[News] Md. Police Put Activists' Names On Terror Lists

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 8 12:12:26 EDT 2008

Md. Police Put Activists' Names On Terror Lists

Surveillance's Reach Revealed

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 8, 2008; A01

State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and 
entered their names and personal information into state and federal 
databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief 
acknowledged yesterday.

Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the 
surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty 
and the Iraq war, was far more extensive than was known when its 
existence was disclosed in July.

The department started sending letters of notification Saturday to 
the activists, inviting them to review their files before they are 
purged from the databases, Sheridan said.

"The names don't belong in there," he told the Senate 
Proceedings Committee. "It's as simple as that."

The surveillance took place over 14 months in 2005 and 2006, under 
the administration of former governor 
L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). The former state police superintendent who 
authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins, defended the program in 
testimony yesterday. Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against 
potential violence and called the activists "fringe people."

Sheridan said protest groups were also entered as terrorist 
organizations in the databases, but his staff has not identified which ones.

Stunned senators pressed Sheridan to apologize to the activists for 
the spying, assailed in an independent review last week as 
"overreaching" by law enforcement officials who were oblivious to 
their violation of the activists' rights of free expression and 
association. The letter, obtained by 
Washington Post, does not apologize but admits that the state police 
have "no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime" by 
those classified as terrorists.

Hutchins told the committee it was not accurate to describe the 
program as spying. "I doubt anyone who has used that term has ever 
met a spy," he told the committee.

"What John Walker did is spying," Hutchins said, referring to John 
Walker Jr., a communications specialist for the 
Navy convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Hutchins said 
the intelligence agents, whose logs were obtained by the 
Civil Liberties Union of Maryland as part of a lawsuit, were 
monitoring "open public meetings." His officers sought a "situational 
awareness" of the potential for disruption as death penalty opponents 
prepared to protest the executions of two men on death row, Hutchins said.

"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who 
wish to disrupt the government," he said. Hutchins said he did not 
notify Ehrlich about the surveillance. Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell 
said the governor had no comment.

Hutchins did not name the commander in the Division of Homeland 
Security and Intelligence who informed him in March 2005 that the 
surveillance had begun. More than a year later, after "they said, 
'We're not getting much here,' " Hutchins said he cut off what he 
called a "low-level operation."

But Sen. 
Brochin (D-Baltimore County) noted that undercover troopers used 
aliases to infiltrate organizational meetings, rallies and group 
e-mail lists. He called the spying a "deliberate infiltration to find 
out every piece of information necessary" on groups such as the 
Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Baltimore Pledge 
of Resistance. When Hutchins called their members "fringe people," 
the audience of activists who filled the seats in the hearing room in 
Annapolis sighed.

Some activists said yesterday that they have received letters; others 
said they were waiting with anticipation to see whether they were on 
the state police watch list.

Laura Lising of Catonsville, a member of the Baltimore Coalition 
Against the Death Penalty, received her notification yesterday. She 
said she wants a hard copy of her file, because she does not trust 
the police to purge it. "We need as much protection as possible," she said.

Both Hutchins and Sheridan said the activists' names were entered 
into the state police database as terrorists partly because the 
software offered limited options for classifying entries.

The police also entered the activists' names into the federal 
Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area database, 
which tracks suspected terrorists. One well-known antiwar activist 
from Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, was singled out in the intelligence 
logs released by the ACLU, which described a "primary crime" of 
"terrorism-anti-government" and a "secondary crime" of 
"terrorism-anti-war protesters."

Sheridan said that he did not think the names were circulated to 
other agencies in the federal system and that they are not on the 
federal government's terrorist watch list. Hutchins said some names 
might have been shared with the 
Security Agency.

Although the independent report on the surveillance released last 
week said that it was part of a broad effort by the state police to 
gather information on protest groups across the state, Sheridan said 
the department is not aware of any surveillance as "intrusive" as the 
spying on death penalty and war opponents.

The police notified the protesters at the recommendation of former 
U.S. attorney and state attorney general 
H. Sachs, who was appointed by Gov. 
O'Malley (D) to review the covert monitoring. In a report last week, 
Sachs also recommended regulations that forbid such spying on protest 
groups unless the state police chief believes it is justified.

"I can't imagine getting a letter that says, 'You've been classified 
as a terrorist; come in and we'll tell about it,'" said Sen. Bryan W. 
Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). Two senators noted that they had been 
arrested years ago for civil disobedience. Sen. Jennie Forehand 
(D-Montgomery) asked Sheridan, "Do you have any legislators on your 
list?" The answer was no.

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