We've written a little about the John Towery story before—according to documents exhumed by public records requests, he was paid by the US Army to hang out with anti-war and anarchist groups, spy on them for political (not criminal) reasons, and disseminate his notes to several law-enforcement agencies who used it to repeatedly follow and detain the targets.
More information keeps trickling out, including emails that refute the cover stories the Army and Towery have trotted out about him doing this as volunteer work, about the Army not knowing what he was up to, about how passive and low-key his years-long surveillance project was, etc. Democracy Now has a good roundup of the latest developments:
A newly made public email written by Towery reveals the Army informant was building a multi-agency spying apparatus. The email was sent from Towery using his military account to the FBI, as well as the police departments in Los Angeles, Portland, Eugene, Everett and Spokane. He wrote, "I thought it would be a good idea to develop a leftist/anarchist mini-group for intel sharing and distro." Meanwhile, evidence has also emerged that the Army informant attempted to entrap at least one peace activist, Glenn Crespo, by attempting to persuade him to purchase guns and learn to shoot.
Several statutes forbid the Army from spying on US citizens in this way and some of the targets—who were repeatedly trailed, pulled over, and arrested for frivolous reasons, apparently to make their lives difficult and cool their activist jets—are suing, which should only uncover more. The trial is set to begin June 2.
Phil Chinn, for example, was one of several activists pulled over by the state patrol on his way to a protest in Aberdeen and arrested and charged with a DUI even though his breathalyzer and blood tests came back clean. He's settled out of court and is using the money to pay for law school at Seattle University.
How's that for unintended consequences?
Drew Hendricks, one of the targeted activists who, along with Brendan Dunn, first figured out who Towery really was, explained in an email that the significance of the new documents is fivefold:
This email 1) impeaches what Towery said in his Army sworn testimony August 2009, 2) shows the interstate breadth of his intelligence outreach, 3) attended the 2007 Domestic Terrorism conference at which two of the plaintiffs were profiled as new entries to the "DT Book," 4) took the lead in reaching out to other states rather than acting passively for limited convoy-protection purposes as claimed to the Army, and 5) did all this from his Army email on a day he worked 7 am–4 pm at 10:13 am (again, impeaching his "volunteer after hours" cover story). We only got this email recently, as part of a set of dozens, from Pierce County Sheriff's office (even though I had asked for this email in 2011 and 2012... Five or six are case-making emails, the featured one has the most importance as a single piece.
And, in the Democracy Now story, attorney Larry Hildes explains the legal significance of being able to prove that the Army has been engaging in domestic surveillance:
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Hildes, we don’t have much time, but I just want to ask about Posse Comitatus and the laws that separate the military—I mean, they’re not supposed to be marching through the streets of the United States.
LARRY HILDES: Yeah, right.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of investigating? And how far and extensive is this infiltration campaign, where you put in people, they change their names, and they try to entrap or they change the nature of what these actions are?
LARRY HILDES: I think they crossed the line. They claim they’re allowed to do some level of investigative work to protect military activities, military shipments. But entrapping people—attempting to entrap people into conspiracies where they can get charged with major felonies they had no intention of committing, dealing with law enforcement agencies around the country to keep tabs on activists, following them to protests in Denver and St. Paul that have absolutely nothing to do with military shipments, they crossed the line into law enforcement, into civilian law enforcement.
And they did so quite knowingly and deliberately, and created this cover story that Towery was working for the fusion center, reporting to the sheriff’s office, not doing this during his work time, because they were well aware—in fact, he got paid overtime for attending the RNC, DNC conference at Evergreen, by the Army. So the Army was expressly paying him to monitor, disrupt and destroy these folks’ activism and their lives. I mean, we had—at one point, Brendan Dunn had four cases at the same time in four counties, because they kept stopping him. Seven times he got arrested or cited; Jeff Berryhill several times; Glenn Crespo. People would get busted over and over and over. Towery was attending their personal parties, their birthday parties, their going-away parties, and taking these vicious notes and passing them on about how to undermine these folks, how to undermine their activities, how to destroy their lives. This is way into Posse Comitatus. This is way beyond any legitimate military role.
And it’s exactly why Posse Comitatus exists. The job of the military, as they see it, is to seek out the enemy and destroy them, neutralize them. When the enemy is nonviolent dissenters and the First Amendment becomes the enemy, as Chris Pyle, our expert, who was the investigator for the Church Committee, put it—the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment are an inconvenience to the Army; they ignore them; they’re not sworn to uphold them in the same way—it becomes a very dangerous situation. And yes, they are way over into illegal conduct. They’re into entrapment operations. They’re into trying to silence dissent against them, and apparently much larger. This case just keeps getting bigger as we go.
The trial should be a doozy.