The Federal Bureau of Investigation has conducted intelligence gathering operations at the Burning Man festival in Nevada since at least 2010, according to internal agency documents released this week.
The 16 pages of documents (embedded below), obtained under a 2012 Freedom of Information Act request by California-based writer Inkoo Kang and posted to the website MuckRock.com on Tuesday, show that the FBI’s Special Events Management Unit began keeping tabs on the massive arts and culture festival in Black Rock City, Nevada five years ago.
Burning Man is described by the FBI as a “cultural and artisan event, which promote (sic) free expression by the participants.”
One heavily-redacted document instructed FBI agents in Las Vegas to coordinate with the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies to “aid in the prevention of terrorist activities and intelligence collection” at the festival.
Still, “the greatest known threat” at the 2010 event was “crowd control issues and use of illegal drugs by the participants,” according to another document.
Tens of thousands of people converge on the desert in northwestern Nevada each year for Burning Man, where festival-goers build pop-up villages and art installations, including the eponymous “burning man” effigy, over the seven-day event.
During the festivities, held each year between the last Monday of August and the first Monday of September, the makeshift Black Rock City becomes one the most populous cities in Nevada (but not, as is often claimed, the third-largest city in the state).
Inside the festival, commercial advertising and the use of money are eschewed in favor of a “gifting” or barter economy. Some “camps” organize theme parties and competitions, while others hold political rallies.
The festival has also become known for its “anything goes” attitude with regard to casual sex and illicit drug use.
USA Today reported on Wednesday that the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office has already made 12 arrests at this year’s festival, which began on Sunday and wraps up later this week.
“Most of it at this point is for controlled substances and maybe battery witnessed by the officer,” Pershing County Undersheriff Tom Bjerke told the paper. “We’re making more arrests because we have more officers out there.”