Cardin and Mikulski ask federal officials about links to state police spying

November 18, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Maryland's senators are seeking answers from federal law enforcement, homeland security and intelligence officials about any information-sharing and contacts with the Maryland State Police regarding a spying operation that mistakenly identified protesters as terrorists in state and federal databases.

In a letter yesterday, Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Democrats, noted that cooperation among federal, state and local agencies is "critical" to national security. Nonetheless, they wrote, participants in nonviolent demonstrations should not end up in terrorism databases.

State police have acknowledged spying in 2005 and 2006. The operation, including covert infiltration of meetings, targeted death-penalty opponents, anti-war protesters and environmental activists. State police labeled certain groups and individuals as terrorists in its own database and transmitted information on them to a federally funded database.

The senators sent the letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and heads of the Homeland Security Department, FBI and National Security Agency. They asked how many times records on the 53 individuals were queried by the agencies and whether they were placed on a federal terrorism watch list.

"There is still ambiguity as to what lists these activists were included on and how the information was used and whether it was corrected," Cardin said. "We also want to make sure they have procedures in place to prevent this moving forward."

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, also signed the letter.

Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan has said that individuals subjected to spying - which he has acknowledged was inappropriate - were not placed on the federal watch list.

But David Rocah of the American Civil Liberties Union, which uncovered the spying, said he hoped the senators get responses to unanswered questions. Law enforcement officials "have made repeated statements about these files that turn out to be completely contradicted by the facts," he said.

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