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UPDATE: Congress, Md. lawmakers wants more info on Maryland State Police surveillance of protest groups

July 24, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The congressman who heads the committee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security is asking for a review of the agency's involvement in Maryland State Police surveillance of anti-war and death penalty opposition groups.

"The politically motivated surveillance of dissident domestic groups that have neither a link to terrorism nor promote violence is ... a deplorable use of taxpayer funds," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Documents detailing the surveillance in 2005 and 2006 were released last week in response to a lawsuit filed by the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The surveillance was done during former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration. Ehrlich said in an interview on Baltimore radio station WBAL-AM that he was not asked to approve the surveillance. Ehrlich said it was approved by an assistant under the attorney general at the time, J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat and father-in-law of current Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley. O'Malley beat Ehrlich in the 2006 election.

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Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, told The (Baltimore) Sun that state police never requested the agency's opinion on the surveillance.

State police spokesman Gregory Shipley said public safety concerns prompted it.

"In the future, this certainly will not occur unless there is some sort of illegal activity or criminal nexus that is part of the investigation," Shipley said. "There just won't be any intrusion unless that is present."

Thompson's letter also asks the department for information about any federal homeland security funds that go to Maryland State Police.

Thompson wrote that "these allegations are extremely troublesome and bring to light past domestic covert operations, which were found to be not only unconstitutional but also damaging to the rule of law and America's democratic principles."

Maryland congressmen, including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, also expressed support for a probe.

"I was shocked that the state of Maryland ... would have that kind of activity going on," Cummings said.

"And it makes me wonder how all of this came about. Is this truly in the name of homeland security? We must always protect our homeland, but we must also at the same time protect our constitutional rights."

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