Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why the Towery Files Matter: Illegal Surveillance in Washington State

Tim Smith and Heidi Stephens

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the latest in a long line of First Amendment abuses by local police has fanned concerns about government spying. Domestic surveillance of peaceful activism is not only offensive and illegitimate, but also a serious threat to our Constitution that we must stop before it grows even worse.

As our state legislature has already decided:

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created."
Washington State Public Records Act

Yet it seems that we have, indeed, yielded our rights. Nationwide, FBI intelligence investigations have violated the civil liberties of innocent Americans far more frequently and to a greater extent than previously realized. The Electronic Freedom Foundation analyzed FBI reports to the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), an independent, civilian intelligence-monitoring group which reports to the President. Among the nearly 2,500 pages of FBI reports to the IOB, 768 specific violations from 2001 to 2008 were revealed.

The allure of secrets gathered for “security reasons” is often compelling and even compulsive to government, especially when combined with the massive amounts of money being funneled to various security agencies throughout the United States since 9/11. As a result, Washington State has a sophisticated and interconnected intelligence collection and analysis network, involving the Washington State Fusion Center and a network of Regional Intelligence Groups which share information with local and tribal authorities, national security entities, and private contractors.

According to the Heritage Foundation and the State of Washington Office of Financial Management, Washington State has received over $34 million solely for “Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention.” This is only part of three billion dollars of Homeland Security funding at state and local levels since the beginning of this century, now including over $277 million spent by the federal government nation-wide. With the level of surveillance often pervasive In Washington State, a new video by the ACLU of Washington highlights only a few recent examples of protected First Amendment activity being subjected to surveillance, in violation Federal and State laws.

Far too much of our intelligence collection has been directed at non-criminal actions. Our knowledge of inappropriate surveillance activity has come from Open Records Act requests in our attempts to monitor these security institutions created rapidly after 9/11. It is every citizen’s right — and responsibility — to oversee such agencies to prevent abuse, as history has repeatedly shown to occur if left unchecked.

Citizen oversight works. Because of a few citizens’ monitoring, the Cities of Aberdeen, Olympia, and Tacoma, WA are now involved in lawsuits arising from alleged mishandling of personally identifiable information used to suggest the criminalization of lawfully protected First Amendment activities. Groups targeted in Washington State range from all types, such as "Tea Party", NRA, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Minutemen, Raging Grannies, Quakers, People for Peace Justice and Healing Pierce County, SNOW and many others (even non-organizational casual social gatherings) from all sides of the political spectrum.

The records clearly show that if you dissent you will be monitored, and no group or person is above suspicion. This is not what we Americans expect. This is not legitimate national security.

For example, documents obtained from the City of Tacoma's "Homeland Security Committee" show that in the spring of 2006, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) reported on a Women's Conference hosted annually by Governor Christine Gregoire at the Governor's Mansion in Olympia. ICE directed the Federal Protection Service (FPS), law enforcement and other security partners to monitor and report on such planned activities within their respective jurisdictions. Additionally, ICE requested that local law enforcement and other security partners provide follow-up reporting.

Is the “Women’s Leadership in Washington” really an extremist threat?

Intelligence reports pass between agencies at all levels without appropriate analysis, context, audit controls or criminal predicate. This unsubstantiated local “rumint” (rumor intelligence) is then quoted in other documents and has even made its way into Federal Homeland Security databases. For instance, a recently released file (known as the “Towery Dossier”) contains unconfirmed and un-redacted notes supplied by an informant, which were passed into the criminal intelligence system (though the document asserts no proof of crime), from which it was then passed out-of-state to other parts of the country for further misuse.

Not only was Towery’s uncorroborated information used nationally, but in March of 2007, local police used the information as justification to provoke and attack peaceful activists. We can only assume that such false “evidence” supports those who discourage and suppress legal assemblies, protests and demonstrations.

The Towery Dossier proves that the City of Tacoma, Pierce County and the South Sound Regional Intel Center have inappropriately retained, disseminated — and now publicly released — highly sensitive personal information about law-abiding people indicating no criminal intent. This means federal funds are being misused. Repeated claims from the Fusion Center that such leaks could never happen appear premature, raising the need for policies protecting personal information.

As we contemplate the security-crazed culture we have built, recall a passage in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass when the king raves: "The horror of that moment ... I shall never, never forget it." "You will, though," says the Red Queen, “if you don't make a memorandum of it."

The queen is right in two respects. First, inappropriate infiltration and reports of legal actions as “threatening” can smear and cause long-term damage to innocent citizens when such misleading information is senselessly spread among agencies. Second, We the People pay for these activities for our benefit, and must do our own investigation and documentation of these agencies’ activities to hold them accountable for their wrongdoing and make them change their ways.

We want law enforcement agencies to perform their duties as needed, but not by insinuating criminal activity where there is none and recklessly disseminating that information. It's long past time to create a mechanism for oversight, responsibility, and accountability.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

TNT Editorial: Did Army employee spy on protesters on his own time?

Much is in dispute in the John Towery affair, the case of the Army employee who spied on local antiwar protesters under a false name.
Here’s a fact that is not in dispute, according to recently released records: The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department used a confidential informant to penetrate the ranks of South Sound antiwar protesters and provide detailed information about them – including their Social Security numbers, in some cases. That information was shared with other local law enforcement agencies, including the Tacoma Police Department.

Then things get a little fuzzy.

The informant was Towery, then an employee of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Force Protection Division, which provides support for local law enforcement and security operations. Towery’s Army supervisor was aware that he was spying on the protesters and had approved the informant relationship with Pierce County.

At first glance, Towery’s actions appear to have been illegal. The federal Posse Comitatus Act bars the military from engaging in law enforcement actions against U.S. citizens.

The law is in place for good reason: The vast machinery of the U.S. military should not be brought to bear against the citizenry. Otherwise, the military might become an instrument of political repression and police state control.

But according to Towery’s Army supervisor, a legal firewall of sorts was in place. See, Towery supposedly was spying on his own time – as a public-spirited volunteer recruited by Pierce County detective Christopher Adamson – and presumably on his own dime or Pierce County’s.

As long as Towery technically wasn’t spying as an Army employee, his actions might not have violated the letter of federal law – though it could be argued that they still violated the spirit of the law.

What isn’t clear is exactly when that legal firewall was constructed: before Towery started spying or after the protesters found out who he really was? And how high was it? If he was entirely on his own, and not using federal resources, how did he obtain protesters’ Social Security numbers?

Towery’s Army supervisor and the Pierce County detective who said he recruited Towery both claim that the firewall was in place before Towery started spying. We hope they have proof to back that up in a court of law, which is where this is likely headed. A civil lawsuit has already been filed, and criminal charges are also possible.

Local law enforcement has a stake in getting information about groups that have a history of committing crimes. An ordinary informant passing intelligence to Pierce County is one thing, but an Army employee going undercover – even as a “volunteer” – is disturbing.

Citizens shouldn’t have to worry that their military may use its vast resources against them. Given the known facts of this case, the Army bears the burden of proof that this didn’t happen in our back yard.

Read more:

Monday, January 31, 2011

City of Tacoma Demands Return of PDR 10-2798 "The Towery Dossier"

On 28 January 2011, the City of Tacoma Deputy Legal Advisor and Tacoma Police Dept Attorney demanded the return of the documents released by the City of Tacoma in response to PDR 1-2798. Below is a copy of the demand email and the response by Tim Smith, Chairperson of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee - Tacoma

From: xxxxxxxxx

Subject: RE: PDR 10-2798
Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2011 16:09:58 +0000


I will only surrender the documents when presented with an order served directly by a US court having jurisdiction.

I have passed this request to my legal representative and I would direct that all future communications regarding
this be sent to him as well.

His address and contact information follow.

Attorney Devin Theriot-Orr
1000 Second Avenue • Suite 1600 •
Seattle, WA 98104 • Phone (206) 682-1080 or (206) 708-8740

Respectfully yours,

Timothy Smith
Chairperson, Bill of Rights Defense Committee - Tacoma

"Tolerance becomes a crime when applied to evil and injustice." Thomas Mann 1875-1955

"If... while there is yet time,
we turn to Justice and obey her,
the dangers that now threaten must disappear,
the forces that now menace will turn to agencies of elevation.
Think of the powers now wasted; of the infinite fields of knowledge yet to be explored;
of the possibilities of which the wondrous inventions of this century give us but a hint.
With want destroyed, with greed changed to noble passions, with the fraternity that is born of equality
taking the place of jealousy and fear that now men array against each other, with mental power loosened
by conditions which give to the humblest comfort and leisure; who shall measure the heights to which our civilization may soar? " Henry George 1839-1897


To: xxxxxxxx

Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2011 11:13:19 -0800
Subject: PDR 10-2798

Mr. Smith-

You recently received a response to your public records request requesting records related to a Mr. John Towery. After the release was made it was determined that further redactions should have been made to the records you received. More specifically, the information you received contained non-conviction data that was not identified as such at the time of the original release. It was subsequently determined to be non-conviction data that should have been redacted. I am asking for your assistance to ensure that you have a properly redacted set of documents. The Clerk’s office will contact you when a newly redacted version of your previous request will be available. I anticipate the new set will be available very soon. I also ask that you return the previously provided documents to the Clerk’s office to prevent any further dissemination.

I thank you for your assistance.


Michael J. Smith

Deputy City Attorney

Police Legal Advisor
3701 S. Pine St.

Tacoma, WA 98409


BORDC-Tacoma Letter to City of Tacoma RE: Towery Files

Law Offices of
Gibbs Houston Pauw
1000 Second Avenue Suite 1600

Seattle, WA 98104

(206) 682-1080
FAX (206) 689-2270

Robert H. Gibbs
Robert Pauw

Neha Chandola
Erin Cipolla
Xia Hua
Devin Theriot-Orr
Lori Walls

January 27, 2011

City of Tacoma

Records Management Supervisor

City Clerk’s Office

747 Market Street, Room 220

Tacoma, WA 98402

RE: Incomplete response to Request No. 10-2798

via First Class Mail

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am representing Timothy Smith in his December 3, 2010 request pursuant to the Washington Public Disclosure Act, RCW 42.17 et seq., Request No. 10-2798. Please direct any and all further communication regarding this matter to my office at the address above.

We are in receipt of your response produced on January 19, 2011 via email. Your response is incomplete in several respects and therefore in violation of your statutory obligations under Washington’s Public Disclosure Act.

In particular, your response fails to include any of the documents generated in responding to the request, such as emails, memoranda, calendar appointments, and any other documents relating in any way to John Jakob AKA John Jacob Towery. Such documents are responsive and are routinely produced by other state agencies in responding to similar requests. These documents are necessary because it is unclear whether the City of Tacoma has exercised diligence in locating responsive documents from various departments within the city. For example, it is unclear from your response whether you contacted the City Manager, City Attorney, Police Chief, Fire Department and any other departments to see if they have responsive records.

In general, your response fails to include any log identifying documents that were withheld from production. Please note that if you are withholding production of a document based on your belief that it is not subject to disclosure, you are obligated to provide a log identifying the general nature of the document and the justification for withholding the document. Just to take one example, your response includes some redacted documents, but you have failed to include a log notating the justification under the Public Disclosure Act for redacting or withholding information.

Your response also fails to include any documents from the “Homeland Security Committee,” which were emailed to a distribution list which included Mr. Towery. These documents should not have been withheld at all, but even assuming that there was some justification for withholding the documents, you are obligated to identify the documents with particularity in your response, state that they are being withheld, and state a justification for withholding the documents.

There are also several distribution lists regarding the 2007 demonstrations at the Port of Tacoma including an electronic file called “email addresses” which contained Mr. Towery’s email address. Any and all emails to this distribution list are responsive to Mr. Smith’s request. Once again, if you contend that the documents are exempt from disclosure, you must identify each documents with specificity and provide a log stating your justification under the statute for withholding these documents from public view.

There is also a document entitled “Concept of Operations for Police Intelligence Operations” which we believe is in the possession of the City of Tacoma and is responsive in that it was partially authored by Mr. Towery.

Mr. Smith’s request also asked for all documents to be produced in their original, “long” form with all “internal and external messages handling and header data.” This would include, for example, electronic copies of .eml files for individual emails, rather than a pdf file containing the text of the email.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the documents omitted from your response. Given that we have identified many documents that are clearly responsive and which were not produced, I recommend that your office reopen this request and conduct a searching investigation to locate any and all additional responsive documents to ensure that the City is in full compliance with its obligations under the Public Disclosure Act.

Finally, I feel it neccessary in light of the documents produced in your first disclosure to remind you of your obligation to redact personal and financial information, including social security numbers and residential addresses. See RCW 42.56.230. Such redactions are the responsibility of the protecting agency.

You have already received an extension in your initial response to this request, we believe that an additional 30 days should be more than sufficient for you to locate and produce the remaining responsive documents. Please produce the documents no later than March 1, 2011, in electronic form accessible by common software in public use by emailing them to me at If the files are too large to email, please send a CD-Rom with the files to the above mailing address.

Thank you for your assistance and attention to this matter. I can be reached at (206)708-8740 if you have any questions. Please note, however, that I have been unexpectedly pulled away from the office due to a family emergency, so I will be out of the office until Tuesday, February 8, 2011.


Devin Theriot-Orr

Cc Mr. Timothy Smith

Rose Spidell, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union


Since 2003, The Bill of Rights Defense Committee – Tacoma (BORDC-Tacoma) has requested and received thousands of pages of documents detailing the wide variety and methods used by the Tacoma Police Department and other regional and national agencies to monitor protected First Amendment activities. We have studied them, shared them, published them and used them to support our efforts to provide oversight of police actions in Tacoma and across the United States. It seems apparent that serious Federal and State violations have been committed by law enforcement, in which citizens’ personal information has been collected, improperly stored and inappropriately distributed to other government agencies and even to the public.

Following an acknowledgement by the U.S. Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that an individual known as John Towery was working as a confidential human intelligence source (CHS) for the Pierce County Sheriff’s office and the Tacoma Police Department, BORDC – Tacoma requested (under appropriate provisions of Washington State Open Records Laws) the following information:

Public Disclosure Request # 10-2798
“All records, payment summaries, employment records, email, memo’s and reports related to the use of John Jakob, aka John Jacob Towery, John Towery II as a confidential police informant from 1 Apr 2005 until 03 Dec 2010. See TNT article 3 Dec 2010 “Tacoma PD Spies on Activists.”

On January 19, 2011 the City of Tacoma released 133 pages of information, primarily from only one part of the records we know to exist. Many more pages have yet to be released, currently without explanation for their being withheld. This single released file, however, was more than enough to substantiate our belief of the depth and insidious nature resulting from amateur informants reporting to entities which (although may have the authority to authorize infiltration activity where appropriately warranted and when done correctly) are not following proper procedure regarding information the infiltrator/informant reports.

Many of you may be personally aware that besides the exaggerated, unfounded and damaging comments in the document (which we believe should have been expunged since no criminal activity was apparently proven nor appear to have been pursued), additional identity and possibly security-sensitive information was also unnecessarily released by the city, unredacted. The responsibility for protecting such personal information (complying with release-ability and redaction) rests with the releasing agency which made the document available, in this case the City of Tacoma.

BORDC – Tacoma’s efforts to expose the violations of Federal and State laws shall continue until all such damaging misinformation, untrue documents and allegations are expunged and/or removed from available public records. Join us to make this a reality.


We encourage all citizens (since anyone can be, and many groups are still presently being, surveilled) and especially those who felt damaged by the City of Tacoma’s recent actions to participate in the following:

1) Attend the next "Citizens' Review Panel"
(Tacoma Municipal Building, Monday, February 7, 2011 at 5:30pm)
One currently scheduled agenda item will address the Tacoma PD's compliance with CFR 28 section 23 (Code of Federal Regulations to be followed with the acceptance of certain federal funds) regarding appropriate handling and auditing of collected information which the City and County appear unfamiliar with and unaware of their possible violations and consequences.
FAQ for this topic:
and audio link of previous meeting from Dec 6, 2010, with testimony alleging the city’s non-compliance and a file/checklist from the Dept of Justice to help them create and maintain proper oversight. At the 57 min mark you will here the BORDC-Tacoma Chairperson address the Chief of Police's remarks about the Northwest Detention Center, the Towery Affair and CFR 28:

2) Speak at the Tacoma City Council Meeting "Citizen’s Forum".
(City Council Chambers, second Tuesday of the month, February 8, 2011)
The meeting begins at 5pm, but at the closing of the meeting attendees may speak for 3 minutes about any topic under the Council's control (such as police actions and the city’s document release). We suggest speakers demand the complete release of all records associated with the Towery Dossier to include the likely emails amongst City of Tacoma staff discussing the release request and the subsequent denial or approval for dissemination (such internal requests should have occurred and should have also been included with previous document requests).

3) Persuade members of the Judiciary Committee in Olympia to expand and pass the pending Senate Bill 5048 "Washington State Enhanced Intelligence Bill"
This law, which is intended to curb the above mentioned abuses, makes clear remedies available to damaged parties and provides for oversight and auditing of such information, seemingly sorely lacking in the City of Tacoma as evidenced by the recent release.

For years BORDC - Tacoma has tried to advise, warn, and educate the City and its residents about the dangers of such “security” programs and the potential abuses which could occur. We now know, without a doubt, that they have occurred. If you are concerned by improper handling of personal information, please direct your efforts at those government parties responsible for protecting that data as a matter of course, not toward those working to expose the problems.

The timing of this unfortunate event is strangely extraordinary since it establishes an unprecedented chance to get involved and truly affect change by simply demanding compliance with the law. Remember, millions of dollars in Federal funds from the Department of Justice, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies comes to the City of Tacoma but with the caveat that they not improperly collect, store or transmit information about our First Amendment activities. The City of Tacoma has proven they have failed to comply with such requirements and you can help shine light on this egregious situation and participate in shaping real change for the future. Please join with us to make this important change happen.

Bill of Rights Defense Committee - Tacoma