Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 24, 2009

And clean behind your ears too!

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Privacy and Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 24, 2009

The last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to assess what really happened at Ft. Lewis, Washington. 

Maybe you’ve already heard about John Towery (aka John Jacob), an Army employee, who has been accused of spending two or three years undercover to gather intelligence on Seattle-Tacoma area anti-war organizations.  Mr. Towery is a civilian member of the Ft. Lewis “Force Protection Division” or base security team.  Whether he was free-lancing or operating under orders is an important — and as yet unanswered — question.  (See news stories listed at end of this post.)

Jeff Stein at Congressional Quarterly writes that  Mr. Towery’s, “reports on antiwar groups were going to the Washington Joint Analytical Center, a partnership of local and state police, the FBI and the federal Department of Homeland Security.”

Anjali Kamat with Democracy Now! (see below) broke the story on July 28.  According to the original report, “The activists claim Towery has admitted to them he shared information with an intelligence network that stretches from local and state police to several federal agencies, to the US military.”


Evidence-based policing is really common sense policing.  You pay attention to what is happening — you give particular attention to known precursors — and you intervene early to prevent or mitigate outbreaks.

This is essentially the application of  epidemiology to law enforcement.  Malcolm Gladwell makes this connection especially clear in The Tipping Point.

Intelligence-led policing is — or can be — the application of active surveillance and early intervention to prevent catastrophic events.  With clear protocols, effective training, and principled supervision such proactive practices can protect and serve communities… and the Constitution.

But we can forget — or more often, neglect — the self-restraint, discipline, external checks and structural balances needed to avoid  the risk of caretakers becoming carriers of the disease they seek to prevent… or something even worse.

Before 1867 most surgeons did not wash their hands.  As they moved from one patient to another the germs they spread probably killed more than their surgery saved.  Their intentions were noble and pure.  Their hands were bloody, both literally and figuratively.

We don’t know — yet — what happened at Ft. Lewis.  But if anyone associated with the military was involved in any aspect of domestic intelligence-gathering, there should have been the strictest of antiseptic — actually prophylactic — protocols. 

Instead it sounds like someone wasn’t even using soap and singing happy birthday.

News Coverage:

Declassified docs reveal military operative spied on WA peace groups (Democracy Now!)

Olympia anti-war group says Fort Lewis employee a spy (The News-Tribune)

Army looking into monitoring of protest groups (New York Times)

Turning the US army against Americans (The Guardian)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 24, 2009 @ 7:06 am

Hoping this story will be followed closely. Is there a FUSION CENTER in Seattle-Tacoma?

Comment by Sgt. T

August 24, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

After reading the News Tribune piece I’m more concerned about the voter registration rolls being publicly accessible over the Internet. A quick check of the database here in Washington using only my last name produced my full name, birth date, and current address. Broadcasting my particulars on the Internet seems a high price to pay for the privilege of voting.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 24, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

There are already websites where one can find a person’s name, birth date, last several addresses, and even have their family listed. That is before paying for whatever services advertised on the site.

While I’d prefer that information not be readily public, its already out there so I guess I might as well have the convenience of checking that my voter registration information is correct.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 24, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

It should be noted that only governmental organizations still maintain privacy concerns although not very effectively. The private sector long ago violated an reasonable sense of privacy norms. What is the problem? Privacy laws are extremely inefficient of enforcement and seldom are damages awarded for violations. Federal privacy law of course is enforced exclusively by the Department of Justice which should publish annually its list of enforcement actions. Perhaps it is just a Tabulae Rasa [sic]?

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