Activists who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild have learned that they were listed in a national domestic terrorist database after being targeted and spied upon by the United States Army and Coast Guard, a Washington Fusion Center and police departments in the state of Washington.
Brendan Dunn and Jeffery Berryhill, who both helped organize actions, including nonviolent civil disobedience, as part of Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) from 2006 to 2009 in Olympia and Tacoma, Washington, were listed in the domestic terrorist database.
According to a filed amended complaint, Chris Adamson, who served as “Director of Regional Intelligence Group 5 of the Washington Fusion Center, the South Sound Regional Intelligence Group of the Washington Fusion Center,” and also as “a lieutenant of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office” (PCSO), played a role in having them not only targeted but also listed in the database.
Dunn and Berryhill and two other activists were listed with “their photographs, contact information, identifying personal information and false information claiming a propensity for violence and property destruction.”
The complaint argues, “This resulted in a great deal of harm to Plaintiffs including harassment and arrests.”
The lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase, where evidence is being put together for a civil trial, but it is a remarkable case because it is proceeding forward because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last December the military could be sued for damages for spying on activists.
NLG member attorney Larry Hildes, one of the lawyers involved in arguing the case, Panagacos v. Towery, told Firedoglake in December the ruling was the “first time any appellate court” had “ever said that yes you can sue the military for damages for spying on civilian activists. As far as we know there has never been another case that said this.” He added, “By saying we have legitimate causes of action against the army personnel for spying on our clients, getting our clients arrested, etc,” it means we have grounds to sue and that these causes of action, if proven, may entitle plaintiffs to damages.
The allegations being made in this lawsuit are vast in scope and suggest that branches of the military, US Homeland Security and police departments were conspiring together to “spy, falsely arrest, harass, intimidate, disseminate illegally obtained and false information to other agencies,” chill and disrupt dissent and even infiltrate groups to, as Hildes said, halt demonstrations against the “use of civilian ports in Puget Sound for striker vehicles and other military cargo being shipped over to Iraq and then shipped to Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
In March 2007, Thomas Rudd, head of the Force Protection Division of I Corps of the US Army at Fort Lewis, sent in John Jacob Towery, a civilian employee of Force Protection, to infiltrate groups, build friendships, provide reports on what was happening and being planned, etc. He “approached individuals associated with PMR, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and other groups in Olympia and Tacoma and lied about who he was and why he was there.” He also “befriended” Brendan Dunn, along with others, and lied to them.
Towery, along with Rudd, according to the complaint, “influenced and directed tactics that were employed by the Tacoma Police Department and other agencies to disrupt the protests without cause or justification. This included covertly breaking the security of and joining a confidential, privileged attorney-client listserve for the Defense team of a related criminal case dating from June of 2006.”
Jeff Herbig, who was a detective of the Olympia Police Department “acted to illegally and covertly join the same listserve.” Both of the defendants, Herbig and Towery, along with Gary Smith, a lieutenant of the Tacoma Police Department (TPD) and others of TPD, did so “for purposes of gaining unfair advantage in a criminal matter then going to trial.”
The trial involved a “criminal case stemming from a Port of Olympia demonstration in May of 2006.” Towery and Herbig, along with Smith and another police lieutenant named Mark Federson, “illegally obtained a confidential jury spreadsheet from the criminal defense team and gave it to the prosecutors from the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office in the middle of the trial in that matter.”
As the complaint indicates, “A mistrial ensued. That case was later dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct. This dragged out a prosecution for several months that would have been dismissed, thereby preventing a likely acquittal and causing harm to individuals who will be named in an amended complaint to be filed later this year.”
By May of 2007, the attorneys representing the targeted activists claim the Coast Guard was “infiltrating and illegally spying on PMR and other groups.” Cliff Colvin, an employee or agent of the Coast Guard’s Investigative Service lied about his affiliation and purpose and falsely identified himself so he could spy on PMR “meeting and activities,” disrupt those activities and also identify individuals and groups for arrests.
The complaint lists the following as agencies that “spied on, infiltrated or otherwise monitored” activities of PMR and associated activists: Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Tacoma Police Department, Lakewood Police Department, Ft. Lewis Police Department, 504th Military Police Division, Aberdeen Police Department, the Evergreen State College Police Department, the Lacey Police Department, the Tumwater Police Department, the Seattle Police Department, the King County Sheriff’s Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Protective Service, other Divisions of the Department of Homeland Security, Naval Investigative Service, Air Force Intelligence (which created a special PMR SDS taskforce at McGwire Air Force Base in New Jersey), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force (as well as civilian employees of the City of Olympia).
Finally, the lawsuit alleges that the activists’ First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to “equal protection under the law as well as loss of liberty, pain and suffering and injury in an amount that will be established at trial.”
Their “free speech rights and right to privacy” were suppressed and resulted in “physical, emotional and Constitutional harms.” They suffered “physical and psychological harm” and are “entitled to compensation for the Constitutional and personal harms” that were “inflicted on them.”
Prior to this, there was the case of Laird v. Tatum. It was a class action suit that went before the Supreme Court in 1972 and alleged unlawful “surveillance of lawful citizen political activity” that was violating activist groups’ First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court found the claim that this would pose some threat to the people in these groups to be “speculative” and dismissed the lawsuit.
This case involves clear evidence that there were violations of Posse Comitatus Law, which is supposed to prohibit the military from engaging in civilian law enforcement.
“The job of the military, to put it bluntly, is to identify the enemy, seek them out and destroy them,” Hildes remarked in December. “When they decide that the enemy is the people who are dissenting from the wars they’re engaging in, we are in enormous trouble. If the enemy is us, the American people, when we dissent, when we speak out, when we organize demonstrations, then the Constitution has no effect.”
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is currently somewhere in a Moscow airport, disclosed much information on the surveillance apparatus that the NSA has to spy on not just foreigners but also US citizens.
It is cases like these that should lead one to consider that just because an agency may be thought to have legal surveillance powers does not mean they have not or will not abuse and use the apparatus repressively against innocent citizens exercising their rights. The PRISM program is such a program that could easily be used to suppress dissent in the same disruptive manner employed by the military, police, Homeland Security, and city of Olympia.