Maryland State Police spied on environmentalists - not just the death penalty opponents and war protesters that officials had previously acknowledged watching and entering into a database of terrorism suspects - a revelation that has intensified calls for new regulations on surveillance of activist groups.
Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, released yesterday an Oct. 6 letter from the state police superintendent informing him that he was a target of surveillance in 2005 and 2006 and was entered into a multistate database as a suspected terrorist. Two of his former colleagues - including former Deputy Director Josh Tulkin - received similar letters, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland says that more people are expected to come forward in coming weeks to show the scope of the spying.
Maryland State Police officials, who declined to comment on Tidwell's case, have sent letters to 53 people to inform them that they had been spied upon.
A report released this month said the state police "over-reached" and disregarded civil rights in their surveillance of anti-death penalty and peace groups, and advised that such spying should be prohibited. David Rocah, an attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said yesterday that it is becoming clear that the state police have not told the full story.
Meanwhile, Rocah said, "Not a single leader of any death penalty group in the state of Maryland has received a letter indicating they're in the state police database."
State police officials had said they began the surveillance out of concern about demonstrations around executions.
The report, written by former Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, stated that, beyond the anti-death penalty and peace groups, there was a "somewhat broader effort to develop information about Maryland's activist community." But environmental advocacy groups fell beyond the charge that Sachs was given by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Tidwell, Roach and others held a news conference and rally yesterday morning in Silver Spring, at which they called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to prohibit spying on peaceful activists.
"As if it weren't disturbing enough that volunteer peace activists were on this list, now it's ... mainstream, nonprofit leaders," Tidwell said. "My group is transparent. I have nothing to hide."
The chairman of the state Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, Brian E. Frosh, said he was surprised that a well-known environmental advocacy group's leaders were targeted. He requested all documents on the spying operation in July and again last month, hoping that they would resolve unanswered questions. But he hasn't seen them yet.
"It's insane," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "It's wasteful in terms of police resources, and it obviously is not the kind of political operation one hopes for in a democratic society."
Frosh said he believes the General Assembly will consider legislation in its next session to allow state police surveillance of activist groups based on a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that someone has committed a crime or is likely to do so and only if there is no less-intrusive way to get that information. Frosh said he doesn't think the state police can be counted on to regulate themselves.
The spying came to light this summer when the ACLU obtained documents revealing that undercover agents infiltrated activist groups in 2005 and 2006 even though they had no evidence of potentially criminal acts, the legal standard for initiating such surveillance.
Tidwell does not know what information the state police gathered about him. He was told that he could view his file, and had an appointment this week to do so but canceled because he did not like the restrictions laid out by state police. Tidwell said he would not be allowed to bring his attorney or make copies, and that the records would be purged immediately after he saw them. ACLU attorneys have been in discussions with state officials about changing some of the rules.
Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said activists do not need lawyers and should not receive copies.
"We will not perpetuate future inappropriate action by providing copies that could be disseminated inappropriately," he said. He declined to say who else might be among the 53 who have received letters.
"This situation is between the Maryland State Police and the individuals named in our database," he said.
Tidwell said he wonders if he came to the attention of state police in 2004, after he and a handful of others were arrested for a nonviolent protest outside a coal-fired power plant in Montgomery County and charged with trespassing and misdemeanor loitering. Tidwell said the presiding judge at a brief court appearance called him "an exemplary citizen" for standing up for his principles.
Neither Tulkin nor the other former CCAN employee has ever been arrested or engaged in civil disobedience, Tidwell said.