An attorney pursuing a lawsuit against alleged domestic United States military spying says during depositions in the case a civilian employee who worked for the Army admitted he was paid to attend activist meetings at private homes in the state of Washington. And a fusion center intelligence employee, who coordinated with the military, also considered civil disobedience to be “terrorism.”
The lawsuit is known as Panagacos v. Towery. It accuses the US military of directing John Jacob Towery, who worked for the US Army Force Protection Division at Fort Lewis, to infiltrate a group called the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) in Olympia and Tacoma, Washington. It also accuses the cities of Olympia and Tacoma of coordinating with the military to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of activists.
PMR organized demonstrations from 2006 to 2009 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,” according to Larry Hildes, who is one of the National Lawyers Guild attorneys representing activists targeted by the military.
Nonviolent civil disobedience was a part of some of the demonstrations, and at one demonstration in May 2006, police used pepper spray on demonstrators.
Thomas Rudd, head of Force Protection, is accused of directing Towery to identify activists “in order to facilitate their arrest without probable cause.” Rudd apparently instructed Towery to build friendships and provide reports on what activists were planning, which Rudd could share with government agencies.
Both Towery and Rudd are accused of coordinating with local law enforcement in the state of Washington to “silence” PMR activists.
According to Hildes, Towery admitted during depositions that he had not only been paid by the Army to go to PMR meetings in private homes but was also paid to attend meetings related to actions planned for the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Chris Adamson, who was the director of a regional intelligence group of the Department of Homeland Security’s Washington Fusion Center and a lieutenant of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, stated in depositions that “civil disobedience is terrorism,” according to Hildes.
He claimed to attorneys that, while he admired Martin Luther King Jr., even what the civil rights movement had done had a “criminal nexus” and “he would have expected them to be investigated as terrorists.”
Hildes said Adamson believed if activists were using up “law enforcement resources with the intent of committing any criminal act,” it was “terrorism.”
Adamson played a key role in having two of the plaintiffs in the case, Brendan Dunn and Jeffery Berryhill, listed in a database as “domestic terrorists.”
Hildes recalled that during a deposition with Colonel Lois Beard, who was one of the commanders in the 42nd Military Police Battalion, she said “of course we’re monitoring the peace movement because they’re anti-military.” They might demonstrate against us so we need to have an “operational awareness of what they are doing.”
Attorneys gave Beard multiple opportunities to change her answer, but she stuck to it. She was one of Towery’s arrest supervisors.
Towery reportedly claimed to NLG attorneys conducting his deposition that the term “anarchist” was used to refer to everyone as a “term of convenience.” Hildes said it was “more convenient to refer to everyone without bothering with whether everyone is anarchists or not or whether they had any potential for violence or not.”
A boss of Towery’s, who Hildes did not specify, said during deposition at least three times, “There are no limits to intelligence sharing to defend the homeland.” Lawyers are calling this one of the most “Dr. Strangelovian” statements they have heard so far in the case.
“All of them have said if someone arrested at an demonstration that was good enough proof of a criminal nexus,” Hildes recalled. “It didn’t matter what the courts did. It didn’t matter if they were ever charged with anything. The fact that they were arrested by the police is good enough. And therefore they receive extra attention and more than likely will be arrested again because their presence indicated that the demonstration was going to be more militant and potentially violent, even though none of these folks ever committed an act of violence.”
In December 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the lawsuit could proceed to trial, the first time a court had ever said civilians could sue the military for damages for spying on them while engaged in activism.
A trial is currently scheduled for August 11 in Tacoma, Washington, but defendants in the case of moved for summary judgment, which means they believe there are no facts in dispute in the case and the law is on their side. They want the US District Court for the Western District of Washington to dismiss the lawsuit.
However, Hildes said that attorneys now have admissions from depositions that everything they have said was happening was committed with the “intent of disrupting” demonstrations because of “who our folks were.”
“We want to get that in front of a jury,” Hildes stated.
“There’s clear intent to violate our client’s rights,” he argued. “We’re trying to hold not only Towery and Rudd but the city of Olympia and the city of Tacoma liable because they did most of the arrests and harassment.”
“What we are showing is across all of these lines, there is a culture and policy of going after our folks simply because they were associated with PMR and [Students for a Democratic Society] and were demonstrating against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’re showing that culture goes up through the Army hierarchy. In fact, Beard admitted to bragging to Army command at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, and at the Pentagon about how successful the intelligence gathering was at disrupting PMR’s ability to ‘achieve their objectives’ and frustrating them.”
The efforts by the military worked. PMR has not engaged in any demonstrations since 2009. Some of the group’s key organizers even chose to leave the state of Washington.
Despite the impact on individuals in the group, the military sees the operation they ran in coordination with local law enforcement as being completely justified.
There will be oral argument on summary judgment on June 18. Attorneys representing military officers accused of spying in the case hope to convince a judge the officers did not deliberately violate any person’s rights.