07.25.08 Maryland Spy-Gate – Take II

We hear from J. L. Smith in today’s Post that there’s nothing wrong with government spying on activist organizations.  After all (Smith says), those meetings were public and no one ended up getting arrested.

And we’ve heard now a couple of times from our governor that the surveillance stopped before he took office and that the problem with its having taken place under the previous governor is simply how long it went on.

What’s wrong with these sentiments?

Back to opportunity cost.  It simply doesn’t make any sense to waste police resources (not even for the first dozen of the eventual 288 hours) on activities without any probable cause when there are so many other real threats to public safety for police to work on.

Much more serious is the threat to civil liberties.  Whether meetings are open or not, the spectacle of government officials donning false identities and acting under false pretenses is fundamentally different than a “civilian’s” right to join a cause with less-than-noble intent.

Furthermore, if no probable cause is required for government spying to take place, why doesn’t our government spy on all citizen groups?  Since it obviously can’t do that (imagine the tax hikes necessary to fund a Chinese-style ubiquitous police state!), the question of how the government decides on which groups to infiltrate gets to the heart of the matter.

Are we hearing about government spies going after anti-abortion groups, anti-gay organizations, or the NRA?

Nope.  Which is odd, since these groups clearly include violent elements.

What record of violence do the anti-death-penalty or peace movements have?  It’s been an awfully long time since the Weathermen and SDS were planting bombs in the 60s.  The answer is: NONE!

This leads to the obvious conclusion that the groups being picked on by the government were chosen not because there is even the tiniest hint that they pose a public danger, but rather because they were dissenting against the political views of our (as proven by this case) crypto-fascist leaders in Annapolis.

Get this, L. J. Smith: none of this was about protecting Marylanders from threats to the public order. All of this was about suppressing a particular range of nonviolent dissent that particular government officials happened to disagree with.

The outrageousness of Smith’s view is obvious.  What has me so riled up about Governor O’Malley?  Just read between the lines.  His statements are meant simply to distance himself from the current scandal (“didn’t happen on my watch”), without any call for accountability or commitment to prevent such travesties in the future.

I am outraged at O’Malley because he is apparently not the least bit outraged by this outrage.

It’s good to hear that Senators Brian Frosh (D-Bethesda/Garrett Park), Jamie Raskin (D-Silver Spring/Takoma Park), and others have called for hearings on the matter this fall.  But my general distrust of the Democratic Party, leads me to foresee a joyous celebration of GOP wrongdoing revealed (justified as that is), while doing nothing to hold O’Malley accountable for his inexcusable indifference.

©2008 Keith Berner

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6 Comments on “07.25.08 Maryland Spy-Gate – Take II”

  1. Leon Morse Says:

    I am not sure I would go so far as to say that anyone’s rights or a point of view was suppressed. I don’t see that any action was taken by the police that resulted in that. But should such activity be freely within the scope of police work? No.

    I definintely agree that hearings should be held and guidelines need to be set on when such activity can be undertaken by the police. Perhaps rules need to be in place that require a court order. In any case, O’Malley should be one of those at the forefront of all of this. It is a police force he oversees.

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  2. ActionJack Says:

    I guess you haven’t read all of the things Governor O’Malley has said and therefore your unwarranted attack is mistaken and false.

    I urge you to read more before taking a false position.

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  3. Keith Berner Says:

    Response to ActionJack: Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post. Rather than attacking me for my ignornance, why not enlighten me? Please provide me more information (including links) about what O’Malley has said. If I am wrong, I’ll eat crow and apologize publicly!

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  4. Keith Berner Says:

    Response to Leon Morse: Here’s why I stand by my description of the government’s activities as “suppressing” dissent.

    To the extent that individuals consider it likely that the government is collecting information about them, they will be that much less likely to engage in the activity that they feel exposes them to the risk.

    To the extent that any group of individuals fears that there is a spy in their midst, the less likely they are to share their honest views with each other in furtherance of group’s purpose.

    To the extent that the possibility of a spy being present breaks down trust between individuals who are trying to work cooperatively for a cause, the less effective their work for that cause will be.

    To the extent that society perceives that certain (in this case, conservative) causes are favored by government and others (in this case, liberal) are disfavored, the less likely they will be to support the disfavored causes.

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  5. Kathy Parrent Says:

    That’s a darn good explanation of suppressing dissent, Keith! I’m going to use it next time somebody tells me that government spying is a “non-issue.” And unfortunately, I’ve heard that quite a bit lately.

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  6. Leon Morse Says:

    Hey, what happened to ActionJack? I was looking forward to seeing the reading list. AJ, don’t be an info hog. I want to see Keith eat crow.

    Keith, indeed, there is a chilling effect from this sort of action. You make an excellent point.

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