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Monday, October 26, 2009


Global Wealth Inequality (2007-08 Average)
James S. Henry and Brent Blackwelder
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Globaldistoffshore200809 Res Ipsa Loquitur.

October 26, 2009 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Pittsburgh's State of Siege

Suppressiing Dissent With High-Priced Cop Toys

James S. Henry
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You didn't hear much about it from any major US news organizations, but there was a very disturbing case of gratuitous police-led violence and intimidation at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh on September 23rd-25th, 2009. Perhaps the only consolation is that it allowed those of us who were there to get a close look at some of the disturbing "brave new world:  technologies for anti-democratic crowd control. These were initially developed by the US military to fight terrorists on the high seas and abroad, in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, but are now coming home to roost.  Indeed, ironically enough, this is one of the few remaining global growth industries where the US is still the undisputed world leader, as we'll see below.

Police2 One local newspaper account described  the events at the Pittsburgh G20  as a "clash" between the police, protesters, and college students. 

Indeed, a handful of storefronts were reportedly broken on Thursday September 24 by a  few unknown vandals. 

However, based on our own visit to the summit,  interviews with several students and other eye witnesses,  and a careful review of the significant amount of video footage that is available online, the only real "clash"  that occurred in Pittsburgh on September 23-25, 2009, was between lawless policing and the Bill of Rights. 

The most aggressive large-scale policing abuses occurred from 9 pm to 11:30 pm on Friday September 25th near Schenley Park, in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh campus. This was miles away from the downtown area where the G20 had met, and, in any case, it was hours after the G20 had ended.

This particular case of aggressive policing -- "Hammer and Anvil," as the operation was described on police scanners -- was clearly not just a matter of a few "bad apples." 

Rather, it appears to have been part of a willful, highly-organized, one-sided, rather  high-tech experiment or training exercise in very aggressive crowd control by nothing less than a really scary uniformed mob.

New York police sometimes describe their firemen counterparts, tongue in cheek, as "robbers with boots." In this case we have no hesitation at all in describing this uniformed mob in Pittsburgh as "assailants with badges."

Their actions resulted in the unlawful suppression of the civil rights of  hundreds of otherwise-peaceful students who were just "hanging out with their friends on a Friday night in Oakland," or attending a free jazz/blues concert in Schenley Park. 

Essentially they got trapped in a cyclone of conflicting and inconsistent police directives to "leave the area." The result was nearly 200 arrests, gassings, beatings, and the deployment of dogs and rubber bullets against dozens of innocent people.

In addition to the students,  this aggressive policing also assaulted the civil rights of a small number of relatively-peaceful protesters and quite a few ordinary Pittsburgh residents, most of whom were as innocent as bystanders can possibly be these days. 

Why did this occur?  In addition to whatever top-down "experiment" or training action was being conducted there appears to have been an extraordinary amojnt of pent-up police frustration and anger.  For example, one student overheard a policeman piling out of a rented Budget van near Schenley Park around 9:50 PM Friday.

The officer was heard to exclaim, "Time to kick some ass!"

This is disturbing, but perhaps not all that surprising. After all, thousands of police had  basically stood around for days in  riot gear, sweltering in the "Indian Summer" heat, dealing with  the tensions associated with potential terrorist attacks as well as all the hassles of managing large-scale protest marches, even if peaceful.There was also the inevitable tensions of social class and culture among police, Guardsman, and college students.

On the other hand, precisely because such tensions are so predictable, those in direct command or higher political office, and, indeed University officials, should have acted forcefully to corral them.


ArrestedstudentposedwithpoliceAll this means that Pittsburgh  has unfortunately now joined the growing list of  cities around the world that have experienced such serious conflicts -- mainly in connection with  economic summits or national political conventions.

The list of summit frays includes this summer's G-8 in Italylast Spring's G20 in London,  the September '08 RNC in Minneapolis,  the '04 RNC in New York City, Miami's Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit (11/03),  Quebec (4/01),  Naples (3/01), Montreal (10/00),  Prague 9/00), Washington D.C. (4/00),  the  November '99 WTO "Battle in Seattle," the J18 in London (6/99), Madrid (10/1994), and Berlin (9/88).

President Obama had  originally selected Pittsburgh for the G20 because he hoped to showcase its recovery  since the 1980s, especially in the last  few years, under a Democratic Mayor, in a Democratic state that he barely carried in the 2008 Presidential contest. 

In seeking to explain such events, therefore, it alway helps to keep a firm eye on the question -- whose interests did really  this serve?

In retrospect, the failure of these leaders to control the police at the G20 has created a serious blemish on the city's reputation for good government. It may have also to some extent undermined Obama’s relations with college students and other activists  who worked so hard for his election in this key state. And it certainly did not help the reputation of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh or Pensylvania at large.


To journalists like me who happened to have been in Beijing in May 1989, during the buildup to the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square,  Pittsburgh also bears an interesting resemblance. The analogy may sound a little strained, but bear with me.  

(1)  As in Beijing, there was a very large deputized police force from all over the country.  These included  over 1000 police "volunteers" (out of 4000 total police and 2500 National Guardsmen) who were ported in just for the G20.

According to the conventional wisdom, not being from the same community is likely to reduce your inhibitions when it comes to macing and kicking the crap out of unarmed, defenseless young people.

The guest policeman also included several hundred police who were under the command of Miami Police 2076 Chief John F. Timoney,  pioneer of the infamous "Miami model" for suppressing protest that was first deployed at the Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference in November 2003. (Here’s the Miami model checklist, most of which was repeated in Pittsburgh.)

As one writer has observed, Timoney, who  also served as Police Chief in Philadelphia,   "(L)iterally transformed the city into a police state war zone with tanks, blockades and “non-lethal” (but severely damaging) artillery."

It is unclear to what extent he played a similar role behind-the-scenes in Pittsburgh this year, but there certainly is a strong sulfurous odor.     Scaredstudents

(2) As in Beijing, In Pittsburgh there were no identifying badges on officers' uniforms, and they also refused to provide any identifying personal information in response to questions. Several photographers also complained about receiving threats and actual damage to their cameras.

(3) As in Beijing, there was simply no  direct contest between the power of the security forces once they mobilized, and those of the unarmed students.   The only kind of victory that the students could possibly have one in both cases was a moral one -- by essentially sacrificing their bodies and their rights to a tidal wave of repression.

Indeed, the "clash" theory of these events looks even odder once we take into account the  fact that on Friday night in Pittsburgh, for example, unarmed students and protesters faced  hundreds of police in full riot gear,  armed for bear with equipped  muzzled attack dogs, gas, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, bean-bag shotguns, pepper pellets, long-range pepper spray,  at least four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (courtesty of New York Governor Patterson and his National Guard's 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion unit),  plus several brand new "acoustic cannons" (see below). There were also probably dozens of undercover agents provocateurs -- at least three of whom were actually "outed" by the students. 

The police were also actively monitoring student communications on web sites like Twitter.

 From this angle, a key difference with Bejing  in 1989 was that the Chinese authorities felt genuinely  threatened by the growth of student power and the democracy movement, and feared being ousted,from power.  and  were therefore able to justify their brutality as part of a zero-sum game. In the case of Pittsburgh, whatever police violence occurred was entirely gratuitous.

Police6 (4) As in Beijing, the Pittsburgh police  really liked deploying loud, repetitive warnings, broadcast from sound-trucks -- like the following,  broadcast  repeatedly last Thursday and Friday: 

"I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled to immediately disburse. You must leave the immediate vicinity. If you remain in this immediate vicinity, you will be in violation of the Pennsylvania crimes code, no matter what your purpose is. You must leave. If you do not disburse, you may be arrested and/or subject to other police action. Other police action may include actual physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and/or less lethal munitions, which could risk of injury to those who remain."

The fact is that this warning was itself completely unlawful.  Putting on the NYCLU lawyer's hat for a moment, absent a "clear and present danger" to the public peace, these threats violated the First Amendment's explicit recognition of right to "peacefully assemble.” 

In effect, the fact is that the police and National Guard in Pittsburgh  temporarily seized control over public streets, parks, and other public spaces, and exercised it arbitrarily.  By the time the victims of these outrageous civil rights infringements have their day in court, the damage will have been long since done.

(5) As in Beijing, the police and military decided  to launch their biggest raid late at nightafter the summit had ended most major mediaPolice11 had gone home, and the courts had closed for the weekend.

Of course, there were no tanks, no real bullets, and no fatalities in Pittsburgh. Unlike the April '09 G20 and the Genoa G8 protests, no civilians died as a direct result of police actions. But the Pittsburgh students who were on the receiving end of all this unprovoked police brutality -- like one who was shot four times in the back and legs with rubber bullets, and another who was gassed and shot in the face -- may be forgiven for wondering just how close they came to emulating their peers in Europe.


Police behavior at all these global summits has evolved over time into a rather high-tech affair that would make Iranian crowd control experts turn  bright green with envy. 

5c6c33b0-9c3f-49e6-8ca5-d5aea8751de5_300 For example,  last week's G20 featured one of the largest US deployments ever against civilian demonstrators of  "LRADS," or acoustic cannons

These sophisticated  "phase array" device s emit a targeted 30-degree beam of 100+decibel  sound that is effective up to several hundred yards, and is potentially very harmful to the human ear. 

LRAD2Manufactured by San Diego's tiny American Technology Corporation (NASDQ: ATCO), the $37,500 so-call "500X" version of the sound cannon that was used in Pittsburg was developed at the behest of the US military, reportedly in response to the USS Cole incident in 2000,  to help the Navy repel hostile forces at sea.

The Pittsburgh units  were apparently  purchased by  local sheriffs' departments across the country with the help of recent grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. Officially the grants have been justtified in the name of improving communications with the public, by permitting clearer voice channels (!), but that's a cover story -- the true purpose is crowd control. ( Roll tape: LRAD-500X_SDCo_Sheriff1).

Other recent ATCO customers include the US Army (for "force protection" in Iraq  and Afghanistan), and  the US Navy and the navies of Japan and Singapore, for communicating with potentially-hostile vessels at sea. 

In 2008 ATCO flogged its wares at the biannual China Police Forum, Asia's largest mart for police security equipment. Obviously China would make a terrific reference customer, since it is one of the global front-runners in the brutal suppression of mass dissent.

ATCO also has a 2007 contract with the US Marine Corps' "Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program" to develop new, even more powerful weapons, euphemistically branded  "acoustic hailing devices." Saakashvili

Police3 Until recently the most widely-publicized use of LRADS had been against Somali pirates. The devices have also been deployed against "insurgents" by the US military in Fallujah,  by the increasingly-unpopular, anything-but-democratic regime of Mikhail Saakashvili in the Republic of Georgia, and by New York City at the RNC in 2005.

Just two weeks before the Pittsburgh G20,  they turned up  in San Diego, where the Sheriff's Department provoked controversy by stationing them near a Congressional town hall forum -- just in case.

This growing  use of LRADs for domestic crowd control in theSomalis_called_pirates_while_the_West_du US is worrisome, not only because it is a potent anti-civil liberties weapon, because -- just like tasers,  rubber bullets, OC gas, and other so-called "non-lethal but actually just "less lethal" weapons" -- they can cause serious injuries to ears, and perhaps even provoke strokes. 


For all the homeland security technology buffs in the audience, you may rest assured that LRADs are hardly the  only Military potential "less-lethal" free speech-and-assembly killers in the pipeline. 

In the last decade the non-lethal weapons arena has exploded, and the US appears to be  far ahead, assisted by ample  R&D grants and purchase contracts from organizations like the Department of Justice's "National Institute of Justice," DHS's multi-billion dollar Homeland Security Grant Program, the U.S Coast Guard, and the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) Program

The industry has also been aided by key contractors like ATCO, spearheaded by legendary engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur "Woody" Norris;  and Penn State's Advanced Research Lab -- home of the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies.   NIJ also works closely with police organizations like PERF, and international organizations like the UK's Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

In the first instance, the development of such non-lethal technologies is usually justified by their potential for providing an alternative to heavier weaponry, thereby reducing civilian casualties in combat situations.

The fact that the US military now has at least 750 military bases around the world, and has also recently  been playing an important "military policing" role in countries like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, underscored DOD's rationale for these technologies.

The problem is that just as in the case of the LRAD,  once developed, it is very difficult to wall such technologies out of the US, or restrict them to "pro-civilian/pro-democratic" uses, like providing clearer amplification for outdoor announcements.  

Even aside from their technical merits, the competitive nature of the global law enforcement equipment industry  virtually insures that every tin-horn US sheriff, as well as every Chinese party boss in Urumqi, will soon have access to these very latest tools in the arsenal for suppressing dissent.  

The ultimate irony, of course, is that the first generation of all  these powerful new free speech suppressors have all been developed,  not by authoritarian China, Iran, Burma or North Korea, but by US,  ostensibly still the leader of the "Free World." 


So what's in store for those who are on the front lines of popular dissent?  We assume that some of the juiciest details are classified. But even a cursory review of public sources reveals that the following new crowd-control technologies may soon be coming to an economic summit near you.  (See this recent UK review for more details.). 

"Area Denial Systems." This is a powerful new "directed-energy" device that generates a precise, targeted beam of "millimeter waves," producing an "intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin." 

Under development by the US military since at least the late 1980s, this class of "non-lethal" weapons is now close to field deployment. Its key advantage over LRADs is that it has about ten times the range. Raytheon is already supplying its "Silent Guardian" version of the system to the US Army.

The next step required to bring this product to the police market will be to make it smaller and more mobile. According to this week's New Scientist, a new highly-portable, battery-powered version of the system, called the "Thermal Laser," will soon become available -- though it has yet to show that demonstrate conclusively that it is within the bounds of the UN Binding Protocol on Laser Weapons.

New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems.

Subject to the dicey question of whether these new "calmative," drug-like agents are outside the boundaries of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which the US and 187 other countries are signatories), these would not irritate their targets, unlike pepper spray or tear gas, but calm them down.

In the words of one DOD/JNLWD research director:  "We need anesthetic agents, that would put everyone to sleep or in a good mood..." Or as the former Marine Corps commander of the program said," "I would like a magic dust that would put everyone in a building to sleep.." Among the delivery mechanisms considered: drinking water, aerosol spray, or rubber bullet. (Apparently the old-fashioned, tried-and-true "light up, inhale, and pass on" method is not a candidate.) The College of Medicine at Penn State's ARL, locGluegunated 135 miles east of Pittsburgh, has been especially active in advocating the advantages of such new chemical weapons.
Unfortunately for it, DOD apparently believes that the CWC and its current regulations prohibit it from funding the developing such magic dust directly, so it is working through DOJ and DOE to do so.

Glue Guns. If all else fails, UK's Home Office reports that another approach to "less- lethal" crowd control weaponry is also making progress -- a gigantic glue gun that sprays at least some 30 feet, bemingling its target audience in one huge adhesive dissident-ball.

Apparently still unsolved is the question of precisely what becomes of all those who are stuck together, or how the police avoid becoming entangled with them. But undoubtedly millions of pounds  are being devoted to solving these issues even as we speak.


I went to Pittsburgh last week on behalf of  Tax Justice Network, a global NGO that is concerned about the harmful impacts that tax havens and dodgy behavior by First World banks, MNCs, lawyers, and accountants are having, especially on developing countries. I was under no illusion that the reforms we   were rather politely advocating would quickly be adopted, but at least we'd  say our piece,  if anyone cared to listen.

I came away with the depressing sense that the G20 summit, like its many predecessors,  was never intended  to be a listening post for independent, outside opinions. But even worse, it had actually become, in practice, an excuse for the criminalization of dissent in capital cities all over the globe, even in those that are nominally the most free,  by way of the vast new security measures that it requires and subsidizes,and the repressive tactics that it legitimized. 

In this day and age, of course,  we are told that almost any amount of security is too little.  And this heightened sense of insecurity  is certainly not aided by having the world's top 20 leaders regularly shuffling from pitstop to pitstop,  trying to conduct the world’s business from a traveling roadshow.

But I was struck by just how unnecessary,  senseless, and counterproductive almost all of the repressive policing tactics deployed in Pittsburgh really were -- how they ran roughshod over many of our  most precious freedoms, freedoms  that we are supposedly trying to protect.   And to what a degree whatever “terrorists” there are out there have already won, by  succeeding in creating a society that is really is often ruled by fear instead of justice, by force instead of discourse.

Rather than, say,  simply allowing the overwhelmingly non-violent demonstrators and students at that peaceful Friday night blues concert  to have their say, instead some 200 people were arrested and scores were gassed, clubbed, rubber-bulleted, and imprinted with galling memories that will last a lifetime. The City of Pittsburgh and its residents will certainly be fighting criminal cases and civil rights law suits for years to come.  I supposed we are meant to be consoled by the fact that, as the New York Times chose to emphasize this week, things are much more repressive in Guinea.

So perhaps it is time to establish a permanent location for all these global summits. Perhaps one of the Caribbean tax havens, like Antigua or St. Kitts, would do -- journalists always like the sun, and after TJN gets done with them, these havens are going to need to find a new calling anyway!  




October 2, 2009 at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)