By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The 53 peaceful political activists wrongly classified by the Maryland State Police as terrorists will not be allowed to keep paper copies of their files or review them with their attorneys, the agency said yesterday.
State police spokesman Greg Shipley declined to say why the activists will be allowed only to read the details of the intelligence that undercover agents gathered on them for 14 months in 2005 and 2006. "We feel this is an appropriate method of having this information reviewed, purged and destroyed," Shipley said.
He said the department is making the files available only "to the individuals who are named" in state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects. Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan publicly revealed the existence of the files Tuesday at a legislative hearing in Annapolis.
The rules for reviewing the files were denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is representing many of the activists. They were wrongly classified in a state police surveillance operation targeting opponents of the death penalty and Iraq war that was far more extensive than previously disclosed.
Sheridan told lawmakers Tuesday that his staff began sending letters of notification Saturday to the 53 nonviolent protesters who he said had been wrongly targeted.
"These are records about our clients, and they're legally entitled to have copies of them," ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said. "They deserve to have a permanent record of what was there in case they encounter problems in the future."
Rocah said he was called yesterday by more than a dozen people who received letters inviting them to make an appointment to review their file.
"Many people are understandably freaked out when they get a letter from the Maryland State Police saying, 'We have you in our database,' " Rocah said. "These are people who have never committed a crime."
One is Barry Kissin, a lawyer from Frederick who signed for his registered letter Tuesday. He immediately called the police agency's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division to ask why he was targeted. He said he was given no answers but suspects it is because he is affiliated with the Frederick Progressive Action Coalition, a grass-roots group involved in a number of issues.
Told of the policy, he said: "Why shouldn't I have copies of my file? It's just silly. These people are supposed to work for us. "
Rocah said he would press the state police to reverse the policy.