Documents reveal surveillance of Olympia groups

Staff writerAugust 4, 2010 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington on Wednesday published a raft of public documents related to statewide government surveillance of local political activity to its website. The ACLU states that the documents "reveal a disturbing abuse and misuse of government resources here in Washington state."

The documents describe surveillance activities from all over the state, including activities of Olympia-area people and groups. The documents were published as part of an ongoing research project by the ACLU.

“We are working to ensure that government collects information about political and religious activities only with reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct,” Randy Tyler, a legal fellow at the ACLU of Washington, said Wednesday.

* One of the ACLU’s documents is a March 15, 2007 e-mail in which an Evergreen State College faculty member has apparently forwarded to the Washington State Patrol a student’s message detailing information about an upcoming anti-war protest scheduled at the Port of Tacoma.

* Another is a March, 29, 2010 bulletin originating from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Fusion Center, warning the Naperville, Illinois police department of public records requests by a “local activist group.”

The photo accompanying Joint-Base Lewis McChord Fusion Center’s warning to the Naperville Police Department is a screen shot of the local Olympia website olyblog.net.

The text accompanying JBLM’s notification to Naperville police stated that open records laws are important to effective government, but added: “It should be noted however, that while information requests can be used to stay informed of government activity and actively participate in the democratic process, they can also be used to obtain information with the intent of disrupting government functions and circumventing law enforcement operations.”

A JBLM spokesman did not have an immediate comment late Wednesday afternoon.

“Fusion Centers” such as the one identified in the ACLU’s public document as a JBLM fusion center, are clearinghouses of “law enforcement sensitive” information used by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies so that they can share knowledge across jurisdictional boundaries.

* A June 5, 2006 document from the Tacoma Police Department to its department supervisors contains the minutes of a “Homeland Security Meeting.” During the meeting, a police captain, “wondered if it is legal for someone to provide false information to these ‘protestor-type’ websites or blogs to throw them off as to events that are happening.”

An Aug. 5, 2008 document contained a quote from an undercover officer with Tacoma police who had infiltrated an anti-war group, according to the ACLU. The quote in the public document stated, “It was very funny to watch them on Friday night, just so you know, they are scared sh*tless of TPD, that’s pretty much all they talked about. Then they try to pscyh each other up enough to take one for the team, the car ride to the tide flats was hilarious ...”

“It is unclear why TPD needed undercover information about the anti-war movement,” reads the ACLU’s accompanying text.

* The ACLU also obtained heavily redacted documents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command, detailing an e-mail thread where unidentified individuals discuss a news story published in The Olympian, detailing allegations that a former Fort Lewis civilian employee, John Towery, spied on members of an Olympia anti-war group, Olympia Port Militarization Resistance. Towery is now named as a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by an OlyPMR activist. Doug Honig, an ACLU Washington spokesman, said Wednesday that the newly published documents are part of the Washington ACLU’s ongoing research project related to government surveillance of citizens.

The documents are available to the public at: www.aclu-wa.org/public-documents.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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