a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

MD State Police spying scandal widens: environmental group targeted

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 22nd, 2008

Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) executive director Mike Tidwell writes that he, too, was listed as a “terrorist” by the Maryland State Police on their now-infamous “Case Explorer” database.  Tidwell:

Since 2001, I have devoted my life entirely to the peaceful promotion of windmills and solar panels to solve global warming. Apparently not everyone liked my work, however. Believe it or not, the Maryland State Police – your state police – put my name in their criminal intelligence database as a “suspected terrorist” as part of their larger program of collecting information about political activists in 2005-2006. I was on this outrageous “watch” list apparently because of a single act of peaceful civil disobedience I participated in outside a coal-fired power plant in 2004. CCAN’s former deputy director Josh Tulkin was also put in the database as was another former CCAN staffer who has chosen to remain anonymous. Neither of these people has ever been arrested for anything in their entire lives. (See background below)

So about one third of the entire Maryland CCAN staff – one of the largest environmental groups in the state – was officially spied on by the police while we peacefully promoted clean electricity and clean cars for Maryland. This is, of course, an outrage and a threat, not just to civil liberties in Maryland, but to the state’s entire environmental community. When people who are trying SAVE the climate and SAVE the Bay are considered terrorists, the world has truly been turned upside down.

ACLU-MD Tidwell asks readers to send an email to Governor Martin O’Malley asking him to release all surveillance files gathered by the MSP (who prefer to destroy the files), and to support comprehensive legislation (being drafted by local State Senator Jamie Raskin) to prevent similar abuses from happening again.  There will also be a 10:30 am rally tomorrow at the Silver Spring Metro station to further publicize the scandal and press these demands.  The rally and email campaign are both coordinated with the ACLU-Maryland, whose lawsuit helped uncover the scandal earlier this year.

This fishing expedition by the Maryland State Police task force was as un-American as McCarthyism or Nixon’s “dirty tricks” — it was a dry run for Chinese- or Stasi-style surveillance and infiltration of innocuous activist groups, and their labeling as literally enemies of the state.  Dry run is putting it kindly, actually — this was the real thing. The recently released Sachs report relays what I consider a snickering, bald-faced lie about how the “terrorist” designation was considered no big deal by those aware of it:

While the MSP employees with whom we spoke recognized that the individuals and groups under investigation here were not “terrorists,” under any reasonable and accepted definition of that word, none who were aware of the use of the designation seemed to consider that a government agency’s decision to label someone a terrorist, particularly when that label is included in an external database, could cause serious harm to that person’s reputation, career, and standing in the community.

Baloney. They knew full well they were putting a bureaucratic scarlet “T” on all of the people they labeled that way. For this assault on civil liberties to be fully repulsed, that needs to be turned on its head: the superiors involved should be disciplined and demoted, and those doing their bidding should be reassigned to simpler chores, like checking parking meters or directing traffic.

UPDATE, 10/23: CCAN online communications manager Susanna Murley has set up a “No Police Spying” facebook group, with photos from the rally; alternatively, see the CCAN blog post about it.  Also, the New York Times  Andrew Revkin (“.Dot Earth” blog) is covering the story.

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