Md. police 'watched variety of activists'
By Ben Nuckols
BALTIMORE — Surveillance of anti-death penalty protesters and other activists by the Maryland State Police was broader and went on longer than previously disclosed, according to files that were turned over by police to dozens of activists who were improperly labeled as terrorists.
The files revealed that those labeled as terrorists included environmentalists, peace activists, animal rights activists and some people who have never participated in protests in Maryland.
Police allowed 53 people whom the agency acknowledged it wrongly classified as terrorists to view its files on them. However, the files it turned over were heavily redacted, and the activists and their attorneys said Wednesday that state police still have not come clean.
"After engaging in this secret intrusion, which everybody knows is wrong -- including them, by admission -- they are now engaging in pervasive secrecy about what they did and what it connects up with," said Barry Kissin, a Frederick attorney who was one of the 53 so-called terrorists.
Police have said the agency spied on anti-war and anti-death penalty groups over a 14-month period in 2005 and 2006. However, some of the files were created as late as January 2007, and some detail surveillance of groups that protested other issues.
Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said Wednesday that ongoing surveillance only occurred during the 14-month period and that the other files were created in response to specific incidents that sparked concern among investigators. Surveillance of the groups and individuals was halted once it was determined they did not pose a threat to public safety, Shipley said.
An independent report by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs found that state police violated federal regulations and intruded on the First Amendment rights of residents by spying on the groups. He also found that police did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the surveillance.
It's unclear whether the activists ended up on a national terror watch list as a result of being labeled terrorists. Maryland's senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, have asked federal agencies to look into whether any information about the activists was passed on to them.
Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which first revealed the spying by state police, said they would continue to file public information requests and lawsuits seeking further details about the activities of state police.
The ACLU is also seeking legislation to ban such spying in the future, and five Maryland lawmakers have said they plan to introduce such a bill.
"The state police should not be the thought police," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery. "Citizens have a right to protest public officials and their policies without fear that they will be treated as enemies of the state."
ACLU attorney David Rocah said police did not explain what was redacted from the files or why. Malgo Schmidt, Kissin's wife, wore a placard around her neck with a blown-up copy of a page from her file in which all but one sentence was blacked out.
"The files that were released are a joke," Rocah said. "They don't come close to telling people what they are entitled to know."
Shipley said police took out all information that did not specifically relate to the individual named in each file.
"There is information that clearly identifies to that specific individual why they were in that report," Shipley said. "The ACLU has filed additional Public Information Act requests concerning the same information, and those are being complied with by the state police now."
Some redacted passages in the lengthy file on veteran Baltimore peace activist Max Obuszewski were not redacted in a file that police provided to him in response to a previous public information request. Some of those passages described contact between state troopers observing Obuszewski and intelligence officers in the Baltimore city and Baltimore County police departments.
Shipley declined to comment on why those sections were redacted this time around.
Other files reveal that an undercover trooper attended a meeting of a socialist student organization at the University of Maryland. The founder of that organization, Shane Dillingham, and its faculty adviser, Laura Lising, were among the so-called terrorists. Such infiltration "has a chilling effect" on the formation of student groups, Dillingham said.
The files were also riddled with errors, Rocah said. Nadine Bloch's file identifies her as a participant in an animal rights conference in Washington in July 2005. Bloch said Wednesday that she is not an animal rights activist, and she was in Hawaii at the time of the conference.
Also, three people listed in the terrorist database have never attended protests or done any organizing in Maryland, according to the ACLU. Shipley said the files were created because the organizations those individuals were members of were planning activity in Maryland.