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Modern Day Pinkertons

Courtesy, markheybo, via Flickr.

San Francisco's Financial District has been a major locus of mobilization for the Occupy Movement. West Coast Occupy actions began in September of 2011 with a call to “occupy” the downtown because of its geographic concentration of powerful financial companies. The Bay Area's first Occupy encampment sprouted in front of the Federal Reserve Bank on the 100 block of Market Street. The Financial District has remained an epicenter of Occupy protests ever since, most recently during an attempted shutdown of the Wells Fargo Bank's shareholders meeting on April 24, and during May Day when multiple marches and an attempted building occupation roiled the city.

If San Francisco's financial district is a locus of protest against economic inequality and corporate power, it's also a site of the opposite. One of the brain centers for corporate America's effort to track and contain potential damages from the Occupy Movement is located just two blocks from the foot of Market Street in downtown San Francisco, not far from Justin Herman Plaza. Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations maintains an office on the sixth floor of an otherwise nondescript office building, just around the corner from the Fed and Justin Herman Plaza, in the midst of some of the nation's largest banking companies. Pinkerton's Global Risk Group, an elite sub-section of the larger Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations Company, is based in the San Francisco office, proximate to many of its biggest clients.

Director of the Pinkerton Global Risk Group Brian McNary said in response to an email query that he “can’t divulge privileged client information,” but that he's “happy to discuss in general terms what Pinkerton does in the Bay Area.”

“Pinkerton’s Global Risk Group provides situational awareness for our agents and clientele. We deliver it in near-real time, from a variety of sources, in order to better understand activities, events and conditions related to themes or geographies of interest. Our charter and scope is global in nature, supporting the interests of private sector entities, NGOs and occasionally those of governments.”

McNary said that Pinkerton isn't contracted with any police agencies in the Bay Area, and he declined divulge the names of specific local private sector companies that employ his team. He did offer that, “we have agents throughout the Bay Area and NORCAL, assigned to protection details, embedded as analysts, and performing threat and vulnerability assessments for a wide range of clients.”

Until recently Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, like most other private security firms, was not focused on political protesters, largely because the threat of a large scale political mobilization directed at corporate power didn’t seem likely. Banks and major corporations didn't demand such a service. Instead companies have been most concerned with different kinds of threats such as insider fraud, organized crime, or corporate espionage.

The rise of Occupy and its potential to disrupt business as usual seems to have changed that. “Our focus with regard to the Occupy Movement is to support the planning, information, awareness and response needs of our clients, as they seek to protect their co-workers and business interests,” said McNary. Still he maintains that Pinkerton is a politically neutral entity: “We protect the people, assets and operations of those who seek our assistance, regardless of what threatens them.”

Numerous companies headquartered or with significant operations in the Bay Area have been the targets of campaigns inspired by Occupy. In response these corporations have drawn on the assistance of private security firms and the police. Private security and public police forces have readily shared information and coordinated responses to recent political protests.

At the Wells Fargo Shareholders meeting on April 24 — held in the posh Merchants Exchange building across from the bank's corporate headquarters in downtown San Francisco — hundreds of activists, some of them nominal shareholders in the company, sought to gain access to speak out on a range of issue like foreclosures and the bank’s funding of for-profit prisons. The protesters said if their voices fell on deaf ears they would attempt to shut the meeting down using nonviolent methods.

A spokesperson for Wells Fargo said the protest had little to no effect on the business of the day. “We don’t disclose our specific security arrangements but strive to ensure the safety of team members and customers,” said Holly Rockwood, Vice President for Communications at the bank. She offered little more in terms of the Wells Fargo’s private security arrangements.

An organizer of the action said that Wells Fargo's private security guards and the San Francisco Police, who had been mobilized to guard the shareholders meeting against the protesters, “were strategic” in their interactions with the activists. “They lied to us,” said Cinthya Muñoz of Causa Justa/Just Cause about both private security and the SFPD. “They told us that if people blockading the doors to the meeting would move, they would let shareholders who had come with us inside. They didn't.”

“SFPD lent support and they were effective in facilitating the demonstrators’ right to peaceful assembly as well as ensuring that the meeting ran smoothly,” said Rockwood about the Police Department's cooperation with the Bank's security. The SFPD failed to respond to a request for information regarding its role during that protest, and its coordination generally with private security companies.

It’s unclear if Pinkerton was involved in planning for the protest, but many Wells Fargo branches are secured by Securitas AB guards, as are many other bank brands and more prestigious corporate properties in the Bay Area. Securitas is one of the largest private security companies in the world. Based in Sweden, Securitas also happens to own the Pinkerton brand. This kind of vertical integration of corporate security, from high-level surveillance and intelligence gathering such as that performed by McNary's Global Risk Group, to lower-level guard services, is an intentional strategy on the part of Securitas.

“As with most Pinkerton offices, we are co-located with our parent corporation (Sweden’s Securitas AB) throughout the Bay Area, to ensure seamless interoperability with our contract guard service counterparts,” explained McNary. “As a result, Securitas is able to provide an expansive but focused range of high-level protective and risk mitigation services to its clientele across North America.”

According to the Securitas website, the company employs about 108,000 guards in North America, and another 120,000 in Europe, and Latin America. By comparison there are about 600,000 local official police employees in the United States, according to the Department of Justice's most recent Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies. If the other major private security firms like GS4, Allied Barton, and GuardsMark are added, as well as the hundreds of smaller security contractors, the ranks of private cops actually exceed local police forces.

Pinkerton and Wells Fargo may or may not work together today (neither company will say so), but the two have an intertwined history. Pinkerton reached its height in the 1870s and 1880s as a union-busting private army on contract with the nation's robber barons who were fighting laborers in coal mines, steel plants, and countless other worksites.

According to Frank Morn, author of the definitive history of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, it's widely suspected that it was a Pinkerton agent provocateur who threw the bomb that began the infamous Haymarket Affair of 1886: the bomb killed seven Chicago police officers and four workers. Blamed immediately on “anarchist,” the incident led to the sham prosecution of eight labor organizers, four of whom were hanged. The reactionary violence unleashed on American labor generally decimated the union movement for years afterward. May Day commemorates the incident and the struggle for worker's rights.

Wells Fargo actually began in the same era not as a bank, but as an armored transportation company — thus the Bank's modern day logo, a six horse stagecoach. Wells Fargo's banking wing split off in the 1890s after it was purchased by a San Francisco financier. This half of the company became what is today Wells Fargo Bank. The security company half remained in the private security business as an armored transporter of cash until 1999 when it was bought by Securitas, bringing the firm under the same roof as Pinkerton, and adding to one of the world's largest security companies.

By 1937 the Pinkerton company had officially exited the field of union busting, partly as a result of sixty years of notoriety and ill will that had built up from Pinkerton violence against workers and their unions, and partly also because of the sea change in the status of labor in America, with unions finally accepted and partly protected by federal laws.

However, according to professor Morn, the Pinkerton anti-labor and conservative political legacy didn't fall into the dustbin of history. Rather, anti-labor and other reactionary political biases were transferred into the official federal police state that was then rapidly expanding. “Much of what Hoover had done for the public and the police,” says Morn about theFederal Bureau of Investigation's involvement in anti-communist, anti-Civil Rights, and other political witch hunts, “had been done earlier by Allan Pinkerton and his two sons. Pinkerton had invented most of the devices used by Hoover. The director of the FBI 'found the tablets already engraved; no further exercise was demanded of him except some tracing at the edges.'“

Today the Pinkerton company is quick and clear to state that its involvement in corporate-labor conflict — having sided firmly and violently with the 1% for six decades — is a thing of the past. “There are some kinds of work which Pinkerton doesn’t do, stemming back to our origin,” explained McNary.

Most of Pinkerton's clients today are large corporations, but a special wing of the company guards sensitive government as well as military-industrial properties. Pinkerton Government Solutions, as it is known, has a branch office in Sunnyvale, close to industrial clients like Lockheed, Raytheon, and Boeing, all major contractors for the military and Department of Homeland Security. On the government side the Pinkerton brand also has supplied guards for Department of Energy.

More than just guards, Pinkerton Government Services wins high-level contracts with various military and police-state branches of the federal government. For example, Pinkerton has been involved in an effort led by Northrop Grumman Corporation to develop a “biometric capture” service for the Department of Homeland Security.

In a way, biometric policing projects like this brings Pinkerton full circle to a mission espoused by its founder. Allan Pinkerton was an early proponent of Bertillonage methods in crime fighting — utilizing distinct physical measurements of the human body to identify subjects. The method was later replaced with fingerprinting, an area in which the Pinkerton company was also a pioneer, before the FBI and local police.

Pinkerton Government Services’ work is so sensitive in fact, that it has an independent board of directors, US nationals, rather than falling under the command of the foreign-owned Securitas; the chairman of Pinkerton Government Services is James Freeze, a retired Army General and former deputy chief of the National Security Agency. The NSA, a vast federal spy agency, has become a news item recently because of provisions in the CISPA cyber security legislation in the Congress that would facilitate the sharing of information between private companies and the Agency. It is widely suspected by many, however, that the NSA already spies on American citizens and gathers virtually all phone and Internet data traffic in its global web of listening stations.

Cutting edge surveillance technologies intended to better contain the Occupy Movement are already in place. At the Port of Oakland security systems and forces have been upgraded partly to deal with Occupy protesters who have shut down operations on two separate occasions. After the November 2 General Strike, PortStrategy, an industry publication, quoted Mike O'Brien of the Port of Oakland who described an “Intrusion Detection System, and a Geospatial Security Mapping System” being developed to beef up protection. According to O'Brien, these new systems “will greatly improve our capability to prevent, respond and recover from incidents in a timely manner.” This multi-million dollar high-tech security system will in turn be linked to the Oakland Police Department's headquarters by a dedicated fiber optic cable.

The Port shutdowns have become an issue of intense interest for security firms working with the Bay Area's maritime companies, especially in Oakland. According to meetings minutes of the Northern California Area Maritime Security Committee, a private industry association, port security and contracted private security firms are working closely with the Coast Guard, Border Enforcement Team, Oakland Police and Alameda Sheriffs, and other law enforcement agencies, to better track and contain the Occupy Movement, in order to prevent future shutdowns.

Mike O'Brien of the Port of Oakland reported in a recent Maritime Security Committee meeting that, “the Oakland [Emergency Operations Center] had made use of seventy new security cameras and had patched the [US Coast Guard Interagency Operations Center] into the feed from the cameras,” to track the Occupy protests. “They are working to improve preparedness so that future actions did not scare labor away. They are in ongoing meetings with law enforcement agencies.” The Herndon, Virginia-based GTSI corporation, a high-tech security consultant, has earned $7 million upgrading the Port's perimeter security and fiber optics infrastructure.

Another major target of anti-police brutality and civil liberties protests, BART beefed up its security systems in 2010 by employing San Leandro's G4S Technology — a regional office of G4S, the largest security company in the United States — to install an electronic system, little about which is known. A company press release veils the project in secrecy: “neither BART nor G4S Technology can discuss details of the high-tech security equipment that was installed other than to say it has resulted in significant communication and infrastructure upgrades to several San Francisco and East Bay BART stations.”

Last year BART came under intense scrutiny for shutting down cellular reception in its stations and on trains. BART General Manager Grace Crunican justified the Agency's position in recent letter to the Federal Communications Commission by saying, “a temporary interruption of cell phone service, under extreme circumstances where harm and destruction are imminent, is a necessary tool to protect passengers and respond to potential acts of terrorism or other acts of violence.” BART's official policy adds also that cellular reception may be disrupted to prevent “substantial disruption of public transit service,” retroactively justifying the Agency's cellular jamming to counter protesters who convened rallies in stations after a man was shot by BART Police in July of 2011, just one of several slayings carried out by BART Police in recent years.

Security consultants located in other states have also been busy tracking protests in the Bay Area. Many are marketing their expertise to corporations hoping to contain the Occupy movement. One such company, the Densus Group, advertises itself as a risk manager, offering trainings and special services in everything from “crowd management,” to “business continuity.”

“Last week’s protests at the shareholder meetings of General Electric and Wells Fargo highlight the newest trend in protest against corporations,” wrote Densus Group co-founder Sam Rosenfeld on the Security Debrief blog, following April's shareholder meeting action in San Francisco. “Understanding the threat and being prepared remain the best measures for managing protest, particularly at such public events as a shareholders’ meeting,” he advises.

Writing also on Security Debrief — a blog hosted by the George Washington University Homeland Security Police Institute, an academic think tank funded by corporate military contractors — Anthony Maciso, another Densus Group employee, warns companies that, “protesters strive to disrupt corporate operations through a wide-variety of tactics such as building occupations, sleeping dragons, lock-ons, sit-ins, non-compliant/non-violent traffic disruptions, flash mobs, noise and/or odorous assaults on/in buildings, 'hacktivism,' and smear campaigns against board members and employees.” In other posts Rosenfeld dissects various protests of BART, the cyber-activism of Anonymous, much of which is presumed to emanate from Bay Area hacktivist collectives, and the media activism of Copwatch Oakland.

The Densus Group sells its advice and trainings to the American Bankers Association and “a wide variety of energy and manufacturing companies,” according to the group's web site. Among its many products are a “twice monthly round up of major protest events both in the US and across the world,” called the Demonstration Report and Threat Analysis, and a Protest Alert service, “for protests that have been planned at short notice and not covered by the DRTA or that have had a significant change of plan since the last DRTA.” Rosenfeld and the Densus Group did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

As Spring rolls into summer the Occupy Movement has many more protest actions planned, many of these utilizing nonviolent tactics to disrupt what activists characterize as the ongoing illegality of corporate behavior. At the same time it can be assured that private security firms will track and coordinate with police departments nationwide to contain the Movement, all in an effort to reduce its political potency. Unlike public police departments, these private forces are not subject to freedom of information laws and other democratic oversight tools. Thus the details of these private security efforts will remain mostly unknown, with only hints surfacing on web sites, blog posts, and the occasional insights offered by those who will speak with the press.


  1. Harvey Reading May 24, 2012

    Too bad the information will not have much effect on average USans, who have been brainwashed by the media and bellowing, lying politicians to the point of accepting fascism, including the police state, as normal.

  2. Tom Cod May 24, 2012

    Are you kidding? the Pinkertons were the Robber Barons’ private army, police force and Gestapo par excellence. Their logo was an eye stuck open with that three in the morning all nighter tweeker countenance and the appropriately paranoid motto, “We Never Sleep”. J. Anthony Lukas’ book “Big Trouble” about the 1905 Idaho trial of Western Federation of Miners leaders Heywood, Moyer and Pettibone gives a good run-down of the sinister history of this outfit. The HBO mini-series “Deadwood” from a few years ago summed up pretty well the zeitgeist of this era.

  3. Tom Cod May 24, 2012

    or as The Who once put it:

    “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss”

  4. Mark Scaramella May 25, 2012

    Deadwood. There’s that very intense scene where the Pinkerton guards in their black suits are supervising the Hearst-owned gold mine mineworkers who are required to take naked outdoor showers to make sure that no gold dust is escaping in their hair (the water is collected under their feet for later gold retrieval). The Pinkertons require that each worker bare his ass for a keester inspection to make sure they’re not sneaking gold out of the quarry in their behinds. When one of the workers bolts just before the keester inspection and runs off bare-ass, the lead-Pinkerton just pulls out a pistol and shoots him dead. Just another day in the gold mine.

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