A Tacoma city attorney has requested the return of all public records the city gave a Tacoma man regarding the use of former Joint Base Lewis McChord employee John Towery as a confidential source by law enforcement, arguing that the documents contain data about peace activists that should have been removed.
On Friday, Tacoma Deputy City Attorney Michael J. Smith wrote an e-mail to Tim Smith, who had originally requested the public records about Towery, and asked him for their return. Michael Smith indicated he would exchange the unredacted documents for a set of redacted documents.
Towery and his former boss at the JBLM Force Protection Division, who is still employed there, are both named as defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging that they violated anti-war activists’ civil rights by participating in or authorizing illegal “spying” on them. The suit also alleges that the “spying” violated the Posse Comitatus law, which states that the military cannot engage in law enforcement actions against U.S. citizens.
The 133 pages of documents that Tim Smith received from Tacoma contained names, photos, addresses, and in one case, the Social Security number of an anti-war activist. Many of the Olympia activists whose information was published said they were disturbed that their personal information was stored by Tacoma and then released as part of a public records request without being redacted.
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Drew Hendricks, a member of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the group that was targeted for surveillance by Towery and law enforcement, said Monday that the information in Tacoma’s documents also contains inaccuracies and misrepresentations that allege OlyPMR might have been engaged in criminal activity when it was not.
“Why’d the city of Tacoma need these records?” asked Hendricks. “What are they doing with them?”
Hendricks said he has consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union about a potential lawsuit against the City of Tacoma. “I’ve e-mailed a copy to my lawyer,” Hendricks said.
The 133 pages were made available to the general public after Tim Smith shared the documents with the online library cryptome.org, where anyone could download and make copies of them. The website has since posted a redacted version of the documents, after complaints by some activists about their personal information being made available to the public. Smith said he shared the documents with cryptome.org because he was afraid someone might demand their return. “In 25 years of dealing with intelligence information and personal data and disclosures, this was so egregious, that I felt the original document needed to be protected,” Tim Smith said.
City Attorney Smith’s Friday e-mail to Tim Smith states that “the information you received contained non-conviction data that was not identified as such at the time of the original release. It was subsequently determined to be non-conviction data that should have been redacted. I am asking for your assistance to ensure that you have a properly redacted set of documents. I also ask that you return the previously provided documents to the Clerk’s office to prevent any further dissemination.”
The city released the records to Tim Smith, who serves as chairman of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Tacoma, in January in response to a public records request he made in December.
Michael Smith could not be reached for comment on Monday.
John Young, who runs cryptome.org, stated in an e-mail to The Olympian that he has not received a letter from anyone asking for the documents back. In his e-mail, Young wrote, “We will not return any documents. It is a silly request as a CYA PR stunt, for there are hundreds of copies of the original, unredacted document distributed around the globe. Official harm was intended and has been done, now the aim (is) to pretend regret when there is no regret at all. We did not redact the original document but agreed to replace the unredacted document with a redacted version prepared by those deliberately smeared by officials with the release.”
Tim Smith said he will surrender the documents only if he is “presented with an order served directly by a U.S. Court having jurisdiction.” Late Monday afternoon, Tim Smith said he received a new redacted version of a response to his public records request from Tacoma, and it contained 128, not 133 pages, and had blacked-out photos of people’s faces on some of the pages.
Hendricks agreed that the documents should not be returned to Tacoma because they’re now evidence in potential civil litigation.
The 133 pages of records show that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office compiled detailed information on Olympia anti-Iraq War protesters that had apparently been gathered by Towery in his capacity as a confidential informant. Prior investigations by Hendricks and other OlyPMR members showed that Towery conducted surveillance of the protesters by participating in their meetings and befriending its members under an assumed name.
According to a detective with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the agency recruited Towery as an informant in March 2007 after the detective saw Towery participating in an anti-war planning meeting that was being conducted by activists. Hendricks said he and other OlyPMR members say Towery was conducting surveillance of the group before March 2007 because Towery joined its listserv in February of 2007.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org