Thursday, July 17, 2008

Maryland State Police spied on Campaign to end the Death Penalty

American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland through a lawsuit has obtained 46 pages of documents from the Maryland State Police, revealing how undercover police officers infiltrated local anti-death penalty and anti-war groups. You can watch the video coverage at WBALTV's website. According to Washington Post,

Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on local peace activists and groups opposed to the death penalty, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year during the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), documents released this morning show.

The 46 pages released to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland through a lawsuit seeking public information on the activities of the State Police Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal undercover agents monitored private organizing meetings, public forums and rallies outside the State House in Annapolis. The agents used aliases to attend these events and to join listservs, logging information about protest activities into a database, the records show.

Reports of the surveillance were shared with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The logs did not contain reports of illegal activity.

The records show that undercover agents collectively spent 288 hours on surveillance activities over 14 months from March 2005 to May 2006. The groups monitored include the Coalition to End the Death Penalty, which has many members from Takoma Park, and the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a peace group that has been vocal in opposing the Iraq war.

"To invest this many hours in investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking," ACLU attorney David Rocah said this morning.

The records do not reveal who in the Ehrlich administration ordered the surveillance. A spokesman for the former governor, who was defeated by Martin O'Malley (D) in 2006, could not be reached immediately.

O'Malley's State Police superintendent, Terrence B. Sheridan, declined comment this morning, saying he was not familiar with the case. Sheridan was appointed last year.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration wrote guidelines permitting law enforcement agents to attend public events for the purpose of tracking suspected terrorists. But the information cannot be retained unless terrorism or suspected criminal activity is suspected. Officials with the ACLU said most of the State Police records are unlawful because they do not relate to criminal acts.

Staff writer John Wagner also contributed to this report.

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