Ex-JBLM worker admits he accessed activists' emails

Staff writerJune 25, 2013 

A former Joint Base Lewis-McChord employee accused of infiltrating an Olympia anti-war group has admitted he accessed an email listserv maintained by the group in 2007 for attorney-client communications, then forwarded the information to police, according to documents filed in federal court in Tacoma.

Attorneys state in a recent court filing that John Towery accessed the activists’ listserv because he was concerned about its “dissemination of private, personal juror information” in a then-pending criminal trial involving 15 members of the anti-war group Olympia Port Militarization Resistance. The defendants were charged with second-degree criminal trespass after a May 2006 protest over a military shipment at the Port of Olympia.

During the March 2007 trial, then-Thurston County District Court Judge Susan Dubuisson learned from the prosecutor that the listserv contained a spreadsheet with the names of more than 60 prospective jurors and their responses to a jury questionnaire. The prosecutor expressed concern during the trial that individuals other than the defendants and their attorneys had access to otherwise private juror information.

Dubuisson then declared it a mistrial. Dubuisson, now retired, said in 2007 that she did so because she was concerned that the breach of juror information could taint their ability to reach a fair verdict.

At the time, members of the anti-war group had declared the listserv was secure and that access was granted only through an approval process. One defendant said it was set up so defendants in the case could be kept current with court dates, read trial briefs and access other attorney-client work products.

When the prosecutor showed Dubuisson a copy of an email from the listserv, he declined to tell her in court how he obtained it.

According to court documents, Towery’s attorneys have now admitted he accessed the listserv and shared its contents with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Towery’s disclosure is included in part of his answer to a federal civil lawsuit that was filed by OlyPMR. Its members allege that Towery violated their constitutional rights by spying on them under an assumed name.

Towery’s attorneys state in his June 14 response to the lawsuit that he accessed the listserv by providing his email address on an anti-war activist website. “There was no mechanism blocking the public’s access to the … listserv,” Towery’s attorneys state in court documents.

The former prosecutor in the case, Steve Straume, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

At the time, one OlyPMR member said they suspected a “dirty trick” – that some unknown actor had purposely compromised the listserv.

An Olympian reporter located the listserv following the announcement of the mistrial, and was able to subscribe to it in “minutes” without prior authorization, according to a March 2007 news story in The Olympian.

Ultimately, the gross misdemenaor charges against the 15 defendants in the case were dismissed and never refiled.

The disclosure that Towery accessed the OlyPMR listserv lends credence to anti-war activists’ allegations that Towery joined their group to disrupt and monitor its activities, OlyPMR member Drew Hendricks said.

In general, no one besides members of OlyPMR and their attorneys were even aware of the listserv, he said.

Said Hendricks: “It’s my belief that John Towery’s intention when he joined the listservs was to neutralize our protests.”

Towery’s attorneys at McKay Chadwell in Seattle could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled OlyPMR’s lawsuit against Towery and one of his colleagues, Thomas Rudd, can go forward with certain First and Fourth Amendment claims. The Court of Appeals opinion read in part, “As a result of defendants’ information sharing and coordination with local law enforcement, plaintiffs were allegedly arrested without probable cause. These arrests allegedly disrupted plaintiffs’ peaceful protests and deterred their political speech.”

Towery is a former civilian employee with JBLM’s Force Protection Division. According to the lawsuit, he infiltrated the group under an assumed name and reported on members’ activities to his superiors at JBLM and local law enforcement. Rudd was Towery’s former superior at JBLM Force Protection.

Other defendants named in the suit include various local law enforcement agencies and individuals employed there, including the Olympia Police Department and the Tacoma Police Department.

The trial is expected to begin in 2014. A flurry of recent federal court filings connected to the case have come up in recent weeks.

The plaintiffs also filed an amended complaint Monday, adding Chris Adamson, former director of the Regional Intelligence Group 5 for the Washington State Fusion Center, as a defendant.

Fusion centers are information sharing bodies that were established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies can share information on a wide range of intelligence, including in domestic terrorism investigations.

The fourth amended complaint alleges that Adamson, currently of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, worked in conjunction with Towery, and placed several plaintiffs in a national database designating them as “terrorists.” Hendricks, who shared redacted copies of the indexes of two plaintiffs who were placed in the database, said he received the information after a public records request to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said Tuesday that his office is aware of Adamson’s recent inclusion in the lawsuit.

“We are reviewing it,” he said.

The database includes several OlyPMR members in an index titled “Domestic Terrorism Conference Index Entry Form.” It includes their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other personal information, though this information was redacted from the copies shared with The Olympian.

Brendan Dunn, a plaintiff whose photo and personal information are included on the “domestic terrorism conference index entry form,” said he was shocked when he learned of his inclusion there. Dunn said the terrorism index lists him as having participated in criminal activities such as assault and criminal trespass, though he was never convicted of those crimes.

“This index makes me look like a violent individual, and I’m not,” Dunn said.

Dunn said his inclusion on the list explains in part his trouble with border patrol agents during several visits to Canada in recent years. He said he was detained by Canadian border control during one of these visits, and told that he had an “FBI number.” Dunn said he believes he is being punished for no reason other than his political views.

Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins returned a phone call placed to the fusion center on Tuesday. He said that the regional intelligence center that Adamson worked for was not part of the fusion center itself, but worked closely with it. He added that today there are now more privacy safeguards, such as training for fusion center members, so that they know what information is appropriate and not appropriate to compile. When informed of the 2007 “index entry form” which Dunn was included on, Calkins said, “the current staff of our fusion center was not even aware that that document existed.”

Calkins added the fusion center monitors illegal activity and does not target people for their political beliefs.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445
jpawloski@theolympian.com

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