Politics & Government

Documents expose government surveillance

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington published a raft of public documents Wednesday related to government surveillance of local political activities, including activities in the Olympia area, that it says "reveal a disturbing abuse and misuse of government resources."

The documents were published on the state group’s website as part of a research project by the ACLU; they are at www.aclu-wa.org/public-documents. The ACLU obtained all the documents through public-records requests.

“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 apparently forwarded to the Washington State Patrol a student’s message detailing information about an upcoming 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, Ill., police department of public-records requests by a “local activist group.” Accompanying the warning is a screen shot of the Olympia website olyblog.net.

The text accompanying Lewis-McChord’s notification 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 Lewis-McChord 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 Lewis-McChord Fusion Center, are clearinghouses of “law enforcement sensitive” information used by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies so they can share knowledge across jurisdictional boundaries.

 • A June 5, 2006, document from the Tacoma Police Department sent 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 ‘protester-type’ websites or blogs to throw them off as to events that are happening.”

 • An Aug. 5, 2008, document contained a quotation from an undercover officer with Tacoma police who had infiltrated an anti-war group, according to the ACLU. The quotation 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 in which unidentified people discuss a news story published in The Olympian, detailing allegations that 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 group’s research project related to government surveillance of citizens.

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