Many Groups Spied Upon In Maryland Were Nonviolent

Published on
by
The Washington Post

Many Groups Spied Upon In Maryland Were Nonviolent

by
Lisa Rein and Josh White

Maryland State Police labeled members of a Montgomery County environmental group as terrorists and extremists days after they held a nonviolent protest at an appearance by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at a Bethesda high school.

Police
files released to the activists reveal that the governor's security
detail alerted the state police's Homeland Security and Intelligence
Division to what troopers guarding Ehrlich described as "aggressive
protesting" by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in 2005.

A review by The Washington Post
of those and other files given in recent days to many of the 53
Maryland activists who were wrongly labeled as terrorists in state and
federal databases shows an intelligence operation eager to collect
information on the protest plans of a broad swath of nonviolent groups
from 2005 to at least early 2007.

Those groups included not only
death penalty and Iraq war protesters who were spied on by undercover
troopers in a 2005-06 surveillance operation exposed in July, but also
those who opposed abortion, the manufacture of cluster munitions,
globalization and the government's expansion of biodefense research at Fort Detrick.

The
intelligence officers were particularly interested in determining the
groups' intentions ahead of specific rallies scheduled in the
Washington area.

The files, whose release and eventual purge were
urged in an independent review of the undercover surveillance
operation, are heavily redacted in black ink. Many contain about five
pages, consisting largely of tidbits of information about each person
and his or her protest group. Some list what they call "monikers" for
the activists, which are also blacked out.

The individuals are
listed under headings for "terrorism" with such labels as "anti-war
protestors," "threats," "environmental extremists" and "anarchists,"
although there is no explanation why any of the groups or individuals
would be considered terror threats or extremist groups.

The ACLU of Maryland, which represents many of the activists, is scheduled to release more of the files today.

State police spokesman Greg Shipley
said yesterday that he could not discuss the contents of the files. He
said redactions were made to protect confidential "methods, techniques,
procedures and other individuals who may be named" in the documents.

Shipley
said that a group or an individual's inclusion in state police files
does not mean it was the target of long-term surveillance. "These
actions were incident-based in response to intelligence information and
in response to proposed events or actions that led to concern on the
part of police for issues of public safety," he said. "Checks were made
based on information, and they moved on."

The police appear to
have discovered some of the activists on the Internet. In the case of
the Takoma Park-based Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the executive
director and three other staff members were entered into the database
after the group attracted the attention of Ehrlich's personal security
detail, state troopers known as the Executive Protection Division.

A dozen members of the climate group showed up at Walt Whitman High School
on Nov. 17, 2005, to protest as Ehrlich announced his support for
tighter rules to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants. The
network and other environmental groups criticized the rules for not
going far enough.

The protesters held up banners and chanted,
"Governor -- What about global warming? What about carbon?" as Ehrlich
and his staff entered the school, several recalled in interviews. They
asked several students to hold up signs during the news conference
inside the school.

No arrests were made. Eleven days later, the detail alerted the police intelligence division to the group.

"One
of the protestors 'aggressively' tried to approach the Governor, others
tried to get into the school and some of the protestors tried to
recruit students to carry signs inside of the event," according to
Executive Director Mike Tidwell's file. Tidwell's photo, taken from his group's Web site, was included in the database. He did not attend the protest.

Josh
Tulkin, the group's deputy director at the time, recalled that when he
walked into the school, security guards grabbed his shoulder and wrist,
led him into an empty classroom and questioned him.

After the
undercover surveillance was revealed in July, the group reviewed its
own records. It appeared that a trooper working for the program had
used an alias to join the group's e-mail list.

"I believe this was political retribution," Tidwell said yesterday.

Ehrlich
spokesman Henry Fawell, who was a press secretary in 2005, said
yesterday that Ehrlich had no role in the security detail's day-to-day
judgments.

"He's not in the business of telling Executive
Protection how to do their job," Fawell said. He said he did not recall
Ehrlich "ever expressing any opinions" about Tidwell's group.

Other files appear to have been created just days before expected protests.

They include those on leaders of such national antiwar groups as Code Pink,
three of whom landed in the database. One, Nancy Krecorian of New York,
said she has never been to Maryland. Files also exist on local groups
including Pro-Life Carroll County.
The efforts of leaders Vince Perticone and Maria DeCesare to organize
and apply for a permit for a rally in downtown Westminster were
documented in one-page files, their attorney told The Post. The files
showed that a plainclothes trooper attended the event.

Attorney
Steven Tiederman, who represents Perticone and DeCesare, said the
police seem to have put peaceful protesters in the same category as
violent ones who bombed abortion clinics.

Files were also
compiled on two Catholic nuns from Baltimore and a former Democratic
candidate for Congress, Barry Kissin. Kissin, his wife and two
colleagues have marched peacefully through downtown Frederick since the
anthrax attacks in 2001 to argue that the government's planned
expansion of biodefense research poses a health threat.

Ten days
before Medea Benjamin was scheduled to speak at the 20th Annual Peace,
Justice and Environmental Conference in Frederick in April 2005, state
police created a database entry for her. Benjamin, co-founder of the
antiwar group Code Pink and the fair-trade group Global Exchange, was
described as a San Francisco activist who gives speeches on "her brand
of in your face civil disobedience."

When Code Pink was scheduled
to appear at another Frederick conference a few months later, state
police again researched Benjamin. From the files, it appears that
police copied language from the Internet -- some directly from the
group's Web sites and documents -- and pasted it into their database.

"It
shows the ridiculous connection they're trying to make between peace
activism and terrorism," Benjamin said. "Two of these events I was
never at."

Benjamin's file lists two potential terrorism
"crimes": a primary one as an environmental extremist and a secondary
one as an anarchist and animal rights activist.

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