January 22, 2013
During the final week of August, 2012, military special forces personnel conducted training exercises in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. PRM provided background and context on the training in an earlier post, and also submitted government records requests in order to learn more about the scope and nature of the operations.
On a local level, PRM submitted requests to the cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, where the bulk of the training activities took place. The City of Saint Paul, the Minneapolis Police Department, and the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office all released responsive records that can be examined in our document archive.
Nature of the training
Early press reports indicated that the military operations that took place in the Twin Cities were under the purview of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Our document requests have revealed that a more specific special forces unit was involved in the training – the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group, otherwise known as DEVGRU (or SEAL Team 6, it’s prior moniker.) According to publicly available military narratives, DEVGRU has a long history in special forces operations – extending from the aftermath of the Iranian hostage crisis, all the way to the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. PRM has not verified whether any DEVGRU personnel from the bin Laden raid participated in the 2012 Twin Cities training.
DEVGRU was listed specifically in two template-style invitation letters signed by mayors Rybak and Coleman in early-to mid-2012. The letters extend an identical “invitation to conduct Urban Military Training.” Each letter goes on to state that the mayors understand that the training will include,
“Low visibility movement, military operations in urban terrain, manual and low weight explosive breaching, low-altitude precision helicopter operations” … “live fire, simmunitions (paint); flash bang, surveillance and counter-surveillance).”
The letters finish by expressing support for the Navy as it develops “techniques and tactics necessary to protect our country.”
Utility of urban environments
PRM’s earlier post on this matter noted that urban warfare exercises have occurred in numerous municipalities over the past two decades. Our document cache describes one reason why special forces units have sought out such environments for training operations. In a May 26, 2012 letter to Saint Paul police chief Tom Smith, “R. Kaiser” of DEVGRU noted that,
“Military training sites are not sufficient to support all urban training because they lack the variety of building layouts and mass transit platforms our troops face when working in forward urban environments.”
In some cases, the locations selected by DEVGRU had been previously utilized by Twin Cities SWAT teams, underscoring similarities between the training requirements of special forces and police tactical units. In an e-mail of June 11, 2012, Charlie Kocourek of the Minneapolis Waterworks noted that a Navy special forces unit was interested in using its Fridley facility for an exercise. He further observed that, “What they have planned is similar to, but more extensive than, training MPD has done at the Fridley campus.”
Military/law enforcement overlap?
DEVGRU coordination with local law enforcement is a matter that comes up throughout the military training document cache. PRM has long chronicled areas of overlap between military and civilian law enforcement operations, in order to track trends in this area.
Most of the operational details outlined in the Coleman/Rybak “welcome” letters relate to techniques first developed by the U.S. military, and then later transferred to domestic SWAT teams. The military variant of these tactics is known as MOUT – Military Operations on Urban Terrain. Related techniques are practiced by police agencies under different rules of engagement.
In large part, we submitted our records requests in order to learn about the extent to which the U.S. military was cross-training with local law enforcement, and to discover whether such cross-training was primarily intended to hone the operational prowess of domestic police units. The documents suggest that the primary aim of the DEVGRU training was to enhance military operations, rather than to train domestic law enforcement personnel. In this instance, cross-training appeared to be a collateral matter, with DEVGRU and local police taking advantage of a mutual training opportunity.
PRM’s document cache indicates that DEVGRU and police agencies took advantage of military-arranged sites, with mocked-up training “missions” that could be utilized by multiple parties. In an August 5, 2012 e-mail, St. Paul police sergeant Tim Lynn noted that, “The military will be presented with a mission and then assault the target to resolve the issue. St. Paul and MPLS SWAT will then take a run at it.”
Training exercises took place at several venues within the metro core, including the Minneapolis Water Works, the Diamond Products building in St, Paul, and the Federal Reserve campus in downtown Minneapolis. Training activities included door breaching, sniper tactics, the use of K9s, street lock-downs, and vehicle interdictions.
SWAT officers from the host city departments appear to have participated in actual training exercises, while officers from other metro agencies – including Hopkins and Brooklyn Park – appear to have been present as observers only.
Surveillance equipment, “takings” questioned
The document cache contains e-mails and draft contracts circulated among city attorneys in the run-up to the August training exercises. A review of these documents raises interesting questions about the particulars of the activities that occurred last August.
Among the documents obtained from the Saint Paul City Attorney’s office is a list of bullet points, apparently composed in response to proposed Navy training activities. The list includes the following short-hand observations and questions:
“#4 — Want to close private property (parking lots) and streets. Can’t take private property.”
“#6 “What does this mean? – Invasion of privacy of 3rd parties?”
The “third party” reference above might refer to “remote sensing” technologies listed in the model contract that DEVGRU presented to the City of Minneapolis:
“LICENSOR grants consent to the LICENSEE to collect overhead imagery and remote sensing data in support of training activities. This collection will not be utilized to support local, state, or federal law enforcement investigations.”
The last sentence reads as an implicit nod to the Posse Comitatus Act, the federal law that prohibits the use of the U.S. military to participate in direct law enforcement activities, such as investigations and arrests.
Civil liability issues examined
In the document sets released by both cities, liability issues were raised repeatedly, apparently in light of the use of low-flying helicopters in the training exercises. The City of Saint Paul examined liability issues related to various locations, and eventually signed a contract with Navy to permit the training to move ahead. Documents indicate that the city was sensitive to publicity about the exercises, and sought to enter into a contract without City Council process so as to keep the training “out of the public eye.”
In Minneapolis, the city attorney’s office apparently had extensive discussions with the military about possible liabilities posed by the DEVGRU operations. Documents indicate that the City of Minneapolis was successful in getting the Navy to further insulate it from liability in the event of injuries or accidents.
Some of the records provided by the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office and Minneapolis Police Department contain redactions. When examining the Minneapolis documents hosted in our archive, note that any redactions that appear to be manual in nature already existed in the records that we received.
As is our practice, PRM has redacted the phone numbers and e-mails of individuals listed in the documents, while still preserving their names for identification purposes. Such information cannot be redacted pursuant to the Minnesota Data Practices Act in most instances, but we choose to obscure it since our documents are placed within a permanent public forum.*
Security Information redaction
The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office redacted some very specific information from the record cache that it provided to us.
Along with its packet of responsive documents, the City Attorney’s Office provided a certification letter from Craig Steiner, the responsible authority for the City of Minneapolis. In his letter, Mr. Steiner noted that some information had been withheld pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 13.37 and 13.393 as – respectively – “security information,” and material privileged due to an attorney-client relationship.
No similar statement was provided by the Minneapolis Police Department in support of its redactions.
In 2012, the Minnesota Legislature modified Minnesota Statute 13.37 to require government entities to issue a short statement when redacting responsive data as “security information.” Section 13.37 allows government entities to withhold data as “security information” if its release would jeopardize the security of individuals or property against theft or violence.
The certification letter provided by Mr. Steiner only listed the legal basis for the redactions, but did not provide a “short description explaining the necessity” of the classification, as now required by Section 13.37. Because of this, we sent a letter to the City to seek additional information. In particular, we were curious about the redaction made to the contract between the City and the Commander of DEVGRU. Item five of this contract – which established the parameters for the use of the Minneapolis Water Works for military training – was redacted in its entirety.
On January 16, 2013, we received a letter from Caroline Bachun, an assistant attorney for the City of Minneapolis. In her letter, Ms. Bachun noted that,
“Paragraph 5 of the License document was redacted as “security information.” That paragraph describes U.S. Navy activity that, if known, would be likely to substantially jeopardize the security of the Minneapolis Water Works facility.”
Data Practices v. FOIA requests
It should be noted that PRM submitted both state-level and federal open records requests related to the Twin Cities military training exercises. Our federal FOIA request was sent to USSOCOM. As of the date of this writing, we have received several hundred pages of documents under the Data Practices Act, but no records from USSOCOM.
*As is our policy, researchers or journalists who are interested in obtaining the un-redacted telephone and e-mail information can contact PRM to discuss their needs.