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Maryland Police Play Spies--And Look Like Fools

For years, the Maryland State Police, eager to play anti-terrorist surveillance agents just like the big boys on TV, spied on suburban peace activists who may have been loud, but never posed the slightest threat to the nation or the state.

So what did Maryland taxpayers get for their investment in the state police's investigations of 53 people, including lawyers, a candidate for Congress, a leader of an effort to curb military recruiting in Montgomery County high schools, and a sportswriter?

Have a look for yourself--it's pitiful.

Here's Pat Elder's file, mostly blacked out by police censors who perhaps have a bit more to hide than they've admitted to thus far. Elder is a regular on the Montgomery County protest scene; he's an anti-Iraq war activist who became a leader of the drive to limit the military's ability to push its recruiters on unsuspecting high school students. In 2006, the state police "obtained" information that Elder was leading a protest against a defense contractor in Bethesda, Lockheed Martin Corp. So they worked up a dossier on Elder. The information available between the blacked-out portions contains not a thing that you and I couldn't have found in about four minutes of Googling.

Well, not quite. The state police's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division--just think about how much you're paying for those words--did pick up one new fact: Elder, 53, has no criminal record. Whew.

The state police categorized Anne Havemann of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network--a group so secretive that you can wander through its web site here or "obtain" their financial reports here--as an "environmental extremist" and "terrorist." In the very same five-page report, the police called Havemann the group's "executive director" and its "executive assistant." In fact, she is neither; she's the communications director, which means she gives out information about the group, something she'd surely have been happy to do for the police if they'd just given her a call.

The police's interest in the environmental group seems to stem from an incident in 2005, when then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich visited a Montgomery County high school and some activists from the Climate Action Network protested outside. The police reports say that some members of the group dared to try to "recruit students to carry signs inside" the school and that one protester "aggressively" approached the governor, who somehow managed to survive the incident.

One of the few files that shows any real surveillance on the part of the police is the investigation into a Baltimore peace activist named Max Obuszewski. The police spent a good deal of time and effort tracking his movements and finding out what he said at meetings of Pledge of Resistance, a group opposed to U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. Turns out that Obuszewski and friends intended to conduct a demonstration on the Mall in Washington with an official permit from the National Park Service. Turns out also that the activists called then-congressman (now Senator) Ben Cardin for an appointment, met with Cardin at his office, asked him to support a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and left the office without attempting to kill the congressman or bomb Congress. This breaking news is pretty much the highlight of an investigation that the agent reports took him eight hours. That would be a full day's work that you paid for.

Better that those tax dollars had been used for remedial writing courses for the investigators. Here's how one surveillance report describes Medea Benjamin, a founder of the protest group Codepink, a women's antiwar organization based in California:

"San Francisco activist that travels giving speaches [sic] on her brand of in your face civil disobedience."

Newsday called Benjamin "one of America's most committed -- and most effective -- fighters for human rights." The Maryland State Police listed her under "Primary Crime: Terrorism."

The state police produced about 20 pages of investigation on Nadine Bloch, a Takoma Park animal rights activist who also makes giant puppets for anti-war demonstrations. The state police were interested in the 47-year-old activist because of suspicion of "Terrorism-Animal Rights."

"She is involved in puppet making and allows anarchists to utilize her property for meetings," the report says. It's not clear from the investigative report how much state effort went into amassing the evidence for that shocking conclusion. But if you'd like to do your own investigation at home, here's where Bloch hides the photographic evidence of her puppet making. It's her personal web site, cleverly tucked away from public view with the code name www.nadinebloch.com

By Marc Fisher |  December 2, 2008; 8:13 AM ET
Previous: Who Said The Election's Over? How You Can Still Vote | Next: D.C.'s Self-Imposed Barrier Against Democracy

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Indicative of the world view of Republican executives everywhere...

Posted by: neeko | December 2, 2008 9:00 AM

Mr. Fisher you're missing the larger point. The government is in the process of developing a police state. By lumping all these peaceful entities under the terrorism banner, the government can suspend the normally afforded civil liberties. The more the populace becomes desensitized to the infringing of these liberties, the easier it is to eavesdrop, wiretap and conduct surviellance w/o court order or subpeona. Hoover would be proud!!

Posted by: isupreme | December 2, 2008 9:09 AM

Request to fellow posters - if you're outraged about this, please invest your energy in writing to your congressmen before you spend it here. If you are still unsatisfied after that, come back and post your opinions here.

Posted by: Reader1000 | December 2, 2008 9:28 AM

God I wish I could dismiss isupreme as a nut case but I found myself nodding in approval. As a society we seem to have become so pliant that we automatically yield whenever anyone invokes the magic word "security." Edward Luttwak had a good op-ed piece in the WP a couple of years ago pointing out how this obsession has become so absurd that office buildings in small towns around the country are making people sign in and wear badges. I invite anyone to visit NIH campus and witness the millions of dollars that have been wasted making it more "secure."

Posted by: Cossackathon | December 2, 2008 9:32 AM

This kind of stuff continues to make me embarrassed to be a Republican. Not sure what to do to stop this stuff, but the first step I am going to take is to go visit my local ACLU branch and volunteer to help stop the growing police state we are living in. Hopefully I won't be the only one.

Posted by: captclamdigger | December 2, 2008 9:38 AM

Your headline characterizes State Police as fools.

Gestapo might be a better word.

Posted by: loulor | December 2, 2008 10:28 AM

The Federal Government is paid more than enough to protect us from terrorists. We do not require the Maryland State Police to spend taxpayer dollars so that they can behave like undisciplined Movement Conservatives, chasing down tree huggers because their Liberal ways "are going to ruin this country." Man, it would be a whole lot easier for everybody if the lunatic right wing nuts would start living in the world everybody else lives in rather than in the one they concoct and then forget that they concocted it. Suggestion: a punishment fee to everybody responsible for this waste of taxpayer funds to recoup the lost time and money. I am a proud, card-carrying member of that well-known Communist front organziation: the American Civil Liberties Union. Talk to my lawyer.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | December 2, 2008 10:39 AM

There's simply no way Gov Ehrlich didn't know about this.

A thorough investigation, and prosecution for invasion of privacy, is warranted.

Posted by: HillMan | December 2, 2008 10:59 AM

Wait! Isn't Maryland a Blue State? Isn't the governor a Democrat?

How come this idiocy is being laid at the feet of Republicans?

Posted by: InTheMiddle | December 2, 2008 11:00 AM

@InTheMiddle

The governor of Maryland at the time this was going on was Republican Bob Ehrlich.

I didn't vote for him.

Posted by: crm1951 | December 2, 2008 11:16 AM

@InTheMiddle:

"How come this idiocy is being laid at the feet of Republicans?"

Because it happened on the Republicans' watch.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/17/AR2008071701287_pf.html

Posted by: spotfoul | December 2, 2008 11:21 AM

I agree with the poster that you're missing the point by focusing on the ineptitude of the police. Imagine how outraged we would be if they had done a good job at what they were trying to do.

The problem is not that they were incompetent, the problem is they were doing something they shouldn't have been doing in the first place.

Posted by: washpost4 | December 2, 2008 11:42 AM

The next big part of this story is the answer to "what did Bob Ehrlich know and when did he know it?" He refused to testify before the commission that investigated these totalitarian tactics -- that raises a lot of questions. Does he want to wait until his next campaign to answer?

Posted by: rej123 | December 2, 2008 1:19 PM


Inquiring minds want to know if the shoddy quality of the investigative reports is an indication of the quality of State Police investigators, or more of an indication that they "farmed out" the investigations to non-professionals.

Posted by: thardman | December 2, 2008 2:26 PM

Sigh...my tax dollars at work.

Posted by: mjrovner | December 2, 2008 2:35 PM

this stuff reads like the vapid, idiotic garbage that the FBI specialized in during the paranoid & criminal reign of the noted cross-dressing fool, J. Edgar Hoover.

It was 4th rate law enforcement work then and it's 4th rate work now, only
we pay a lot more now for the salaries of these incompetent Constitutional scofflaws.

Posted by: fendertweed | December 2, 2008 2:54 PM

All you wombats do is wine about the police and protest when you don't get your way. Stop concerning yourself with things that don't effect you. Another example of the pussification of America that is being imposed by the democrats. I can't wait to see what happens to this country in the next four years.

Posted by: joeywade123 | December 2, 2008 3:29 PM

I can't wait to see what happens to this country in the next four years.

Posted by: joeywade123 | December 2, 2008 3:29 PM
------------------------------------------
Well, joeywade, if you can't wait, count to 3 and jump off the Bay Bridge.

Posted by: angelos_peter | December 2, 2008 3:38 PM

The first thing that came to mind when I read the headline, "Oh jeeze, what are the cowardly Republicans up to now?"

In all seriousness, why isn't every police officer that was involved in this situation fired? They should be fired for being a worthless waste of taxpayer dollars and space. I would be FURIOUS if I was a MD resident. What the hell are they paying these guys for? Is MD one of the 50 states? Sounds like Gitmo to me. I'm embarrassed that something like this can happen in America, in 2008. Apparently the MD police think it's 1950. I just want to vomit after reading the article.

Posted by: miknugget | December 2, 2008 7:21 PM

I was part of Pat Elder's group to limit recruitment in Montco schools when my kids were in HS and I once had the opportunity to learn a little street theater with one of Nadine Bloch's puppets. AND I have had two tickets during my 25 years in MC- both for not stopping long enough at a stop sign. Thank goodness, Gov. Haircut's police never found me. I'd probably be in Gitmo by now.

Posted by: AndrearKline | December 3, 2008 10:13 AM

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