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.