Editorial: Another BRIC in the wall

The latest revelations about Boston Police spying in Jamaica Plain are many, but they can be summed up easily: daily, even hourly, violations of the Constitution by a spy center with more tax money than sense.

It’s easy to laugh at the Boston Regional Intelligence Center’s obsession with supermarket protesters. But it’s not funny that BRIC spent countless hours compiling a glorified Occupy Boston calendar listing while totally overlooking actual terrorists actually about to bomb and kill.

And the picture emerging from this spying is profoundly disturbing, one that shows systematic suppression of civil rights and liberties here in JP and across the city.

The bogus arrest of JP Whole Foods protesters in 2011 looked at the time like mere heavy-handed stupidity by police-detail hirelings. But it looks very different now that we know BRIC was obsessed with linking those protesters to the Occupy Boston movement, which in turn was viewed as some criminal conspiracy. Unfurling a banner at a public meeting became criminal activity in JP thanks to that paranoia.

And BRIC’s repeated reports on Carlos and Mélida Arredondo are forming into an unsettling picture as well. It was already massively ironic that Carlos became a marathon bombing rescue hero after BRIC’s anti-terrorism “analysts” labeled Mélida’s anti-war activism in JP “criminal.” But that was just one of many such reports—including a disgusting one nattering on about a vigil for Carlos’s son, who had committed suicide.

We now know that BRIC habitually, consistently, knowingly spied on totally legal JP activities for years. It is a distressing pattern that likely continues today. Who and what are they tracking right now?

We don’t know, because there is no accountability. BRIC is highly secretive. Its files are plainly retained for many years, and we don’t know who sees them. But we do that as a “fusion center,” BRIC shares info with the likes of the FBI, the CIA and the U.S. military.

From examples right here in JP, we know that BRIC draws or invents links between innocent people and groups, expanding its surveillance circle ever outward to spy on more and more legal activity—even on local rock concerts. The chilling effect on local activism could be huge.

Police have a legitimate, limited interest in safety at public events. BRIC, an anti-terror intelligence agency, does not, nor was its spying in any way restricted to such practices. It is out of control and outside the law.

Mayor Walsh should step in to pull the plug on BPD’s BRIC participation. It is too much to hope that NSA-loving President Obama’s Justice Department will prosecute BRIC’s staff for its thousands of civil rights violations, but local targets should strongly consider civil suits.

Meanwhile, as it appears BRIC is a devoted Gazette reader, here’s another tip for its files: Get your nose out of JP’s business.

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