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Urban Shield, SWAT, and the Domain Awareness Center

10.24.13 - The upcoming Urban Shield government/police training exercise is run by the private corporation Cytel Group, founded by former Alameda County Assistant Sheriff James Baker. All scenarios in Urban Shield must contain “a nexus to terrorism” and are designed based on threat analysis provided by the Regional Fusion Center, an institution which has been at the center of domestic spying controversy. Partners in the 2013 exercise include every branch of the Military, FEMA, DEA, TSA, National Guard, US Secret Service, and Coast Guard, among others. While local politicians pull the wool of disaster preparedness over our eyes, Urban Shield is in reality an annual exposition of the latest techniques and technologies imported from the military industrial complex to be used against our community.

Recently I wandered into a West Oakland café in search of caffeine and a place to relax for a few minutes. I sipped my cheap coffee under the watchful eye of a surveillance camera and listened to the conversation of three people at a nearby table. They were discussing in fine detail the logistics of cutting an $850,000 overall employee payroll to $700,000, with each of the three nominating (by first name) a worker or two to fire. They then discussed the language through which they would order remaining workers to ‘streamline and increase efficiency’ to cover the duties of their (soon to

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be ex-) coworkers. As huge segments of the population are displaced and left hungry by gentrification, layoffs, the gutting of social services, and an ever-increasing wealth gap, the State pours billions into building surveillance systems which turn cities into virtual prisons and training police departments to act as the prison guards, unflinchingly putting down uprisings using tactics and weaponry re-purposed from foreign occupations.

Take as a pertinent example the Urban Shield government/police training exercise which will take place in Oakland from October 25th through the 27th. This annual event combines a trade show in which corporate salespeople push products ranging from drones and assault rifles to night vision goggles with a series of exercises which integrate technology from the trade show (for a hefty fee paid to the corporation running Urban Shield).

urban shield

Screenshot from a promotional Urban Shield 2012 video

One of the Urban Shield exercises in 2012 publicly deployed drones during a training scenario in which members of the Sovereign Citizens movement (an anti-State, US-based political organization) drove a truck into a government building. Other scenarios reveal a trend in which SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams fight local insurgents, featuring “Homegrown Violent Extremists,” multiple cases involving “Environmental Terrorists,” and the more generic “Domestic Terrorists.” An Urban Shield 2012 promo video goes so far as to show SWAT approaching people who are standing behind a banner proclaiming “We Are the 99%.” Why is an exercise billed by City Council politicians as essential to Fire and EMT preparedness so obsessed with paramilitary training to counter the specter of domestic terrorism and so unconcerned with disasters that have actually occurred in the region, such as earthquakes, wildfires, or refinery explosions? The answer, unsurprisingly, can be determined by looking at who profits and who pays.

The Urban Shield exercise is run by the private corporation Cytel Group, founded by former Alameda County Assistant Sheriff James Baker. Cytel runs Urban Shield exercises throughout the country in locations that qualify for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding through the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), a money pot of $558.7 million[1]. The Bay Area regional UASI is headed by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, who in 2012 hired Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to develop a “training and exercise plan” for the region and to directly provide training services to law enforcement[2]. Funds acquired through the UASI program come with a stipulation: they must be used to bolster counter-terrorism efforts in the region. All scenarios in Urban Shield must contain “a nexus to terrorism” and are designed based on threat analysis provided by the Regional Fusion Center, an institution which has been at the center of domestic spying controversy. Partners in the 2013 exercise include every branch of the Military, FEMA, DEA, TSA, National Guard, US Secret Service, and Coast Guard, among others. While local politicians pull the wool of disaster preparedness over our eyes, Urban Shield is in reality an annual exposition of the latest techniques and technologies imported from the military industrial complex to be used against our community.

swat

Image of the first ever SWAT operation, a raid on Black Panther Headquarters in Los Angeles, 1969

The history of SWAT itself reveals something about the increasingly repressive security-surveillance state which is being constructed around us. The initial SWAT team was pioneered by the Los Angeles Police Department as a response to the Watts riots of 1965 and was first deployed in a 1969 raid on the Black Panther Party headquarters. The War on Drugs caused a dramatic increase in the proliferation of SWAT teams throughout the country and provided funding for their ever-increasing militarization. In 1994, a law was passed allowing the Pentagon to donate surplus military gear to police departments, with later legislation streamlining the process which has been used to equip police with everything from M-16 assault rifles to helicopters and even tanks[3]. Post-9/11, the creation of the DHS resulted in additional funding for the domestic War on Terror, much of which was directed to SWAT teams and ramped up military-style training efforts. Studying SWAT within the context of increasingly militarized local police departments, Peter Kraska notes that the US is experiencing “a redefining of criminality to ‘insurgency,’ and crime control to ‘low-intensity conflict’ — requiring counter-insurgency measures carried out by both the US military and civilian police.”[4] In Oakland, the SWAT team is rolled out for everything from evicting squatters from bank-owned homes to drug raids and even protests. In fact, the DoD considers political protest “low-level terrorism,” making political dissidents a target of counterterrorism operations[5]. The constant, local presence of a military force whose role is to suppress people who challenge the roots of the existing power structure plays an important role in the State’s strategy to maintain the status quo.

The threat and use of force can only go so far in eliciting compliance from a population. Surveillance, or perhaps more accurately the ever-present knowledge that someone may be watching, makes the threat of violence even more effective. Alongside the Urban Shield exercise and ongoing militarization of the police force, the City of Oakland has been working alongside the DHS to implement a mass surveillance system, cryptically terming the project the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The DAC is a facility in which all data collected by surveillance systems in the city of Oakland, from cameras to traffic monitors and the shot-spotter system, can be accessed and analyzed. Like Urban Shield, the DAC is funded by the DHS and, perhaps unsurprisingly, will be built by SAIC—the same corporation contracted to develop the UASI training and exercise plan which provides the rationalization for Urban Shield. Ironically, the center will be located on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, sharing a building with Oakland Fire House #1. Oakland City Council voted unanimously to approve the DAC on July 30th 2013, despite spirited heckling and opposition leading up to their midnight vote.

Referred to at the July 30th council meeting by an SAIC representative as the first fusion center of its kind in Northern California, the DAC is yet another tool to be used in the nationwide counterinsurgency campaign spearheaded by the National Security Administration (NSA) and DHS. Although infiltration and surveillance have been used against political dissidents since well before the founding of the United States, the level of environmental and social destruction wrought by globalized capitalism has caused a situation in which the State fears it may not be able to maintain the illusion that it is beneficial or necessary. This has led to a heightened focus on domestic security operations, such as the implementation of an Orwellian surveillance state and widespread propaganda surrounding so-called ‘homegrown terrorism.’ Even the mainstream media has acknowledged this current, as shown by Nafeez Ahmed of the Guardian:

“Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defense planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.”[6]

The Oakland DAC ties directly into these larger trends, as it aggregates data collected on Oakland residents in a fusion center funded directly by the DHS. Once collected, this information will be shared directly with corporations through the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC)—the partnership between the FBI, DHS, NSA, and corporate security which previously facilitated the dissemination of an FBI report on the upcoming Oakland Port Shutdown of 2011 to the targeted corporations in advance of the action, going so far as to suggest measures which would lessen the impact of the shutdown. These connections make the DAC more than just a surveillance system: it is the transformation of public space into a data-collection honeypot analyzed for the benefit of the State and corporate interests.


[1] http://www.fema.gov/fy-2013-homeland-security-grant-program-hsgp-0

[2] http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2013/08/30/questionable-contractor-is-training-alameda-sheriffs-deputies-and-oakland-and-san-francisco-police

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/police-militarization-9-11-september-11_n_955508.html

[4] http://cjmasters.eku.edu/sites/cjmasters.eku.edu/files/21stmilitarization.pdf

[5] http://open.salon.com/blog/dennis_loo/2009/06/22/dod_deletes_protest_terrorism_problems_remain

[6] http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/06/14/nsa-prism-pentagon-bracing-for-anti-government-activism-over-climate-change-disasters/