Activists Forced to Submit to Secrecy & File Appeal in Lawsuit Alleging Domestic Military Spying

John Jacob Towery

In a major case involving significant allegations of domestic spying by the United States military, targeted activists have filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But no members of the press or public can read the appeal because the court forced plaintiffs to file it under seal.

The lawsuit, Panagacos v. Towery, accuses the Army of directing John Jacob Towery, who worked for the US Army Force Protection Division at Fort Lewis, to infiltrate a group called the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) in Olympia and Tacoma in Washington. It also accuses the cities of Olympia and Tacoma of coordinating with the Army to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of activists.

PMR organized demonstrations from 2006 to 2009 and engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience with the intention of preventing the shipment of Stryker vehicles or other military cargo to Iraq.

A district court dismissed the case in June 2014. Essentially, the judge hearing the lawsuit chose not to do his job, admitted to lawyers representing activists he had not reviewed all the evidence against the Army and Towery, and issued a decision that could seriously jeopardize the ability of citizens to dissent in American society if the decision is allowed to stand.

Now, National Lawyers Guild attorney Larry Hildes has filed an appeal, but Hildes must fight for the court to allow the public to read the contents of this important appeal.

“The case is of unusual public interest because it involves very timely controversies, military and governmental spying on civilians, and the violation of constitutional privacy and association rights,” argues a brief to have the appeal unsealed [PDF].

“The right of media access, and general public access, to matters involving governmental spying and suspect police activity is of First Amendment importance.”

Thomas Rudd, head of the Force Protection Division, allegedly directed Towery to identify activists “in order to facilitate their arrest without probable cause.” He allegedly instructed Towery to report on “meetings, demonstrations, and private personal events and relationships” so that “civilian law enforcement agencies” would be able to arrest, follow, cite, detain, harass, and compile and transmit dossiers that would facilitate disruption of the antiwar movement.

According to Hildes, Towery admitted during depositions that he had not only been paid by the Army to go to PMR meetings in private homes but was also paid to attend meetings related to actions planned for the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention in 2008. Towery used the term “anarchist” as “a label of convenience,” to target “people and their actions and their threats to the military.”

The Army, as well as Towery and Rudd, appear to fear further embarrassment for their role in domestic military spying. They have pushed for the contents of the appeal to remain secret because it references documents containing evidence, which corroborates serious allegations by activists. (more…)