STATE POLICE SURVEILLANCE
Activists Mislisted as Terrorists Balk at Rules for Seeing Files
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Several antiwar and anti-death penalty activists who were inappropriately listed as terrorists in a Maryland State Police database said yesterday that they will not review their files unless they can bring a lawyer and receive copies of the documents for their records.
The police files, created in 2005 and 2006 as part of a covert surveillance effort that has been criticized as an invasion of privacy, are slated for destruction after they are revealed to 53 individuals who were tracked as suspected terrorists. Although state police have not publicly identified the people, each was to receive a letter indicating that he or she could review the entries before they are destroyed.
A group of activists who received such letters said yesterday that police officials say they can review the files during a two-week period beginning Monday and may only look at them on their own and cannot have copies. It is unclear whether the files will be destroyed after that period if the activists refuse to view them without a lawyer.
"I don't want to go unless I have representation, because there are important legal issues involved," said Ellen Barfield of Hamden, an active member of Veterans for Peace. Holding a copy of her certified letter outside the Maryland State Police headquarters in Pikesville yesterday, Barfield said it is "absurd" that she was listed as a terrorist but she worries that without "evidence" of what is in her file, she might be ill-equipped to deal with future background checks that could find she was considered a threat.
Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman, said there are no plans to share the database information with anyone other than the 53 people incorrectly entered into the system, a policy designed to prevent dissemination of the surveillance data that were gathered. He said the police are not allowing individuals to make copies because the agency does not want that information passed around publicly.
"It was inappropriate that they are in there, and we are fixing that," Shipley said. "It is a matter that is between the state police and that person. No one else is to see the information. They will see their file, and then it will be destroyed."
So far, those who have been notified that they are in the database are members of peaceful protest organizations that rally against war, the death penalty and nuclear and biological weapons. Some of the people were surveilled as part of a 14-month covert program that infiltrated such groups to identify possible security threats. No evidence of criminality or violence was discovered, and an independent review of the program concluded that the police overreached and infringed on the activists' rights.
Stephen H. Sachs, the former U.S. attorney and Maryland attorney general who headed the review, recommended as part of the review that citizens entered into the database without evidence of crimes have the chance to review their files. Sachs said he has "no continuing role" in the case.
"But it seems appropriate, and I hope constructive, to say that my intent in making that recommendation was to urge the Maryland State Police to afford, in complete good faith and in compliance with Maryland law, all of those it wrongly accused of 'terrorism' a full and meaningful opportunity to review and comprehend the relevant data in the files," Sachs said. He declined to elaborate.
At a news conference in Pikesville yesterday, Max Obuszewski of Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore said it is "egregious and a violation of due process" to prevent activists such as himself from bringing a lawyer to review his files. He said activists have asked Gov. Martin O'Malley to intervene.
Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the state police will decide how to reveal the files.