ACLU files suit over alleged spying by state police
Agency reportedly targeted peace protestor groups
Daily Record Assistant Business Editor
June 12, 2008 6:44 PM
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is attempting to find out to what extent, if any, the Maryland State Police is infiltrating and spying on peace protestor groups.
During the criminal trial of two war protestors charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, prosecutors turned over a document that showed a law enforcement intelligence unit had seemingly spied on protestors during a separate rally a year later. Now, four protest groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the Maryland State Police to find out to what extent, if any, the agency spied on them.
The ACLU had filed a request with the state police seeking documents on behalf of the Baltimore Emergency Response Network, the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, Jonah House and the American Friends Service Committee, Middle Atlantic Region.
In a written reply, the state police acknowledged they had a document related to the groups, but turned down the request to release it in whole, or redacted, saying that doing so would compromise a confidential informant and police investigation techniques.
“Does that mean they’re sending people in to spy on political groups?” said David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland and the lead attorney on the case. “If so, what is that person doing that the public can’t know about?”
Rocah said if the Maryland State Police had nothing to hide, there had to be a way to convey the information to prove it.
“If there are innocuous answers, then give us the documents and show us,” Rocah said. “The reason that we have public information acts is so we don’t have to take a public official’s word for it.”
Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said the agency was aware the lawsuit had been filed and its legal staff would address it. He declined further comment.
Specifically, the ACLU and the protest groups are trying to find out the parent agency of the “ Baltimore Intelligence Unit,” which is cited in a July 3, 2004, security log, from the National Security Agency police. The log was turned over in discovery during a 2004 criminal trial for two protestors charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. The log, though, actually referred to a rally that occurred at a different time from the one that lead to the charges.
The Baltimore Intelligence Unit provided the NSA’s Security Operations Center with timely updates about the actions of the Baltimore Emergency Response Network as the protestors gathered and headed to NSA headquarters, according to court documents. The log shows vehicle descriptions, tag numbers, crowd numbers and what is written on their signs.
In one log note, the NSA’s Security Operations Center was told to expect “a possible twelve people in three separate vehicles, with an ETA of 25 minutes to NSA.” In another log entry, the NSA was told, “the protestors were proceeding to the airplane memorial with three helium balloons attached to a banner that stated ‘Those who exchange freedom for security deserve it, neither will ultimately lose both.’”
Rocah said the ACLU and BERN felt it is imperative to get the state police record to find out how extensively law enforcement agencies have been monitoring peace groups.
“A lot of people might want to participate in these kinds of demonstrations,” Rocah said. “And, they would be chilled to learn their names and tag numbers are being taken down while the police are taking their photograph.”
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs