Army Looking Into Monitoring of Protest Groups
SEATTLE — The Army says it has opened an inquiry into a claim that one of its employees spent more than two years infiltrating antiwar groups active near one of the nation’s largest military bases. The groups say the employee infiltrated their activities under an assumed name and gained access to their plans as well as names and e-mail addresses of some members.
The man, John J. Towery, a civilian employee at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma, Wash., works as a criminal intelligence analyst for the post’s Force Protection Division, say officials at Fort Lewis, the nation’s third largest Army post.
The Army would not disclose the nature of the investigation or address the claim that Mr. Towery had shared information about civilians. It said Mr. Towery was not available for an interview.
“Mr. John Towery performs sensitive work within the installation law enforcement community, and it would not be appropriate for him to discuss his duties with the media,” the Army said in written statement. “Fort Lewis is aware of the claim with regard to Mr. Towery. To ensure all regulatory guidelines were followed, the command has decided that an inquiry is prudent, and an officer is being appointed to conduct the inquiry.”
Brendan Maslauskas Dunn said he met Mr. Towery in spring 2007, when Mr. Maslauskas Dunn became involved with Port Militarization Resistance, a group that has frequently tried to disrupt military shipments in Olympia, Tacoma and other ports nearby. Mr. Maslauskas Dunn, who was also active in at least one other group, Students for a Democratic Society, said Mr. Towery had identified himself as John Jacob, using his middle name as his last. He said he worked as a civilian at Fort Lewis doing computer support, Mr. Maslauskas Dunn said.
Mr. Towery, he said, frequently attended protests but had not been among those who agreed in advance that they would be willing to be arrested. He said Mr. Towery had often worked as a “watcher” who tracked law enforcement at the protests.
At one point early on, Mr. Maslauskas Dunn said, Mr. Towery brought at least one of his children to an event. He said Mr. Towery often spent time at a meeting place for anarchists in Tacoma.
Mr. Maslauskas Dunn and another member of the group, Drew Hendricks, said that Mr. Towery had been among a handful of people who ran e-mail lists for some of the groups and that this had given him access to names and e-mail addresses.
Mr. Maslauskas Dunn said Mr. Towery would sometimes call group members while he was at work at Fort Lewis and provide information about the movements of some units and equipment.
“A lot of information he did give us was easily accessible online,” Mr. Maslauskas Dunn said. “You just had to do a little research.”
Mr. Hendricks said he and other group members did not accept classified information if it was offered by people in the military. Mr. Hendricks, who said he lived in Olympia and repaired printers for a living, said Mr. Towery had drawn his suspicion more than once in the past, including after he posted inaccurate information about a military movement on an activist Web site.
Yet he and Mr. Maslauskas Dunn, who said he worked as a janitor at a lumber mill in Shelton, Wash., said Mr. Towery’s identity was inadvertently discovered after a public records request made with the City of Olympia. The request yielded an e-mail message Mr. Towery had sent to another person with a military address relating to the protesters’ activities.
That led Mr. Hendricks and other group members to try to determine who Mr. Towery was. After they learned it was the man they had known as Mr. Jacob, they discussed it at City Council meeting in Olympia last week and posted the information on a Web site.
Mr. Maslauskas Dunn said that in a meeting last week, Mr. Towery told him and another group member that he was not reporting information to Fort Lewis and that he genuinely wanted to join “the peace movement” but was under pressure to share some information about protesters with local law enforcement authorities. “What he said is that the world isn’t just in black and white, that there are areas of gray and that it’s in those areas of gray that he lives his life,” Mr. Maslauskas Dunn said.
He said Mr. Towery told them that the Army had reassigned him, at least temporarily, and that he was being investigated “for espionage.” Mr. Maslauskas Dunn and Mr. Hendricks said they were skeptical of suggestions that Mr. Towery might have infiltrated the group purely on his own, as a so-called renegade without Army approval.
Stephen Dycus, a professor at Vermont Law School who focuses on national security issues, said the Army was prohibited from conducting law enforcement among civilians except in very rare circumstances, none of which immediately appeared to be relevant to the Fort Lewis case. Mr. Dycus said several statutes and rules also prohibited the Army from conducting covert surveillance of civilian groups for intelligence purposes.
“Infiltration is a really big deal,” he said. He said it “raises fundamental questions about the role of the military in American society.”
Catherine Caruso, a spokeswoman for Fort Lewis, said in a written statement that “the Fort Lewis Force Protection Division, under the Directorate of Emergency Services, consists of both military and civilian employees whose focus is on supporting law enforcement and security operations to ensure the safety and security of Fort Lewis, soldiers, family members, the work force and those personnel accessing the installation.”