Monday, July 27, 2009

Army Civilian Employee Spied on Peace Activists

The discovery this month that anarchist "John Jacob," an activist in anti-militarist organizing in the Pacific Northwest, is really civilian Army intelligence analyst John Towery II, shows that those concerned about civil liberties must remain vigilant in the Obama era. The gathering of domestic intelligence by Army agents highlights real dangers for civil liberties.

Portland Indymedia reports that Towery, based out of the Fort Lewis Force Protection Fusion Cell, infiltrated the Washington state group Port Militarization Resistance from September 2007 through July 21, 2009 -- the day that activists exposed him at an Olympia, Washington City Council meeting. According to National Lawyers Guild human rights lawyer Larry Hildes, activists suspected the presence of a government mole after court documents showed that Olympia Police ordered pre-emptive arrests at a demonstration based upon information received from Army employees attending the group's meetings.

Port Militarization Resistance is an organization that uses public education, lobbying, and nonviolent civil disobedience to end the community's participation in the United States' occupation of Iraq by stopping the military's use of the civilian Port of Olympia. Activists also organize at the Port of Tacoma, Washington, to oppose shipments of military equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"John Jacob" administered the email listserv for Port Military Resistance. Mr. Towery attended meetings of the group and reported on its activities to the Fort Lewis Force Protection Fusion Cell. The Fusion Cell coordinates local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as military police and intelligence analysts. The Fusion Center's dynamic increases the potential for information covertly gathered by the Army to be shared over a variety of intelligence networks, and even with private industry.

By actually administering this group's listserv, the Army's agent did not simply gain access to public meetings. He gained access to private correspondences, membership lists, email addresses, and internal discussions. This "intelligence" was clearly shared with other agencies attached to the base Fusion Cell. Further, it was used to sanction members of the organization with pre-emptive arrests during at least one political action. Indymedia reports,
By his own admission, John Towery spent the past two years spying on anarchists, Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, SDSers and anti-war activists in Tacoma, Olympia and the Pacific Northwest. He admitted that he reported to an intelligence network that included county sheriffs from Pierce, Thurston and other WA counties, municipal police agencies from Tacoma, Olympia, Seattle and elsewhere, WA State Police, the US Army, FBI, Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency among other agencies.
This episode is reminiscent of Department of Defense domestic surveillance programs of the 1960s -- which were halted after congressional investigations into civil liberties abuses.  In February 1970, the ACLU filed a class action suit seeking an end to extensive political surveillance program that the Army developed during the 1960s and the destruction of the spy files. In Laird v. Tatum, the District of Columbia Circuit ordered discovery and proof as to the nature and scope of the Army's domestic intelligence system and its effect on dissent, but the Supreme Court ultimately reversed them. In Laird, the Circuit court opinion stated,
It is highly important for the safety of the country that to the extent consonant with the performance of the military's mission a separation of sensitive information and military power be maintained, as a separation of match and powder. . . . [T]o permit the military to exercise a totally unrestricted investigative function in regard to civilians, divorced from the normal restrictions of legal process and the courts, and necessarily coupling sensitive information with military power, could create a dangerous situation in the Republic.(1)
In ruling with the Army, the Supreme Court's majority said that the existence of intelligence files did not make out a claim of "specific present objective harm or the threat of specific future harm" because the Army had merely been gathering public information.(2)  Today's case in Olympia surely goes further (as did most of the COINTELPRO programs of the '60s).  In today's age of government-mandated information sharing, the threat of harm from the collection and dissemination of this information is great.

According to Constitutional scholar Seth Kreimer, in any bureaucracy, "you manage what you measure."(3) A list of political opponents prefigures the danger of political purges. The accumulation of blacklists of potential agitators is well adapted to the use of extralegal mechanisms to suppress dissenters through low visibility retaliation like selective prosecution or ISA audits. Kreimer quotes Justice Jackson's observation,
I cannot say that our country could have no central police without becoming totalitarian, but I can say with great conviction that it cannot be totalitarian without a centralized national police . . . [A national police] will have enough on enough people, even if it does not elect to prosecute them, so that it will fin no opposition to its policies.(4)
In the push to generate "intelligence fusion" and information sharing among all levels of law enforcement, government officials have neglected to limit agencies' ability to amass information about political activities of citizens.  

The function of political surveillance is to suppress any challenges to the hegemony of the multinational/governmental elite.  In Port Olympia, armed forces who claim to fight for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan are using repressive surveillance to directly hinder democratic action at home.


1. Tatum v. Laird, 444 F.2d 947, 958 (D.C. Cir. 1971), rev'd 408 U.S. 1 (1971).

2. Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 14 (1971).

3. Seth Kreimer, "Watching the Watchers: Surveillance, Transparency, and Political Freedom in the War on Terror," 7 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 133 (2004).

4. Robert H. Jackson, The Supreme Court in the American System of Government 70-71 (1955).