Peace Activists Can Sue the Government for Spy Activities

A December decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal allowed a group of anti-war activists to go forward with a lawsuit against law enforcement agencies, including the military, for spying on their civilian activities. This is the first time that a court allows individuals to sue the military for violation of the First and Fourth Amendment. The government had until December 31st to appeal the decision.

The case was brought up in 2009 by a group of anti-war activists who had been infiltrated by John Towery, a civilian working for an intelligence network composed of dozens of agencies, from the local to federal level, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, and Homeland Security.

The infiltration mission was ordered to monitor the activities of the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR), an activist group opposed to the use of a civilian port to ship military materials to Iraq and Afghanistan. The group’s activity included demonstrations and non-violent civil disobedience.

John Towery spying activities lasted two years, and led to a number of arrests without probable cause. These arrests, pursued by the local police in order to prevent a number of peaceful protests, are a plausible violation of the plaintiff’s rights to free speech under the First Amendment. Facilitating arrests without probable cause are also plausible violation of the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Since September 11th, 2001, the military and law enforcement agencies have had used broad powers to investigate  political dissident groups and “have been able to get away with whatever they have wanted to do pretty much,” according to Larry Hildes, the National Lawyer’s Guild lawyer who handled the case. He is hoping this case will draw attention to the activities of federal agencies that target activist groups like the PMR.

In the UK a similar case was unmasked recently. The conviction of more than 26 environmental activists were quashed after irregularities surrounding the infiltration and potential entrapment by police officer Mark Kennedy emerged. This police officer infiltrated green groups involved in high-profile climate change protests all over Europe for seven years. These revelation also revived the debate over the large impunity of law enforcement agencies over matters of “national security.”