The Post is reporting that State Senator Nathaniel Exum is being investigated by the FBI, possibly for his role supporting legislation on scrap metal recycling. Exum works for a scrap yard. You might also remember questions about Exum's having stepped in to support a repair shop outside of his district whose inspection license had been pulled by the State Police. I guess we'll wait and see if anything comes of itm but there are a couple issues raised by this and other cases that need to be dealt with.
First, when the story about the repair shop broke a while ago, the head of the State Police inspection division, Robert Bambary, was removed from his position after being quoted in the article that broke it. That smacks of political retribution, given that the two events happened so close together. The assembly needs to take a look at the situation to make sure that his removal from the position was kosher, and not motivated by any political shenanigans. The State Police should not have to operate under the threat of losing their jobs if they get in the way of elected officials.
Second, I think the scrap metal issue highlights a need for the assembly to take a new look at its ethics rules. The article mentioned that Exum was not barred from voting on the bill because it affected more companies than just his own. Seems to me that distinction is ridiculous. Did it benefit his company? Yes. Whether it benefited others as well is beside the point. The ethics rules should be more broadly defined so that the assembly members don't vote on anything that even begins to help them financially. I know it's a part-time citizens legislature. I know such stricter rules would make their legislative jobs more difficult. But preventing even the appearance of corruption is vitally important.
From Senator Brian Frosh's latest constituent e-mail:
When the Judicial Proceedings Committee is convened in September, our role will be twofold. First, we will hear from witnesses and review documents to help us determine what actually happened.
We will then determine if a policy response is warranted. If it is, we will craft legislation to be considered during the 2009 legislative session, which begins in January.
Our committee's work, coupled with the report being prepared by Mr. Sachs, will give us a fuller picture of the undercover activity and provide lawmakers with a better sense of what, if any, changes in the law are required. I am certain that we will be able to ensure that Maryland continues to have effective law enforcement while our cherished civil liberties, freedom of speech and freedom of association, remain protected.
Frosh references elsewhere in his e-mail this op-ed by Senator Jamie Raskin, which I had missed but which is worth a read. Raskin:
The sad thing about this episode is that the reports filed by the agents seem resigned and guilty, as if they knew their whole detail was wrong in the first place. Now, alas, the wheel of investigation turns to them, the inevitable result of political authorities injecting the paranoid style into government. Let us treat them fairly but reassert some basic constitutional values here. Citizens should never have to fear that their political activism will be treated like a homeland security threat.
Every day seems to bring some more serious news about the state police spying scandal. The latest - the Washington Times (via politicker) is reporting that the state could lose as much as $4.5 million in federal aid if federal investigations discover that the money was used inappropriately. So, in addition to violating civil liberties and possibly using State Police resources to target left-leaning political groups, now his whole situation may contribute to the state's budget deficit.
In another column slapping around Adam Pagnucco for his writings on the state police spying scandal, Blair Lee admitted by the by that he reads the state's political blogs. Which is interesting, but would be a lot more entertaining if he started commenting on FSP. Lee and Robb_Black having a flame war would make my day. The premise of his column is that Adam wasn't fair in attacking Ehrlich over the spying scandal, because he didn't go after O'Malley as well.
In support of which, Lee cites O'Malley's actions as Mayor that resulted in the NAACP and ACLU lawsuits. Which is old, old news, and has been a right wing talking point since the spying story broke. The only reason people are bringing it up now is in defense of Ehrlich, saying, "See! See! Martin did it too!" It's a distraction from the current case. And it doesn't change the facts: the Sachs investigation should look at every aspect of the spying, including what happened during both the Ehrlich and O'Malley administrations, and legislation should be passed to prevent any future violations. This stupid back and forth about who is trying to politicize the scandal needs to end.
Almost every time I read one of Lee's columns, I finish disappointed. I expect to see moderation, but often end up with pretty much exactly what's on Red Maryland, albeit dressed up in nicer clothes.
Adam Pagnucco has a post up wondering why conservatives in general, and conservative bloggers in particular, haven't been outraged by the state police spying as a violation of individual liberties. He theorizes that it's to protect Ehrlich, who they are hoping will ride in on his white horse and save Maryland Republicans in the 2010 election. I've always thought it a little odd that self-proclaimed conservatives support Ehrlich so readily. Here's a guy who left the state with a massive budget deficit, under whose tenure state spending actually grew, and who spent more time golfing than pursuing their agenda. Contrast that with Ellen Sauerbrey, who promised to cut taxes and the size of state government by 25% during her runs for Governor. Not concern trolling, just interesting to me.
Anyway, the laugh line is when Adam points out that one Red Maryland blogger tries to justify the spyng because it was related to the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization. Because Quakers are dangerous. Even though their religion forbids them from violence. Because they may set off a peace and love bombin an urban area, and then we're all done for.
In a letter to the Washington Post Sunday (no link), Sen. Jamie Raskin says:
Like most Americans, I had assumed that the billions of dollars in federal homeland security funds channeled to the states went to monitor al-Qaeda sleeper cells planning terrorist attacks, or extremists who blow up health clinics or federal buildings. It never dawned on me that tax dollars collected during Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's time in office could be paying for agents to infiltrate Quaker peace groups and anti-death penalty activists in Maryland.
It seems to me that one way to explain why the State Police became so interested in groups that posed no threat to public safety lies in the post-9/11 security environment. Essentially, in order to head off another al-Qaeda attack, the Bush administration and Congress started throwing tons of money at counterterrorism programs, and didn't give much thought to where the money was going. This has led to, among other thing, some egregious instances of waste and misspending in the Department of Homeland Security, particularly in parts of the country where the chance of a terrorist attack is slim to nil.
More generally, the shock and horror of 9/11 put a lot of people in a state of always trying to anticipate the next terrorist attack, as if the US were becoming like Israel, i.e., continually plagued by attacks and bombings. In fact, it seems that the 9/11 plot was more the exception than the rule; most of the terrorism plots in the US that have been uncovered since then were the products of, shall we say, less than stellar minds. Nevertheless, the possibility of another terrorist attack resulting in mass casualties is enough to encourage law enforcement agencies to look for potential threats in even the most remote areas. As security expert Bruce Schneier has pointed out, highly improbable events like terrorism tend to make us react irrationally; humans are pattern-making creatures, and so we're desperate to fold the unexpected into our existing mental framework, even if it doesn't make sense. Hence, for example, the ban on carrying liquids onto airplanes.
What does this mean for the State Police spying program? I suppose you could argue that it was the result of too much anti-terrorism money (and attention to fighting terrorism) has been chasing too few actual threats; thus, anti-death penalty and anti-war groups are inflated into groups of interests to law enforcement. That doesn't answer the question, however, of why just those groups were targeted. Finding that out ought to be the first thing any investigation into the surveillance program pursues.
None of this, of course, is meant to diminish the threat of terrorism in the US, and we should consider ourselves lucky that another 9/11-style attack hasn't occurred yet. But it's worth reminding ourselves that this particular issue with the Maryland State Police happened within a broader context, in which security priorities across the country have been skewed from what a more rational look at the situation would suggest. Why, for example, has the Bush administration been so aggressive about expanded surveillance powers and legalizing torture, but comparatively blasé about port and rail security? Or for improving language skills for intelligence operatives? Given the money (and lives) at stake, thinking strategically about how to combat terrorism is something our leaders need to be doing more.
(See also Steny Hoyer's call to investigate the State Police spying program. - promoted by Isaac Smith)
In a press release last Friday, which I just got a hold of today, the Maryland ACLU calls into question a number of details about State Police Superintendant Terrence Sheridan's statements to the press concerning the state police spyng scandal. It also seems, according to the ACLU, that the spying was occuring earlier than the State Police have admitted. The ACLU's right on the ball in insisting on:
a. A full and thorough investigation of the spying, and why the State Police thought it necessary to add peaceful citizens groups and activists to federal criminal databases.
b. Strict and clear rules, preferably legislation, placing controls of future State Police investigations to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.
The full release is included after the fold.
They're also calling for activist groups to assist them in further Freedom of Information Act requests:
Have you ever organized a demonstration, rally, or march? Will YOUR GROUP join with us to seek the truth? We ask that each group who contacts us do the following:
Designate a SINGLE contact person
Provide us with the names of key individual activists who could potentially be listed in surveillance records
Senator Brian Frosh, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went on the Kojo Nnamdi Show to talk about what Blair Lee has now dubbed 'spygate' (link to the show, Frosh starts about 16 minutes in). Although whichever Red Maryland blogger it was that had a hissy about me calling the whole situation Nixonian won't be happy, because one of the journalists on the show suggests the same thing.
By the way, if you read through Lee's column that I linked above, you'll see he calls Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch to task for titling his postings on the issue "Ehrlich's Secret Police." Like conservative bloggers, Lee seems less concerned about the fact that civil liberties of citizens were violated than about the possibility of the scandal being hung around Ehrlich's neck. Let's make this simple. If Ehrlich ordered the spying for partisan purposes, he was criminal. If he knew about it but didn't stop it, he was negligent. If he didn't know that a major state agency was playing games with the first amendment, he was incompetent. None of them is a very good thing for Ehrlich. The buck stops with Bob.
Frosh also comments on Senator Currie's case, mentioning that there is a state law banning legislators from lobbying. It seems in that case that the situation is fairly clear-cut. And he has some interesting comments on slots as well.
Also from the Sun, the feds are looking into whether any of their money was used during the State Police spying activities. When it came out a few days ago that Dennis Kucinich was concerned and wanted to investigate I was, to say the least, underwhelmed. I mean, Kucinich is a wee bit out there. But it seems like there is broader concern on the hill, and that this issue may become part of a larger national conversation about government infringement of civil liberties. If nothing else, the more attention there is to the case, the more likely it is that we'll find out what actually happened. So I hope that Maryland's congressional delegation does what they can to encourage investigations through Congress.
Common Cause Maryland has started an online petition asking Governor O'Malley to undertake a serious investigation of the state police spying scandal, which I would urge you to sign. The accompanying video is below.
The Sun has Senator Brian Frosh, Chairman of the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, quoted as saying his committee will hold hearings in the Maryland State Police spying scandal. Kudos to Frosh for exercising the Assembly's oversight authority. Senator James Brochin is also quoted as being concerned, though from the quotes in the article it seems like he geared back that concern after the Governor weighed in.
The article notes that the ACLU is ratcheting up the pressure on the Assembly to pass legislation creating controls on the State Police. The Governor, however, is apparently not interested in legislation. He says that under his administration the State Police will refrain from similar activities.
O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the governor has had lengthy discussions with Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the state police superintendent, and commanders in charge of investigations. Adamec said O'Malley, who took office in January 2007, is confident that the state police will not undertake surveillance without evidence of wrongdoing during his administration and that legislation isn't necessary at this point.
Except without legislation creating formal controls, there's no way of guaranteeing that. Even if O'Malley is as certain as he claims to be, he's term limited, and who knows who the next Governor will be. This situation has proven that the current system is vulnerable to abuse. It isn't enough to say sorry, blame it on the last guy, and promise it will never happen again. There needs to be a law, period. I'm not expert enough to weigh in with any sort of authority on what the details of such a law should be, but there needs to be mandated oversight of how targets for investigations are chosen, how the investigations are conducted, and what happens as a result of those investigations, including decisions about whether anybody is added to federal criminal databases as a result.
The Governor can make points with progressives by taking the lead on such legislation. Or, he can misread the situation entirely, chalk the anger up to a few loonies, and move on. In which case, he can count on losing more support from his base.
Update: The Sun, the Post, and the Capital have now all criticized the spying program in editorials. The Post editorial wins the funniest title competition, "Report: Suspicious Cookies."
Update 2: Maria Allwine, one of the people spied on, in a Sun op-ed.
I am not only outraged but also sickened to my soul that because I do not agree with some of the policies of my government and work peacefully to change them, someone with power and authority decided that I have no First Amendment rights and labeled me a security threat and worse.
More details from the Post today about the meetings of activists that the Maryland State Police spied on during the Ehrlich administration. Not surprisingly, the people who were spied on are trying to figure out who these people were. Again, the ridiculousness of spying on peace groups is reinforced by some of the quotes, like this one, for example:
"On Thursday, December 1, a prayer meeting may be held, time and place to be determined," reads an entry from the Nov. 17, 2005, meeting of the Baltimore Coalition to End the Death Penalty, at the American Friends Service Committee Hall.
Oh, those dangerous prayer meetings. And the meeting was hosted by the Quakers. The frackin Quakers. Because America is in imminent danger of a violent Quaker uprising.
I'm steadily losing faith in the state police here...
Also, the Sun has an editorial today about the spying, calling for a state investigation (as Free State did the day the story broke) and demanding the following (grammar error is theirs, not mine):
The State Police should make public data on any other group its spied on unnecessarily. And every effort should be made to remove from federal databases the names of innocent individuals targeted by the police unit. Their reputations have been needlessly sullied.
Join in the fun. To urge Governor O'Malley to order a public investigation, use the webform here.
Paul Gordon at Maryland Politics Watch has posted a press release from Congressman Dennis Kucinich's office calling for an investigation of the Maryland State Police spying on Maryland activist groups during the Ehrlich administration. So this is going to be in the national spotlight now. I'll echo Paul, and add, not only is it imperative for the General Assembly to investigate and legislate, but in the near future, Governor O'Malley needs to ask the Attorney General to launch his own investigation. The public needs to know, in detail, what happened, why it happened, who ordered it, who was aware of it, and whether any laws were broken in the process.
In 1993, African American attorney Robert Wilkins was pulled over on I-95 in Maryland for no apparent reason. He was then searched and detained without probable cause. It turns out, the Maryland State Police han an official policy of targeting African American drivers on I-95. An ACLU lawsuit forced the MSP to take measures to prevent racial profiling, as of 1995.
In 1998, when it became clear that there was still a continuing pattern of discrimination in the way the state police conduncted itself, the ACLU filed yet another class action lawsuit. Ten long years later, an agreement has finally been reached.
Thanks to the ACLU, the Maryland ACLU and the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, "a landmark settlement has been reached today with the Maryland State Police (MSP) to end the "Driving While Black" lawsuit." The agreement includes a $300,000 payment by the state police to the plaintiff to cover damages and legal costs.
The real victory though is a mandatory reform in the way the state police does business.
It also includes a commitment by the MSP to pay up to $100,000 to retain an independent police practices consultant to perform an assessment of how the MSP has implemented policy and practices changes to address concerns about racial profiling.
In a joint statement, attorneys for the state police and the plaintiffs said:
"In recent years, racial profiling has become widely recognized as an important civil rights issue, here in Maryland, and across the United States. The need to treat motorists of all races with respect, dignity, and fairness under the law is fundamental to good police work and a just society. The Maryland State Police is committed to preventing racial profiling because it is the right thing to do."
Welcome to the 21st century, Maryland State Police. We're glad to have you.