Army Withholds Results of Program to Spy on Anti-war Activists

December 4th, 2010 - by admin

Gene Johnson / The Associated Press & The Army Times – 2010-12-04 00:57:06

Army Withholds Results of Lewis Spy Probe

SEATTLE (December 2, 2010) — The Army is still refusing to release the results of its investigation into spying on anti-war activists by a civilian intelligence specialist at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle.

Officials released more than 100 pages of records this week to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, most with names redacted. The Army withheld the results and recommendations made by an investigating officer, citing law enforcement and privacy exemptions.

Col. John Wells of the Army’s Litigation Division noted an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the activists and the possibility of criminal charges against Army employees, and said release of the documents could impair the rights of those involved to fair trials or disciplinary proceedings.

The documents outline the scope of the inquiry, which was initially completed in mid-2009 and then reopened early this year to determine whether military legal advisors were given complete and accurate information about the protest group’s infiltration.

They also show that before the story broke, senior officials at the base were concerned about bad publicity “should mainstream media decide to report US ‘spying’ on protesters,” and they were upset that local agencies, including the city of Tacoma, had turned over documents to the protesters revealing the intelligence specialist’s involvement.

“Future information sharing operations with local agencies are at risk because we cannot depend on them to comply with FOIA restrictions and/or our dissemination guidance,” said a “point paper” dated March 2, 2009. The base’s leadership should “express their displeasure with their Tacoma counterparts [for] the mishandling of this FOIA request,” the paper said.

Anti-war activists with a group called Olympia Port Militarization Resistance discovered in early 2009 that the administrator of their e-mail list-serve, whom they knew as John Jacob, was actually John Jacob Towery, then an employee of the Force Protection Division at Lewis-McChord. The Force Protection Division includes civilian and military workers who support law enforcement and security operations to ensure the security of Fort Lewis personnel.

Towery had been attending the group’s meetings for two years, and information he collected about the protesters appears to have been passed to his superiors on base as well as local law enforcement, documents released to AP show.

The Reconstruction-era Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the Army from directly engaging in domestic law enforcement.

The Army launched its investigation in July 2009, after members of the group complained. The investigating officer’s marching orders said the inquiry should focus on Towery’s actions, whether he undertook them at the behest of civilian law enforcement, whether he was paid by any civilian police agency, what his supervisors knew of his activities, and whether he might have violated federal law or Army directives.

The highest-ranking person interviewed for the investigation appears to have been a colonel, whose name is redacted.

One of the documents provided to AP, an “information paper” apparently prepared by the Force Protection Division, says: “Information provided by [redacted] and a law enforcement official with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) indicate that the activities alleged by the Olympia activist were done in support of the PCSO and Tacoma Police Department as a confidential informant/source and not as a member of the FP Division.”

The protest group, which formed in 2006, was one of several in the region opposed to the use of civilian ports for shipping military items, such as Stryker vehicles, overseas. They claim that thanks to Towery’s infiltration, police knew where they were going to protest in advance — sometimes arresting them before their civil disobedience even began. Having a spy among them chilled their First Amendment and other rights, they argued.

About 200 people were arrested over a two-week period in November 2007, but only about three dozen were charged.

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