Best Defense

Fallout from the Great Panic of 2001

New information is emerging about the Maryland State Police’s nutty surveillance of various peaceful advocacy groups, such as Amnesty International and protesters against capital punishment. It turns out that the unit created to counter terrorist threats didn’t have much to do, so went out looking for possible problems. This is part of the problem with ...

New information is emerging about the Maryland State Police’s nutty surveillance of various peaceful advocacy groups, such as Amnesty International and protesters against capital punishment. It turns out that the unit created to counter terrorist threats didn’t have much to do, so went out looking for possible problems. This is part of the problem with our national panicky reaction to 9/11: Not only was tons of money wasted in being given to localities that faced no terrorist threats, but bureaucratic units created in response to the attacks went out looking for ways to justify their existence.

One bizarre factoid: These state troopers designated the poor little DC Anti-War Network a white supremacist group, apparently to justify spying on them.

Hat tips here to Lisa Rein and Josh White of the Washington Post for bird-dogging this story, and to the ACLU for uncovering the scandal in the first place. Full disclosure: Josh is an old colleague, and one of the best reporters I’ve ever seen at the little-known art of handling sources. He always did so in a clear, honest and productive manner. When he sat near me in the Post newsroom, I sometimes would put down my phone and just listen to him talk to lawyers and military officers facing legal charges.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
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