OLYMPIA – Fort Lewis plans an inquiry into claims by members of an Olympia antiwar group that a civilian employee of the fort infiltrated and spied on the group for nearly two years.
Members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance say that John J. Towery posed as an anarchist and took part in the antiwar group’s activities from 2007 until last month.
A Fort Lewis spokesman said Monday that an officer has been appointed to conduct an inquiry into the allegation.
The Fort Lewis employee was identified as John J. Towery, a member of “Fort Lewis Force Protection,” in an e-mail that was obtained by the antiwar group in March. OlyPMR member Brendan Maslauskas Dunn said in an interview Monday that he received a copy of the e-mail from the city of Olympia in response to a public records request asking for any information the city had about “anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), or Industrial Workers of the World.”
OlyPMR is opposed to the war in Iraq, and since 2006, the group has staged protests at Washington ports seeking to block Fort Lewis from loading or unloading military cargo used in Iraq.
The Olympian obtained a copy of the e-mail identifying Towery as a member of “Fort Lewis Force Protection” from Dunn on Monday. The e-mail included a Fort Lewis phone number and a military e-mail address.
OlyPMR member Drew Hendricks said that after looking at the e-mail, he checked a voter registration database to find out where Towery lives.
After that, PMR members conducted surveillance of Towery’s Spanaway residence and of the vehicles driven by Towery. That confirmed that Towery had taken part in the antiwar group’s activities using the name “John Jacob,” Hendricks said.
Dunn said he considered the man whom he knew as John Jacob as a fellow anarchist, and a compassionate and generous friend. Dunn said that when he met John Jacob in 2007, “he said he was an anarchist, he said he hung out with anarchists all the time.” Dunn said the man he knew as Jacob was active with other anti-war organizations in addition to OlyPMR.
Towery was one of several OlyPMR listserv administrators, a group that had control over the dissemination of OlyPMR’s electronic communications.
Dunn said that during a private meeting with Towery last week, Towery admitted that he spied on OlyPMR while posing as one of its members, but he said that no one paid him and that he didn’t report to the military.
Towery could not be reached for comment Monday.
The Department of Defense has strict guidelines limiting the extent to which it can collect or retain data on U.S. citizens.
Hendricks said, “When the government is caught spying on its citizens, it tends to chill the ability of people to freely associate and directly impacts their First Amendment rights,” he said.
Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek confirmed Monday that Towery is a civilian employed at Fort Lewis. “Mr. John Towery performs sensitive work within the installation law enforcement community, and it would not be appropriate for him to discuss his duties with the media,” Piek wrote in an e-mail to The Olympian.
Piek added in the e-mail that Fort Lewis is aware of the claim against Towery, and that Fort Lewis is investigating.
“To ensure all regulatory guidelines were followed, the command has decided that an inquiry is prudent, and an officer is being appointed to conduct the inquiry,” according to Piek’s e-mail. “In the meantime, we cannot provide any information while the inquiry is under way.”
Hendricks said that the information Towery had access to while acting as an OlyPMR member could have been used to sabotage the organization.
“He knew where people lived, he knew how people operated, he knew what people’s phone numbers were,” Hendricks said.
Since 2006, OlyPMR has tried to block military cargo from Fort Lewis from entering or leaving public ports in Washington. During OlyPMR protests in November 2007, Olympia police sprayed protesters with pepper-spray and struck them with batons.
During those protests, OlyPMR members stood in front of moving military vehicles and formed human blockades at the port to prevent the military equipment from returning to Fort Lewis from Iraq.
Last week, Hendricks posted on OlyBlog a link to an article on seattle.indymedia.org identifying Towery as a Fort Lewis employee, along with Towery’s photo. Towery has been removed from his former role as an administrator for OlyPMR’s listserv, according to the article.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465