Posted by CODEPINK Staff
CODEPINK women speak out against illegal spying by the Maryland State Police;
Call for Obama administration to protect free speech, privacy rights of activists
BALTIMORE – As part of a recently revealed illegal spying program, the Maryland State Police's Department of Homeland Security erroneously listed three members of CODEPINK Women for Peace as suspected terrorists in the agency's criminal intelligence database. The CODEPINK activists are available for comment today as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland makes the women's MSP database files public.
According to a Report by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs, the MSP had illegally spied on and tracked peaceful political activists—including, we now know, CODEPINK's Medea Benjamin of California, Nancy Kricorian of New York, and Midge Potts of Missouri—by covertly infiltrating group meetings and subscribing to e-mail lists, and compiling dossiers on the activists in the MSP criminal intelligence database. Most appallingly, the MSP inexplicably classified the activists as "terrorists" in that database, even though they were not suspected of or linked to any crimes whatsoever. The MSP has written letters to the 53 persons they acknowledge were improperly placed in the database identified as terrorists, stating that the files would be "purged." After pressure from the ACLU of Maryland, the MSP agreed to give the 53 copies of their files, but the files were so heavily redacted as to be almost nonsensical, leaving unanswered many questions, among them how it was that three CODEPINK activists, none of whom has ever resided in Maryland, came to be included in the program.
"The sort of spying that this program represents is a chilling reminder of how under the cover of the War on Terror, American citizens are being denied their rights to freedom of speech, privacy and political organizing," Benjamin said. Her inclusion in the MSP database may explain why Benjamin was barred from entering Canada when her name appeared on a national database list as a criminal.
Kricorian said, "I'm completely flummoxed by my inclusion on this list. I've never been arrested, I've never been to Maryland, and I'm neither an animal rights activist nor an anarchist, which were listed as my 'crimes' in my file."
With an Obama Administration on the horizon and renewed vigor in social activism and progressive movement nationwide, the activists have hopes for change.
"With this new administration and new Congress, as well as lawsuits filed by groups like ACLU, we hope to get to bottom of this, stop it, and give peace advocates the kind of respect we deserve," Benjamin said.
On Monday, U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) demanded that police apologize for the spying and provide a list of federal databases that might contain the names of those listed as terrorists by the state police. They also demanded that a process be put in place to ensure this never happens again.
"Anti-war protesters, environmental protesters, and anyone exercising their First Amendment right to nonviolent protests should not be unlawfully spied upon nor should they be grouped together with criminals and terrorists," said Sen. Cardin in a press release. "The actions uncovered over the last month are unacceptable and need to be addressed before they happen again."