After recent revelations about police spying on activists in Australia and New Zealand, did anyone think the US would be immune to such violations? According to The Washington Post this week, Maryland State Police engaged in an undercover investigation of advocacy groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Code Pink and Amnesty International. The spying lasted from 2005 until 2007 and relied heavily on the work of a female state trooper.
Using the aliases Lucy Shoup and Lucy McDonald, the undercover trooper befriended activists. “I want to get involved in different causes,” the twenty-something wrote in an email, citing her interest in “anti-death penalty, anti-war and pro-animal actions!!!”
Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on PETA, calling the group a “security threat” in April 2005 because of concerns that members would disrupt a circus. By July, police were looking into a tip that the group had learned about a failing chicken farm in Kent County and were planning on “protesting or stealing the chickens.” A “very casually dressed” undercover trooper attended a speech by PETA president Ingrid Newkirk that month and waited afterward to see whether anyone talked about chickens. Nobody did.
Police have acknowledged that the monitoring spiraled out of control, with “Lucy” spending 14 months infiltrating peaceful protest groups. Troopers have said they inappropriately labeled 53 individuals as terrorists in their database, information that was shared with federal authorities. Among those labeled as terrorists were two Catholic nuns, a former Democratic congressional candidate, a lifelong pacifist and a registered lobbyist.
The Post reporters covering the scandal, Lisa Rein and Josh White, say they are aware of the actual identity of “Lucy,” but are declining to disclose her name because the newspaper claims it might compromise her efforts to conduct future undercover operations for the Maryland State Police.
“Lucy’s” early moves were sometimes clumsy, reports the Post: “She sent e-mails from a domain linked to the state police that could easily have been uncovered with an Internet search. She sprinkled truth across her cover story, once revealing her home county. She suddenly changed her name to Lucy Shoup and offered a new e-mail address, claiming a change in marital status. She asked lots of questions but never shared her thoughts, activists say. She also tried to use her new friendships to learn more about other groups.”
The surveillance ended with no arrests and no evidence of violent sedition; instead, Maryland troopers are preparing to purge files and say they are expecting lawsuits.
The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union states that “despite the clear infringement of First Amendment rights, no Maryland law prohibits this outrageous law enforcement conduct or provides remedies for wrongful targets.”