Md. Police Put Activists' Names On Terror Lists
Surveillance's Reach Revealed
By Lisa Rein
Wednesday, October 8, 2008; A01
The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.
Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the
The department started sending letters of notification Saturday to the activists, inviting them to review their files before they are purged from the databases,
"The names don't belong in there," he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It's as simple as that."
The surveillance took place over 14 months in 2005 and 2006, under the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). The former state police superintendent who authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins, defended the program in testimony yesterday. Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists "fringe people."
Sheridan said protest groups were also entered as terrorist organizations in the databases, but his staff has not identified which ones.
Stunned senators pressed
Hutchins told the committee it was not accurate to describe the program as spying. "I doubt anyone who has used that term has ever met a spy," he told the committee.
"What John Walker did is spying," Hutchins said, referring to John Walker Jr., a communications specialist for the U.S. Navy convicted of selling secrets to the
"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government," he said. Hutchins said he did not notify Ehrlich about the surveillance. Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor had no comment.
Hutchins did not name the commander in the Division of Homeland Security and Intelligence who informed him in March 2005 that the surveillance had begun. More than a year later, after "they said, 'We're not getting much here,' " Hutchins said he cut off what he called a "low-level operation."
But Sen. James Brochin (
Some activists said yesterday that they have received letters; others said they were waiting with anticipation to see whether they were on the state police watch list.
Laura Lising of Catonsville, a member of the Baltimore Coalition Against the Death Penalty, received her notification yesterday. She said she wants a hard copy of her file, because she does not trust the police to purge it. "We need as much protection as possible," she said.
Both Hutchins and Sheridan said the activists' names were entered into the state police database as terrorists partly because the software offered limited options for classifying entries.
The police also entered the activists' names into the federal Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area database, which tracks suspected terrorists. One well-known antiwar activist from Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, was singled out in the intelligence logs released by the ACLU, which described a "primary crime" of "terrorism-anti-government" and a "secondary crime" of "terrorism-anti-war protesters."
Although the independent report on the surveillance released last week said that it was part of a broad effort by the state police to gather information on protest groups across the state,
The police notified the protesters at the recommendation of former
"I can't imagine getting a letter that says, 'You've been classified as a terrorist; come in and we'll tell about it,'" said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). Two senators noted that they had been arrested years ago for civil disobedience. Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery) asked
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"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