The Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and a host of other newspapers report today that the Maryland State Police have repeatedly spied on groups opposed to the death penalty or opposed to the war. Despite the fact that the police spies reported no plans for illegal activity or any illegal activity itself, the State Police reported the names of some participants to the Federal government to be entered into the national database of people thought to be terrorists or drug traffickers.
This is both stupid and dangerous. Stupid because it diverts scarce resources from fighting crime to unproductive spying on people who are peaceful and law-abiding. Dangerous because it erodes popular support for the police and damages their credibility. Who can trust them? Many in Maryland oppose the death penalty, the war in Iraq or war in general. Why would our state police spy on them and report them as, of all things, potential terrorists?
The right to dissent and protest are important American values - they help keep our democracy strong and have played an important part in the evolution of our country, from the very founding of our country to the abolitionist movement that helped raise public consciousness about slavery to the suffragette movement that won the right to vote for women to the civil rights movement that helped to finally bring equal rights to African-Americans and to the anti-war movement that helped end the fruitless war in Vietnam. Dissent is important because it helps us examine our assumptions and see others' points of view.
Of course, some of this can be attributed to sheer laziness. The agents that the Maryland State Police sent to spy on the peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the state repeatedly reported that no illegal activity was planned or had taken place. Yet they consistently recommended the spying be continued. Why would they do that? Well, going to meetings of peace activists and anti-death penalty types is certainly easier and safer than going after criminals!
Governor O'Malley needs to get to the bottom of this. Those responsible for this fiasco need to be terminated - there's no place in our state government for this kind of nonsense. Investigating and spying on people simply because they dissent is an affront to our American way of life. After a full disclosure of what went on, the records of this spying need to be purged to protect the reputations of those who were spied upon. And our police need to get back to enforcing the law and catching criminals - certainly there is enough crime in Maryland to keep them busy.
The photo above is of the KBG headquarters on Lubyanka Square in Moscow. Russians used to joke that it was the tallest building in Moscow because 'from its basement you can see Siberia'. We don't need any secret police in Maryland.