The shadowy Red Squad political spying unit of the Chicago police shared surveillance information on civil rights and antiwar activists with 159 other law enforcement agencies nationwide during the 1960s and 1970s, new evidence indicates.
The now-banned intelligence operation traded information about lawful organizers and activists with authorities in 33 other states, including city police departments, sheriff's offices, state police and at least one federal agency, the now-defunct Office of Economic Opportunity, according to records that surfaced last month.
These included District of Columbia Police, Baltimore City and County police, Maryland State Police and even a person who wrote the Chicago unit on University of Maryland stationery.
The police traded photographs, auto license numbers and criminal "rap" sheets in efforts to amass data on dozens of political activists and organizations. The lawmen classified many lawful groups and law-abiding individuals as "subversive," the records show.
The documents were released under a court order to a local lawyer, Richard Gutman, who has led the fight here to end such surveillance. The Red Squad was disbanded in 1975, largely because of Gutman's work and revelations about the unit's existence by two Chicago newsmen who investigated the spying.
Under terms of the unusual release, Gutman cannot disclose identities of those subjected to surveillance without their permission. But he quoted extensively from various documents in what he described as a foot high pile of records.
The evidence is the first indication that Chicago's controversial spying unit cooperated readily with authorities elsewhere during the turbulent years of civil rights marches and protests against the Vietnam war. The disclosures come at a time when rising concerns over terrorism have fueled the debate about political surveillance by police.
"Police spying was a national phenomenon," Gutman said. "This wasn't information of criminal activity. These people were exercising their political rights. Such police activity creates a system in which people are afraid to criticize government."
The documents were sent to Gutman seven years after a court ordered them releasd. Gutman blamed the delay on other law enforcement agencies, which may fear that the disclosures will lead to lawsuits by activists seeking information on whether they have been targets of spying.
The police spying furor of the 1970s focused almost exclusively on big city departments, where lawsuits forced them to stop surveillance. Frank Donner, a civil liberties lawyer nationally recognized for expertise on police political spying, said Gutman's documents may open a new chapter in the issue.
"The small police and sheriff's departments were relatively untouched" by judicial inquiry into police spying, Donner said in a telephone interview from his home in Connecticut. "So this is where the new action to discover possible surveillance operations may be." The smaller departments have been relatively free of legal attack.
Although Gutman refused to allow a reporter to see any of the newly released documents, he read from several during a phone conversation. These excerpts showed numerous Red Squad actions in concert with Washington-area agencies. They included:
* A Maryland man's van was listed as "subversive" by the Red Squad after Maryland State Police in 1973 requested information on the man, who Gutman says was an organizer for a lawful socialist party.
* A black activist's tape-recorded speech in Chicago was sent to D.C. police in 1967 at their request.
* Information about a black civil rights group once active here was sent to Baltimore County police in 1971 at their request.
* Photos, political activities, and criminal "rap" sheet of a Mississippi-born black activist who had been active here and then moved to Baltimore were sent to Maryland State Police in 1970.
* In April 1966, a Col. G.P. Patrick of the Office of Inspection of OEO, the antipoverty agency, asked the Red Squad for "any information" it might have on a man suspected of heckling OEO head R. Sargent Shriver during a speech. Noting that "the subject is listed in subversive files" of its own, the squad sent a summary of the man's political activities and background to Patrick.
* A year later, the Red Squad obliged another Patrick request, this time sending him information about a Chicago-based civil rights training organization.
* The squad sought from Maryland State Police information about users of a telephone listed to a Baltimore minister. The phone number had been found during an investigation into a Chicago activist. The minister "is active in the civil rights field," a Red Squad sergeant wrote in explaining the request. No information seems to have been found by the Maryland police.
Baltimore City Police sought Red Squad help several times, in language that mirrors police attitudes of the time. For example, on June 18, 1968, a Maj. M.D. Dubois, director of inspectional services, wrote this to the Red Squad, according to Gutman:
"I am forwarding . . . a photo of an unknown colored man who is believed to be a close friend of a civil rights leader and who is allegedly from Chicago. I would appreciate your having this photo exhibited to persons of your division who may be familiar with Negro militants so that he can be properly identified [also] as much background information as you may have concerning him and his activities in militant-type matters . . . ."
Chicago had no information.
Gutman said, "There are no guarantees that this kind of activity is not going on elsewhere. Hopefully, these disclosures will lead to a large number of suits in other places."