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Legal, Grassroots Groups Support Lawsuit Against Alleged Military Spying On Activists

Legal and grassroots groups have shown their support for a lawsuit against alleged domestic spying by the U.S. military on activists. The groups filed a brief in support of the appeal, which is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit, Panagacos v. Towery, accuses the Army 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 in Washington. It also accuses the cities of Olympia and Tacoma of coordinating with the Army to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of activists.

PMR organized demonstrations from 2006 to 2009 and engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience with the intention of preventing the shipment of Stryker vehicles or other military cargo to Iraq.

A district court dismissed the case in June 2014. Judge Ronald B. Leighton, who heard the lawsuit, essentially chose not to do his job, admitted to lawyers representing activists that he had not reviewed all the evidence against the Army and Towery, and issued a decision which could potentially jeopardize the ability of citizens to dissent in American society if allowed to stand.

Despite branches of the military which occasionally preach commitment to transparency, the U.S. Army objected to public disclosure of documents from the case. Activists alleging spying against them were forced to file their appeal under seal in August, which has significantly impeded the ability of the press to report on this case.

The A.J. Muste Institute, Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, Granny Peace Brigade, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Time’s Up!, War Resisters League, and National Lawyers Guild submitted the brief of support for the lawsuit [PDF] on January 27.

“Permitting the Army, in cooperation with local fusion centers, to monitor, infiltrate and disrupt a local anti-war organization represents a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, and the principles of a democratic society that it was enacted to uphold, including the First Amendment,” the groups declare. “This court should allow this case to proceed to trial.”

The groups additionally suggest, “This case evokes what may be viewed as the new COINTELPRO, blurring the lines between the military and civilian law enforcement,” and, “The accumulative misconduct in this case reflects the national pattern and practices of unconstitutional ‘preemptive’ law enforcement.”

The military has an “exclusive focus on defeating perceived enemies through combat, propaganda, and covert operations,” according to the groups. “Rather than protecting the public and upholding the Constitution, the role of the military is to identify the enemy and neutralize them.”

Indeed, in 2007, “domestic terrorism” dossiers were created of activists, including Brendan Dunn, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. This clearly represents an example of “offensive counterintelligence” against a citizen engaged in dissent and is why the military is not supposed to be permitted to conduct law enforcement.

The brief offers an overview of the history of military spying against civilians and multiple examples of times such activities have been appropriately curtailed by the courts.

For example, it highlights spying on New Left organizations, which the government launched in 1968. This spying was “supplemented by covert Army intelligence, local red squads, and the CIA’s MHCHAOS program.” The military conducted surveillance against activists, and sometimes provided officials with “hourly reports on their locations and activities.”

In this case, Thomas Rudd, head of the Force Protection Division, allegedly directed Towery to identify activists “in order to facilitate their arrest without probable cause.” He allegedly instructed Towery to report on “meetings, demonstrations, and private personal events and relationships” so that “civilian law enforcement agencies” would be able to arrest, follow, cite, detain, harass, and compile and transmit dossiers that would facilitate disruption of the antiwar movement.

Towery also allegedly tried to “persuade PMR participants to purchase and train with assault rifles” and attempted to have an article justifying the 9/11 attacks published in a plaintiff’s newspaper.

The groups remind the court of Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s statement from 1952. During a case involving steelworkers who went on strike during the Korean War, he made clear the constraints which must be maintained against the U.S. military.

“When it is turned inward, not because of rebellion but because of a lawful economic struggle between industry and labor, it should have no such indulgence,” Jackson declared. The military is subject to “limitations consistent with a constitutional republic whose law and policy-making branch is a representative Congress.”

Presently, the creation of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and fusion centers has “accelerated widespread monitoring and secretive sharing of information about Americans.” The groups urge the appeals court to take the claims raised in this case very seriously, as such claims have typically been regarded throughout U.S. history.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."