By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2008
Undercover Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year while Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, documents released yesterday show.
Detailed intelligence reports logged by at least two agents in the police department's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal close monitoring of the movements as the Iraq war and capital punishment were heatedly debated in 2005 and 2006.
Organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils, rallies outside the State House in Annapolis and e-mail group lists were infiltrated by police posing as peace activists and death penalty opponents, the records show. The surveillance continued even though the logs contained no reports of illegal activity and consistently indicated that the activists were not planning violent protests.
Then-state police superintendent Tim Hutchins acknowledged in an interview yesterday that the surveillance took place on his watch, adding that it was done legally. He said Ehrlich (R) was not aware of it. "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state," said Hutchins, now a federal defense contractor.
The 46 pages of single-spaced typed records were released this week to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which sued the state police in June, claiming that it had refused to release public documents that shed light on surveillance of peace activists. The civil liberties group learned in 2004 that a state police intelligence unit was monitoring Baltimore peace groups that had protested at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade that year.
The records show that undercover agents collectively spent 288 hours on surveillance activities over 14 months from March 2005 until May 2006.
"To invest this many hours investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking," ACLU lawyer David Rocah said at a news conference in Baltimore yesterday. "It's Kafkaesque."
The ACLU contends that the surveillance was illegal, even under broader powers the federal government gave law enforcement agencies after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the police force defends its legality, and some legal experts said the program appears to be a constitutional tool available to authorities investigating threats to public safety.
"No illegal actions by State Police have ever been taken against any citizens or groups who have exercised their right to free speech and assembly in a lawful manner," Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the state police superintendent appointed last year by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), said in a statement. "Only when information regarding criminal activity is alleged will police continue to investigate leads to ensure the public safety."
State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who teaches constitutional law at American University, called the surveillance "extremely dubious homeland security work." But he added that it is probably a constitutional use of police powers to conduct undercover work.
Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's spokesman, said: "State law enforcement uses a variety of means to keep its citizens safe. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss them publicly." While in office, Ehrlich supported both the Iraq war and the death penalty.
It was unclear yesterday whether the surveillance has continued during the O'Malley administration.
In a letter sent yesterday, the ACLU asked O'Malley to order any surveillance stopped and demand that the state police make public the full scope of the groups and activities monitored. O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the letter has been referred to the governor's legal office. "The ACLU is making an allegation, and we're looking into it," he said.
Rocah, of the ACLU, said the decision to retain the surveillance logs years after the activists were monitored when no criminal activity was alleged is unlawful.
Reports of the surveillance were shared with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the National Security Agency and Anne Arundel County's police department.
The groups monitored include the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, which has many members from Takoma Park, and the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a peace group that has been vocal in opposing the Iraq war.
A well-known antiwar activist from Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, 63, was singled out by the undercover agents and entered into a "Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" database. His entry indicates a "Primary Crime" of "Terrorism-anti-government" and a "Secondary Crime" of "Terrorism-Anti-War Protesters," according to the documents.
Obuszewski said he was approached by a woman he now believes was a police agent at a rally outside the Supermax Prison in Baltimore to plead for clemency for death row inmate Vernon Evans in 2006.
"She came up and introduced herself and said she'd like to get more involved," he recalled. He invited her to attend the next meeting of his group, and she became a regular presence. At another rally outside the State House, Obuszewski said he noticed the woman, known as "Lucy," sitting on the steps with a laptop computer. "She said, 'I'm just getting some work done right now.' "
"Why would someone come into a meeting deceitfully and claim to be someone else?" Obuszewski asked.
"Lucy" and at least one other agent recorded minutes of every meeting they attended: dates for meetings of "activist" events planned by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Letter Writing Campaign; war protests in Takoma Park; and a ceremony at Johns Hopkins University to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki during World War II.
"The ceremony at the gazebo lasted approximately 161/27 hours with poetry readings and songs," reads the entry for that event.
In another log, an activist from Takoma Park is noted as a "socialist" and an "anarchist."
"We nonviolence types are so dangerous, aren't we?" joked Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, which is fighting to repeal the death penalty.
The agents appear to have come to the same conclusion, the documents show. They expressed concern over possible tensions at antiwar and anti-death penalty rallies but noted repeatedly that they led to no violence and minimal disruptions.