Saturday, 19 July 2008

Md. Surveillance Ended in 2006, Governor Says

Activist Groups Not Being Watched
Md. Surveillance Ended in 2006, Governor Says

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, July 19, 2008; B01

Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that the Maryland State Police
have ceased the surveillance of war protesters and death penalty
opponents conducted under his predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and
called the monitoring a politically motivated mistake.

"In retrospect, they should not have done it for the duration of time
they did," said O'Malley (D), who defeated Ehrlich (R) in 2006. "The
police have an obligation to run out potential threats to public
safety, but if you get into a position where investigations are based
on the political views or policy views of one group or another, the
police are not doing their job."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), meanwhile, called for a "full
accounting" of the surveillance and questioned whether the state
police Homeland Security and Intelligence Division, which receives
federal funding, crossed the line in infiltrating activist groups.

"Our nation cannot allow police activity that is intended to
discourage dissent by Americans who may disagree with certain
government policies," Cardin said in a statement.

In 2005, Cardin, then a member of the House, held a meeting on Iraq
policy with a Baltimore-based peace group. The meeting was the
subject of one of dozens of intelligence logs that undercover state
police officers entered into a database as they monitored activists
from Takoma Park to Baltimore.

As opposition to the war and Maryland's death penalty heated up in
2005 and 2006, at least two state police agents used aliases to
infiltrate organizational meetings, public forums, prison vigils and
a variety of e-mail group lists.

Records of the logs were released this week to the American Civil
Liberties Union of Maryland, which sued the state police last month,
seeking access to public documents about the monitoring.

The ACLU calls the surveillance a violation of federal law because
the groups' activities were nonviolent and unrelated to terrorism.
But Tim Hutchins, the state police superintendent at the time of the
surveillance, said it was done legally. He also said Ehrlich was not
aware of it.

"Weren't they public meetings?" Hutchins said of the gatherings. The
groups monitored included the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and
the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore.

Hutchins stayed in the superintendent job for the opening months of
O'Malley's term. But the governor said yesterday that the
surveillance, documented over 14 months, ended in May 2006, before
his election.

The agents monitored the groups' activities -- collectively spending
almost 300 hours on surveillance -- even though their logs contained
no reports of illegal activity and consistently showed that the
activists were not planning or carrying out violent protests.

ACLU lawyer David Rocah said he was heartened by O'Malley's assurance
that the activists are no longer under police surveillance. But he
called on the governor to make public the scope of the program and
who the police were watching.

"People whose names were put into these logs need the opportunity to
review them," Rocah said. "They have to be purged."

Unless the O'Malley administration "puts binding reforms in place"
that state "when police can open an investigation and when it must be
discontinued," the civil liberties union will not consider the matter
closed, he said.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor's legal staff is
reviewing the requests and plans to respond shortly.

The state police follow federal guidelines on criminal intelligence
gathering that were set up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,
2001. A law enforcement office cannot collect "criminal intelligence
information about the political, religious or social views,
associations, or activities of any individual or any group . . . or
other organization unless such information directly relates to
criminal conduct or activity," the guidelines state.

The agents entered the name of a prominent Baltimore peace activist,
Max Obuszewski, into a federal database that tracks terrorists and
drug dealers.

Asked whether the activists were threats, O'Malley said: "The vast,
vast majority of us are not a threat to public safety." AR2008071802903.html?nav=rss_metro

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