Army wrongly profiled nonviolent protesters as terror threats to FBI and police in multiple states
Tacoma, WA — Recently obtained public records confirm that the U.S. Army coordinated a multi-agency spy network that infiltrated Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) in order to deliberately disrupt planned protests and prevent activists from exercising their First Amendment rights. In 2009, Army intelligence analyst John Towery was revealed as an undercover agent conducting surveillance on the Washington State antiwar community where he made friends and infiltrated potlucks for three years as ‘John Jacob.’
The new smoking gun is an email from Towery’s military e-address which shows him coordinating surveillance of ‘anarchists/leftists’ with the FBI as well as police departments in Los Angeles, Portland, Eugene, Everett and Spokane. Previously released records show that Towery was paid by the Army to infiltrate and share unlawfully obtained intelligence with an expansive national network of agencies includingthe Navy, Air Force, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, and numerous other law enforcement agencies.
This explosive revelation exposes the fact that Towery lied under oath when he testified that he was doing this intelligence gathering ‘out of personal curiosity’ and NOT under the direction of the Army. “The latest revelations show how the Army not only engaged in illegal spying on political dissidents, it led the charge and tried to expand the counterintelligence network targeting leftists and anarchists,” said Larry Hildes, a National Lawyers Guild attorney who filed the Panagacos lawsuit in 2010. “By targeting activists without probable cause, based on their ideology and the perceived political threat they represent, the Army clearly broke the law and must be held accountable.”
Previously obtained public records indicate that absent such accountability, the Army will continue to spy on and target protesters, which it did until at least 2010, long after Towery’s identity was exposed.
Citing directly from the Panagacos legal complaint describing harms to one of the plaintiffs:
“[…] was the victim of a deliberate inter-governmental policy to spy on First Amendment protected activity that focused on him, organizations, and movements that he was a part of, and First Amendment protected activity. This resulted in breaches of his state and Federal privacy rights, breach of his 6th Amendment rights to private discussions with counsel during a criminal trial, false arrests, citations, and detentions, and deliberate attacks on his home and household. This was part of a tactic of deliberate false arrests and imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and other forms of brutality and humiliation to disrupt a series of demonstrations based on the content of the protest, to try and forcibly coerce the participants in those demonstrations from abandoning the exercise of their First Amendment rights. He suffered violations of his First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment Rights.”
Public records previously obtained in 2009 already established that over a two-year period beginning in 2006, Towery spied on the Olympia antiwar group Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) as well as several other organizations, including Students for a Democratic Society, the Industrial Workers of the World, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. It has also already been established that Towery’s intelligence was passed on to the Washington State Fusion Center, a communications hub of local, state and federal law enforcement, and then used by local police to target activists for repeated harassment, preemptive and false arrest, excessive use of force, and malicious prosecution.
The recently disclosed Towery email was a follow-up to a 2007 Domestic Terrorism Conference he attended in Spokane, during which “domestic terrorist” dossiers on some of the Panagacos plaintiffs were distributed. The Towery email shows the development of a multi-agency spying apparatus in intimate detail. “I thought it would be a good idea to develop a leftist/anarchist mini-group for intel sharing and distro,” wrote the Army analyst to several law enforcement officials. Towery references books, “zines and pamphlets,” and a “comprehensive web list” as source material, but cautions the officials on file sharing “because it might tip off groups that we are studying their techniques, tactics and procedures.”
Towery, who worked at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, not only coordinated his actions with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, many of whom are named defendants in the Panagacos case, he also admitted to eavesdropping on a confidential, privileged attorney-client email listserv of criminal defendants and their legal counsel. Such conduct is considered a constitutional violation, but Towery went further by taking sensitive information from the listserv vital to a pending criminal trial in 2007 and passing it on to fusion center officials who then transmitted it to prosecutors, forcing a mistrial in a case the defense was winning handily.
The case was later dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct. The public records disclosure comes as government spying and criticism of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program has reached a fever pitch. However, a little-known and rarely, if ever, enforced law from 1878 distinguishes the spying under Panagacos from that of the NSA. The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the military from enforcing domestic laws on U.S. soil by making such actions a Gross Misdemeanor, yet to-date no official has been prosecuted under the Act.
Instead of conceding to the violations, the Army is currently using the Panagacos case to try to seal nearly 10,000 pages of documents, many of which are incriminating and embarrassing to the government. The legal effort to unseal those documents will play out over the next few weeks. The Obama Administration tried to dismiss the Panagacos lawsuit, but in a Ninth Circuit decision from December 2012 the court rejected the government’s arguments, ruling that allegations of First and Fourth Amendment violations were “plausible,” and ordered the case to proceed to trial.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven PMR members who sought to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through nonviolent civil disobedience and is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton. In addition to Towery, named defendants in Panagacos include Thomas Rudd, one of Towery’s superiors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, as well as certain officials within its ranks, the City of Olympia and its police department, the City of Tacoma and its police department, Pierce County, and various personnel from those jurisdictions. Panagacos v. Towery is currently in the discovery stage and is scheduled to go to trial in June 2014.