Civilian intelligence analyst infiltrates antiwar groups for US Army

A federal judge in Washington State has dismissed a lawsuit that accused a civilian intelligence analyst working for the military of breaking the law by using a fake name to infiltrate antiwar groups and trying to thwart protests by sharing information he collected with the Army, law enforcement agencies and private security firms.
Plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2010, contended that the actions of the analyst, John J. Towery, had deterred their free speech and led to their arrests, violating First and Fourth Amendment rights as well as statutes forbidding military surveillance of civilian groups.
The judge, Ronald B. Leighton of Federal District Court in Tacoma, did not issue a written opinion to accompany an order issued on Wednesday that granted summary judgment motions filed on behalf of Mr. Towery, his former supervisor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Thomas Rudd, and several police officials.
Mr. Towery’s motion did not deny that he had infiltrated groups using the name John Jacob, but it stated that his actions did not break the law. The covert scrutiny was warranted, the motion said, because it was intended to keep track of criminal behavior associated with protests, which sometimes became confrontational and turbulent, and because Mr. Towery had not intended to chill free speech. The plaintiffs lacked evidence that he had been spurred by a desire to curb expressive activities, the motion added.
“Absolutely this is a vindication that Mr. Towery was acting lawfully,” one of his lawyers, Thomas M. Brennan, said. “He was acting with a legitimate interest to preserve the safety of the personnel and equipment of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said that they planned to appeal. “This ruling did irreparable harm to the Constitution, and we cannot allow it to stand,” one lawyer, Lawrence A. Hildes, said. “The court essentially granted the military the right to spy on nonviolent political activists with impunity.”
The case had attracted significant attention because it had progressed further than previous lawsuits that included allegations of military spying. A trial had been scheduled for later this summer.
Mr. Towery began spying in 2007 on a group called Port Militarization Resistance, which was formed to disrupt military shipments from ports in Olympia and Tacoma.
Protesters figured out Mr. Towery’s real identity in 2009 after filing a series of public information requests; additional requests yielded a trove of documents that provided the basis for the lawsuit.
Mr. Towery attended meetings of Port Militarization Resistance and Students for a Democratic Society, the lawsuit said, then gave information about members of the groups to the Army and police agencies. As a result, the suit said, law enforcement officials compiled lists of license plates belonging to protesters and placed a surveillance camera on a pole outside a house where activists lived.
Mr. Rudd composed detailed reports on activist groups that were circulated to people with military email addresses, police officials and people identified as contractors, documents showed.
Documents also showed that another defendant, Chris Adamson, a member of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, who had directed some of Mr. Towery’s activities, had identified some protesters as “domestic terrorists” and included their names, photographs and biographical information in a database created by a counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing office in Washington State known as a fusion center.
Mr. Towery’s lawyers had said that their client, who worked with the base force protection agency, had gathered information about protest groups not as a military employee, but as a volunteer working for Mr. Adamson.
Many of the court documents were filed under seal. But plaintiffs pointed to unsealed sections of a deposition where Mr. Towery said that he had been paid by the Army for time spent attending certain activist meetings.
At one point, plaintiffs said, Mr. Towery’s monitoring went beyond attending meetings, asserting in their lawsuit that he had gained access to a shared online database used by lawyers and people facing trial after being arrested during a protest, unlawfully obtained confidential material and turned it over to prosecutors, causing a mistrial. The cases were later dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct, the plaintiffs added.
Mr. Towery’s lawyers countered that he was allowed access to the database, which was not protected by a password or restricted to defendants or their lawyers.
Therefore, they added, he had broken no laws.
“There is no reasonable expectation of privacy when a plaintiff willingly shares information with third parties,” they wrote. “Even if the third party is a government informant.”

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