Md. Police Listed Green Group As Terrorist

Three staff members of a Chesapeake environmental group were surprised to learn they were spied on by Maryland State Police and named as suspected terrorists on a state list. The state police has acknowledged it spied on anti-death penalty and anti-war activists.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. This week some people in Maryland are receiving a strange letter in the mail. It turns out that in 2005 and 2006, the state police spied on anti-death penalty and anti-war activists. And now, the police are notifying 53 people that were marked as suspected terrorists in a state database. As NPR Libby Lewis reports, it turns out the spying efforts were even broader than the police had previously acknowledged.

LIBBY LEWIS: Josh Tulkin got the letter this past Tuesday. It started out pretty drily.

NORRIS: Dear Mr. Tulkin, on July 31st, 2008, at the request of Governor Martin O'Malley, former attorney...

LEWIS: In 2005 and 2006, Josh Tulkin was deputy director for a Maryland environmental group that focuses on clean energy and global warming. The letter he got went on to explain that an independent investigation into spying by the Maryland State Police made several recommendations, including contacting all the people listed in the state police database as, quote, suspected of involvement in terrorism with no evidence to back it up. Then came the kicker.

NORRIS: You were one of the individuals whose name was placed in the case explorer system under this designation.

LEWIS: Tulkin's 27. He's proud of his work helping pass the Healthy Air Act in Maryland. He considers himself a patriot. He says he's never been arrested, and he's visibly upset when he handles this letter from the Maryland State Police.

NORRIS: There was no apology in this letter. From this letter, it didn't really seem that anybody felt like there was any wrongdoing.

LEWIS: There are people who acknowledged there was wrongdoing, including former Maryland attorney-general Stephen Sachs. He led the independent investigation into the spying.

NORRIS: There was at the MSP at the time, what I think it's fair to characterize as a systemic obliviousness, a blind spot to the implications of its intrusive surveillance technique for the civil liberties of these Maryland citizens.

LEWIS: The state police infiltrated some groups to spy on them, and they entered the names of some activists in a database of suspected terrorists, and they transmitted some of their intelligent findings to a database shared federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Sachs characterized the spying as overreaching by the state police driven by a post-9/11 search for threats. The state police are sending the letters to those in its database before it purges those files. The letters are signed by the head of the state police, Colonel Terrence Sheridan. He joined the force after the spying episode. Greg Shipley is his spokesman.

NORRIS: Obviously, the colonel has said this action was inappropriate that their names were in there that's why we're taking care of it, purging it, and contacting each one of them about that.

LEWIS: David Rocah is the ACLU attorney who's handling the Maryland Police surveillance case. He says the state police still have a lot to explain.

NORRIS: It is clear that the scope of the spying goes far beyond anything that the state police have acknowledged or even reported to explain up until this point.

LEWIS: The ACLU is pushing for the state to make a full accounting of what happened. It wants Tulkin and the others to be able to copy their files before they're destroyed. Tulkin's wondering what's in his file.

NORRIS: I can imagine the note saying Mr. Tulkin met with a church group in Annapolis, Maryland. They appeared to have discussed the importance of creating more efficient vehicles to reduce air pollution and save people money at the gas pump. One person had a beard and looked fishy.

LEWIS: He laughs. Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

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