In the months leading up to the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, federal officials warned local officials to beware of possible cyberattacks on government and court computer systems and the possibility of white racist groups entering the Twin Cities area travel to instigate racist violence,
The warnings, set out in a series of internal intelligence reports, also warned of potential threats during other high-profile legal proceedings, including the state and federal trials in early 2022 for the other three officials charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.
“White Supremacist Extremists (WSE) may emerge and take advantage of otherwise peaceful protests to instigate violence against law enforcement and others involved in First Amendment activity,” said a briefing shared by others from the Star Tribune classified as secret but released.
A separate assessment concluded that “it is very likely that law enforcement and government agencies of Minnesota will face an increased threat of attack by cyber actors during the testing phase”.
The released briefings were prepared using information from the local FBI office, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and the Minnesota Fusion Center, which is part of the state’s Public Safety Division. They provide an initial glimpse into the way federal and federal law enforcement agencies received potential threats to the historic process less than a year after the riots in the city.
The six-week trial of Chauvin gave Minneapolis an unprecedented level of security. Hundreds of police officers were deployed along with National Guard forces, and the downtown courthouse was turned into a fortress of barbed wire fences and concrete barriers. State lawmakers passed a $ 7.8 million emergency funding package ahead of the trial to help cover the additional security costs. In total, Hennepin County spent $ 3.7 million on courthouse security, workers’ salaries, and other litigation-related expenses.
But the trial didn’t bring the kind of unrest that followed after Floyd’s death, and it’s unclear whether any of the potential threats mentioned in the briefings occurred. Still, authorities warned that the “multiple threats posed by domestic terrorism could persist during the trials ahead,” according to a briefing.
Another briefing warned of additional threats that could include “malicious cyber actors targeting Minnesota state and local networks or foreign intelligence agencies (FIE) conducting targeted capture and surveillance operations.”
The city saw a wave of cyberattacks following Floyd’s assassination “led by hacktivist groups but not during the spring 2021 trial,” city officials said in a statement.
âThe threat landscape is evolving locally in the US and globally around the world. We have seen an increase in ransomware, crypto mining, denial of service attacks, and malware infections over the past few years. The city of Minneapolis is constantly evolving the use of cybersecurity technologies and practices to deal with cyberattacks, “the statement said.
In an internal report, federal agencies said they anticipate the potential for âmalicious cyber activityâ in the form of denial-of-service attacks on government networks, âdefacementâ of websites and âdoxxing,â the process of exposing an individual’s personal information online will.
A state official told federal authorities that, in the days following Floyd’s death, âunidentified malicious actorsâ were causing emergency communications system failures nationwide through targeted denial-of-service attacks. In these so-called DDoS attacks, hackers forward traffic to a website until it is overwhelmed according to an internal document.
A December 2020 Department of Homeland Security report concluded that while there were no “specific, credible reports suggesting domestic terrorists were planning attacks on critical infrastructure or law enforcement agencies,” authorities were “concerned about the potential (domestic terrorists ) to instigate or commit âbe violence without or without warningâ in advance of and during the chauvin process.
In particular, the Boogaloo movement – a loose network of anti-government radicals advocating a second civil war – is “very likely to take advantage of any regional or national situation with heightened fear and tension to promote its violent extremist ideology,” the report said and call on supporters to take action. “
The local FBI field office declined to comment, and a US Attorney General’s spokeswoman did not comment on specific threats, but noted that several members of the Boogaloo Bois were being prosecuted.
Paul Becker, a University of Dayton sociology professor who has studied white supremacist groups and protest movements, said “acceleration” has been observed over the past year by certain white nationalist groups. Some violent actors from these groups used the 2020 protests as an opportunity to sow fear and discord and “try to hasten the downfall of what they believed to be a corrupt government,” he said.
“They believe that everything will collapse someday anyway, and believe that they can speed it up by creating chaos,” said Becker.
During and immediately after the Floyd riots, Democratic and Republican officials said organized groups ranging from anti-fascists to white racists and drug cartels instigated the violence through concerted attacks.
Several Boogaloo Bois members were convicted of crimes committed during or after the riot. But dozens of charges in state and federal courts provide a much less elaborate narrative of unrelated individuals who tried to take advantage of – or were entangled in – lawlessness.
In the months following the riot, Michael Paul, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis branch, said that “a few” opportunistic crowds gathered spontaneously after the news of Floyd’s death. However, he said he saw no evidence that organized anti-fascist groups fueled the riots, contradicting claims made by then-US Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump.
Although the marches and rallies were peaceful during the trial, intelligence documents show that authorities continued to monitor possible threats.
Authorities highlighted suspicious activity, including people sharing law enforcement movements through encrypted messaging apps and instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails, and plans to cut off “fire-fighting water” by opening fire hydrants near the federal court building in the city Downtown publish.
In another case, internal documents show authorities arrested a man at a downtown hotel where staff said he might be planning a shootout after asking for the highest room available. The man, who was not identified, had an arrest warrant for him and police found drugs and weapons in his hotel room.
Authorities also worried about threats from opportunistic “foreign influencers” with ties to governments in Russia, China and Iran who they claimed were “likely to use state media, proxy websites and social media accounts to” to intensify criticism of the United States â. said an internal report.
The same briefing warned of the potential of foreign intelligence agencies to use the process as a cover for covert “surveillance and information gathering” against law enforcement agencies and government officials. The report highlighted China, which authorities were known to have been recruiting “corporate insiders, students, and Chinese citizens and corporations” for its “illegal intelligence efforts”.
The report cites the case of a Chinese national enrolled at a local university in June 2020 who was seen photographing license plates of law enforcement and government vehicles parked at a command post in Minneapolis where authorities were responding to the Monitored riots after Floyd. The student’s behavior was classified as suspicious by a state government official; A review of U.S. Border Protection records shows the student left the country and returned to China in August 2020.
As a result, the authorities said they had stepped up their surveillance efforts, despite admitting that most of the protesters were involved in activities protected by the First Amendment.
It appears that the potential violence never arrived. But on the day of Chauvin’s verdict, when hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse to await the jury’s decision, National Guard troops stood ready to look for any signs of trouble. There was none. When the verdicts convicting Chauvin of murder were read out, the crowd cheered.