Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Activists to get spy files

Activists, Lawyers Secure File Access
Reversal Comes Before Protest

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; B01

The 53 political activists wrongly classified as terrorists by the Maryland State Police may bring lawyers to review their files and take home copies, the agency said yesterday in a sudden shift in policy.

State police spokesman Gregory Shipley issued a brief news release on the policy change an hour before the activists were scheduled to protest in front of the agency's headquarters in Pikesville.

Over the past month, activists were notified that they could view the criminal intelligence files that police gathered on them in 2005 and 2006 under the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). But they were told they could not bring a lawyer or make copies before police purge the information from state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects.

Yesterday, the state police reversed course and sent letters informing the activists of the change.

"These individuals will be provided a copy of the material that includes their name if they so desire," Shipley wrote in his news release. "They will be permitted to be accompanied by an attorney." He declined further comment.

A top aide to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said the outcry from the activists and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland quickly reached the governor and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), who met with police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan to discuss a more open policy.

"Their position was untenable from Day One," said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU. "I'm glad cooler heads prevailed." The organization represents about half of the 53 activists.

Several people who received letters said they would move quickly to find out more from their files about why they were listed as terrorists.

"I congratulate the Maryland State Police for finally coming down on the side of democracy and transparent government," said Mike Tidwell of Takoma Park, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who received a letter, along with his former deputy.

Pat Elder of Bethesda, another targeted activist who runs a national group opposed to military recruitment in high schools, said the change "demonstrates the importance of collective action and the wisdom of seeking legal counsel."

"There's a civic lesson here," he said, "for individuals who are deprived of their First and Fourth Amendment rights."

Many of those included on the terrorists lists are members of peaceful protest organizations that rally against war, the death penalty and nuclear and biological weapons. Some of the people were monitored as part of a 14-month covert program that infiltrated such groups to identify possible security threats. No evidence of criminal activity or violence was discovered, and an independent review of the program concluded that the police overreached and infringed on the activists' rights.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company



Spying subjects allowed lawyers, copies of records

By Julie Bykowicz

October 28, 2008

Reversing its earlier position, the Maryland State Police announced today that people wrongly added to a multistate database of suspected terrorists may bring attorneys when they review their files and make copies of them before they are destroyed. State police have sent letters to 53 people, including environmental and peace activists, notifying them of their status in the database.

The American Civil Liberties Union became aware of the database when it sued the state police to learn more about a spying operation that began in 2005 and lasted about 14 months. The ACLU says it does not know the full extent of the spying and has called for legislation to prevent such activities in the future. State Police Col. Terrence B. Sheridan has called the operation, which took place before his administration, "disconcerting."

State police said they will purge files related to the monitoring after the subjects have had a chance to review their files. But until yesterday, police had said those people could not make copies of their files or bring lawyers. "We will not perpetuate future inappropriate action by providing copies that could be disseminated inappropriately," police spokesman Greg Shipley told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday.

A news release issued late yesterday did not explain the change in position.

ACLU attorney David Rocah said he believed that letters to the governor and discussions with the Maryland attorney general's office might have prompted the decision. "I'm glad that the state police are now obeying the law and doing what they should have done from Day One," he said. He said that some activists may choose to make their files public and that "we will now learn a lot more about what the state police were up to."

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

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