Friday, July 18, 2008

MARYLAND STATE POLICE, SPIED ON, INFILTRATED ACTIVIST ORGANIZATIONS

Lisa Rein Washington Post Staff Undercover Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents. . . for more than a year while Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, documents released yesterday show. . .

Organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils, rallies outside the State House in Annapolis and e-mail group lists were infiltrated by police posing as peace activists and death penalty opponents, the records show. The surveillance continued even though the logs contained no reports of illegal activity and consistently indicated that the activists were not planning violent protests.

Then-state police superintendent Tim Hutchins acknowledged in an interview yesterday that the surveillance took place on his watch, adding that it was done legally. He said Ehrlich (R) was not aware of it. "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state," said Hutchins, now a federal defense contractor.

The 46 pages of single-spaced typed records were released this week to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which sued the state police in June, claiming that it had refused to release public documents that shed light on surveillance of peace activists. . .

The records show that undercover agents collectively spent 288 hours on surveillance activities over 14 months from March 2005 until May 2006.

"To invest this many hours investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking," ACLU lawyer David Rocah said at a news conference in Baltimore yesterday. "It's Kafkaesque."

The ACLU contends that the surveillance was illegal, even under broader powers the federal government gave law enforcement agencies after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the police force defends its legality, and some legal experts said the program appears to be a constitutional tool available to authorities investigating threats to public safety. . .

A well-known antiwar activist from Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, 63, was singled out by the undercover agents and entered into a "Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" database. His entry indicates a "Primary Crime" of "Terrorism-anti-government" and a "Secondary Crime" of "Terrorism-Anti-War Protesters," according to the documents.

Obuszewski said he was approached by a woman he now believes was a police agent at a rally outside the Supermax Prison in Baltimore to plead for clemency for Vernon Evans, who was executed in 2006. . . .

"Lucy" and at least one other agent recorded minutes of every meeting they attended: dates for meetings of "activist" events planned by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Letter Writing Campaign; war protests in Takoma Park; and a ceremony at Johns Hopkins University to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki during World War II.. . .

In another log, an activist from Takoma Park is noted as a "socialist" and an "anarchist."

"We nonviolence types are so dangerous, aren't we?" joked Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, which is fighting to repeal the death penalty. The agents appear to have come to the same conclusion, the documents show. They expressed concern over possible tensions at antiwar and anti-death penalty rallies but noted repeatedly that they led to no violence and minimal disruptions.

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