We may never learn details of an alleged plot to murder leaders of the Occupy Houston Movement after a federal judge in Houston agreed with the FBI, ruling that the law enforcement agency has the right to withhold information in order to protect its informants and others who would be harmed by being publicly exposed.
The judge’s ruling is a blow to advocates of public disclosure of governmental records, including the plaintiff in the case who requested the Occupy Houston information, MIT doctoral student Noah Shapiro.
Shapiro is conducting research on the types of policing tactics law enforcement uses, particularly for national security purposes. He had sent public records requests to the FBI after hearing about an alleged murder plot targeting Occupy Houston, and that’s where he ran into a brick wall. The FBI gave him just 17 pages and withheld the rest, citing the protection of its sources, but Shapiro challenged the bureau in court.
Shapiro says he first heard about an alleged plot to kill leaders of the Occupy Houston group from investigative journalist Jason Leopold, who had obtained a heavily redacted FBI document that mentioned "a potential plan to gather intelligence against the leaders of (Occupy Wall Street-related protests in Houston) and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership (of the protests) via suppressed sniper rifles.”
Judge Rosemary Collyear sided with the law enforcement though, saying that releasing the information meant that the FBI “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source” and that the likelihood of retaliation justified keeping the information from the public eye.
Shapiro says he will continue to fight to obtain the records, telling Courthouse News Service, “We are coming ever closer to finally forcing the FBI to concede it actually possesses a large volume of documents about this FBI-coordinated nationwide investigation of political protesters as supposed terroristic threats to national security."
Shapiro noted that in one request for information, the FBI told him they didn’t collect any information on the Occupy Houston group, but then made an about-face with this latest court skirmish and said they couldn’t disclose anything in order to protect their informants. So do they or don’t they have information on Occupy Houston and an alleged plot to murder the group’s leaders? That answer is what Shapiro says he’ll look for tirelessly.