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

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #454)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

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.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I thought Kansas was already dead. Who goes there for anything anyway?

Fri, 09/22/2006 - 1:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

There's no way the promoter had NO idea. Even if he really did have no clue, the civil rights violations coupled with the ridiculous violations of personal privacy for profit are enough to keep me clear of Kansas for years.

Fri, 09/22/2006 - 7:59pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

What ever happened to the rule that the goverment and police work FOR the people? It seems to me that the drug war as well as the goverment and law enforcement work against the people or in spite of the people.
Some may venture the argument that if the goverment is enacting the will of the majority then they are working for the people. This is not a valid argument. The tyranny of the mob does not justify the violation of the rights of individuals. The majority does not have the right of absolute power over the minority. Many forget that the United States was established with great importance on indivual rights; inalienable rights that can not be taken away by the goverment, even if by popular demand.

We are living in a time analogous to the fall of Rome.

Sat, 09/23/2006 - 1:25pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not clear on why the promoter didn't insit on posting signs notifying the public about the surveillance, if he did indeed know about the cameras a month before the festival...

"At least a month before the festival began, Schecher said, promoter Brett Mosiman was notified of the plan for security cameras. Mosiman did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment."

"The cameras’ presence was not publicized in the Lawrence area before or after the festival."

Sat, 09/23/2006 - 5:19pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

until kansas can figure out something better to do i suggest staying away

Sat, 09/23/2006 - 9:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

If the law enforcement of Kansas is this excited about channeling public safety funds to their pals in the surveillance/security industry --who build and sell all the brand-new ATVs and night vision goggles and 100-paks of snap-ties conspicuously paraded around Wakarusa, and coming soon to a festival near you-- don't be surprised. The hypermilitarized police and the "businesspeople" who supply them are bound and determined to supplement their own inability to dance and have fun with some technical means of compensation.

Next time you spot a camera, put on a big (legal) show. Catch whatever music is around you and put your best groove forward, and then pump your fist at the camera as if to say "whoo-hoo! my life's better than the joker's is who has to sit in some trailer and watch me dance on some monitor." And blow him a kiss and laugh and dance away.

Also, learn to hide better. Take the thugs' apparent advantage as your own impulse to innovate. Here's a hint: the sun gets really hot out there. Keep the heat off. Carry a big umbrella.

Mon, 09/25/2006 - 12:26pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

have you ever noticed how many times you end up on camera during an average the store, the atm, the red light, the lame-ass kansas concerts...before you know it the government will have you on tape as soon as you leave your home. they'll be able to watch our every move and harrass the public accordingly.

what's next? micro chips in our skin?

Wed, 09/27/2006 - 10:22pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified) really sucks. i loved the festival....the music was great, and when i wasn't having a cop breathing down my neck, my friends and i had a great time. brett mosiman, the promoter and founder of the wakarusa festival has been putting on great shows in Lawrence and the kansas city area for a long time. i just think it sucks that this may not happen again. maybe what needs to happen is have the festival on private property, and keep all the authority out. Just have rent-a-cops, to keep the peace. NOT THAT WE WOULD NEED ANY HELP ON THAT MATTER! after all thats what we go to these music festivals for to listen to our favorite bands.....and keep the peace.

i hope somehow the festival returns.

Thu, 11/16/2006 - 12:39am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

While I may not completely agree with the tactics employed at the festival, as a Kansan I won't miss any of the "kansas is dead" and "adios kansas" crowd claiming to "keep clear" of Kansas. Was Wakarusa ever about music to anybody?


Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:17pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Wakarusa was absolutely about the music. They get one of the best line ups out of all the jam festivals out there. Apparently those who have never been will never truly understand the clear line between going for the music and the stereotype about illegal acts that exist

Mon, 02/11/2008 - 6:53pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

america is becoming a communist country .so why are all of you so damn suprised at what happend at waka. cameras every where ,cant smoke any where. next they will get rid of free speech.oh wait they do that already to.

Tue, 03/18/2008 - 1:30am Permalink
Mizzou Fan (not verified)

Well you anti-abortion anti-fun chicken hawks lost wakarusa, the closest thing to cutting edge fun Kansas will ever have. See you at Waka 2009 in that great bastion of freedom, Arkansas! Go mizzou I hope i never have to drive thru your depressing state again. PS. would it kill you billies to plant a couple trees or something? what an ugly state!

Fri, 06/05/2009 - 4:11pm Permalink
Darwin (not verified)

This country, wich I love dearly, is all about GREED. We have corrupt gov. and state entities that could care less about our rights and will do ANYTHING to get what they want. If they would pull thier heads out of thier asses and legalize marijuanna they could save millions from the end of the war on drugs alone, not to mention the taxes they could draw from commercial sales. Watch "The Union" and get educated people! Leave us peace loving people alone and spend your time chaseing pedafiles and rapists. And I agree with the other guy: Plants some trees Kansas!!!

Wed, 05/05/2010 - 10:30am Permalink

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