Back-Tracing the FBI

Ever wonder how the Homeland Security Apparatus filters and evaluates potential terrorist threats? A recent article ( provides a none-too-reassuring look at an example of the system in action While we don't have access to the FBI's internal decision-making process, the external evidence paints a fairly damning picture.

Our story begins at, ("your online anarchist community), which runs a fairly open news wire for activists. Back on October 19, a user by the name of "Every Day a Circle Day" posted a story calling for a "World-Wide Week of Action Against Warmongering" in mid-December. The article suggested sit-ins at defense contractors, defacement of newspaper boxes, and torching military recruiting centers, among other ideas. It's worth noting that if you spend much time on Infoshop, your local Indymedia, or another protest-themed site, you can't throw a brick without hitting a) lots of posts like this, and b) lots of people saying "violence is never the answer" in reply.

In any case, other than a couple of curious comments posted by folks looking for (and not getting) more details, the story sat around for a week. On October 25, it went out over A-Infos ("a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists") in a straight cut-and-paste job. On November 11, parties unknown did a similar cut-and-paste job (given the line-breaking, it was almost certainly copied from an email) in placing the story on two Canadian Indymedia sites, where the locals promptly ignored it (3 and 4 comments, which is almost as few as the average LawMeme story). From there, it dropped off the radar entirely . . .

. . . until December 4, when the FBI deemed the threat serious enough to send out an alert to thousands of security professionals. ASIS International ("advancing security worldwide") put the alert on its web site on the 10th, as one of seven advisories, spanning the last three months, listed on its home page. At this point, reporters started dialing up some very confused anarchists. These phone calls were the first time most of the interviewees had heard of the "Worldwide Week of Action." All in all, the furor over trying to get a scoop on this new terrorist "threat" has burned up more media resources than anything actually done as part of the Week.

Where this story flips from comic to tragic, of course, is the FBI's involvement in the panic. The alert was obviously written by someone copying key phrases out of one of the posts and slapping on some FBI boilerplate. It was also a warning about attacks that not only didn't happen but fairly clearly weren't going to happen. After all, the warning involved threatened violence by anti-warmongers. If that weren't enough, these are also folks supposedly sophisticated enough to do something anyone besides themselves would care about -- and yet dumb enough to announce their intentions in posts on some of the most public (and most-easily monitored) activist sites in existence. Why is this call to action different from all other calls to action? The mind boggles.

The question that has me scratching my head, though, is this: was the FBI's delay due to the fact that they didn't consider Infoshop a credible threat source, but did fear Indymedia Alberta? Or does it simply take the FBI five weeks to turn piece of chatter into a concrete warning? Either way, we're back to one of the basic realities of our system of national security. The FBI knows how to catch criminals (and how to tap the phones of civil rights leaders), but they blow chunks when it comes to processing intelligence. That's the CIA's institutional competency (well, that, and coming up with Boris-and-Natasha-style can't-possibly-fail schemes to topple leftist governments, that, well, usually fail), and to a lesser extent, the NSA's (well, that, and trying in vain to squelch strong crypto). Separating terrorist wheat from activist chaff is, fundamentally, a desk job. And which cops get the desk jobs?

The bad ones.