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Monday, 16 June 2014 08:39

Menacing Signs for Democracy: Pentagon Researches Non-Violent Protesters as Potential Terrorists

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aawallstTo the Pentagon, non-violent protesters against the ruling elite are potential terrorists. (Photo: Nataraj Metz)

In a June 12 Guardian column entitled, "Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown: Social science is being militarised to develop 'operational tools' to target peaceful activists and protest movements," Nafeez Ahmed writes of a painfully ominous Pentagon research initiative:

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research program is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar program is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US."

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model "of the dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions." The project will determine "the critical mass (tipping point)" of social contagions by studying their "digital traces" in the cases of "the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey."

Notice that the word "contagion" is used in association with democratic movements overseas. The Department of Defense (DOD) is concerned, it appears, that democracy might go viral and contaminate governments in a way that will force military intervention in order to preserve empire.

The foreboding implications of the DOD's Minerva project extends beyond grassroots revolts and into suspicion of nonviolent protest - almost exclusively protest by those on the left, those who challenge the corporate and financial ruling elite - as a potential breeding ground for terrorism, according to The Guardian::

Last year, the DOD's Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine 'Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?' which, however, conflates peaceful activists with "supporters of political violence" who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on "armed militancy" themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists:

"In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about terrorists, but about supporters of political violence."

The project's 14 case studies each "involve extensive interviews with ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence."

Of course, it would be difficult not to summon the fate of the Occupy movements in cities through the US - at the hands of police departments working informally with the federal government. Peaceful protest becomes regarded as a potential prelude to terrorism, perhaps because terrorism in the eyes of the government and military often is defined by them as any (violent or nonviolent) threat to the economic status quo of empire.

As a result, the Pentagon is using the Minerva program as an excuse to monitor domestic nonviolent activists in studies, according to The Guardian:

Prof [David] Price [a cultural anthropologist at St Martin's University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State] has previously exposed how the Pentagon's Human Terrain Systems (HTS) program - designed to embed social scientists in military field operations - routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions "within the United States."

Citing a summary critique of the program sent to HTS directors by a former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios "adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq" to domestic situations "in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order."

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to "identify those who were 'problem-solvers' and those who were 'problem-causers,' and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the 'desired end-state' of the military's strategy."

It would certainly be of interest to know how the DOD distinguishes between so-called "problem-solvers" and "problem-causers" within domestic activist movements.  Is a "problem-causer" someone like any Occupy protester? It would appear that way from past history, wouldn't it? As Professor Price interprets the domestic study in Missouri, the goal is important to repeat: to move the general public toward "that set of viewpoints and values which was the 'desired end-state' of the military's strategy."

According to Ahmed, the Minerva project may explain why the US government is so fiercely backing the massive invasion of privacy being undertaken by the National Security Agency:

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks

James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University in New York, concurs with Price's concerns. Minerva-funded social scientists tied to Pentagon counterinsurgency operations are involved in the "study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven movements," he said, including how "to counteract grassroots movements."

If one concludes that this theory is credible, then the NSA overreach is perhaps more important as a source of citizen data for social control needs of the government than the stated reason of catching terrorists.

If you protest for the common good and you think that you are being watched, you probably are correct.

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