By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The 53 political activists wrongly classified as terrorists by the Maryland State Police may bring lawyers to review their files and take home copies, the agency said yesterday in a sudden shift in policy.
State police spokesman Gregory Shipley issued a brief news release on the policy change an hour before the activists were scheduled to protest in front of the agency's headquarters in Pikesville.
Over the past month, activists were notified that they could view the criminal intelligence files that police gathered on them in 2005 and 2006 under the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). But they were told they could not bring a lawyer or make copies before police purge the information from state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects.
Yesterday, the state police reversed course and sent letters informing the activists of the change.
"These individuals will be provided a copy of the material that includes their name if they so desire," Shipley wrote in his news release. "They will be permitted to be accompanied by an attorney." He declined further comment.
A top aide to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said the outcry from the activists and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland quickly reached the governor and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), who met with police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan to discuss a more open policy.
"Their position was untenable from Day One," said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU. "I'm glad cooler heads prevailed." The organization represents about half of the 53 activists.
Several people who received letters said they would move quickly to find out more from their files about why they were listed as terrorists.
"I congratulate the Maryland State Police for finally coming down on the side of democracy and transparent government," said Mike Tidwell of Takoma Park, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who received a letter, along with his former deputy.
Pat Elder of Bethesda, another targeted activist who runs a national group opposed to military recruitment in high schools, said the change "demonstrates the importance of collective action and the wisdom of seeking legal counsel."
"There's a civic lesson here," he said, "for individuals who are deprived of their First and Fourth Amendment rights."
Many of those included on the terrorists lists are members of peaceful protest organizations that rally against war, the death penalty and nuclear and biological weapons. Some of the people were monitored as part of a 14-month covert program that infiltrated such groups to identify possible security threats. No evidence of criminal activity or violence was discovered, and an independent review of the program concluded that the police overreached and infringed on the activists' rights.