In an Unusual Legal Maneuver, U.S. Army Opposes Disclosure of Documentary Evidence Showing How Army Infiltrator Spied on Antiwar Activists

Plaintiffs in a widely watched civil lawsuit against U.S. Army personnel and multiple law enforcement agencies for spying on antiwar activists in the Pacific Northwest have moved to the next phase of their effort to unseal documents that will better illustrate and validate their case against an abusive governmental counterintelligence program to disrupt nonviolent political protest.

After plaintiffs filed a motion last year to unseal documents in Panagacos v. Towery relevant to the case and necessary to a pending appeal, the Ninth Circuit decided to stay the appeal in February while a three-judge panel considers arguments for and against unsealing a trove of important documentary evidence.

The government has fought against disclosure of the documents for nearly a year, long before the case was dismissed in June of last year. The plaintiffs are poised to move ahead with the appeal, but are being forced to file their Ninth Circuit brief under seal and obscured from public review.

In late January, Thomas Rudd, Force Protection Division Chief and supervisor of Army infiltrator John Towery at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, filed his opposition to unsealing the appeal briefs and documentary evidence. Rudd argued that there is “non-existent public interest in these documents,” whereas plaintiffs argue that Rudd and Towery’s spying efforts and Rudd’s failure to report such spying when required to do so by Army investigators in 2009 indicates significant public interest.

In his opposition, Rudd also complains of harassment and uses this as a reason to keep Army documents sealed. However, other than what has already been made public by government, the documentary evidence plaintiffs are seeking to disclose does not reveal any personal information.

In an April 2014 deposition, Rudd admitted that Towery was working for the Army when he spied on members of Port Militarization Resistance and other groups, which the Army denied until last year. Rudd has so far managed to evade questions about why he previously failed to report Towery’s status as an Army spy.

More recently, in an unusual move in support of Rudd’s motion, the Department of Justice filed a letter with the Ninth Circuit on behalf of the Army, despite not being a party to the appeal. Instead of properly intervening in the appeal, Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes attempted to oppose unsealing Army documents in a February 11 letter, thereby violating the Rules of Federal Civil Procedure.

In a rebuttal to the Hayes letter seeking to strike it from the record, Panagacos plaintiffs point out that there are “self-evident and self-serving reasons for the Army to wish to minimize the evidence that is maintained under seal.” Plaintiffs also argue that the Pentagon is the “true manager and overseer of the defense…while trying to maintain the facade that it is not.”

The Ninth Circuit previously ended the briefing period on the issue of document “deconfidentialization” (as the court refers to it). The next step is for the Ninth Circuit to rule on the pleadings and, depending that ruling, the plaintiffs will file their appeal either under seal or open to public review.

At a time when abusive government surveillance is rampant, being able to scrutinize the ways in which the Army has abused its role and authority to disrupt First Amendment-protected activity is very much in the public interest and should not be hidden from public view.

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Olympia agrees to pay activist $10,000 to settle OPD lawsuit

The city of Olympia has agreed to pay a local activist $10,000 to settle his lawsuit alleging the Olympia Police Department violated his civil rights and falsely arrested him during an anti-police march through downtown in April 2010.

Paul French, 29, pleaded guilty pursuant to an Alford plea to a single count of third-degree assault of a police officer in June 2010, after his arrest during the march.

In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but the plea counts as a conviction and carries the same penalties in the eyes of the court.

French was sentenced to three months of work release at the Thurston County Jail, according to his felony judgment and sentence.

According to French’s lawsuit against OPD, Olympia Police Officer Sean Lindros falsely claimed French struck him in the face while attempting to arrest a woman who was part of the march on April 8, 2010.

According to court papers, Lindros was “struck on the left side of his face just above his cheekbone,” as Lindros was attempting to make an arrest.

Lindros identified a masked man, identified him as French, and arrested him, court papers state.

French has written extensively of his experiences during, and after his arrest in the Olympia publication Works in Progress.

In a Jan. 12 Works in Progress article, French wrote that in a police report, Lindros misidentified the color of a bandana he was wearing, and that Lindros suffered no visible marks or bruises after the alleged assault.

“I was charged with assault, even though I was simply engaging in my First Amendment right to protest and in spite of the fact that I was not in a location where I could have physically struck Lindros,” French wrote.

French also wrote that he was severely traumatized by his jail sentence and suffered a nervous breakdown.

French’s lawsuit also alleged that Thomas Rudd, Force Protection director for Joint Base Lewis-McChord sent former Olympia Police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad an email tipping Olympia police off in advance about the march.

Rudd was the boss of former JBLM civilian force protection employee John Towery, who has been accused of infiltrating an Olympia anti-war group under an assumed name and monitoring their activities.

Towery is a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by members of the Olympia anti-war group, Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, or OlyPMR. The lawsuit involving Towery and Rudd’s activities is scheduled to go to trial in June.

In French’s lawsuit that recently settled, French’s attorney Larry Hildes wrote that, judging by Rudd’s email to Bjornstad, “It has now become clear that Rudd kept right on gathering information on activists in Olympia,” even after Towery was unmasked.

French’s lawsuit also stated that Rudd was giving information about Olympia activists “to the Olympia Police Department for the them to act on, either alone or in conjunction with the Army.”

French’s jury trial in his federal civil rights lawsuit was scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.Reached by telephone Thursday, French said he still wants to get his conviction for assaulting the OPD officer expunged.

“I was railroaded by a reactionary judge who cut the legs out from under my case by ruling which issues could be discussed at trial,” French said.

“Justice will be served once I get this false conviction expunged from my record, and I can pursue my journalistic career without the stigma of being a violent felon.”

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; jpawloski@theolympian.comRead more here:

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Oscar-Award Winning ‘Citizen Four’ Documentary- Free Download

2014 Oscar-Winning Director Laura Poitras’ in-depth look at Edward Snowden, the man and the extraordinary repercussions for his courageous act of whisteblowing.


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Strife’s 2012 TCTV Interview About Resistance & Repression

This is an interview I did from 2012 when I first started publicizing the surveillance and repression I began experiencing in connection to my music and activism in Olympia, WA.  For more info and access to the unredacted public records confirming this and more check out the articles here:

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Activist Settles with Police for $10,000

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