Saturday, August 16, 2008

Are state troopers spying on you?

Author: Max Obuszewski
People's Weekly World Newspaper, 08/14/08 14:42

BALTIMORE -- Imagine getting a call from the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union to inform you that the Maryland State Police’s Homeland Security and Intelligence Division entered your name in the “Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” (HIDTA) database. This happened to me, a pacifist, on July 16.

David Rocah of the ACLU informed me that my entry in the HIDTA database indicates that my “Primary Crime” is “Terrorism-Anti Govern[ment],” and my “Secondary Crime” is “Terrorism – Anti-War Protestors.” This was revealed in heavily-redacted documents released by the Maryland Attorney General’s office, after the ACLU filed suit to obtain records of surveillance by the Maryland State Police (MSP). The documents revealed that MSP agents in 2005-06 were covertly watching peace activists and anti-death penalty advocates at rallies and during meetings.

While these revelations are shocking, the fact that a police agency was spying on nonviolent people is unsurprising.

Members of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, listed as a “security threat group” by the State Police, knew they were being watched because of their protests at the National Security Agency (NSA). This was eventually confirmed on August 23, 2004, in the discovery process for two defendants, Cindy Farquhar and Marilyn Carlisle. These members of the Pledge were on trial for an arrest at the NSA. The NSA documents indicated members of Maryland’s Joint Terrorism Task Force were involved in keeping track of Pledge activities.

The revelations in the documents would eventually lead the ACLU to seek other documents from the NSA and other state and federal agencies. Two years after the ACLU filed Freedom of Information requests, we found out that the state police were watching nonviolent demonstrators protesting the Iraq War as well as the death penalty.

Members of the public expressed outrage, and legislators in Annapolis and Washington, D.C. began to call for hearings. Col. Terrence Sheridan, the current state police superintendent, said that the infiltration was launched out of concern about possible violent protests around two planned executions in 2005. In his opinion, the surveillance was legal. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley announced July 31 that former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs would head an “independent review” of the spy scandal.

The activists who were the victims were skeptical of this “review” and called a press conference at the State Police headquarters in Pikesville, Maryland on Aug. 12. The activists announced that they were sending a letter to Gov. O’Malley expressing their concerns: “[A]ny comprehensive report, and any confidence to be given to its conclusions, can result only from a broad, independent, non-politicized, and careful examination of these activities.” Twenty-one organizations, and five individuals, signed on to the letter. The groups, involved in a multitude of issues, war, the death penalty, civil rights and the environment, included the Communist Party of Maryland, the Defending Dissent Foundation, Pax Christi-Baltimore, Viva House Catholic Worker and Women in Black.

These are the suggestions listed in the letter:

1] need for more than 60 days to complete the investigation,
2] not limit the investigation to the 14-month time frame detailed in the documents,
3] involve the victims in the investigation,
4] reveal the scope of the “intelligence sharing” with police and government agencies,
5] detail other types of surveillance, electronic or otherwise, which may have occurred,
6] remove the names from all watch lists,
7] get subpoena power,
8] publish a public report,
9] call for a written apology for the victims.

The activists are awaiting Gov. O’Malley’s response.

It should be noted that other police agencies have files as well. The ACLU is working overtime to obtain the release of all documents which focus on peace and justice activities held by members of Maryland’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. What else will be revealed? What other names might be in watch lists or antiterrorism databases? I can guarantee there will be further embarrassing disclosures about police agencies spying on groups involved in constitutionally protected protest activities.

Spying on peace groups and anti-death penalty advocates is a travesty of justice, an absolute waste of taxpayer money and an unproductive use of government employees. To ensure that such scandalous behavior is not ongoing or will not be repeated in the future, the progressive community in Maryland is demanding a full investigation to determine who ordered the surveillance, how long it was ongoing, what government officials were involved and what preventive measures will be taken. The activists are prepared to take to the streets if there is an attempt to sweep this scandal under the rug.

Max Obuszewski is a member of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore and can be reached at mobuszewski at

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