The National Security Agency used law enforcement agencies, including the Baltimore Police Department, to track members of a city anti-war group as they prepared for protests outside the sprawling Fort Meade facility, internal NSA documents show.
The target of the clandestine surveillance was the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a group loosely affiliated with the local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, whose members include many veteran city peace activists with a history of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Under various names, the activists have staged protests at the NSA campus off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway every year since 1996.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, members of the group say, their protests have come under increasing scrutiny by federal and local law enforcement officials working on behalf of the NSA.
An internal NSA e-mail, posted on two Internet sites this week, shows how operatives with the "Baltimore Intel Unit" provided a minute-by-minute account of Pledge of Resistances' preparations for a July 3, 2004, protest at Fort Meade. An attorney for the demonstrators said he obtained the document through the discovery process from NSA.
"****UPDATE: 11:55 HRS. S/A V------- ADVISED THE PROTESTORS LEFT 4600 YORK ROAD EN ROUTE TO THE NSA CAMPUS ... S/A V----- REPORTED FIVE OR SIX PEOPLE IN A BLUE VAN WITH BLACK BALLOONS, ANTI-WAR SIGNS AND A POSSIBLE HELIUM TANK," reported an internal NSA e-mail.
Later, those shadowing the peace group reported on their arrival at the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters.
"****UPDATE: 1300 HRS. THE SOC WAS ADVISED THE PROTESTORS WERE PROCEEDING TO THE AIRPLANE MEMORIAL WITH THREE HELIUM BALLOONS ATTACHED TO A BANNER THAT STATED "THOSE WHO EXCHANGE FREEDOM FOR SECURITY DESERVE IT, NEITHER WILL ULTIMATELY LOSE BOTH," the NSA's somewhat garbled account of the event reported.
Ellen E. Barfield, a veteran peace activist from Hampden, was one of three Pledge members detained and cited that afternoon, charged with creating a "disturbance." The charges were later dropped.
Barfield called the effort law enforcement agencies put into monitoring this act of civil disobedience "totally absurd."
"We have a history of nonviolence," she said. "We are absolutely no threat to anyone, and they know it. And they're wasting tons of money and tons of time doing this."
An agency spokesman said protests are routinely monitored by the NSA Police, who are responsible only for the installation's security, not the code breakers and eavesdroppers who monitor international electronic communications.
The only reference to technical information-gathering in the three public NSA documents -- two e-mails and an internal "Action Plan" -- is a reference in to an NSA employee's effort to check on the protesters' plans by browsing the Web.
"Security at NSA serves to protect the agency and its employees," NSA spokesman Don Weber said in a statement. "Like any security force, they maintain documentation to include activity logs and action plans used in response to potential activities impacting the agency.
"Furthermore, they partner with state, local and federal law enforcement agencies to assess these activities and the potential impact on the agency and its personnel," Weber continued. "All these activities are conducted in a lawful manner. The allegations that NSA is spying on local peace groups is simply not true."
James Bamford, a lawyer and journalist who has written two acclaimed books about the NSA, said the agency has a right to protect itself from external threats. "But it would be an entirely separate thing if the NSA tried to monitor communications" from the Baltimore anti-war group, using the agency's sophisticated technology.
There is no evidence this happened. But the documents have surfaced at a critical time for the NSA.
The New York Times reported in December that after Sept. 11, the NSA began monitoring the electronic communications of Americans suspected of contacts with terrorists, without first obtaining court orders. President Bush authorized the program in 2002 and has defended it as necessary to protect the nation.
Some legal analysts and administration critics say the agency's actions violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In some ways, Independence Day weekend protests by members of the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance have become an annual ritual.
Every year, protesters demand to talk with NSA officials. Some try to slip in one of the entrances and get arrested. Even before Sept. 11, Bamford said, the NSA overreacted, "considering the scale of the protest."
An NSA e-mail contained in court files shows that before the Pledge of Resistance's Oct. 4, 2003, protest, which coincided with the agency's annual "family day" picnic, NSA relied on a detective working for the Baltimore Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Unit to monitor the demonstrators' movements.
That unit handles some of the city's most politically sensitive investigations, including threats to public officials.
The city detective, the 2003 e-mail said, "advised that they will have someone working this weekend who will scope out their departure from the American Friends Service Committee 4806 York Rd. Govans. The Baltimore City PD counterpart will give [name of an NSA official blacked out] a heads up as to the numbers departing from the Govans location."
The NSA e-mail regarding the July 2004 protest does not make clear who conducted that day's surveillance on the agency's behalf. While it refers to the "Baltimore Intel Unit," the chief of the city's Criminal Intelligence Unit, Major David Engel, said he had no record that any of his officers participated.
"We have absolutely nothing in our files related to it," he said, referring to the protest in 2004.
Max J. Obuszewski, a veteran Baltimore anti-war activist who works for the American Friends Service Committee, said protesters have been trying to publicize the two documents since they were released in Federal District Court in August 2004.
The NSA July 2004 e-mail and the NSA's "Action Plan" for the October 2003 protest were finally publicized this week by Kevin B. Zeese, a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland, on the Web sites "rawstory.com" and "democracyrising.us."
The NSA disclosed them as part of the discovery process in the prosecution of two Baltimore Pledge of Resistance members, Cynthia H. Farquhar and Marilyn Carlisle. Both were detained during the October 2003 protest and convicted of failing to obey a police officer's orders. They were fined $250, according to federal court records.
Sun reporter Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.