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Spying on Rock Festivals: High-Tech Hidden Surveillance at Wakarusa

UPDATE: Drug War Chronicle story about this incident online now. We wrote about police harassment of attendees at the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival when the event occurred in June, but little did we know that was only the tip of the iceberg. Now, thanks to the bragadoccio of a high-tech surveillance equipment manufacturer and a resultant puff piece in an industry rag, we know that state, local, and federal law enforcement officials were all on hand at Wakarusa to check out a demo of some very sophisticated surveillance equipment. With hidden cameras, night vision equipment, and thermal imaging, cops were able to surveil up to 85% of the festival grounds, spot drugs and money changing hands, watch people roll joints, and subsequently make arrests. The cops and the high-tech spying firm are pretty happy, but festival goers and organizers are not. Blogger Bob Merkin has been all over this at Vleeptron (just scroll down until you find it--look for the flying monkey poster), and I'll have a news brief about it tomorrow complete with some interesting links. In the mean time, perhaps it's best to believe that Big Brother is watching.
Location: 
United States

Law Enforcement: Cops Used Hidden High-Tech Surveillance on Kansas Rock Festival-Goers

Drug War Chronicle reported in June on the "traffic enforcement and sobriety checkpoints" set up to snare attendees at the Wakarusa Music Festival outside Lawrence, Kansas. Little did we or anybody know that was the least of what law enforcement was up to. Now it turns out that state and local law enforcement officials teamed up with a California-based high-tech security and surveillance company to put the festival and its 50,000 attendees under constant, high-resolution video surveillance.

In what was in essence a state-sponsored marketing ploy by NS Microwave, Inc., the manufacturer of the technology, members of the FBI, the DEA, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office all showed up at the festival to watch the $250,000 system zoom in on drug purchases, people rolling joints, and similarly intimate activities. (NS Microwave, a subsidiary of the defense contractor Allied Defense Group, bragged about this coup in an aggressively unhip press release that undoubtedly spilled the beans.)

The set-up included hidden wireless cameras, night vision equipment, and a 21-foot command trailer set up in the middle of the festival and disguised as a radio station trailer. According to a laudatory article in the trade publication Government Security News, "When law enforcement officials viewed the surveillance monitors in the command trailer, they were surprised to discover that the NS Microwave system was showing details never expected. On viewing screens, the equipment displayed a dramatic array of illegal activities, including extensive drug dealing, use of vehicles to store dealers' narcotics and dealer-to-mule transactions."

"It was a big surprise," Lt. Doug Woods, patrol commander for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, told the News. "We got very good results."

According to police and press reports, some 140 drug-related arrests were made. But it is unclear how many came as a result of the hidden surveillance. According to Woods, 15 officers patrolled during the day shift and 20 at night, with 50 on hand for the festival's Saturday night climax.

Kansas law enforcement never told anyone about the secret high-tech surveillance, and the spying would have gone unnoticed without the publication of the NS press release and the Government Surveillance News puff piece, but after that came out, the Lawrence Journal-World broke the story locally, and adverse reaction began rolling in. The Journal-World quoted festival-goers as saying the hidden cameras were "a shame and kind of embarrassing." Attendee Ali Mangan told the local paper, "I feel like it was really a big mistake because people at a festival are trying to have a good time and let loose. I would be willing to bet that most people wouldn't be okay with that had they known."

By this week, the University of Kansas newspaper the Daily Kansan was denouncing the spying on its editorial page. In an editorial bluntly titled "Secret Cameras Violated Privacy," the newspaper lambasted local and state law enforcement: "Economic gain trumped privacy at the festival. If law enforcement had posted signs stating the presence of video surveillance, drug dealing might have decreased from the outset," the paper noted. "Instead, the suspected drug money seized and the fines collected will be added to the coffers of the city, which still hasn't said what it will do with the money.

"What's most disturbing," the editorial continued, "is that law enforcement probably never would have revealed its secretive moneymaking scheme had the GSN article not surfaced. Has local law enforcement secretly installed cameras in other public places? Maybe we won't know until another article is published in an obscure trade journal."

On Tuesday, Wakarusa festival organizer Brent Mosiman weighed in on the Wakarusa web site with an apology to attendees and critique of law enforcement. "We cannot tell you how truly sorry we are that these [spying] issues occurred at Wakarusa this year and we sincerely apologize to everyone for any violations of your rights and privacy. To give you some background, we were informed that there would be an increased law enforcement presence at this year's event. Initially, we were supportive of this when it was presented as an effort to increase the safety of everyone in attendance. It became apparent however that enforcement, not safety and security, was the true mission of the increased law enforcement. We must make it perfectly clear that we did not know of any of the specific measures, tactics or instruments the various law enforcement agencies used at the event. More importantly, Wakarusa does not believe such tactics and equipment were necessary and does not support their use. If there are not significant assurances that similar procedures won't materialize in the future, we will not host another Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival," Mosiman wrote.

Gilberto Gil is Still Making Beautiful Music -- This Time About Drug Legalization

Music lovers have long appreciated Brazilian composer and musician Gilberto Gil's enormous talent and his contributions to bossa nova, tropicalismo, and other uniquely Brazilian music forms. Of course, Gil was never just a musician; he and Caetano Veloso, another giant of Brazilian music, were imprisoned by the military dictatorship in 1969 for "anti-government activities," and the pair went to exile in London and the US after they were released. Gil continued both his musical and political careers in the intervening decades, winning elective office in his home town of Salvador in 1990. When Lula Da Silva and the Workers' Party won power in 2003, Da Silva appointed Gil minister of culture. Now, Gil is speaking out on drug policy, and not for the first time. Last year, he told the newspaper Folha do Sao Paulo that he had been smoking pot for the last 50 years. But in an interview on Sunday with the newspaper O Globo, Gil went further, calling for the legalization of drugs. According to O Globo, Gil wants drug use and the drug trade treated as a public health matter, not a criminal one. "We have to treat cocaine addicts like we treat alcoholics," he said. While he seeks to reduce drug consumption, Gil said there are better ways than prohibition. "The cigarette smoking habit en Brazil is systematically falling not because it has been prohibited, but because it is discouraged, associating the smoking habit with bad health," he said. Gil's remarks came just days after President da Silva signed a new Brazilian drug law that will reduce penalties for consumers, but stiffen them for drug sellers and traffickers. Look for a feature article on the new law on Friday. In the meantime, we can all enjoy Gilberto Gil's beautiful music.
Location: 
Brazil

You Can Put Your Weed in it

I’ve seen these before, but never in the news:

From the Coventry Evening Telegram:

Drug users will be able to dump their illegal stashes without getting in trouble before they enter a massive dance festival near Stratford this weekend. Warwickshire Police will again have an amnesty zone just before the entrance of Global Gathering at Long Marston airfield.

But why would anyone do that?

"Passive drugs dogs will be walked along the queue to detect any traces of drugs on visitors and anyone found with illegal drugs either at the site entrance or during the two day festival will be arrested and taken into custody.

So the idea is that, upon noticing drug dogs, concertgoers will promptly surrender any contraband they may have. And the article is perhaps intended to warn folks that dogs will be present, so that they might consider not bringing drugs in the first place.

Afterall it would be pretty silly to sneak drugs into South Warwickshire from all over Europe, only to deposit them into the amnesty box at the first sight of police.

But a more astute reader will see that only 22 out of 45,000 attendees were arrested last year. Those are great odds, especially since some of the arrests weren’t even drug related. I’m guessing most drug users attending this event will take their chances, especially since you can always make a break for the “amnesty zone” in an emergency.

Ultimately, the amnesty box will be viewed by many as an “idiot test” commonly deployed in situations where the police can’t possibly enforce drug laws by other means. Such folks may find it amusing to put funny notes and other non-drug items into the box. But the amnesty box isn’t racist or violent like most drug war tactics, so we shouldn’t make fun of it. Maybe someday we can even replace trigger-happy SWAT teams with them.

In the meantime, look for the official Stop the Drug War Amnesty Box, which we’ll be featuring as part of our table display at future drug policy conferences.

Location: 
United States

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