Police Spied on Activists Through '07

Published on
by
The Baltimore Sun

Police Spied on Activists Through '07

Protest groups say they haven't gotten the full story from state

by
Liz F. Kay

Barry Kissin is a member of the Frederick Progressive Action Coalition. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / November 19, 2008)

Documents released yesterday show that state police spying of
nonviolent protest groups took place in 2007, more than a year after
law enforcement officials said much-criticized surveillance of
death-penalty activists had ended.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the spying to light
this year, also determined that some political activists who appear
never to have set foot in Maryland were included in databases that list
them as potential terrorists.

Activists say they still aren't getting complete information from state
police about 53 people identified as possible terrorists during a
covert operation in 2005 and 2006, despite pledges of cooperation from
the O'Malley administration. They say they'll keep demanding documents
and are considering legal action.

"We are nowhere near full disclosure of what they did, why they did it and who they did it to," ACLU attorney David Rocah said.

The spying was first disclosed this summer, after the civil liberties
group obtained documents revealing surveillance of anti-death-penalty
activists and peace protesters.

Police had no evidence of potential illegal acts by the protesters,
which is the legal standard for launching such an investigation. Names
of protesters were entered into a terrorist database that was shared
with other agencies.

A review commissioned by Gov. Martin O'Malley determined that police
disregarded the civil rights of protesters. The investigation
recommended that the 53 spying targets receive the reports that state
police kept on them, and that the records then be destroyed.

But the ACLU said yesterday that the heavily redacted documents leave
out basic information and other details that could reflect unfavorably
on police.

"It's information that is potentially politically embarrassing ... but it is not legally withheld," Rocah said.

The civil liberties group was able to compare less-heavily redacted
documents released in July to those given to activists more recently.

State police spokesman Greg Shipley said the agency "redacted
information that may relate to police techniques or other investigative
issues."

A key point of contention is whether the spying operation extended
beyond anti-death-penalty activists. Documents show that state police
kept records on members of environmental groups, animal-rights
proponents, peace activists and some organizations not operating in
Maryland.

Shipley said that the spying program did not extend beyond groups
opposed to the death penalty, although he acknowledged that police
occasionally monitored other people.

He said some information about activists gathered outside the 14-month
period beginning in 2005 was triggered by specific incidents and was
not part of the more thorough death-penalty operation.

"It is intelligence information and actions that are in response to
proposed events or actions that led to concern on the part of police
for issues of public safety," Shipley said.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

For example, an undercover trooper attended one meeting of Frederick
Progressive Action Coalition in 2005 and reported that no criminal
activity was planned, he said. Earlier, a member of that group had been
found at a biotechnology conference wearing a stolen hotel employee's
uniform, Shipley said.

"That prompted concern about future action," he said. "This is not
spying, as the ACLU would have people believe. This is police in this
situation acting on valid law enforcement concern and working to
protect the public safety."

However, Rocah pointed out that troopers created files on the two
members of the Fredrick group before the hotel incident, and thus the
episode could not have served as the basis of the infiltration.

"It's patent nonsense, contradicted by the facts in their own files," he said.

Rocah and other officials called on O'Malley to do more to ensure these documents are released.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor has worked with
state police to allow people to access records with counsel present but
referred other questions to state police.

A dozen of the 53 spying subjects called for more transparency at a news conference yesterday.

"I challenge the state to come clean on what they actually have on us,"
said Nadine Bloch, a Takoma Park resident who, according to her file,
creates giant puppets for protests.

Members of national groups that were included on the list said they
were surprised because they have never attended events in this state.

"I've never been to Maryland. I'm not an anarchist or an environmental
extremist," Nancy Kricorian, a coordinator for the New York office of
Code Pink, an organization of women advocating for peace, said in a
telephone interview.

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