Civil Liberties

Cookies, Photographs, and Other Tools of Terror


From today's Baltimore Sun:

Undercover Maryland State Police officers repeatedly spied on peace activists and anti-death penalty groups in recent years and entered the names of some in a law-enforcement database of people thought to be terrorists or drug traffickers, newly released documents show.

The files, made public yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, depict a pattern of infiltration of the activists' organizations in 2005 and 2006. The activists contend that the authorities were trying to determine whether they posed a security threat to the United States. But none of the 43 pages of summaries and computer logs—some with agents' names and whole paragraphs blacked out—mention criminal or even potentially criminal acts, the legal standard for initiating such surveillance….

The only potentially unlawful activity mentioned anywhere in the documents, [Maryland ACLU director Susan Goering] said, were two instances of nonviolent civil disobedience. In one, activists refused to leave a guard station during a protest at the National Security Agency after bringing cookies and drinks for the guards, and in the other, they hatched a plan to place photographs of soldiers who died in Iraq on the fence surrounding the White House.

My favorite detail: One of the groups infiltrated was the Committee to Save Vernon Evans. Because nothing says security threat like a bunch of Quakers trying to get a local prisoner off death row.

During the years in question, incidentally, Maryland's governor was Bob Ehrlich, a Republican occasionally rumored to be a libertarian.

Elsewhere in Reason: a similar scandal in Colorado.

Elsewhere not in Reason: The ACLU posts the Maryland documents.