Maryland State Police's Heavily Redacted Spy Files on Peaceful Activists Show No Illegal Activity, Broader Time Period

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
November 19, 2008 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE – Disturbed by the heavily redacted documents turned over by the Maryland State Police (MSP), which nonetheless reiterate the total lack of any suspected crimes, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today joined with our clients to demand full disclosure and to expose the dangerous and seemingly haphazard way in which state police spies entered the names and personal information of peaceful activists into their criminal intelligence database as suspected terrorists. More questions are raised than answers provided by the pages of blacked out text and scanty information contained in the documents thus far released by the MSP.

“What we have received is a long way from full disclosure,” said David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. “Full pages are blacked out, and little information is provided that allows people to understand why their names were listed. The Maryland State Police must finally do a thorough and public accounting of this First Amendment fiasco.”

Nonetheless, what is revealed by the documents is shocking: Entries and surveillance logs outside of the previously disclosed window of time, more infiltration of activist meetings, dossiers on activists’ political affiliations, records on activists who have never organized in Maryland, and more spying on individuals who have never committed any crime and were never suspected of committing any crimes.

A sample of the revelations:

1. The most recent surveillance file creation date is 1/10/07 ¬ seven days before Governor Martin O’Malley was sworn in. And the most recent file modification date is 7/24/08 ¬ the week after ACLU held our first press conference exposing the spy files.

2. The leaders of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) were listed as suspected terrorists after being reported to the MSP by Executive Protection Division troopers following a CCAN protest at a press conference on climate change held by former Governor Robert Ehrlich on 11/17/05.

3. The MSP covertly infiltrated the Frederick Progressive Action Coalition by sending an undercover officer to attend a meeting on 9/29/06.

4. The file on Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the national peace group CODEPINK and the San Francisco-based Global Exchange, describes her as being a “lifelong campaigner for human rights” and emphasizes her group’s dedication to nonviolence. Ms. Benjamin has never attended a protest or done any direct organizing in Maryland, nor have either of the two other CODEPINK leaders listed in the database. Their inclusion in the database is inexplicable.

5. The MSP opened a file on the leader and faculty advisor of the student chapter of the International Socialist Organization at the University of Maryland, apparently because they helped organize an anti-death penalty meeting on the campus.

After ACLU pressure, the MSP finally agreed to allow spying victims to obtain copies of their files and benefit from counsel in reviewing them, following the admission by MSP Superintendent Terrence Sheridan that 53 innocent people had been listed as suspected terrorists in their database.

Eric Alexander, a partner at the Washington, D.C. office of international law firm Reed Smith who is working with the ACLU to obtain a full accounting of the MSP’s activities, said today that “additional public information act requests will be filed to obtain full and unredacted versions of the files. We will take necessary legal steps to ensure that our clients can see what is in their own files and be confident that they are no longer misidentified in any government databases as a result of this.”

Also providing support today were state legislators who provided statements about their intention to sponsor legislation to ban police spying on peaceful activists in Maryland during the 2009 session of the General Assembly, including Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), and Delegates Sheila Hixson (D-Montgomery County), Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), Samuel (Sandy) Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), and Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery County).

Sen. Jamie Raskin: “The state police should not be the thought police. Citizens have a right to protest public officials and their policies without fear that they will be treated as enemies of the state. As public servants, we must always remember that we serve the public but the public does not have to serve us. This is a key difference between a liberal democracy and forms of repressive government.”

Del. Sheila Hixson: “I applaud the ACLU for its work on the spying incidents by Maryland State Police without reasonable suspicion and wish to announce that I, Senators Jamie Raskin and Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, Delegate Samuel Rosenberg of Baltimore City, as well as Delegates Heather Mizeur and Tom Hucker of Montgomery County are collaborating on legislation that would protect the individual rights of our citizens.”

Del. Sandy Rosenberg: “People exercising their First Amendment rights should not be subjected to the chilling presence of undercover police officers.”

Del. Heather Mizeur: “Ordinary Marylanders shouldn’t need to hire Inspector Clouseau to figure out when and why they were being spied on. We know these innocent citizens were wrongful targets, and that the State Police shouldn’t have been conducting this surveillance to begin with. Today, we are reminded again that they have not been forthcoming with the whole truth. We will stand for nothing less than a full and transparent accounting of this entire process.”

Attorneys working with the ACLU to expose the full extent of improper MSP activities and address them are Eric L. Alexander, Michael Raibman, Kevin Madagan and Brett Gerson from the Washington, DC office of the law firm Reed Smith LLP, donating their time pro bono, along with ACLU of Maryland Staff Attorney David Rocah.

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