State police spied on peace group in Frederick

November 19, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,

An undercover Maryland State Police trooper attended a September 2005 meeting of a Frederick peace activist group, newly released documents show - further evidence that police surveillance of civilians under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration was not limited to death penalty protesters, as officials had claimed.

Barry Kissin, an attorney and member of the Frederick Progressive Activist Coalition, said yesterday that state surveillance records and his group's e-mail rolls suggest that the same undercover trooper who infiltrated Baltimore's activist community also spied on his Frederick group.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has scheduled a news conference with Kissin today to discuss the latest developments in the spying incidents and to reiterate demands that police make public all details of a surveillance operation that has alarmed the public and angered elected officials.

"They have to, in the spirit of public service and in the spirit of the way our democracy is supposed to work, come completely clean about what was involved here," said Kissin.

State police spokesman Greg Shipley said Kissin's group was not part of the state's months-long monitoring of death penalty protesters and was briefly investigated only because of a chance encounter between police and a member of the progressive group who aroused suspicion.

A trooper subsequently attended a group meeting, "concluded that no criminal activity was being planned" and the "case was closed," Shipley said.

Kissin is one of 53 people notified last month by police that they had been wrongly added to a multistate database of suspected terrorists. The ACLU became aware of the database when it sued the state police to learn more about a spying operation that dates at least to 2005 and lasted about 14 months.

The spying came to light last summer when the ACLU obtained documents revealing that undercover agents infiltrated activist groups in 2005 and 2006, even though authorities had no evidence of potentially criminal acts, the legal standard for initiating such surveillance.

State police officials had said they acted out of concern about demonstrations around executions.

Last month, a report commissioned by Gov. Martin O'Malley found that state police "over-reached" and disregarded civil rights in their surveillance. The report advised that such spying be prohibited.

According to the most recently released records, Kissin's group was apparently being monitored in connection with its protests of biodefense research at Fort Detrick.

After scouring his group's e-mail addresses, Kissin said he found one beginning with "Shoup," the same name used by a state police trooper infiltrating other organizations in Baltimore.

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