By Lisa Rein and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Activists whose names and groups were improperly entered into a Maryland State Police database that tracks terrorism suspects said yesterday that the agency has failed to disclose the extent of the surveillance and why it was done.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released the police files of 19 of the 53 people who police say were wrongly entered into state and federal databases. Attorneys for the civil liberties union, which represents 28 activists, said the police have not explained why the files are heavily redacted, raising more questions than answers.
"We are nowhere near approaching full disclosure of what they did, why they did it and who they did it to," ACLU staff attorney David Rocah said at a news conference in Baltimore. He called the redactions, the events police chose to track, and the inclusion of some people in the database and not others "random and haphazard."
"It was a completely out-of-control agency," Rocah said of the state police.
State police spokesman Greg Shipley said the agency provided people with their files on the recommendation of an independent review of a 14-month surveillance of death penalty and Iraq war opponents disclosed in July.
He said the files were redacted to protect sensitive and confidential information. "Every individual received their file and the information that pertained to them and why they were in that file," Shipley said.
The files released yesterday show that police were interested in a variety of protest groups from 2005 to early last year, suggesting that intelligence officers were tracking activists for a longer period than was disclosed last summer.
Among the documents provided yesterday by the ACLU were files on the leader and faculty adviser of the student chapter of the International Socialist Organization at the University of Maryland that were created apparently because they helped organize a campus rally in March 2005 against the scheduled execution of a prisoner. A trooper attended the forum to determine what protests the activists were planning and whether they would be peaceful.
"Having the state police come into our meetings at university-sanctioned events and spy on us for tabling at the student union, that has a chilling effect on students," said Shane Dillingham, who is now a doctoral student in U.S. history at the university.
The file of Washington area activist Nadine Bloch lists her primary "crime" as "terrorism-animal rights," apparently for taking part in a conference, "Taking Action for Animals," held in July 2005 at the Renaissance hotel in the District. The event, sponsored by animal rights groups, included a protest against animal testing by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Bloch, who trains activists in nonviolent protest techniques, said that although she is devoted to many causes, animal rights is not one of them. She said she did not attend either event.
ACLU attorneys say they will continue to file public information requests and, if necessary, lawsuits until they get the full accounting they seek.