BALTIMORE - August 30 - Concerned that a disturbing national trend of government surveillance of political and religious groups may also be happening here in the Free State, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today sent public information requests to federal and state authorities following reports that Baltimore peace groups have been targets of illegal spying. The requests were filed under the Maryland Public Information Act and the federal Freedom of Information Act, and seek any documents relating to plans and programs to monitor, conduct surveillance, question, interrogate, investigate, and collect information about the groups. Across the country, the ACLU has filed numerous lawsuits based on troubling evidence of unconstitutional government spying revealed as a result of our information requests.
³It is fundamentally un-American for the government to invade the privacy of peaceful political and religious groups in the name of fighting terrorism,² said Susan Goering, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. ³Such illegal surveillance by the Bush administration and law enforcement agencies abuses our trust and threatens our freedom.²
Jonah House, Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, Baltimore Emergency Response Network, and American Friends Service Committee all believe they have been targets of federal monitoring by the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the FBIıs Joint Terrorism Task Force, in coordination with local law enforcement, for their planning and participation in campaigns of non-violent protest, including a demonstration outside of the NSAıs Fort Meade, MD headquarters in October, 2003. In fact, media reports have revealed internal NSA documents showing that the agency used law enforcement, including the Baltimore Police Department, to track members of the anti-war groups as they prepared for protests outside the Fort Meade facility. The documents reportedly identified a special ³Baltimore Intel Unit² that engaged in the spying.
³It is evident as people of faith and people who subscribe to democratic principles that we have a responsibility to speak out regarding our own convictions,² said Sister Ardeth Platte, a Dominican Nun with Jonah House, a faith-based Resistance Community dedicated to non-violence. ³We believe that the government is engaging in illegal and immoral actions, and if they are monitoring our non-violent and loving work, they are further undermining our democracy and human rights.²
Nationally, documents obtained by the ACLU through FOIA requests have revealed that the FBI is using its Joint Terrorism Task Forces to gather extensive information about peaceful organizations. The targeted groups include advocates for the environment, animal rights, labor, religion, Native American rights, fair trade, grassroots politics, peace, social justice, nuclear disarmament, human rights and civil liberties. Recently, President Bush acknowledged giving explicit and secret authorization for warrantless electronic eavesdropping and physical searches by the NSA. Now, there is reason to believe that the Pentagon, too, is illegally gathering and sharing private and protected information.
However, the government has been reluctant to turn over information as mandated under FOIA. This June, the National ACLU filed a lawsuit to force the government to turn over records after media reports revealed evidence that the Pentagon was secretly conducting surveillance of protest activities, antiwar organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies. That lawsuit, filed on behalf of ACLU affiliates in Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Washington, charged that the Defense Department is refusing to comply with national FOIA requests seeking records on the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, Greenpeace, Veterans for Peace and United for Peace and Justice, as well as many local groups and activists.
Lawyers from the Washington, DC office of the law firm Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe have partnered with the ACLU of Maryland in drafting the requests and reviewing any documents that are obtained.
Go here to read ACLU-MDıs FOIA and MPIA requests: http://www.aclu-md.org/aPress/Press.html
Go here for more information about government spying on ordinary Americans: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spyfiles/index.html