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Curbs on Domestic Spying Urged

ACLU wants a state post created to probe alleged improper monitoring of political activists.

July 28, 2006|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California urged the Legislature on Thursday to create an independent inspector general to investigate complaints of state agencies spying on domestic political activists.

ACLU attorney Mark Schlosberg said state, local and federal agencies have improperly infiltrated or monitored constitutionally protected political activity of Californians, particularly since Sept. 11, 2001.

Since that time "dozens of organizations have had their protests monitored by intelligence agencies," said Schlosberg, an official in the ACLU's Northern California branch and author of a government spying report that the group issued Thursday.

"Peaceful protests were included in anti-terrorism bulletins and databases, and undercover officers have posed as activists to gather information and influence decisions," the report says. "The incidents

The ACLU also called for legislation to regulate state intelligence agencies and to require local law enforcement to provide annual surveillance reports to the legislative analyst's office.

At a news conference, ACLU officials and activists from several groups in Northern and Central California described several incidents of alleged spying.

Camille Russell, a grandmother who is the past president of Peace Fresno, told of discovering that her antiwar group had been infiltrated.

"On Aug. 31, 2003, I opened my Sunday paper and was shocked to see the picture of a Peace Fresno member," who was killed in a motorcycle accident. The article in the Fresno Bee "identified him as Aaron Kilner, a sheriff's deputy working in the anti-terrorism unit of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department. We know him as Aaron Stokes. He had told us that he was unemployed and living on a small inheritance," Russell said.

California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer investigated and, last February, confirmed that the Sheriff's Department had officially sanctioned the infiltration. But no further action was taken.

Russell called on Lockyer to release a full report of the probe and to discipline officials in the Sheriff's Department.

On Thursday, Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer, said "our review of the Fresno County sheriff's activities remains ongoing."

Jack Heyman, a former official of an International Longshore and Warehouse Union local, said at the news conference that two Oakland police officers had infiltrated a group of antiwar dockworkers, had risen to positions of leadership and had even played a role in determining the course of a protest in March 2003. Heyman also said police shot workers at another march with nonlethal bullets. The city of Oakland ultimately paid $2 million to settle civil lawsuits over the tactics police used against those demonstrators.

Subsequently, Lockyer issued a manual telling law enforcement agencies they must have reasonable suspicion of a crime to spy on political activity. The ACLU praised Lockyer for creating and disseminating the manual, but said a survey of 103 local law enforcement agencies showed police were largely unaware of it.

"Only eight departments said they were aware of the document, used it for guidance or distributed it to their members," Schlosberg said.

Under the ACLU proposal, the inspector general would have jurisdiction over the California National Guard, the State Terrorism Threat Assessment Center and the state Office of Homeland Security, which drew fire earlier this month after The Times revealed that the office had compiled reports on political protests across the state.

After those revelations, Lockyer expressed dismay, and a representative of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called such tracking "totally inappropriate and unacceptable."

In an interview, Schlosberg said the ACLU had had "positive preliminary conversations" with the governor's office about limiting political surveillance and about the concept of an inspector general.

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