During the unrest following the killing of George Floyd, the intelligence gathering and analysis arm of Minnesota law enforcement fed a constant stream of unverified and ultimately bogus threats to officers while failing to identify more credible risks, according to recently leaked documents.
Last month the hacktivist group Distributed Denial of Secrets published more than one million documents leaked from law enforcement agencies around the country. Minnesota Fusion Center, which is the intelligence wing of the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, was among those compromised by the leak.
As the nation fixed its eyes on Minneapolis, law enforcement and elected officials were desperate for information that would help them understand the widespread arson, damage and destruction of hundreds of buildings in the Twin Cities.
They were left largely in the dark.
The leaked documents show MFC presented rumor and supposition, failed to provide basic context, and, in at least one case, removed analysis from an FBI report before disseminating the underlying information, according to situation reports produced multiple times a day during the unrest.
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t have better intelligence,” said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and now professor of criminal law at the University of St. Thomas. He pointed out that the reports he reviewed cite social media, law enforcement officers and federal partners, but not direct sources on the ground in Minneapolis.
The mission of Minnesota Fusion Center is to “collect, evaluate, analyze and disseminate information regarding organized criminal, terrorist and all-hazards activity in Minnesota,” according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which oversees MFC.
MFC directed inquiries to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which did not respond to emails or phone messages. A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said by email: “We will not respond to questions based on illegally obtained documents.”
The leaked documents do not appear to be comprehensive. MFC likely produced more reports than were included in the leak.
In the leaked documents, however, the intelligence failure was largely one sided. In almost every case and multiple times a day, they amplified threats to law enforcement without acknowledging indications that the threats lacked credibility.
But sometimes the intelligence failure worked in the other direction — on several occasions they failed to properly describe threats to officers that could have been deadly if realized.
Beginning two days after the AutoZone on Lake Street was destroyed, multiple reports state that MFC had “received information from a credible source that ‘flyers’ have been posted to hit AutoZone on 98th Street.” According to the AutoZone store locator, there is no AutoZone on a 98th Street anywhere in the Twin Cities, a fact not included in the reports. (There is an AutoZone on 94th Street in Bloomington.)
At different times they passed along unconfirmed reports of fires in Brooklyn Center, incendiary bombs thrown in Minneapolis, and containers of unknown liquid found at Hamline Elementary School in St. Paul. They do not appear to have taken steps to confirm the reports or get additional details from fire departments, school officials or other agencies. In each case, the information is included in several reports before disappearing without comment.
Throughout the reports, MFC routinely published information sourced from social media without assessing the credibility of the claims.
In one instance, they reported: “Unconfirmed reporting via social media indicating names/addresses of all cops in the state being auctioned off in ‘BlackWeb.’ The specific state was not specified in the post.” They did not list a source, say where the source was based, or offer an evaluation of the source’s credibility.
In another instance, they reported that a Twitter user “encouraged people to open fire on police officers,” again without analyzing the source’s credibility. There is no indication the anonymous user is based in Minnesota and the user has just 37 followers. The day before MFC reported on the person, the user tweeted that Jeffrey Epstein and George Floyd were alive and that their deaths were “FALSE FLAG OF DEMOCRAT COMMUNIST SOCIALISTS & GEORGE SOROS.”
Although the failure to analyze the credibility of sources tended to inflate danger to law enforcement, the intelligence also failed to note more credible threats.
On June 5, they wrote that the leader of a small but active Black-separatist hate group offered — via social media — a $25,000 reward for the murder of the four officers involved in the death of George Floyd. A Google search of the man’s name shows that his frequent advocacy of cop killing was a possible inspiration for the 2016 killing of five officers in Dallas, Texas. MFC did not report this.
“May be” becomes “Will be”
The reports show MFC repeatedly failing to evaluate the credibility of sources. In one case, they withheld information given to them by the FBI that undercut the credibility of a threat. Instead, they chose to amplify the threat without providing important context.
On June 1, MFC received a report from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that Antifa may have been planning to attack Minnesota National Guard soldiers with explosives placed in vehicles. The FBI report — which was leaked with other MFC documents — stresses throughout that the field office is not confident in the information.
The FBI highlighted an apparent contradiction in the source’s statement, who said “Antifa may be planning attacks in Minneapolis” but later said “Antifa will be using” vehicle bombs in the city. (Bold in the original.) They further caution that “the source may have potentially provided false information to influence recipients.”
The report lists other inconsistencies in the information and ends by stating, “There is currently little basis to conclude whether this fact represents corroboration of an actual planned attack or instead merely reflection of common aspirational themes expressed by Antifa members.”
MFC relayed no uncertainty in their report: “According to a federal partner, Antifa will utilize vehicle borne improvised explosive devices to launch attacks against National Guard and Law Enforcement.” And, “The vehicles will bear fictitious license plates.”
In this instance, MFC also failed to provide known corroborating evidence and context. An earlier MFC report stated that several large vehicles had been stolen during the unrest, including a postal service vehicle and several rental trucks. According to a 2019 FBI bulletin received by MFC and released in the leak, this is a potential warning sign of the kind of attack they were describing. They included neither this information nor descriptions of the stolen vehicles in the report of the potential bomb attack.
Regardless, no attack took place.
Threat inflation can lead to use of force
An intelligence handbook for local law enforcement written by federal authorities was among the documents leaked from MFC. It lists the purposes of intelligence, the first of which is to provide information to improve the decision making process.
It is unlikely that decision makers took the MFC reports seriously, said Osler, the St. Thomas professor and former prosecutor. If they had, police would have been on the streets in military-grade vehicles, he said. “If you’re expecting Antifa to have explosives and armed vehicles and stuff like that, then probably you wouldn’t put the police out there on bikes — which is what they did.”
But depending on how widely the information in the reports was disseminated, MFC may have exacerbated perceptions of danger among on-the-ground officers, which may in turn have led to more aggressive tactics.
“Here you’ve got a lot of pretty vague information. I don’t doubt that some of it ratcheted up the attention level and tension around the whole situation,” Osler said.
State Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, was a member of the state’s Working Group on Police-Involved Deadly Force Encounters, which released a list of reform recommendations in February.
She declined to comment specifically about MFC or the leaked documents but said anything inflating the sense of danger could lead to unncecessary use of force. “There is such a low threshold for the use of force to happen,” Moran said, adding that police officers routinely cite their feelings and beliefs when justifying a use of force. “When they encounter a Black man or a woman or a child, they will say that ‘I feared for my life’ or ‘I believed that was a gun’ or ‘I felt this way.’ It’s just very subjective.”
According to the Minneapolis Police Department’s use of force guidelines, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of the reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
Multiple reports from Minneapolis in the aftermath of the Floyd killing detail a pattern of police violence toward the press and bystanders.
On May 30, Pioneer Press identified nearly a dozen instances when identified journalists were shot at, arrested, or targetted with chemical irritants by law enforcement agencies in Minneapolis. Several journalists were injured:
Photo 4: pic.twitter.com/X846YeobWI
— Linda Tirado (@KillerMartinis) June 14, 2020
He is bleeding but seems ok. pic.twitter.com/LYH0h7c4hf
— Jared Goyette (@JaredGoyette) May 31, 2020
Several instances of law enforcement using unreasonable force against bystanders were caught on video:
Well THAT was uncalled for. pic.twitter.com/Qdu4LyrZ9U
— Jennifer Brooks (@stribrooks) May 29, 2020
Share widely: National guard and MPD sweeping our residential street. Shooting paint canisters at us on our own front porch. Yelling “light em up” #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #JusticeForGeorge #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/bW48imyt55
— Tanya Kerssen (@tkerssen) May 31, 2020
The ACLU is suing the city and other authorities on behalf of journalists and bystanders.