Army Spying Campaign Leads to Anti-War Activists Being Labeled ‘Domestic Terrorists’

Griffin Bur

Against the backdrop of growing concerns about domestic spying, new information has emerged about law enforcement agencies’ surveillance of antiwar activists in Washington State. Following the revelation that the activists, who are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit brought by attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild, were listed in a national domestic terrorism database as the result of a spying campaign by the U.S. army, the director of a Washington State fusion center” was named as an additional defendant in the lawsuit last week.

Larry Hildes is the lead attorney for six plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which seeks to sue the military for spying on activist groups dating back to 2006. The six plaintiffs were members of the Olympia-based Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) group. Though the lawsuit was first filed in 2009, there are are several key pieces of new information that have prompted an amended complaint, Hildes tells In These Times.

The first concerns the role of John J. Towery, the undercover army agent who went by the alias John Jacob and is one of the original defendants in the lawsuit, along with his former supervisor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State and several police officials. Towery, who was first outed in 2009, admitted on June 24 that he had eavesdropped on a confidential, privileged attorney-client email listserve,” explains Hildes. The amended complaint alleges that Towery’s activities constituted a violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment[s].”

Another startling discovery is the scope of the groups involved in the infiltration. Towery shared the information he gathered with the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC). Fusion centers are a product of Bush-era domestic intelligence policy and have the ostensible purpose of improving sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence between different law enforcement agencies. But civil liberties groups such as Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have suggested that the centers have repeatedly breached privacy law in their intelligence-gathering efforts. A 2012 Senate Subcommittee report was broadly dismissive of their activities, claiming that intelligence they produced was rarely useful. The report also suggested that some of the fusion centers’ activities potentially violated […] guidelines meant to protect Americans’ civil liberties”, according to EPIC.

According to Hildes, the prosecution knows which public institutions (primarily groups overseen by Homeland Security or the Army) were privy to the information Towery gathered on the plaintiffs, but they still don’t know which other entities, such as private security firms, may have seen the information.

One agency that, according Hildes and the plaintiffs, definitely did see the data was the Washington State Patrol (WSP). An additional amendment to the lawsuit alleges that the WSP added the nonviolent activists befriended by Towery to a database of domestic terrorists. Their profiles in this database are accessible here. The lawsuit claims that their inclusion on this list is based on false claims alleging a propensity for violence.Chris Adamson, who served as Director of Regional Intelligence Group 5 of the Washington Fusion Center,” helped make the determination to list the activists in the database, according to the amended complaint naming him as a defendant. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in June 2014.

If nonviolent protest is now labeled and treated as terrorism, then democracy and the First Amendment are in critical danger,” Hildes said in a written statement.

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Griffin Bur is a Summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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