A controversial police spy agency overlooked the alleged Boston Marathon bombing mastermind, but kept secret files on local peace activists—possibly including marathon rescue hero Carlos Arredondo.
A small group of civil liberties activists staged a protest June 1 at Boston Police headquarters against the agency’s work following Gazette and DigBoston reports.
The Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), an anti-terrorism agency run by the Boston Police Department with state and federal support, was the focus of Congressional scrutiny this month for failing to know anything about the late marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, both before and immediately after the April 15 attack, despite the Russian government warning the FBI about his possible terrorist training activities.
At the same time, BRIC kept extensive spy files on non-criminal activities of peaceful Boston organizations, as an American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and National Lawyers Guild lawsuit revealed last year. That included a 2007 anti-war event at a Jamaica Plain church that was labeled a “criminal act” by “extremists” by BPD spies reporting to BRIC, as the Gazette previously reported.
The 2007 event, which was covered by the Gazette and held at the former Central Congregational Church, was organized by a JP resident involved in the Stop the Wars Coalition, an anti-war group featured repeatedly in secret BRIC files. Speakers at the event included famed national peace activist Cindy Sheehan; Grace Ross, a former candidate for governor; then City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo of JP, the father of current mayoral candidate Felix G. Arroyo; and Mélida Arredondo, Carlos’s wife.
The Arredondos are Roslindale residents with strong ties to JP who have been nationally prominent peace activists since the 2004 death of Carlos’s son Alexander, a Marine, in Iraq. After the BRIC revelations last year, Mélida told the Gazette that she and Carlos had “suspected…for years” that the police were spying on their peaceful, legal activities.
Mélida said at the time that she and Carlos were looking back on several odd incidents in a new light. That included the BPD arresting Carlos outside BPD headquarters in Roxbury during the 2009 funeral procession for U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy as Carlos attempted to display a flag and pro-Kennedy signs like many other people on the street. All charges were dropped, she said.
The Arredondos attended this year’s Boston Marathon in support of a fund-raiser for mental health services for military veterans and were seated at the finish line when the bombs went off. Carlos became a globally famous hero of the attack when he rushed to rescue victims and appeared in iconic news photos of the event. One of the victims whose life he helped save reportedly became a key witness in identifying Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a suspect.
While the activities of Mélida and possibly Carlos Arredondo were in the BRIC spy files, those of Tsarnaev were not. The question of why local authorities never heard of Tsarnaev, despite international anti-terrorism agencies investigating him, has led to widely reported finger-pointing between state and Boston police and the FBI, as Gazette columnist Chris Faraone essayed this week in a DigBoston article. Testifying before Congress earlier this month, BPD Commissioner Ed Davis said it is hard to say whether advance knowledge of Tsarnaev could have prevented the bombing, but BPD would have wanted to interview him, as the Boston Globe reported. Davis also said that local authorities did not know about the federal anti-terrorism investigations of Tsarnaev until after he had been killed during a police manhunt for the bombing suspects.
BRIC is one of many state and local “fusion centers” that have been criticized as ineffective, wasteful and dangerous to civil liberties, including by a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation last year.
Local residents made similar complaints to the Gazette about BRIC following last year’s report. Mélida Arredondo called the secret files about the 2007 anti-war event a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“We should reserve those titles [in the BRIC file] for actual criminals and extremists and not people exercising their constitutional right to protest,” City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo said at the time.
Despite the findings and documents in last year’s report, BPD claimed at the time that it does not maintain surveillance or files on peaceful people and groups. A spokesperson also said BPD would have no further comment on the issue, including no explanation of what about the JP event was suspected to be “criminal” and “extremist.”
The protest at BPD headquarters in Roxbury, billed as part of the “International Day of Privacy,” was staged by Digital Fourth, a Cambridge-based organization that opposes warrantless searches of personal digital information, and MassOps, a new civil liberties activist organization affiliated with the Anonymous movement. About eight protesters showed up, with a few drivers honking as they passed and a couple of passers-by listening in. There was no obvious response from the police.
“[BRIC] was too busy spying and labeling us to pass along info on the Boston bombers. Oops,” said a MassOps activist who goes by the name Kinetic Theorist, while wearing a kerchief to mask her face and speaking next to a man dressed in a prison jumpsuit and a black hood in the style of a Guantanamo prisoner.
For more information, see warrantless.org and massops.weebly.com.