immigrants and a gutting of welfare, including denial of welfare benefits to legal immigrants. In fact, many of these measures paved the way for the further attacks we are seeing under Bush.

. Despite this history, many who claim leftist credentials still argue that the answer to these moves is to elect a Democrat to office. Since the Congressional Democrats are already discredited by voting for Patriot Act I, some look to new faces like Howard Dean. But Dean's position is basically the same as all the other Democrats who support growing police-state measures but raise quibbles with one or the other of Bush's proposals. Meanwhile, another Democratic critic of Bush, presidential hopeful Bob Graham, is in the slightly awkward position of having helped write portions of the widely reviled Patriot Act. While he clearly would like to trumpet this fact to some audiences, in general the Act is hated by so many, and justly so, that he is keeping mum on it, hoping no one finds out his role.

. So, the Democrats clearly aren't the great saviors they are striving to position themselves as for the election. The development of all democratic reforms, all moves toward greater rights for all in society, is preceded by long and hard-fought mass struggles. There is no difference here. If we are to stop these encroachments on our rights, and roll back those that have already been made, we must organize and fight, not only against the current agents of these moves, the right, but against the ruling class as a whole. <>

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Last modified: October 15, 2003.