By Patty Donovan | According to documents released on Thursday, July 17, 2008, undercover state troopers in Maryland infiltrated at least three groups peacefully protesting the death penalty and advocating peace. These troopers illegally sent reports of the activities of these groups to U.S. intelligence and military agencies. The Maryland chapter of the ACLU was able to obtain these documents through a Freedom of Information lawsuit claiming the state police refused to release the documents proving they illegally spied on peace activists.
This illegal, clandestine reporting occurred from March 2005 to May 2006. The officers involved used false names or “covert identities” to open special email accounts in order to receive messages from the groups. They participated fully in these groups, attending meetings and protests.
Within these 46 pages of documents is an account of an activist’s name being entered into a federal database of terrorist and drug trafficking suspects. This particular database is termed HIDTA for the (Washington-Baltimore) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and was formed to enable local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies to share information on such suspects.
Activist Max Obuszewski, whose only “crime” was opposition of the death penalty was listed in the database as a terrorist. His “primary” crime was “terrorism-anti-government” with a secondary crime of “terrorism-anti-war protesters”.
According to ACLU attorney David Rocah, federal laws prohibit departments that receive federal funds from maintaining databases of political activities and affiliations and state police violated these laws. Mr. Rocah stated: “This is not supposed to happen in America. In a free society, which relies on the engagement of citizens in debate and protest and political activity to maintain that freedom… you should be able to attend a meeting about an issue you care about without having to worry that government spies are entering your name into a database used to track alleged terrorists and drug traffickers.” He called the surveillance “Kafka-esque insanity.”
The unlawful surveillance of Mr. Obuszewski and his group, Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, was exposed during his trial for trespass and disorderly conduct in a 2004 protest outside the National Security Agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. These documents indicate that the undercover state troopers from Maryland’s Homeland Security and Intelligence Division infiltrated 3 groups. These include Mr. Obuszewski’s group: the Coalition to End the Death Penalty; and the Committee to Save Vernon Evans, a murderer slated for execution.
These pages highlight at least 288 hours of surveillance. Officers attended at least 20 meetings and a dozen rallies against the death penalty. Some of these rallies took place at the SuperMax jail in Baltimore. The documents reference a proposed sit-in at the offices of Baltimore County State’s Attorney Sandra A. O’Connor. They contain No reports of violence or even any threat of violence. In fact, they show how the organizers repeatedly stressed the importance of peaceful and orderly demonstrations.
A report about a demonstration at the jail contains the following: “There were about 75-80 protesters at the rally and none participated in any type of civil disobedience or illegal acts. Protesters were even careful to move out of the way for Division of Correction employees who were going into the parking lot for work.”
Even though these meetings and protests were carried out peacefully and in full compliance with all laws, the information about the protesters and their activities was sent to seven agencies, including the National Security Agency and an unnamed military intelligence official.
“Americans have the right to peaceably assemble with others of a like mind and speak out about what they believe in,” Mr. Rocah said. “For state agencies to spend hundreds of hours entering information about lawful and peaceful political activities into a criminal database is beyond unconscionable. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars, which does nothing to make us safer from actual terrorists or drug dealers.”
When I first read this article, I was completely appalled. The inferences for all of us are huge. Are we already living in a police state? Are all of us reading this, because we are non-conformists, targeted and in terrorist databases?