A former Joint Base Lewis-Mc-Chord employee who spied on war protests in Olympia helped compile detailed information on protesters, including their names, photos, addresses and, in some cases, Social Security numbers, according to 133 pages of law enforcement records released by the City of Tacoma.
The records relate to a Pierce County detective’s recruitment and use of John Towery, the former JBLM employee, as a confidential informant who conducted surveillance of local protesters against the Iraq war.
The detailed information collected about the protesters continues to be stored by area law enforcement agencies, said Tim Smith, who requested the documents.
In December, Smith, chairman of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Tacoma, requested that the city give him copies of all of its documents related to the use of Towery “as a confidential police informant” from April 1, 2005, through Dec . 3, 2010.
The documents Smith received last week detail years of surveillance of protest groups by Pierce County detective Christopher Adamson as part of his work with the “South Sound Regional Intelligence Group.”
The documents contain information about how Adamson recruited Towery as a confidential informant, and additional records of personal information about antiwar activists, including former Olympia City Councilman T.J. Johnson.
JBLM spokesman Joseph Piek declined to comment on the release of the records during a telephone interview Monday, citing pending civil litigation against Towery and Towery’s former supervisor at JBLM Force Protection, Thomas Rudd. Towery no longer works for JBLM, but Rudd is still employed with JBLM Force Protection, according to Piek.
Members of the Olympia anti-war group Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, or OlyPMR, have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Towery and his former superiors at JBLM, alleging that Towery illegally spied on them under an assumed name. The suit alleges Towery’s undercover surveillance of the group violated the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law that prohibits the military from engaging in law enforcement activities against U.S. citizens.
Smith said the records he obtained last week sound a disturbing alarm for anyone concerned about a law enforcement “surveillance system that starts to look at its citizens.” The use of undercover surveillance of people that are engaged in First Amendment activities “is only lawful when there is a criminal nexus or criminal predicate,” Smith said. “That surveillance must cease when it is indicated that there is no such thing,” Smith added.
There are specific laws that bar federal money from being funneled to law enforcement agencies that conduct surveillance of political activities protected by the First Amendment, Smith added.
Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Monday that the use of confidential sources is nothing new, and is used in a wide array of different types of criminal investigations. He said anti-war protesters have assaulted officers, disrupted traffic and committed arsons during protests in Tacoma. Identifying the protesters who cause such problems is a legitimate goal of such investigations, Troyer added. Troyer said law enforcement does not have an interest in identifying individuals who engage in peaceful protest.
A redacted version of the documents obtained by Smith has been published on cryptome.org.
News of the documents detailing the surveillance of protest groups has spread quickly in Olympia’s activist community.
Smith said the dossiers appear to have been compiled by Towery and Adamson in his role with the South Sound Regional Intelligence Group, but they were made available through a records request to the City of Tacoma, a distinction Smith said means that the investigative files are being shared among different governmental agencies. Smith emphasized that without an ongoing criminal investigation or active court case, the detailed information on protesters should be purged or destroyed. Such information also should not have been made available to the public, he added.
Officials with the city of Tacoma, including City Attorney Elizabeth Pauley, could not be reached for comment Monday.
According to the records obtained by Smith, Detective Adamson recruited Towery in March 2007, as a “voluntary confidential source.” Adamson describes his regional intelligence unit’s work as a response to “increasing criminal acts associated with criminal anarchist groups and anti-war demonstrators. The crimes are now being committed in support of these issues and have grown to include anti-gentrification, immigration and other environmental issues.”
Adamson said that he and Towery approached Rudd, Towery’s then-boss at JBLM, and that Rudd agreed to allow Towery to work for Adamson during his off-duty hours.
“Rudd expressed concern but both he and Towery understood Towery would be working at my direction for my agency and not as an Army employee,” Adamson wrote in a three-page document obtained by Smith and written on Pierce County Sheriff’s Office letterhead. “Towery understood that he would be working as a voluntary source during his offduty hours and at his own expense to develop criminal information on individuals who were committing criminal acts impacting our region.”
OlyPMR member Phan Nguyen said he thought it was “disturbing” to find a photo of himself, along with his name, date of birth, and the description “activist leader” in the records that were obtained by Smith. Nguyen said the documents also contain handwritten notes of a confidential informant’s description of mundane conversations during a goingaway party thrown for an activist.
“I have been outraged by this,” Nguyen said. “I think it’s a waste of resources to go after people that aren’t doing anything wrong, except for exercising their rights.”
Reached by telephone Monday afternoon, former councilman Johnson said he was disturbed to learn that his name and photo were included in the dossier of antiwar activists maintained by the South Sound Regional Intelligence Group, “but it’s not surprising. The militarization of domestic law enforcement is one of the more disturbing trends in recent years. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not.”
OlyPMR member Drew Hendricks, whose activities are intermittently referred to throughout the materials, said the ongoing suppression of peaceful protest activity has been successful in chilling organizing efforts in the movement by creating an atmosphere of mistrust that makes individuals wary of infiltrators. The ongoing surveillance of the organization of peaceful anti-war protests is not justified, he added.
“They’re acting like being a dissenter is a crime, which it is not,” Hendricks said.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org