Editorial The Baltimore Examiner Newspaper 7/23/08

In a story that would seem right at home in the former Eastern bloc countries, the ACLU revealed last week state police spied on law-abiding peace activists and death penalty opponents for 14 months.

Undercover Maryland state troopers attended protests and meetings of three groups from March 2005 to May 2006, logging at least 288 hours on the project, and shared the information with federal, state and county agencies. No reports indicated any member of the groups, Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, the Coalition to End the Death Penalty and the Committee to Save Vernon Evans, committed a crime. Yet agents recommended that monitoring continue and even placed one activist, Max Obuszewski, in a database funded by the federal government to help federal, state and local law enforcement share information on drug traffickers and terrorists.

State police said they did not impinge on any of the activists’ civil liberties. But how do their actions abide with the First Amendement’s guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”?

They don’t. As David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said, “In our America, you should be able to attend a meeting about an issue you care about without having to worry that government spies are entering your name into a database used to track alleged terrorists and drug traffickers.”

The ACLU had to file a lawsuit to get the information. So what is the average citizen to do without the financial means to stand up to the government?

And who is monitoring the monitors? Wouldn’t six months of surveillance without evidence of wrongdoing be enough to halt the investigation? And will Mr. Obuszewski face unwarranted scrutiny at airports, from the Internal Revenue Service or in his day-to-day dealings with the government?

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., called for a “full accounting” of surveillance activities by federal, state and local officials. At the very least, state police must reveal who ordered the surveillance and whether then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Baltimore City Mayor Martin O’Malley supported the investigation. And federal law enforcement officials must prove they have removed Mr. Obuszewski from all watch lists implicating him as a potential terrorist.

How ironic is it that as young men and women volunteer their lives to die for the freedom of Iraqis and the people of Afghanistan, our own government violates its most basic principles at home.

Incidents like this show how important a vigorous press and freedom of information laws are to holding the government accountable when it oversteps its bounds. As President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying of the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify.” As citizens, we must not be afraid of holding our government to account. The ACLU deserves a resounding thank you for it’s fearlessness in fighting this encroachment on our most fundamental of rights.


KH: also see this article, COINTELPRO Comes to My Town