Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MSP surveillance included Frederick residents



Frederick News-Post Oct 14, 2008;

Front Page A-1




    At least four Frederick residents were targeted by the Maryland State Police during a controversial surveillance of peaceful political activists in 2005 and 2006.


    Those four residents, all part of the Frederick Progressive Action Coalition, received letters last week from the MSP stating they had been wrongly classified as suspected terrorists in an MSP database. They believe the group was targeted for its nonviolent opposition to the expansion of biodefense facilities at Fort Detrick. A spokesman for MSP was not available for comment Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday. The letter invited the residents to examine the records before they were expunged. The four residents who received letter were: Barry Kissin, his wife, Malgo Schmidt, Gary Staples and Jason Kray.


    Kissin received his letter last week. It stated he had been recorded in the Maryland Case Explorer database system under the heading “suspecting of involvement in terrorism,” but that MSP has no evidence that he has been involved in any violent crime.


    FredPAC members suspect their Fort Detrick protests drew police attention, because those were the group’s most visible activities during the surveillance period.


    “We have been listed as terrorists only for challenging the powers that be in ways that are essential to a real democracy,” Kissin said.


The right to their records


    Kissin and the others have not examined the records yet because they were told they could not obtain copies or take with them legal counsel or a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union.


    The ACLU brought the state police spying to light earlier this year.


    Kissin is not sure yet if the entry in the Case Explorer database was the only place where FredPAC members were identified; according to a report by former Attorney General Steven Sachs, some activists’ names were included in a database maintained by Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a federally funded initiative.


    Those who received letters met last weekend and decided to approach the MSP as a group in concert with the ACLU. They will not examine the records until they are allowed copies and ACLU involvement, Kissin said.


    David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU, wrote a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, asking him to intervene with the MSP and let those the state police wrongly classified as terrorists — 53 people — have copies of the records.


    Rocah has not yet heard back from O’Malley.


    “The state’s position is beyond untenable,” Rocah said. “If cooler heads do not prevail, then we will take appropriate legal action.”


Unprotected liberties


    Members of FredPAC do not know the extent of police surveillance or if more members or other local groups were watched.


    The loosely knit group has been involved in bicycle awareness, protesting the Ku Klux Klan, and attending anti-war protests, in addition to its Detrick work.


    Kissin said their opposition to Fort Detrick’s “so-called biodefense” expansion has been vindicated by the Frederick County Commissioners’ and members of Congress’ recent calls for more study of safety risks there, and also by the news earlier this year that the FBI believes Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks.


    “Our opposition has been vindicated by the recent official acknowledgment that the only bio-attack in our history, namely the anthrax letters, came from within our own ‘biodefense’ program,” Kissin said.


    Schmidt, Kissin’s wife who was also labeled a terrorist suspect by MSP, is a Polish immigrant who came to the U.S. because of its civil liberties.


    She was arrested in 1983 for her involvement in the nonviolent anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland.


    She faced up to seven years in jail for trying to convince Polish military members not to stand with the Communist regime, but was released after 48 hours for lack of evidence.


    She immediately applied for a Fulbright scholarship and came to the U.S.


    She is disappointed to learn her civil liberties have not been protected, she said.


    “That was my reason for coming here," Schmidt said.


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