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FBI keeps lid on sniper plot to kill ‘Occupy Wall Street’ organizers

Published: December 24, 2014
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(Image: Paramount Pictures)

(Image: Paramount Pictures)

HOUSTON, TX — Heavily redacted FBI memos confirm that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware of a plot to assassinate the Houston organizers of “Occupy Wall Street,” but the agency has managed to withhold the details from the American public using the worn-out excuse that transparency compromises national security.

According to the agency’s official memos, an unnamed party or agency “planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors in Houston, Texas, if deemed necessary… [Redacted] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”

The plot was allegedly devised in October 2011, shortly after the national debut of Occupy Wall Street in September of the same year.  It wasn’t until 2013 that any mention of the plot was made known to the public, when Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral student Ryan Noah Shapiro noticed startling references in the course of his extensive efforts to pursue transparency in the FBI.  Mr. Shapiro subsequently filed a Freedom Of Information (FOIA) request for additional details.

The first unclassified FBI document contained the following paragraph:

 An identified ██████████████ as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified ██████████████ had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas.  ██████████ planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles. (Note: protests continued throughout the weekend with approximately 6000 persons in NYC. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests have spread to about half of all states in the US, over a dozen European and Asian cities, including protests in Cleveland (10/6-8/11) at Willard Park which was initially attended by hundreds of protesters.)

A second FBI memo, between undisclosed agents in Jacksonville, also mentioned the plot:

On 13 October 2011, writer sent via email an excerpt from the daily ████████████ regarding FBI Houston’s ██████████████ to all IAs, SSRAs and SSA ██████. This ███ identified the exploitation of the Occupy Movement by ██████████████████████████████████████████ interested in developing a long-term plan to kill local Occupy leaders via sniper fire.

Note:  The reference to “IAs, SSRAs and SSA” is an abbreviation for “Intelligence Analysts, Supervisory Senior Resident Agents, and Supervisory Special Agents.”

The memos omit critical details about the persons or agencies that might have been involved in the conspiratorial assassination plot.

“The use of the phrase ‘if deemed necessary,’ sounds like it was some kind of official organization that was doing the planning,” commented Paul Kennedy, the National Lawyers Guild attorney representing Mr. Shapiro.

Interestingly, this assassination plot was apparently not shared with the Houston Police Department, according to HPD Public Affairs Officer Keith Smith.  After conferring with his superiors within the department, he confirmed HPD knew nothing about it, saying, “We haven’t heard about it.” When asked if that meant that the FBI hadn’t warned HPD about a potential terror attack in their own city, Officer Smith simply replied, “No. You’d have to ask the Houston FBI about that.”


In response to Mr. Shapiro’s FOIA request, the FBI said it had identified 17 pages of relevant records, but it only released five of them, all highly redacted.

“Here we have an FBI investigation of purported possible terrorism and attempts to overthrow the American government by a protest group, and the discovery during this investigation of an actual terrorist plot to assassinate the leaders of that protest group,” Mr. Shapiro told VICE News. “And yet, the FBI is claiming it amassed only 17 pages total on all of the above? Well, beyond implausible, the FBI’s claim is preposterous.”

Being no stranger to being stonewalled by the government, Shapiro then filed a lawsuit against the FBI.   His work has led him to file requests for thousands of documents from federal agencies such as the CIA, DOJ, and FBI, and has been called the “most prolific” FOIA-requester.   His efforts have been decried by the federal government, which has claimed that the “mosaic” of information he has requested in various areas, if released, could “significantly and irreparably damage national security” and would have “significant deleterious effects” on the government’s “ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism.”

Predictably, FBI FOIA Chief David Hardy defended suppressing the information from Mr. Shapiro and filed a motion to dismiss his lawsuit.

“Not only is this far-fetched, it highlights that we as a nation need to foster a broader understanding of ‘national security.’”

Hardy claimed that his reasons included protecting secret investigations regarding “potential criminal activity by protestors involved with the ‘Occupy’ movement in Houston.” He stated that the potential crimes included “domestic terrorism” and “advocating overthrow of government.”

Hardy wrote in his declaration: “To further explain the material that is being protected by Exemption (b)(1) would reveal the very nature of the information the FBI is trying to protect.”

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia did not find his explanation sufficient, and ordered the FBI to provide a more complete answer.

“At no point does Mr. Hardy supply specific facts as to the basis for FBI’s belief that the Occupy protestors might have been engaged in terroristic or other criminal activity,” wrote Judge Collyer. “Neither the word ‘terrorism’ nor the phrase ‘advocating the overthrow of the government’ are talismanic, especially where FBI purports to be investigating individuals who ostensibly are engaged in protected First Amendment activity.”

Unfortunately, the agency’s final response was allowed to be provided under seal, and the American public will not be allowed to know any further details.  Case closed.

“The FBI is again hiding behind vague unsupported allegations of ‘terrorism’ and threats to national security to withhold these documents,” Shapiro told VICE News. “Not only is this far-fetched, it highlights that we as a nation need to foster a broader understanding of ‘national security.’”

A FBI memo describing a plot to "kill the leadership [of OWS] via suppressed sniper rifles."

FBI Memo #1

An memo from the Jacksonville FBI office describing a secret plot to assassinate Occupy Wall Street organizers with sniper fire.

FBI Memo #2


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