Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spying on Pat Elder & other "terrorists"

In April of 2005 I traded emails with an activist in Atlanta about how to construct flag-draped corrugated coffins.  Those emails and subsequent federal surveillance have become the subject of an early confrontation between Congress and the Obama Administration over 4th Amendment protections.  The following narrative intends to document federal surveillance surrounding these emails, culminating in statements issued by Maryland's senators today.


The Atlanta peace activist wanted to make several dozen life-like coffins and place them in front of a military recruiting center in Atlanta.  He had seen photos of the coffins at the Lincoln Memorial    I mailed him two cardboard coffins, a dozen US flags, and instructions on how to build the powerful props.


In December of 2005, Lisa Myers of NBC News broke the story about Pentagon spying on peace groups.   The report made public a PDF containing 43 entries that detailed the spying:  

The last two entries from page 5 detail NSA spying on me pertaining to the construction of those coffins.   (I was also involved in three other entries on this report, including the one describing "Great Places to Protest," an email I wrote to the DC Antiwar Network's list-serve that encouraged folks around DC to become acquainted with military recruiting centers in their neighborhoods.) 


On October 3, 2008 I received a letter from the Superintendent of the Maryland State Police (MSP) saying I had been classified as a terrorist for my antiwar activities.  They informed me that I could go to Baltimore to review my files but that I couldn't make copies or have an attorney present. I sought the counsel of the ACLU-MD, together with 27 of the 53 Marylanders included in this dragnet.  The ACLU managed to receive a file on me from the MSP but several pages were almost entirely redacted.  The only information the censurers left intact had to do with a demonstration I helped to organize at Lockheed Martin's headquarters in my neighborhood.  I thought it was odd because it represented a relatively insignificant event in my activist life.


At this point, however, the mainstream media limited its reporting on those crazy Maryland State Police, going way out on a limb to spy on peaceniks and Quakers.  Keith Olbermann, the New York Times, and the LA Times all sounded the same theme.  Those silly Maryland cops!  Golly.  Most of us implicated in the sting, however, pointed at federal involvement because we have extensive ties to national networks.  The feds are sticking needles into the body politic to explore our affiliations and networks across the country and they're doing it in every state.


Consider who they've been spying on.  Catholic nuns with sisters across the country who bang on nuclear missiles; the leadership of a radical women's group; a leading national expert in guerilla theatre and puppet-making; radical environmentalists; A woman with a PHD in microbiology and her attorney husband who claim Maryland's Fort Detrick is producing biological weapons capable of killing millions; national antiwar leaders; anti-death penalty volunteers; activists fighting depleted uranium and cluster munitions. Oh, and an activist working to confront military recruiting in the schools. 


They've got us covered in Maryland and they've got you covered too. 


Read the ACLU's excellent report on Fusion Centers for more:


The Washington Post has documented this story:

"MD Police Put Activist Names on Terrorist Lists" Oct. 8, 2008.


"More Groups than Thought Monitored in Police Spying" Washington Post Jan 4, 2008


In October, the ever-vigilant ACLU filed a Maryland Freedom of Information Act Request for files relating to the DC Antiwar Network (DAWN), a group I helped found. This is where things get interesting because the 7 PDFs we eventually received, containing about 200 pages of information pertaining to DAWN, contain an extremely revealing item that the "magic marker man" apparently missed:




When I first read these lines, I was struck with the tie-in to Atlanta before I realized the significance of finally having evidence that the feds were spying on me and feeding the information to the Maryland State Police. I was the primary organizer of the demonstrations at the Silver Spring Recruitment Center.


Here's the Post's story on Monday, February 17.   I feel somewhat sheepish about it because the reporter refers to me as "the leader of a national network that opposes military recruitment in high schools."  I'm one of several hundred involved in NNOMY.


"Federal Agency Aided Maryland Spying"  Washington Post, February 17, 2009


MSNBC: DHS Passed protest Info to MD Police


I sent a version of the above narrative to more than a hundred outlets and only MSNBC picked it up and I'm not sure they did so because of my efforts.  Democracy Now hasn't returned calls and neither have several other progressive outlets.  I think this represents a collective shrug of the shoulders.  We’re complacent because we have a new president and all that bad stuff has gone away.   Don't believe it. 


In November, Maryland Senators Mikulski and Cardin and Senator Russ Feingold (WI) wrote a letter on our behalf to DoJ, FBI, NCTC, DHS, and NSA asking for clarification about the Post's story on October 8, 2008 that said our names were included on federal terrorism databases.  On December 15, 2008 Michael Leiter of the NCTC responded to the senators by stating, "NCTC first became aware of this situation in the referenced Washington Post article…"  Obama's DoJ said the same thing on January 26.  No record, nothing shared, nothing added.  Finally, On January 29, Janet Napolitano, Obama's Secretary of DHS denied any knowledge.


Today, Cardin and Mikulski have both written back to the feds..


Senators Demand Answers, Call on DHS to Reexamine Files on Whether They Shared Information on Peaceful Protesters with Maryland State Police


Cardin dissatisfied with DHS answers on Maryland surveillance


By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security EditorPublished: Feb. 19, 2009 at 9:14 AMOrder reprints  |  Feedback

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- A Democratic U.S. senator says he is dissatisfied with the answers he has received from federal officials about the surveillance of Maryland peace activists by state police, and plans to use his new role as chairman of a key terrorism and homeland security panel to probe the issue.

"Thus far, I have been dissatisfied with the responses we have received from law enforcement and intelligence officials regarding their access to and use of data on dozens of Maryland peace activists," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told United Press International in a statement.

Cardin, who last week became chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, and two other senators wrote last year to the Department of Homeland Security asking about possible DHS involvement in the surveillance of the activists, several of whom were entered into federally funded databases designed to track terrorists and drug traffickers.


"In response to your letter, DHS again conducted an exhaustive review of its records and databases, and found no indication of ever receiving information from the subject efforts of (the Maryland State Police)," officials replied in January, according to a copy of the letter obtained by UPI.


But earlier this week documents revealed that DHS officials from the Federal Protective Service -- the agency that guards federal buildings and is a part of the department -- sent e-mails to the state police about planned demonstrations by one of the groups, the DC Anti-War Network. "Activists are going to stage several small (12-15) weekly demonstrations at the Silver Spring Armed Forces Recruitment Center," reads the note in the state police files, obtained by The Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) in response to a state Public Information Act request.

"It should not be this difficult to get full and complete answers to our questions in a timely manner," Cardin told UPI.

"An FPS employee in Atlanta forwarded a notice about the forthcoming protest to Maryland State Police," said DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. "This was information from a public Web site, and it was shared as they might share any information that could impact a federal facility, like a burst water main or traffic events," she said.

"FPS has a responsibility for federal buildings and to be aware of any events that may impact a federal facility. ... They shared it with another law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction in that area."

Kudwa said the department would "continue to work with the senator to get answers to any further questions he might have."

Cardin said he would indeed continue to look into the matter.

"As I assume the chairmanship of the Senate Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, I intend to use the oversight tools available to 1) ensure this type of activity is not repeated, 2) use this as an example to review if counter-terrorism data sharing between state and federal officials is working as it should, and 3) (determine whether) federal counter-terrorism resources are being used appropriately," he said.

In an earlier interview with UPI, Cardin said he would also use his new role as chairman of the subcommittee to keep a weather eye on the way the Obama administration is using the legal authorities granted it by Congress.

In addition to oversight of government eavesdropping and other counter-terrorism programs, Cardin said his agenda would cover plans for the closure of the U.S. military's detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the possible renewal of some authorities granted by the Patriot Act, which are due to sunset during this Congress.

Cardin told UPI he will be checking to see that the administration is using new surveillance authorities passed last year by Congress "appropriately and consistent with congressional intent."

"We need to ensure that the law is adequate to protect us from terrorism and to protect our civil liberties," he said.

In July 2008 Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1974 law governing wiretapping by the nation's spy agencies, after The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) revealed that a secret Bush administration counter-terrorism program had authorized warrantless electronic surveillance -- outside of FISA -- of Americans' foreign communications, including phone calls and e-mails.

Cardin said oversight of the law -- which governs some of the most sensitive and highly secret eavesdropping capabilities of U.S. intelligence agencies -- would be "a challenge."

"We will need to have some briefings (for staff and members), some in a classified setting, to go over how they will want to use the authorities we gave them," he said. "There are some sensitive issues," he said, but he added the subcommittee "needs to understand the legal basis for these (surveillance) programs" to do its job.

Some of the FISA amendments are due to expire after four years, but Cardin said he wanted to "start having discussions" about them in plenty of time. "What I want to do … is get up to speed as to how these powers are being used immediately," he said. "There may be some fine-tuning needed. … We may need to add authorities, we may need to add protections."

"The sunsets are not for some years, but I do not want to wait until six months before they expire to have those debates."


One good thing, Maryland is getting set to pass the strongest 4th Amendment law in the country!

Pat Elder

Bethesda, MD



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