This article is a snapshot from the Mapping Project: a project created by activists and organizers in eastern Massachusetts, investigating local links between entities responsible for the colonization of Palestine, for colonialism and dispossession here where we live, and for the economy of imperialism and war.

Zionism, Policing and Empire: A Dispatch from the Mapping Project

Date published: June 3, 2022

In Massachusetts as in the rest of the US, police have built large militarized forces, are extensively networked for sharing resources and information, and use their military and surveillance power to enforce the intersecting systems of white supremacy and capitalism. Our work in the Mapping Project reveals the local extent of their networking with each other, as well as their networking with universities, weapons companies and certain NGOs. The Department of Homeland Security, with its use of "counterterrorism" as a catch-all for programs of surveillance and militarization, has played a central role in organizing and funding these networks, often using Israel as a point of reference for ideology, policy, technology and organization.

One of the first things that should strike anyone looking at our map of institutional oppression is the sheer number of police organizations across the state and the dense network of links between them. Although we have not included every local police department as a separate entity on the map, and have not recorded every link between police agencies, at the time of this writing (May 2022) our map has entries for over 200 police organizations, and shows more than 700 links connecting city, county, state and federal police forces with each other and with other entities on the map.

Geographical map of police organizations and links to other entities in Massachusetts. Purple dots represent police agencies.
Geographical map of police organizations and links to other entities in Massachusetts. Purple dots represent police agencies.

Our map will also show extensive links between police agencies and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with its special training programs for police – programs that bring US police to Israel, and that bring Israeli advisors to train police in the US.

Graph map of links between the ADL, police agencies, and other entities: purple dots represent police; yellow dots represent universities; green dots represent NGOs. ADL is the green dot at the center of the map.
Graph map of links between the ADL, police agencies, and other entities: purple dots represent police; yellow dots represent universities; green dots represent NGOs. ADL is the green dot at the center of the map.

Colonial Policing

We recognize that the role of police in capitalist societies is primarily to protect property and those who have property from those who don’t. In colonial-settler states, police focus overwhelmingly on colonized people, placing them under a regime of surveillance, denial of freedom of movement, mass imprisonment and lethal violence. In the US colonial-settler state, that regime also extends to undocumented migrants, especially from the places US imperialism targets for military and economic devastation: Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and parts of Asia.

In the US colonial-settler state, this police function has passed through several major periods of development:

In each phase, US policing has developed its ideology, methods, technology and organization, at its most active "frontiers." The US military develops new technologies in its war zones and then brings them back to police on the domestic front. All across the US empire, US police officials help set up and train foreign police forces and experiment with new methods of interrogation, torture, biometric surveillance and human mapping, and then bring this expertise home with them. Police departments recruit their officers from veterans experienced in foreign combat and occupation, who then participate in the occupation of BIPOC communities here.

As an especially active frontier of colonization and occupation over a protracted period, Israel has come to play a special role as a laboratory for policing – a role that comes to greater prominence as the US repackages its own police apparatus under the aegis of "counterterrorism."

From the Vietnam War to the War on Terror: Police Networks in Massachusetts

As our map will show, police forces in MA are connected through a series of "law enforcement councils" (LECs) across the state, including all of the following: the Central Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (CEMLEC) (60 agencies); the Greater Boston Police Council (GBPC) (181 agencies); the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council (Metro LEC) (46 agencies); the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) (61 agencies); and the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (SEMLEC) (30 agencies). Set up as non-profit professional organizations, these LECs have attempted to work at least partially in the shadows, and have a history of refusing public records requests for their activities. They network police forces across the state for communications, intelligence gathering and sharing, joint actions through mutual aid agreements – allowing for much larger shows of force – joint training exercises, and resource sharing for the purchase of military equipment such as Lenco Bearcats.

Although the LECs have kept their specific activities and material purchases somewhat in the shadows, their public facing websites have been clear in stating their origins, ideological underpinnings, and goals. The Greater Boston Police Council (the largest of the LECs) states:

"The period 1968–1972 was a period of great civil unrest nationwide, the focus being namely America’s involvement in Vietnam. Given the large number of colleges and universities in the area, Boston was a hotbed of dissent. In late ’69, there were some very loud protests in the Boston/Cambridge area, some of which produced violence and destruction.

To properly police these disturbances, Boston and/or Cambridge had to request help from other Eastern Massachusetts police agencies. Although many communities sent aid, the large complicating factor was the lack of communication between departments."

As a response, the GBPC created a communications network and set up "mutual aid" agreements between local, county and federal police forces in the urban core, a network that now includes over 180 agencies.

Notable in the case of the GBPC is the participation of university police, such as the Harvard University Police Department. These departments are licensed by the MA state police as "special officers" and have full arrest powers, but are considered "private" organizations – allowing them to refuse public records requests about their activities both on and off campus. They have nevertheless been shown to closely monitor student activism and to provide intelligence to Homeland Security. The role of university police departments would seem especially significant, since GBPC explicitly links its existence to the participation of students in the anti-war movement.

The Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council was even more explicit about the origins of the LECs. Since NEMLEC came under more intense scrutiny after the Marathon Bombing and the house-to-house searches in Watertown that revealed the level of police militarization locally (leading to an ACLU public records suit), it has since changed its website, but up until 2014 it carried the following narrative:

"The North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) began in 1963 [...] during the turbulent social and political struggles in the 1960s, when police departments were experiencing an increase in crime. [... ] The disorder associated with suburban sprawl as people migrated from larger cities, the development of the interstate highway system, the Civil Rights Movement and the growing resistance to the Vietnam War threatened to overwhelm the serenity of the quaint, idyllic New England towns North and West of Boston. Police chiefs gathered to share intelligence about crime patterns and trends, to discuss social policies and develop effective prevention and response programs."

The Civil Rights Movement, resistance to the Vietnam War, and people moving from larger cities (coded racism) are all identified with "crime" and threats to "order."

One primary role of the LECs has been to organize local police forces into military units such as SWAT teams. This parallels the political origins of SWAT teams in Los Angeles, using an "urban warfare" model for suppressing protest and resistance in the 60s and 70s against the Black liberation movement, as well as against farm worker organizing. (For sources and more information on this and the following discussion, see our entry on the Boston Police Department.)

Also parallel with LA has been the reconstitution of policing around "gangs," using definitions loose enough to allow police to criminalize entire families, neighborhoods and communities. As we discuss in our entry on the Boston Police Department, LA’s anti-gang apparatus had its precursors both in US police training programs in Vietnam—in which LA Deputy Police Chief Frank Walton had a role—as well as in a consistent use of US and Israeli military occupations in Palestine, Lebanon and the surrounding region as conceptual models.

In 1993, the BPD created a Youth Violence Strike Force, commonly known as the "Gang Unit." The force was itself multi-agency, networking city, state and MBTA police. Following LA's model, the BPD also developed a now infamous computerized "Gang Database." The YVSF's system of logging FIO (Field Interrogation Observation) reports, which can be created whenever "police have an interaction with a member of the community, or when they make certain observations of people in the community" allows them to engage in constant surveillance and intelligence gathering and to filter more and more people into the database. Both the database and the FIOs have been shown to target Black people and predominantly Black neighborhoods in Boston.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created after September 11, 2001, brought all of the prior developments of police networking, surveillance and militarization to a new level, both nationally and in Massachusetts.

On the national level, DHS commands the largest police force in the country (with more than 60,000 agents), focused primarily on the policing, detention and deportation of migrants. Placing this function in the hands of DHS recast the system of violence and domination over the lives of migrants as a "counterterrorism" operation, justifying a regime of total surveillance and control. DHS programs also placed great emphasis on networking municipal, county, state and federal police for intelligence gathering, information sharing, joint training, and joint action under a "unified command" structure.

In Massachusetts, DHS funded and helped create two intelligence fusion centers: the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) under the control of the Boston Police Department and the Commonwealth Intelligence Fusion Center, under control of the MA State Police.

BRIC creates a network between police and other municipal agencies (such as fire departments) from nine municipalities that form the urban core: Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop. After its creation, BRIC became responsible for managing the gang database, melding the apparatus of the "drug war" and the "war on terrorism," and policing "gangs" as "terrorists" – the active metaphor in Los Angeles since the 1980s.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPSS) also established five "homeland security planning regions" across Massachasetts, and set up "advisory councils" to receive funding from DHS: Northeast Homeland Security Advisory Council (NERAC); Central Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (CRHSAC); Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (WHRSAC); and Southeast Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council (SRHSAC). For the urban core, it created the Metro Boston Homeland Security Region (MBHSR), and set up a special Jurisdictional Points of Contact Committee (JPOC) for planning purposes, with funding received through the Metropolitan Planning Council (also a fiscal conduit for all five regions). These councils bring together police chiefs, heads of fire departments and other municipal organizations, along with federal officials, to organize communications networks, joint training exercises, and the purchase of military equipment – often directed to the corresponding LECs and their militarized units in each region.

Map of Homeland Security Advisory Councils, Law Enforcement Councils, and associated police agencies. Purple dots represent police agencies; LECs are the central nodes from which red links radiate to other police agencies on the map.
Map of Homeland Security Advisory Councils, Law Enforcement Councils, and associated police agencies. Purple dots represent police agencies; LECs are the central nodes from which red links radiate to other police agencies on the map.

DHS grants in MA have also been instrumental in moving more university research into the development of surveillance technology for police and the military. Beginning at least as far back as 2006, Northeastern University has entered into contracts with the Department of Homeland Security, receiving millions of dollars over the years in multiple projects supporting DHS missions. This includes the launching of a special DHS Center of Excellence in 2008 called the Center of Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT), which also linked Boston University and Tufts, and included the weapons company Raytheon as an industry partner. This center won a $36 million contract from DHS in 2021 to build a surveillance system called SENTRY (Soft Target Engineering to Neutralize the Threat Reality). The system promises to turn schools, sporting events and city spaces into a panopticon that will "integrate elements such as crowd-scanning sensors mounted atop light poles, video feeds, cell phone traffic, aerial drone footage, and social media posts." DHS spending also shows regular tuition grants for personnel attending Harvard Kennedy School seminars in Homeland Security under the Program in Crisis Leadership, such as the "General and Flag Officer Homeland Security Executive Seminar ".

Counterterrorism and Political Repression

Both BRIC and the Commonwealth Intelligence Fusion Center have used their surveillance technology and capacity to monitor a wide range of political activity. BRIC used Geofeedia software to monitor protests against police violence, using terms such as "#blacklivesmatter" and "protest," and also monitored everyday Arabic words, Muslim religious terms, and the hashtag "#muslimlivesmatter.” A screenshot released in 2018 by the MA State Police revealed that the Commonwealth Intelligence Fusion Center had been monitoring such groups as Mass Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB) and the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT). This surveillance belongs within a wider pattern of DHS and FBI monitoring across the country using such labels as “black identity extremism.”

The surveillance of Mass Action Against Police Brutality is especially significant, since the group has kept public attention on the local history of police killings of Black men in Boston, including the murder of Burrell Ramsey-White during a traffic stop in 2012 and the murder of Terence Coleman at his home in 2016.

Another case they forefront, the case of Usaamah Rahim, demonstrates the increasing levels of militarized violence as “counterterrorism” is integrated into policing. In 2015, Boston Police and FBI agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force dressed in plainclothes surrounded Usaamah Rahim in a parking lot in Roslindale and shot and killed him. SWAT teams and FBI agents invaded the house of his relative, David Wright, with flash bang grenades and surrounded him with military assault rifles, interrogating him for more than ten hours in his home before arresting him. According to Rahim's mother, they were targeted and profiled "for being African American and for being Muslim."

Several high-profile political cases in Massachusetts have further demonstrated over the years the use of “counterterrorism” as a catch-all for repression against activists and organizers, especially from communities living under racial and colonial oppression.

In 2002, a manager from the Laidlaw Corporation falsely accused Haitian bus-driver and union organizer Marcus Jean with threatening to blow up a building, using these phony “terrorism” charges in a blatant attempt to chill organizing in a union with 80% migrant membership.

From 2002 to 2003, five Palestinian organizers associated with the New England Committee to Defend Palestine were harassed by municipal police departments, the FBI and immigration police. In the two most prominent cases, those of Jaoudat Abouazza and Amer Jubran, both were detained by immigration police, interrogated by FBI agents, and ultimately forced to leave the country. Abouazza was also tortured in the immigrant detention facility in Bristol County under Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by members of the NECDP revealed a pattern of surveillance and information sharing between municipal police departments and the FBI, including 12 video tapes of public protests taken by the Boston Police, close-up shots focusing on the individual faces of court supporters taken from inside the Brookline courthouse, and files showing monitoring of activist websites. The involvement of the Brookline Police Department also illustrates the close coordination between US police and the local face of Zionism: the earlier arrest of Amer Jubran for leading a protest against the Israel Day Celebration in Brookline was carried out at the behest of Alex Koifman, a prominent leader of one of the groups that organized the celebration; FOIA requests revealed that police had been in communication with the Israeli Consulate about protest organizers.

In 2004, eight housing rights activists in Cambridge with the organization “Homes Not Jails” tried to clean up the plot of an abandoned building in Lafayette Square (the intersection of Mass Avenue and Main Street), and claim it for community use. The Cambridge Fire Department across the street—networked with the Department of Homeland Security—immediately reported them to police. The activists were arrested at gun point, charged with serious felonies, and smeared in the press by the Cambridge city manager with false claims that they were attempting to store incendiary devices in the empty building as part of a plot to attack the Democratic National Convention.

In 2006, FBI agents began approaching Tarek Mehanna, a respected member of the Muslim community, and tried to pressure him to become an informant in his mosque. They threatened to make his life a “living hell” unless he cooperated. In 2009, the FBI and the US Attorney charged Tarek with “material support for terrorism,” based entirely on his speech and public writings in support of the right of people living in predominantly Muslim countries to defend themselves from US invasions. In 2012, Tarek was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his political speech.

The Role of Israel

As all levels of policing have been drawn more deeply into the DHS sponsored restructuring as "counterterrorism," Israel has become a consistent point of reference. As the state that has long identified its entire apparatus of colonialism and war under the claim of fighting "terrorism," Israel markets itself as the world's foremost expert on "counterterrorism." It's notable in this context that Israel calls "terrorist" any opposition to its regimes of expansion and racist domination, from armed resistance against soldiers and settlers to protest and critical reporting.

As head of Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff announced the "Secure Border Initiative" in 2005, a plan which included the use of fences, walls, towers, roads and high tech monitoring systems along the border with Mexico. In 2006, DHS awarded contracts related to this initiative to the US weapons company Boeing and to the US subsidiary of Elbit Systems, the Israeli company centrally responsible for building the wall in Palestine created to strangle and imprison Palestinian communities and annex farmland and water resources. The plan included "1,800 towers equipped with cameras and motion detectors stretched across the border."

In 2008, Chertoff participated in meetings with Israeli counterparts at the "First International Security Forum of Ministers of Interior and Homeland Security" in Jerusalem and signed agreements to "share technology and information on methods to improve homeland security" including the use of "behavioral profiling" at airports, a thinly veiled system of selective enforcement and targeting based on race and religion. The program was later rolled out at Boston Logan and other airports across the country.

In Massachusetts, Massport had already brought in Israeli advisors to recast airport security at Logan as far back as 2001. Boston Police brought in "Israeli suicide terrorism specialists and crowd control tacticians" as trainers and advisors in its preparation for protests against the DNC in 2004, preparations that included the blanketing of the city with surveillance cameras and a "unified command model" linking city, state and federal police. This police apparatus was then unleashed on Black and Latinx communities as "Operation Neighborhood Shield" after the DNC left town. (See again our entry on the Boston Police Department.)

DHS organized and funded "Urban Shield" exercises in Boston and surrounding communities several times beginning in 2011 – exercises intended to bring police forces on all levels together with other "first responders" into a "unified command model" – often using SWAT teams competing in urban neighborhoods to learn terrain and test capacity. These exercises are known to include Israeli police forces and advisors, along with other foreign police forces.

After the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, police commissioner Ed Davis made several references to travel to Israel and the involvement of Israelis in training BPD police as part of the department's ongoing security program. Davis visited Israel under the auspices of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) (an organization that meets yearly at Boston University) as part of its Middle East Policing Project, which brought together US police with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian Authority counterparts. PERF also coordinated calls between police executives across the country to discuss and exchange intelligence about the Occupy movement, and has published manuals on managing large events and protests that include the planting of undercover "grab and arrest squads" and the use of counterinsurgency tactics to isolate leaders and radicals.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been another central player in linking US and Israeli police and using “counterterrorism” programs to advance political goals.

Both nationally and in Massachusetts, the ADL has a long history of ruthless advocacy for Israel, posing as a “civil-rights” organization, while weaponizing false charges of antisemitism against critics of Israel. The ADL has been especially zealous in using these charges to demonize Black and Indigenous leaders who have seen parallels between their own struggles and the struggles of Palestinians, and thus has worked to suppress anti-colonial resistance here.

Throughout its history, the ADL has spied on left-wing organizations, compiled dossiers on activists and communicated intelligence to the FBI and other forces of repression. In California alone, the ADL worked with police to gather intel and create files on over 10,000 individuals and 600 organizations engaged in anti-racist activism. Intel the ADL obtained through this police spying operation included personal information on activists organizing against Apartheid in South Africa, which was handed over to the government of Apartheid South Africa, as well as personal information on US-based Palestinian activists, which was handed over to the government of Israel.

After September 11, 2001, the ADL formalized and expanded its cooperation with US police by coordinating all-expenses paid trips to the "National Counterterrorism Seminar in Israel" and by bringing Israeli advisors to lead training programs in the United States, such as the ADL's "Advanced Training School in Extremist and Terrorist Threats." In their 2016 annual report, the ADL boasted that "100% of major U.S. metropolitan police departments” have participated in these trainings.

In Massachusetts, the ADL of New England seized the Marathon Bombing in 2013 as an opportunity to further expand this program. Police on all levels – city, county, state, and federal, as well as university police – have now participated in these ADL sponsored trainings.

In 2016 alone, police chiefs and other high-ranking officers from seven municipal police departments across the state (including the BPD) participated in these trainings, as well as officials from the MA state police, the Suffolk County sheriff, the Suffolk County District Attorney, and the special agents in charge of ICE-Homeland Security Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In past years, trainings have included high ranking officers from more than 15 additional municipal police departments, including Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Watertown and Chelsea, as well as MBTA Transit Police, the Middlesex County Sheriff, the United States Marshalls Service, and other agencies.

Local university police departments that have participated in ADL delegations include Tufts University Police Department, Boston University Police Department, Northeastern University Police Department, MIT Police, and Suffolk University Police Department.

Since US campuses are an especially active front in the ideological struggle for solidarity with Palestine, and Palestinian students often play a crucial role in building organizations to carry the struggle forward, we shouldn't underestimate the significance of training university police in Israel, where the Palestinian liberation movement is represented as "terrorism." As mentioned earlier, university police have been given a free hand to gather intelligence on student and community activists, are networked with city, state and federal police, and have consistently asserted their private status to avoid public scrutiny. (See, e.g. our entry on the HUPD.)

Disrupting the Network

Our map of policing in Massachusetts is part of a larger map showing connections between oppressive institutions where we live – including NGOs, weapons companies, computer/logistics companies, universities, biomedical research institutions, and others.

We see our map and associated database as a resource for gathering intelligence on the agents of oppression; their intersections offer possibilities for us to organize and connect our struggles. They study us and are networked with each other; we need to study them and form our own networks of resistance.

We have shown physical addresses, named officers and leaders, and mapped connections. These entities exist in the physical world and can be disrupted in the physical world. We hope people will use our map to help figure out how to push back effectively.

We view US police on all levels as white-supremacist, colonial institutions that have no role in our communities; we support non-cooperation, community self-defense, and resistance in all its forms.

Back to the Mapping Project.