In trying to collect information about a defunct Maryland State Police surveillance operation, the American Civil Liberties Union made "wild guesses" about who might be in the agency's criminal intelligence database, naming 250 individuals and 32 groups in a public information request in late September. David Rocah, staff attorney for ACLU of Maryland, said yesterday that those guesses turned out to be "quite prescient," with a 66 percent accuracy rate.
The ACLU could soon make public volumes of documents it obtained through the Public Information Act and lawsuits probing a state police spying operation that began in 2005 and lasted about 14 months. State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence B. Sheridan has called the spying operation, which took place before his administration, "disconcerting."
Some of the previously undisclosed groups named in state police surveillance documents include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Amnesty International, a group fighting BGE utility bill increases and the DC Anti-War Network, The Washington Post reported Sunday. The anti-war group was inexplicably designated a white supremacist group, according to the newspaper.
State police have said the operation began out of concern about the possibility of violent protests around two planned executions in 2005, although no evidence of potential violence emerged. But the operation broadened to include dozens of groups and individuals. Troopers secretly joined groups and spent 288 hours monitoring and recording their activities.
The ACLU says it does not know the extent of the spying and has called for legislation to prevent such activities. Police officials have said such surveillance is no longer taking place.
A spokesman for the state police said yesterday that the disclosure of additional groups was potentially meaningless.
"A group or an individual's name in a State Police document does not mean that group or individual was part of long-term law enforcement surveillance, or 'spying,' " state police spokesman Greg Shipley said in an e-mailed statement. "Actions taken by State Police were incident-based in response to intelligence information and in response to proposed events or actions that led to concern on the part of police for issues of public safety."