John Towery's Papers Show How Army Spy Finessed the Local-Military Intel System

With the new release of police documents by Tacoma officials, there's little doubt that former Army spy John Towery worked with both the military and local police while infiltrating peaceful antiwar protest groups in the South Sound. Tacoma has put the documents on its city web site, revealing e-mails and other communications between Towery, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and the cops; the docs also showed up earlier on a WikiLeaks-style site, But activist Tim Smith, who obtained the files through an open-records request, doesn't think they show the Army violated the Posse Comitatus Act--which prohibits the military from engaging in local police activities--as much as they show how deftly the service skirted it.

Members of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance are suing Towery and the military in federal court, claiming he illegally spied on them for two years, violating the Posse act. He was outed in 2009 after protesters obtained public documents from the City of Olympia that contained his name and some of the e-mails he had sent. The new Tacoma release adds more detail.

"I never really thought it was an intelligence op," says the 49-year-old Smith, himself a retired Army intelligence officer. "Not in the bigger sense. They wanted to disrupt the movement, and he was their confidential source." The military in recent years shifted the role and function of its security operations--turning its police-style Force Protection Unit into a public safety and intelligence function. That made operatives like Towery more cop than spy, he says.

In a sly communications pass-around, Towery's reports to Tacoma authorities would be sent to other law enforcement as well as his Army office--but without his name on them. Smith says Towery then would put the info into his military bulletins as if from the cops, when it actually came from him, furthering the ruse to protect his role.

Smith, of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Tacoma, says he's just getting started on digging further into the case. "I think Towery's the tip of an iceberg of this kind of unauthorized snooping," he says, awaiting the delivery of what he expects are thousands more pages of documents from Tacoma. He suspects law enforcement agencies are violating laws that bar federal money from being used for surveillance of political activities.

"The situation needs oversight and recourse for citizens," he says. "We should have a robust monitoring system and an independent review of police intel systems. We keep being told we don't need it. But the Towery file is solid evidence we do. This isn't the America I served for 25 years in the military."

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