Tag Archives: will potter

Will Potter Describes Being the First Journalist to Visit Federal Communication Management Unit

Will Potter Describes Being the First Journalist to Visit Federal Communication Management Unit

In a new TED Talk released today, investigative journalist and TED Senior Fellow Will Potter describes his experience as the first and only journalist to visit secretive prisons on U.S. soil that are referred to by prisoners and guards as “Little Guantanamo.”

Communications Management Units, or CMUs, are experimental prison units in the United States for so-called “second-tier terrorists.” There’s an estimated 60-70 prisoners in CMUs and they are overwhelmingly Muslim, along with several animal rights and environmental activists.

“According to the Bureau of Prisons, CMUs are for prisoners with quote ‘inspirational significance.’ I think that’s a polite way of saying they are political prisons, for political prisoners,” Potter says in the talk. “Prisoners are sent to the CMU because of their race, religion, or political beliefs.”

There are currently two CMUs, located within larger federal prisons in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois. Neither underwent the formal review process required by law when they were opened.

CMUs are not solitary confinement, but they radically restrict prisoner communications with the outside world to levels that meet or exceed the most extreme prisons in the country.Will Potter was allowed to visit environmental activist Daniel McGowan, who was being held at the CMU in Marion. Approval of this visit came as a shock since no other journalist has been allowed inside the CMUs and because documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the Counter Terrorism Unit has monitored Potter’s speeches, articles, and his book Green Is The New Red. Attorneys and prisoners have said that inmates are transferred to the CMUs without notice and without opportunity to challenge their new designation, in what they say is a clear violation of due process rights.

“Three months after our visit, McGowan was transferred out of the CMU. Then without warning, he was sent back,” Potter says in the TED talk. “I had published leaked CMU documents on my website, and the Counter-Terrorism Unit said McGowan had called his wife and asked her to mail them. …For that, he was sent back to the CMU.”

Potter says CMUs are part of a dangerous post-9/11 trend that he has been documenting, in which the rhetoric of terrorism is used to justify rollbacks in fundamental rights.

“This story is not just about prisoners, it is about us,” he says. “It is about our own commitment to human rights.”

About Will Potter

Will Potter is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, and TED Senior Fellow based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. He specializes in civil liberties post-9/11 and how protest has been labeled as terrorism; Glenn Greenwald described Potter as “the most knowledgeable journalist in the country on these issues.” He is currently a Knight Fellow in Law Reporting at the University of Michigan.

The FBI Claims MIT PhD Candidate, Ryan Shapiro’s FOIA Research will “Irreparably Damage National Security”
Ryan Shapiro | Photo, Stephanie Crumley

The FBI Claims MIT PhD Candidate, Ryan Shapiro’s FOIA Research will “Irreparably Damage National Security”

[CAMBRIDGE, MA]  The Federal Bureau of Investigation is claiming the dissertation research of Ryan Shapiro, a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will “irreparably damage national security.” Radical and unprecedented in nature, the FBI’s efforts in this case stand to change the landscape of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as we know it.

In an exclusive report for Mother Jones, Will Potter, author of Green is The New Red, breaks down the chilling implications of the FBI’s pending challenge to Shapiro’s research.  In part the FBI is claiming the following:

1.) The FBI is arguing in court that an MIT PhD candidate’s prolific Freedom of Information Act research about FBI investigations of animal rights activists is a threat to national security.

2.) The FBI is employing radical and at times unprecedented measures to exempt itself from compliance with the Freedom of Information Act in this case. These measures include a radical new application of a Cold War-era FOIA doctrine, a radical new application of the FOIA “nuclear option,” and submission of a secret declaration from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division to the judge about the alleged threat posed by the MIT student’s dissertation research.

3.) The FBI’s efforts to exempt itself from the Freedom of Information Act in this case are so extreme and sweeping that, if the judge rules for the FBI, it could have a devastating impact on other FOIA requestors’ ability to obtain any records from the FBI and government agencies more broadly.

“I wish I could say I’m surprised the FBI is labeling my academic research a threat to national security,” said Shapiro.  “I wish I could say I’m surprised the FBI is attempting to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act by invoking national security. I wish I could say I’m surprised the FBI refuses to make public its justification for attempting the above, again on the grounds of national security. But I can’t. Since its earliest days, the FBI has viewed political dissent as a security threat. And since the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI has viewed efforts to force Bureau compliance with the law in the same light.”

You can read & share Will Potter’s complete report for Mother Jones  HERE
You can follow Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro


Repealing the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act: Event at Suffolk University

Repealing the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act: Event at Suffolk University

6pm-9pm Tuesday, March 27th 2012
Suffolk University Law School
120 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108-4977

View Map · Get Directions · RSVP on Facebook

Suffolk Law School, Harvard Law School, and New England School of Law present a panel discussion of how the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is undermining our rights.

Featuring:  Odette Wilkens, Esq. (Executive Director of the Equal Justice Alliance), Ryan Shapiro (Animal rights activist & doctoral candidate at MIT), Andy Stepanian (Ex-SHAC 7 political prisoner  & cofounder of  The Sparrow Project), David Nathanson, Esq. (Partner in the Boston law firm of Wood & Nathanson, LLP), Will Potter (Award-winning independent journalist & author of Green Is the New Red)

Odette Wilkens is Executive Director of the Equal Justice Alliance, whose mission is to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.  She is a member of the Committee of Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals of the New York City Bar Association.  That Committee issued a Comment opposing the Act before its passage, and after its passage, issued a letter, along with the Civil Rights Committee, to President Obama’s Administration and Congress calling for the repeal of the Act.  Project Censored honored her with an award in 2007 for co-authoring an editorial published in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law: “The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is Invidiously Detrimental to the Animal Rights Movement (and Unconstitutional as Well).” Under her guidance, the Equal Justice Alliance succeeded in persuading the National Center for Animal Law at Lewis & Clark Law School to focus their moot court competition on the AETA.  That competition took place at Harvard Law School in February 2008, where Odette was a moot court judge. She has spoken at numerous law schools, bar associations, and legal conferences on the Act’s implications for civil liberties.  Odette is also a corporate and transactional attorney focusing on information technology, and has spoken on corporate records retention policies.  She was Assistant General Counsel for a major international recruiting firm after working as associate counsel at a leading technology law firm, Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner.  Before becoming an attorney, Odette negotiated film license agreements, and was Assistant Corporate Secretary, for HBO.  She also has an MBA in Finance from the Stern Graduate School of Business at New York University, and is a graduate of Barnard College, affiliated with Columbia University.

David Nathanson is a partner in the Boston law firm of Wood & Nathanson, LLP. Previously, he was a staff attorney in the private counsel division of the Criminal Appeals Unit at the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS). From 1997 to 2001, David was a sole practitioner focusing on criminal appeals and pro bono trial representation of protestors. He joined CPCS in 2001. He returned to private practice in January 2008 as a partner with Attorney Chauncey Wood.  David’s most widely known case is [Smith v. Massachusetts, 543 U.S. 462 (2005)], holding that a granted motion for a required finding of not guilty at the close of the Commonwealth’s case may not be later reconsidered.  He was also among a group of seven lawyers who successfully defended animal rights activists in Massachusetts state court against extortion charges stemming from their campaign to shame investors into divesting from a notorious animal experimentation laboratory.  He has frequently presented trainings on criminal appellate matters for CPCS and for the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. David is a graduate of Rutgers University School of Law at Newark, and was a member of the Rutgers Animal Law Clinic while in law school.

Andy Stepanian is an ex-SHAC7 political prisoner and currently the co-founder of The Sparrow Project, a grassroots PR outfit that aims to braid popular culture, the arts, and revolutionary activism.  In 2002, the Financial Times characterized SHAC as “succeeding where Karl Marx, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and the Red Brigades failed.” Their actions drew the attention of Wall Street and the FBI, resulting in a politically charged landmark free speech case called the SHAC 7 trial, where Andy and 5 others were charged and convicted as terrorists for their activism. Sentenced to 3 years in prison, Andy spent his last 6.5 months in a secretive federal prison program that NPR would later name ‘Guantanamo North’.

Ryan Shapiro is a longtime animal rights activist and now a doctoral candidate in the Department of Science, Technology, & Society at MIT. His research explores the use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present. As part of this work, Ryan has nearly five hundred Freedom of Information Act requests in motion with the FBI. He is also currently a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist based in Washington, D.C., who focuses on “eco-terrorism,” the animal rights and environmental movements, and civil liberties post-9/11.  His work has appeared in publications including the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, and the Vermont Law Review, and he has testified before the U.S. Congress about his reporting.  Will frequently lectures about efforts to roll back civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism. Speaking engagements have included the New York City Bar Association, Yale Law School, and the House of Democracy and Human Rights in Berlin. Media appearances have included the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, and Democracy Now.  His book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege was recently published by City Lights Books. It has been featured by NPR, The Rumpus, and Publisher’s Weekly. Kirkus Book Reviews awarded it a Kirkus Star for “remarkable merit” and named it one of the best books of 2011.


Activist Repression & Secretive Prisons Make International Headlines

Activist Repression & Secretive Prisons Make International Headlines

In the past few weeks the prosecution and incarceration of activists, direct-actionists and philanthropists as terrorists has seen a resurgence in media attention. It’s never too little or too late…

Last week The Wall Street Journal took a critical look at the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) citing that the law was both irresponsible and redundant in the way it prosecutes activists as terrorists for combined legal and illegal actions, noting that the illegal actions prosecuted under the act (liberating animals, destroying property, etc) are already crimes under state and federal law. You can read a non-subscription version of the article HERE.

The Paris-based Arte Television and CAPA Presse TV aired the segment ‘Qui sont les éco-terroristes?‘ (who are the ecoterrorists?) as part of their Global Magazine series, broadcasted across France, Germany, and Switzerland. The segment highlighted the case against the SHAC7 and Operation Backfire defendant Daniel McGowan and featured interviews with Green is the New Red author Will Potter, Jenny Synan, Andy Stepanian of the Sparrow Media Project and Alexi Agathocleous of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The segment took a critical view of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, FBI scaremongering, and highlighted animal industries influence on designer legislation like the AETA. The segment also drew attention to Stepanian’s and McGowan’s incarceration within Federal Communication Management Units (CMUs) and showed McGowan’s “Notice of Transfer” as well as an elaborate computer generated model of the Federal Penitentiary in Marion, IL where the CMU is located. You can view the segment below.

The stories surrounding CMU programs in Marion Illinois, and Terre Haute Indiana were revisited by NPR’s Justice Department correspondents who noted that the transfer of 5 high-profile inmates to the unit further called into question the constitutionality of the CMU and it’s overwhelming Muslim population.

Will Potter also revisited the issue of CMUs in a look at the now defunct Lexington High Security Unit. Highlighted in Potter’s book Green is the New Red the Lexington High Security Unit was a federal political prison program strikingly similar to the that of the CMU and the lesser known ADMAX Unit at The Federal Medical Center at Carswell, TX. Potter writes —

“The government has reason to be secretive about this program [Communications Management Units], because similar experiments have not been well received by civil rights and human rights organizations. The Bureau of Prisons has a history of operating pilot programs outside the confines of the Constitution.

For example, the High Security Unit in the federal women’s prison in Lexington, Kentucky, was created in the 1980s to house political prisoners belonging to an organization that, according to the Bureau of Prisons, “attempts to disrupt or overthrow the government of the U.S.” The Lexington HSU existed below ground, in total isolation from the outside world and with radically restricted prisoner communications and visitations. The women were subjected to constant fluorescent lighting, almost daily strip searches, and sensory deprivation. The purpose of these conditions, according to a report by Dr. Richard Korn for the ACLU, was to “reduce prisoners to a state of submission essential for ideological conversion.” The Lexington HSU was closed in 1988 after an outcry by Amnesty International, the ACLU and religious groups.”


The Southern Illinoisian, a daily paper published out Carbondale, IL featured two articles and a cover shot highlighting the CMU program. Although the photographs provided by the officials at the Marion, Penitentiary were misleading (the CMU does not have a gymnasium or any similar open spaces for recreation) the papers editors went to great lengths to challenge the legality of the unit and to question who is actually housed within the controversial program. Within the paper’s cover article lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights blasted the unit for its lack of due process and grossly disproportionate population of Muslim detainees. A second, more personal article featured interviews with Noor Elashi, Jenny Synan, and Andy Stepanian about their experiences with the CMU. Noor’s father, Ghassan Elashi’s, only crime is providing charitable aide to hospitals in the Israeli-Occupied Palestinian territories. You can read The Southern’s articles HERE and HERE.

Democracy Now! Invites Will Potter, Marshall Curry & Andy Stepanian to Discuss ‘If a Tree Falls’

Democracy Now! Invites Will Potter, Marshall Curry & Andy Stepanian to Discuss ‘If a Tree Falls’

Today Andy Stepanian of the Sparrow Project, Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red, and Marshal Curry were invited on Democracy Now to discuss ‘If a Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front Curry’s new documentary about the life of Daniel McGowan and the Earth Liberation Front. ‘If a Tree Falls’ will premier nation-wide on wednesday after a successful and critically acclaimed stint on the festival circuit.

To watch the full interview visit — http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/21/if_a_tree_falls_new_documentary

If a Tree Falls will be screening from June 22nd to the 28th at The IFC theatre located at 323 6th avenue (at west 3rd street) in NYC.

For a full list of the screenings at the IFC visit — http://www.ifccenter.com/films/if-a-tree-falls-a-story-of-the-earth-liberation-front/

For a list of screenings nationally visit — http://ifatreefallsfilm.com/screenings.html

Daniel McGowan is currently being housed in the Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the United States Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana. In a controversial ruling an Oregon court ruled that McGowan’s acts of property destruction as part of the ELF although wholly non-violent were to be considered acts of terrorism and designated McGowan as such. The CMU is a designer penal program aimed at severely restricting the communications of McGowan and other specially designated inmates like him as well as cutting off their access to the outside world. This includes a ban on contact visitation with immediate family members.

Daniel and all of the men housed at the CMU need your support! For a list of things that you can do to support Daniel McGowan as well as information about Daniels case visit — http://supportdaniel.org/

To learn what you can do to fight for the rights of prisoners secretly held within CMUs the Center For Constitutional Rights has set up a webpage dedicated to the CMU at — http://ccrjustice.org/cmu-factsheet