“It appears as though the rail industry will stop at nothing to attack anyone who dares to speak out publicly against it. What is truly scary is the potential damage an industry can do to someone willing to do the right thing and take a stand in a humanitarian effort to protect rail workers and to call attention to an issue of public health and safety.
DeSmog Investigative Journalist Justin Mikulka should be recognized for the distinguished work he’s done for public benefit, but instead, the rail industry has lumped him into the same category as “neo-Nazis and radical Islamic terrorists.”
This is immoral, and the rail industry must be held accountable – for every despicable action they’ve taken.”
– Gerri Songer
View article in its entirety at The Intercept.
— Authors: Murtaza Hussain, Alleen Brown
Environmental Reporter Justin Mikulka was unnerved as he scanned through the pages. “A friend had contacted me and said that he had found some documents with my name in them,” Mikulka recalled to The Intercept. “He told me I really had to see them for myself.”
Mikulka did see for himself. Descriptions of the journalist and his work were nestled among security reports detailing bloody terrorist attacks and far-right threats, in documents prepared by a private railway industry group and shared with law enforcement. The series of documents suggested that law enforcement was being taught to view him — an author whose work specializes in the hazards of transporting oil by rail — as a possible instigator of criminal activity and a threat to railway safety.
“I knew that the industry was aware of my work and didn’t like it, but the idea that they were privately lumping me in with terrorists to law enforcement is frightening and shocking,” Mikulka said. “To whom were these documents presented? Am I now on security lists, being ranked as a threat to the rail industry? It seems like they couldn’t challenge what I’m saying on a factual basis so they resorted to attacking me like this.”
While not accusing him of being a criminal himself, the documents warned that Mikulka’s writing about the dangers of shipping oil by rail could inspire “criminal activity” in the form of protests that disrupt rail activity.
“The effect of this criminal activity is to escalate the very risk that Mikulka professes he wishes to avoid,” one report claimed, noting, “the potential for derailment escalates dramatically when people and objects are present on tracks.”
The reports singling out Mikulka alongside neo-Nazis and radical Islamic terrorists were included in a series of slide presentations prepared by the Association of American Railroads and distributed to member corporations — as well as to law enforcement. Described on its website as “the world’s leading railroad policy, research, standard setting and technology organization,” the AAR is an industry trade group representing the political interests of the railway business in the United States.
Over the last couple of years, Mikulka and his reporting were featured in at least four separate “Railway Awareness Daily Analytic Reports (RADAR).” Mikulka’s friend found the documents the same way The Intercept did: as part of a trove of documents dubbed “BlueLeaks” that was hacked from so-called fusion centers — regional clearing houses coordinated by the federal government for the purposes of sharing information — and published by the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets. More than two dozen RADAR reports had been stored by two fusion centers, the Maine Information and Analysis Center and the Southeast Florida Fusion Center, along with dozens of additional security reports authored by the AAR. (The fusion centers declined to comment.)
The RADAR reports serve as a poignant example of how the private industry group collaborates closely with public law enforcement agencies, assisted by a national network of fusion centers. The intelligence hubs were designed to bring local, state, and federal law enforcement and security agencies together with private businesses to share information about potential threats. The BlueLeaks documents provide a picture of a system capable of transforming a threat to a corporation’s bottom line into a security threat to be addressed by police.
The AAR chose a particularly sensitive moment to pass information about a journalist to law enforcement. Even without goading from the private sector, local and federal law enforcement, as well as other security agencies, have repeatedly targeted journalists under the Trump administration. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, recently came under fire for developing intelligence files on journalists covering anti-racism protests in Portland, Oregon, and for detaining journalists covering the U.S.-Mexico border. And, in cities from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., local police attacked dozens of journalists during protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
In response to an inquiry, the AAR claimed that because their bulletins are based on open-source material, they are not intelligence reports. “RADAR is intended to keep industry and government partners apprised of trends and published conversations surrounding safety and security issues both in the U.S. and abroad,” the AAR spokesperson said. “The document does not provide or contain intelligence. Its content is drawn largely from widely available news reports, social media posts, and other online publications.” Open-source intelligence, however, is widely recognized as being drawn from these media. The CIA, for instance, defines“open-source intelligence” to include “traditional mass media, the internet, specialized journals, studies, conference proceedings, geospatial information, and more.”
Mikulka was just one of a range of fossil fuel industry critics framed by the rail industry as a potential threat. Another RADAR report raised alarms about the creation of the philanthropic Climate Emergency Fund, noting that its board includes environmental journalists Bill McKibben and David Wallace-Wells. Other documents detailed the activities of fossil fuel opponents like Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement, Wild Idaho Rising Tide, and the anti-Bayou Bridge pipeline L’eau Est La Vie camp in Louisiana.
According to Brendan McQuade, author of the book “Pacifying the Homeland: Intelligence Fusion and Mass Supervision,” the documents mentioning Mikulka exemplify how fusion centers act as a vein through which corporations can inject their interests into the work of public security forces. This type of political policing, he said, is distinct from what happened at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement, when the FBI targeted activists. There’s no villainous program like COINTELPRO specifically aimed at identifying leaders and eliminating them. What does exist is a decentralized system that various interests can manipulate toward their own ends, with little accountability.
McQuade said that for industry critics, the documents contain a message: “There is an active, organized, powerful set of interests, state and corporate, that are out to defeat you politically,” he said. “That needs to be acknowledged and that needs to be politicized.”
Alluding to the climate crisis, McQuade added, “It’s not hyperbole to say the decisions being made now will decide whether humanity survives the 21st century.”