What it is, why we need it and how we implement it...
Luddities; abolitionists; union organizers; revolutionaries...
from large uprisings challenging the entire political structure,
to isolated battles over the working conditions of a single
factory, people have struggles to create a better world.
Governments have always responded by jailing activists and
revolutionaries, using their courts and their police forces to
maintain the status quo.
As our direct action movement becomes more effective, government
surveillance and harassment will increase. To minimize the
destructiveness of this political repression, it is imperative
that we create a security culture within our movement.
This pamphlet is essential reading for anyone who is associated
with groups that advocate and/or utilize sabotage, animal
liberation, or more militant tactics. The advice herein also
applies to anyone who is associated with groups that practice
civil disobedience, especially since membership often overlaps
and gossip travels freely between groups.
Even if you have never picked up a monkeywrench or been
arrested for civil disobedience, even if you think you have
nothing to hide, these guidelines will enhance your personal
safety as well as the movement's overall effectiveness.
Grand juries will go after activists from all portions of a
movement. And the government is not beyond fabricating evidence
to convict mainstream organizers if given any kind of
opportunity to build a case. The history of the FBI's COINTELPRO
operations should never be forgotten. The US government has
targeted groups that have advocated sabotage and groups that
have not, movements that have been militant and movements that
have been markedley pacifist. The goverment's security machinery
(FBI, ATF, DEA, US Marshals, state police, local police, courts,
prisons and parole officers) serves political objectives.
There are over 200 political prisoners in the US that can testify
to this from firsthand experience. By adopting a security culture,
we can defeat various counterintelligence operations that would
otherwise disrupt both mainstream organizing and underground
So What is a Security Culture?
It's culture where the people know their rights and, more
importantly, assert them. Those who belong to a security culture
also know what behavior compromises security and they are quick to
educate those people who, out of ignorance, forgetfulness, or
personal weakness, partake in insecure behavior. This security
consciousness becomes a culture when a group as a whole makes
security violations socially and morally unacceptable in the group.
What Not to Say
To begin with, there are certain things that are inappropriate to
discuss. These things include:
Can you see a pattern? It is wrong to speak about a specific individual's
involvement (past, present or future) with illegal activities. These are
unacceptable topics of discussion regardless of whether it is rumor,
speculation or personal knowledge. Please note: no one is claiming it
is wrong to speak about direct action in general terms. It is perfectly
legal, secure and desirable that people speak out in support of
monkeywrenching and all forms of resistance. The danger lies in linking
individual activists to specific actions or groups.
your involvement or someone else's involvement with an underground
someone else's desire to get involved with such a group
asking others if they are a member of an underground group
your participation or someone else's participation in any action
that was illegal
someone else's advocacy for such actions
your plans or someone else's plans for a future action
There are only three times when it is acceptable to speak about this
information. The first situation is when you are planning an action
with other members of your small group (your "cell" or "affinity
group"). However, you should never discuss actions over the
Internet (e-mail), on the phone, through the mail, or inside an
activist's home or car because these places and forms of
communication are frequently monitored. The only people who
should hear this discussion are those individuals who are
actively partaking in this particular action. Anyone who is not
involved does not need to know and therefore should not know.
The second exception occurs after an activist has been arrested and
brought to trial. If they are found guilty, this activist can freely
speak of the actions for which they were convicted. However, they must
never give information that would help the authorities determine who
else participated in illegal activities.
The third exception is for anonymous letters and interviews with the
media. This must be done very carefully and without compormising
security. Advice on secure communication techniques can be found in
These are the only situations when it is appropriate to speak about
your own or someone else's involvement in or intent to commit illegal
Veteran activists only allow a select few to know about their involvement
with direct action groups. And those few consist of individuals with whom
they do the action and no one else!
The reason for this security precaution is quite obvious: if people don't
know anything, they can't talk about it. The only people who know the
secret are the ones who actually face jail time if the secret gets out.
If other activists who do not share the same serious consequences know
who did an illegal direct action, they are far more likely to talk if
harassed and intimidated by the authorities, because they will not be
jailed. Even those people who are trustworthy can often be tricked into
revealing damaging and incriminating information.
So it is safest for all cell members to keep their involvement in the
group amongst themselves. The fewer people who know, the less evidence
there is to bust them.
In an attempt to impress others, acrivists may behave in ways that
compromise security. Some people do this frequently-they are habitually
gossiping and bragging. Some activists say inappropriate things only
when they consume alcohol. Many activists make occasional breeches of
security because there was a momentary temptation to say something or
hint at something that shouldn't have been said or implied. In most
every situation, the desire to be accepted is the root cause.
Those activists who tend to be the greatest security risks are people
who have low self-esteem and strongly desire the approval of their peers.
Certainly it is natural to seek friendship and recognition for our
efforts, but it is imperative that we keep those selfish desires in check
so that we do not jeopardize the safety of other activists or ourselves.
People who place their desires for friendship over the importance of the
cause can do serious damage to our security.
The following are examples of security-violating behaviors:
Lying: To impress others, liars claim to have done illegal actions.
Such lies not only compromise the person's security - as cops will not
take what is said as a lie - but these claims also hinder movement
solidarity and trust.
Gossiping: Some weak characters think they can win friends by
displaying that they are privy to special information. These gossips
will tell others about who did what action. If they don't know anything
about a particular action, gossips may talk about who they guess might be
involved or they will just spread rumors about who did it. This sort of
talk is very damaging. People need to remember that mere rumors are
sufficient to initiate a grand jury.
Bragging: Some people who partake in illegal direct action might be
tempted to brag about it to their friends. If someone did such a thing, it
would not only jeopardize the security of the bragger and the other people
involved with the action, but it places the people who he or she told at
risk. They can also be subpoenaed by a grand jury and forced to choose
between lying to the grand jury (a serious crime), refusing to cooperate
(potentially resulting in months of imprisonment), or betraying the
movement by repeating the information that they were needlessly told. An
activist who brags also sets a horrible example for other activists.
Indirect-Bragging: Indirect-braggers are people who make a big
production on how they want to remain anonymous, avoid protests, and
stay "underground." They might not come out and say they do illegal
direct action, but they make sure everyone within earshot knows they
are up to something. They are no better than braggers, but they try to
be more sophisticated about it by pretending to maintain "security."
However, if they were serious about security, they would just make up
a good excuse as to why they are not as active, or why they can't make
it to the protest (that kind of lying is definitely acceptable).
Educate to Liberate
With what we now know about security, it is easy to spot those activists
who compromise our movement's security. So what do we do with people who
exhibit these behaviors? Do we excommunicate then from our movement?
Actually, no-at least not for their first mistake.
The unfortunate truth is that there are numerous security-ignorant people
in the movement and others who have been raised in a "scene" that thrives
on bragging and gossiping. It doesn't mean these people are bad, but it
does mean they need to be educated. Even seasoned activists can make
mistakes when there is a general lack of security consciousness in our
groups. And that's where those of you who are reading this can help.
We must never allow a breach of security to occur without acting
to correct it. If an acquaintance of yours is bragging about
doing an action or is spreading security-compromising gossip, it is
your responsibility to explain to her or him why that sort of talk
violates security and is inappropriate within our movement.
You should strive to educate this person in a manner that encourages them
to lsiten and to change their behavior. It should be done without
damaging their pride. You should be humble and sincerely interested in
helping them to become a better person and a more efficient activist. Do
not maintain a "holier-than-thou" attitude. This attitude will inevitably
raise their defenses and prevent them from absorbing or using any of the
advice you offer. Remember that the goal of educating them is to change
their behavior, not boost your ego by showing them how much more
security-conscious you are.
If possible the educational session should be conducted in private, so
the person doesn't feel humiliated by a public reprimand. The educational
session should occurr as soon as possible after the mistake to increase
If each of us takes on the responsibility of educating those who slip up,
we can dramatically improve movement security. Once we recognize lying,
gossiping, bragging and indirect bragging as the damaging character flaws
that they are, they will soon end. When we develop a culture where all
breaches of security result in an immediate response, all sincere
activists will quickly get with the program.
Dealing With Chronic Security Problems
So what do we do with activists who repeatedly violate security
precautions even after multiple educational sessions? It's unfortunate
but necessary to cut them loose and kick them out of our meetings,
basecamps and organizations. With the FBI doubling in size and with courts
handing down stiff sentences, the stakes are too high to allow chronic
security-offenders to work among us.
By creating a security culture, we have an effective defense against
informers and agents who try to infiltrate groups. Imagine an informer
who, every time they asked another activist about that person's
involvement with some group or action received a reprimand and an
education on security. That informer would quickly get frustrated. Once
activists discovered that they continued to violate security precautions
after being repeatedly reprimanded, they would have grounds for
their dismissal. That would be one less informer for us to deal with!
Don't Stop Here
It is also imperative that each of us understands our rights. Make it a
priority that everyone in your group learns about the following topics:
Grand Juries and how to deal with them
COINTELPRO tactics for destroying movements and how to prorect ourselves
What to do if cops knock on your door
What to do if cops stop you on the street
What to do if you are arrested
The following are indispensible resources:
War at Home by Brian Glick (South End Press)
If an Agent Knocks, a pamphlet by The Center for Constitutional
Adopt a Security Culture Now
Activists are restless and resistance is on the rise. People are adopting
more and more effective tactics. Now, more than ever, resistance poses a
serious threat to the status quo in this country. Our increased activity
and effectiveness mean that the FBI, ATF, and local police will continue
to escalate their COINTELPRO activities against activists. If we want
our direct action to continue, it is imperative we start tightening
our security and taking ourselves more seriously. Good security is
certainly the strongest defense we have.
Revised Spring 1999
2004-05-09 Sun 11:23ct