Federal Agency Aided Md. Spying
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security tracked the protest plans of a peaceful Washington area antiwar group and passed the information to the Maryland State Police, which had previously labeled the activists as terrorists in an intelligence file.
The federal agency obtained two e-mails containing plans for upcoming demonstrations at a military recruiting center in Silver Spring in 2005, the first indication that DHS might have worked with the police to monitor advocacy groups. The notification by DHS appears in a state police file on the DC Anti-War Network, or DAWN, provided to The Washington Post under the Public Information Act.
The file is one of five created by the state police on the antiwar group in 2005 and 2006. Along with 53 individuals and about two dozen other protest groups, including Amnesty International and CASA of Maryland, the network was labeled a terrorist group in an internal police database. Police have said the names were not put on federal anti-terrorism lists.
An entry in the D.C. network's file dated June 21, 2005, notes that the DHS office in Atlanta forwarded two e-mails from an affiliate of the group, the name of which was redacted from the document provided to The Post. The state police file states: "Activists [from DAWN] are going to stage several small (12-15) weekly demonstrations at the Silver Spring Armed Forces Recruitment Center. If there is enough support these will become weekly vigils." According to the file, the protests were peaceful.
The DHS intelligence work has alarmed civil liberties groups and Maryland's U.S. senators, who are concerned that police shared with federal authorities personal details about the activists swept into their widely criticized spying operation. In a letter two weeks ago responding to their inquiry about the spying, DHS told Maryland Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) that an "exhaustive review" of the agency's records and databases found that none of the activists' names were shared with Maryland's intelligence fusion center.
But Cardin, who last week was named chairman of a Senate subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, said he has not received "all the direct answers I need." He said DHS might have violated federal rules by forwarding information about a peaceful group that showed no intention of breaking the law. "They exercised their right to petition their government in a lawful manner," Cardin said in an interview.
In a letter to Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano to be released today, Mikulski and Feingold demand that the agency "reexamine" its files to determine how the e-mails on DAWN were obtained and whether they were sent to the Maryland State Police for a "legitimate law-enforcement purpose."
"The information reportedly received from DHS describes only First-Amendment protected activity," the letter states. "This evidence raises several questions, particularly in light of your inability to locate records in response to our previous inquiry."
DHS spokesman Andrew Lluberes said the agency was passing on "normal information that is exchanged between law-enforcement agencies," particularly because the Silver Spring protests involved a federal building. "It happens every day," he said. The information was most likely taken off the Internet, he said, although he did not know why the Atlanta office was involved.
But the organizer of the protests said federal agents would have had to infiltrate DAWN e-mail lists to gain access to the messages.
"They would have had to join our group as a member,'' said Pat Elder of Bethesda, the leader of a national network that opposes military recruitment in high schools. He said he was in contact in 2005 with an activist in Atlanta about how to build the cardboard coffins frequently used by protesters against the Iraq war as a symbol of what activists have called needless military deaths. The antiwar group was dissolved about 18 months ago, the result of "the natural ebb and flow of the peace movement," Elder said.