Many Groups Spied Upon In Md. Were Nonviolent
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Maryland State Police labeled members of a Montgomery County environmental group as terrorists and extremists days after they held a nonviolent protest at an appearance by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at a Bethesda high school.
Police files released to the activists reveal that the governor's security detail alerted the state police's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division to what troopers guarding Ehrlich described as "aggressive protesting" by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in 2005.
A review by The Washington Post of those and other files given in recent days to many of the 53 Maryland activists who were wrongly labeled as terrorists in state and federal databases shows an intelligence operation eager to collect information on the protest plans of a broad swath of nonviolent groups from 2005 to at least early 2007.
Those groups included not only death penalty and Iraq war protesters who were spied on by undercover troopers in a 2005-06 surveillance operation exposed in July, but also those who opposed abortion, the manufacture of cluster munitions, globalization and the government's expansion of biodefense research at Fort Detrick.
The intelligence officers were particularly interested in determining the groups' intentions ahead of specific rallies scheduled in the Washington area.
The files, whose release and eventual purge were urged in an independent review of the undercover surveillance operation, are heavily redacted in black ink. Many contain about five pages, consisting largely of tidbits of information about each person and his or her protest group. Some list what they call "monikers" for the activists, which are also blacked out.
The individuals are listed under headings for "terrorism" with such labels as "anti-war protestors," "threats," "environmental extremists" and "anarchists," although there is no explanation why any of the groups or individuals would be considered terror threats or extremist groups.
The ACLU of Maryland, which represents many of the activists, is scheduled to release more of the files today.
State police spokesman Greg Shipley said yesterday that he could not discuss the contents of the files. He said redactions were made to protect confidential "methods, techniques, procedures and other individuals who may be named" in the documents.
Shipley said that a group or an individual's inclusion in state police files does not mean it was the target of long-term surveillance. "These actions were incident-based in response to intelligence information and in response to proposed events or actions that led to concern on the part of police for issues of public safety," he said. "Checks were made based on information, and they moved on."
The police appear to have discovered some of the activists on the Internet. In the case of the Takoma Park-based Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the executive director and three other staff members were entered into the database after the group attracted the attention of Ehrlich's personal security detail, state troopers known as the Executive Protection Division.
A dozen members of the climate group showed up at Walt Whitman High School on Nov. 17, 2005, to protest as Ehrlich announced his support for tighter rules to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants. The network and other environmental groups criticized the rules for not going far enough.