The Republican National Convention hasn't started yet, but both opponents and supporters are already engaging in treachery and double-dealing worthy of Spy vs. Spy.
Don Hajicek, a 36-year-old graphic artist from Wyoming, was planning to travel 2,000 miles to New York City to join the anti-GOP protests and stay at an apartment belonging to a sympathetic New Yorker.
But then he learned that the person who had offered him accommodation had tricked him, and the shelter he had been promised was a lie.
When planning his trip, Hajicek found an offer of housing on an Internet bulletin board for would-be protesters, CounterConvention.org.
The host — describing himself as "an architect who specializes in low income housing" — was so accommodating that Hajicek became suspicious. "I'm originally from Chicago, so I didn't just fall off the turnip truck," Hajicek told ABCNEWS.com by telephone.
With a few Google searches, he found a posting by someone with the same Web name as his host on FreeRepublic.com, a conservative discussion forum. The posting suggested giving fake offers of accommodation to anti-Republican protesters, and gave the Web address for the bulletin board Hajicek had consulted. "Anyone interested in providing housing for lice-ridden protesters?," it read.
Another member of the forum apparently took up the suggestion, writing a few minutes later: "Offered space in an existing building. Of course, the building in question is a bar, but they won't know that until they get there. Hope I can make this work."
Hajicek said he thought the scam was "kinda sorta funny," but it also left him angry enough to draw attention to it. He turned to DailyKos.com, a progressive political forum, to warn "others out there who are depending on the kindness of strangers." He said the fake offer had ruined his plans to go to New York, but added "it certainly would have been worse if we'd actually gone there expecting a place to stay."
Both Sides Guilty
Double-dealing isn't limited to one side of the political debate though. For weeks, opponents of the convention have been threatening to stage a "Shadow Protest" — signing up en masse as volunteers and disappearing when they're most needed.
The protest Web site RNCnotwelcome.org contains a "tactics" section with headlines asking "Why not sign up now to volunteer to work for the convention and then miss your shift!" and touting, "Activists infiltrate RNC events".
The Web site contains a caveat: "Listing of tactical resources does not imply an endorsement of said tactics for any or all circumstances. They are here for informational and historical reasons."
But other left-wing sites have posted proud accounts of infiltration. On Indymedia.org, one article headlined "Protesters Get Into Two RNC Events … (So Can You)," was a protester's account of crashing a Republican event.
"After covering the bathroom with our own agit-prop, we cleared the table of their Bush crap and replaced it with our own," the protester wrote.
Republican officials and convention organizers said they were aware of the threats, but are not convinced that they will have much of an impact.
"We are extremely happy with the overwhelming response to our call for volunteers," Ethan Davidson of NYC Host Committee 2004 said.
Ruining Their Image
Meanwhile, protesters suspect they might be infiltrated themselves. The Patriot Act, passed in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, broadened the government's domestic spying powers and some protest organizations believe they are routinely infiltrated.
"Infiltration was understood once we applied for a permit," said Louie Jones, an organizer for Still We Rise Coalition, a group of 35 local community organizations holding a march on the first day of the GOP convention. Jones said he believed infiltrators were mainly there to collect intelligence, and said his organization had nothing to hide.
However, other protesters fear that certain infiltrators might do more than just keep watch. Some may be agents provocateurs — double agents that will incite violence and ruin the prostesters' public image.
Protesters say the spectacle of riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and later, during the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999, distracted the public from any calls for change.
"Since Seattle, every protest in the U.S. has been marred by this image of broken Starbucks windows," said Angela Coppola of No RNC Clearinghouse, a protest organization.
After Hajicek posted his warning on DailyKos.com, one respondent said, "This sort of sabotage isn't new." The respondent recounted signing up for a locally-organized screening of the anti-Fox News film Outfoxed in Washington, D.C. "When I arrived, there was a crowd of people on the sidewalk and the address didn't exist."
Some discussion members expressed fears that a coordinated effort was under way to disrupt the protesters.
Mark Libkuman, a developer at CounterConvention.org, says the site's organizers have removed 30 to 40 listings they suspected were fake offers for accommodation in New York. "Some were very witty," he said, "but they didn't do much for the usefulness of our site."
The site has since instituted a registration process that deters would-be pranksters, and Libkuman and his colleagues screen the listings and spot most of the fake ones right away, he said. He said the listing that snared Hajicek was the only one he is aware of that stayed on the site and caused disruption.
On the other hand, members of the FreeRepublic.com discussion board discovered Hajicek's frustrated trip to New York and were buoyed by the account. One applauded the hoaxer: "If you did this on purpose, this is truly 'Hall of Fame' material. Beautiful!"
A Poorly Conceived Prank
For Hajicek though, taking an early bullet in this secret war hasn't turned out so badly.
After ABCNEWS.com sent an e-mail to Hajicek's purported host asking to speak to him, Hajicek's purported host sent a contrite e-mail to Hajicek to "profusely apologize for any inconvenience."
"It was a poorly conceived bad prank gone way too far," the hoaxer wrote in the e-mail, which Hajicek provided to ABCNEWS.com. The hoaxer did not respond directly to ABCNEWS.com's e-mails. A woman who answered the phone at the number he provided to Hajicek denied any knowledge of the prank.
As a result of his warning, Hajicek says he received dozens of offers of places to stay, and is planning to go to New York after all. He even received some money as a measure of sympathy. He now has a reservation at a hotel off Times Square, just blocks from the Republican Convention.