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National Security Agency mounted massive spy op on Baltimore peace group, documents show
The National Security Agency has been spying on a Baltimore anti-war group, according to documents released during litigation, going so far as to document the inflating of protesters' balloons, and intended to deploy units trained to detect weapons of mass destruction, RAW STORY has learned.
According to the documents, the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a Quaker-linked peace group, has been monitored by the NSA working with the Baltimore Intelligence Unit of the Baltimore City Police Department.
The documents came as a result of litigation in the August 2003 trial of Marilyn Carlisle and Cindy Farquhar. An NSA security official provided the defendants with a redacted Action Plan and a redacted copy of a Joint Terrorism Task Force email about the activities of the Pledge of Resistance activities.
The NSA, established in 1952 by President Truman, is the largest and most secret of U.S. intelligence agencies. Headquartered between Baltimore and Washington, DC, the agency has two principal functions: to protect U.S. government communications and intercept foreign transmissions. However, the NSA's United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 strictly prohibits the interception or collection of information about "U.S. persons, entities, corporations or organizations" without explicit written permission from the Attorney General.
The revelation that a Baltimore peace group was spied upon comes in the wake of a news reports that the agency has also been eavesdropping on Americans' international calls and raises new questions about the legality of NSA activities. The agency did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Baltimore Pledge of Resistance is part of the national Iraq Pledge of Resistance, which works with the Baltimore Emergency Response Network and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) -- part of a national group committed to nonviolent civil resistance to stop the war in Iraq. The Pledge lobbies Maryland congressmembers via letters, phone calls, faxes, emails and face-to-face meetings; members of the group are periodically arrested for peaceable protests.
Documents turned over by the NSA indicate that the group was closely monitored. In one instance, the agency filed reports approximately every 15 minutes from 9:30 AM to 3:18 PM on the day of a demonstration at the National Vigilance Airplane Memorial on the NSA Campus in Maryland.
According to an NSA email dated July 4, 2004, the agency collected license numbers and descriptions and the number of people in each car and filed a report about them gathering in a church parking lot for the demonstration. NSA agents also logged their travel to the demonstration, including stopping as a gas station along the way. A canine dog unit was used to search a minivan when it was stopped on the way to the demonstration - nothing was found.
NSA officials even reported on the balloons being inflated for the demonstration and the content of their signs.
An entry made at 1300 hours on July 4. reads, "The Soc. was advised the protestors were proceeding to the airplane memorial with three helium balloons attached to a banner that stated, 'Those Who Exchange Freedom for Security Deserve Neither, Will Ultimately Lose Both.'"
On the day of the demonstration three protesters were cited for "disturbances on government property" and released. A federal judge eventually dismissed the case before trial.
Two of those demonstrators, Max Obuszewiski and Ellen Barfield, are still scheduled for trial in Baltimore federal court Jan. 25. The defendants have filed a motion for discovery and included the letter from the NSA acknowledging spying on the Pledge. The prosecutor has refused to release this information as part of discovery. The defendants plan to argue that the information is necessary for their defense.
"The NSA confirmed, because of a FOIA request I filed, that indeed it has files on peace and justice groups," Obuszewiski said. "However, the Agency is refusing to release the information unless I pay $1,915. What might be in these files?"
A second NSA document on the letterhead of the National Security Agency Police and authored by NSA Police Major Michael E. Talbert is dated Oct. 3, 2004. It is an action plan for the "threat of a demonstration hosted by a group known as Pledge of Resistance - Baltimore." They note the demonstration is part of the "Keep Space for Peace Week." The NSA action plan includes plans for four days, but six activities being planned by the NSA before the day of the demonstration have been redacted.
Extensive plans are described for the day of the Oct. 4, 2004 demonstration. The letter shows that the NSA planned to have their Weapons of Mass Destruction Rapid Response Team on site, an officer with a shotgun, an increase in the number of officers, mobile units monitoring the highway and parking lot, roving patrols on bicycles in various areas, four K9 handlers, agents to provide counter-surveillance, aerial observations by the Anne Arundel, Maryland police and photography/video surveillance of the activities.
"The NSA Weapons of Mass Destruction Rapid Response Team will have a limited staffing on hand to support the event," Talbert's memo reads. "...Anne Arundel County Police will be requested to provide aerial observations."
"Shocking appalling and unnecessary," is how the Chair of the DC Chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild Demonstration Support Committee Mark Goldstone describes the NSA actions. Goldstone, who often represents activists who engage in non-violent civil disobedience, is not counsel in this litigation. "This surveillance is completely unrelated to even an expansive definition of 'national security.'"
Maria Allwine, a protester arrested Oct. 4, 2004, recently described the events in an interview on Democracy Rising.
"The NSA must be spying on us from the federal post office right across a small street from the AFSC," Allwine said. "It's the only place that gives them enough of a view to see our cars/license plate numbers."
Allwine also discussed how the Pledge has been infiltrated. She described a March 20, 2003 demonstration in downtown Baltimore where "a provocateur (whom we had identified at our planning meeting the previous night) joined us. We'd never seen him before. . . during the die-in at the federal courthouse, he was taunting the police in a violent manner. We had to quiet him down, he then disappeared and we never saw him again - and, of course, he wasn't arrested with the other 49 of us."
The monitoring is ongoing. Allwine says that at demonstrations the police "have had cookies and drinks set up for us (we don't partake!) and tell us they knew we were coming."
Goldstone says the impact of NSA surveillance is worrisome.
"People should not be afraid to speak out, and unfortunately evidence of domestic spying tends to chill people's interest in speaking out- thus chilling and limiting our precious First Amendment rights," he told RAW STORY. "Nothing that the Pledge does, either by their public advocacy against the war or their non-violent civil disobedience/resistance to war can be plausibly seen as a threat to United States national security, as the group is pledged to non-violence and non-property destruction guidelines."
David Rocah, a staff attorney with the Maryland ACLU, adds, "There is obviously a well-founded concern of law enforcement monitoring of First Amendment activities. The ACLU and others have exposed such activities all over the country resulting in law suits."
Goldstone says Congress must rein in the NSA.
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