By ASHLEY M. LEWIS
SILVER SPRING (Oct. 24, 2008)—Environmentalists Mike Tidwell and Joshua Tulkin said Thursday morning that the Maryland State Police listed them as suspected terrorists in a federal database and conducted unwarranted surveillance of their activities.
At a press conference, the two environmental leaders, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and leaders of several other environmental organizations, called for legislation to ensure that such surveillance is prohibited in the future.
"It's a sad day in Maryland when honest, nonviolent defenders of the environment must defend their civil liberties against spying of this sort," said Tidwell, founder and executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "It's time we stop wasting resources on frivolous spying and the abuse of individuals' civil liberties."
Tidwell and Tulkin were staffers with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting global warming, during the time of the surveillance. A third former employee of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network was also classified as a suspected terrorist, but chose to remain anonymous.
The environmentalists join a list including two anti-war, Dominican nuns and dozens of other activists who were wrongfully labeled as terrorists in the federal database.
Three weeks ago, former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs presented an independent review to Gov. Martin O'Malley concluding that the Maryland State Police conducted unwarranted surveillance of anti-death penalty and anti-war groups between March 2005 and May 2006. O'Malley was not governor at the time.
O'Malley appointed Sachs to conduct the review in August after the ACLU of Maryland released 46 pages of documents in July showing state police officers spied on the groups.
Sachs' investigation found the state police violated federal regulations by transmitting its investigative findings to the federally funded Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, and showed a "lack of judgment" by labeling peaceful groups and individuals as "terrorists" and "security threat groups."
Since then, the state police has been sending letters to the 53 activists who were wrongfully labeled as terrorists, inviting them to look at their files in the database. Afterwards, the state police will delete the files.
A spokesman for the state police could not be reached for comment.
The activists said they only organized two peaceful protests during 2004 and 2006, before and after the state police said the surveillance took place. At the November 2004 protest, Tidwell and several others were arrested for blocking the entrance to a coal-fired power plant in Dickerson.
"The full story must come out, and legislation must be passed to protect the First Amendment rights of Marylanders in the future," said David Rocah, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland.
Tidwell and Tulkin said they want to bring their attorneys with them to view, make copies and publicly release their files.
"Give me my file, printed and in full, and let me decide what to do with it," Tidwell said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.