The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is suing the Maryland State Police to get records it believes may show local authorities aided the federal government in spying on peace activists during several annual protests outside the National Security Agency.
Filed yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court, the lawsuit alleges that state police have refused to disclose a record related to the surveillance despite public information requests.
Court papers state that a "Baltimore Intel Unit" had monitored many individual peace activists as they gathered at the American Friends Service Committee and prepared to protest in 2003 at the NSA, based at Fort Meade.
The monitoring of individuals and groups before protests, according to the lawsuit, went on for years, and was documented in part by state police. In August 2006, the groups, which include the American Friends Service Committee, Jonah House, Baltimore Pledge of Resistance and Baltimore Emergency Response Network, filed public information requests through the ACLU with federal, state and local organizations seeking the records.
NSA officials, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense have all acknowledged that they have information related to the requests, but none has released the records, according to the ACLU.
NSA officials have cited a backlog of public information requests, while the Department of Homeland Security has not determined what records to release, according to ACLU documents.
ACLU officials say they are waiting to hear from the Department of Defense, which is in the process of determining what, if any, documents to release.
David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said the lawsuit was filed against state police because the department has flatly refused to turn over documents. State police officials said in a January 2007 letter to lawyers for the ACLU that the identity of a confidential source would be compromised if the documents were released, as well as investigative techniques.
"Well why is there is a confidential source? I don't need to know the person's name, but why is there one in the first place? In order to invoke that exception, they have to provide evidence that they promised someone confidentiality. And they haven't done that," Rocah said. "The root cause for all this is to try and find out who were surveying these political protesters and why."
Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said the department could not address the specifics of the case. "The Maryland State Police is aware of the lawsuit. Our legal counsel staff is addressing it," Shipley said.
Officials from the NSA said they were unable to comment.
Yesterday's suit is the latest in a series of battles among local peace activists, the NSA, and federal and local law enforcement.
Previous court documents in related cases have shown that the NSA has used law enforcement agencies, including the Baltimore Police Department, to monitor anti-war groups such as Pledge of Resistance, a group loosely affiliated with the local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee. The committee's members include many veteran city peace activists with a history of nonviolent civil disobedience.
An internal NSA e-mail, posted on two Internet sites in January 2006, showed how operatives with the "Baltimore Intel Unit" provided a minute-by-minute account of Pledge of Resistance's preparations for a July 2004 protest at Fort Meade. An attorney for the demonstrators said then that he obtained the document from NSA through the discovery process.
In 2005, a federal judge in Baltimore threw out charges against two protesters charged with trespassing at the NSA. The protesters, Ellen E. Barfield and Max J. Obuszewski, had been ordered by an NSA police officer in July 2004 to move from a guard shack to a visitors parking lot during a demonstration.
Barfield and Obuszewski declined and were given criminal citations charging them with failing to obey an order to leave the agency's property. But the judge ruled that the guard shack and parking lot were within the protected space.
Those two are part of many individuals and groups who have protested at the NSA every year since 1996 -- with more recent visits opposing the war in Iraq and the agency's electronic surveillance program.