Join us for a movie and conversation with the filmmaker

A new documentary by award-winning fimmaker Johanna Hamilton about the break-in that exposed COINTELPRO.

1971 1971film

Saturday June 21
11:15 a.m.
AFI Theatre
8633 Colesville Rd
Silver Spring, MD 

In March of 1971, a break-in occurred at an FBI field office in Media, PA, that resulted in the theft of every single document contained within it. The true nature of what was discovered within those files would soon prove to be more shocking than the crime itself. Finally, the story of how it all went down is revealed in director Johanna Hamilton’s searing portrait of past events that echo into our own present

Come see the movie, and join us afterwards at Asian Bistro for a conversation with Johanna Hamilton.

The film is part of AFI Docs. We recommend buying your ticket ahead of time here. You are strongly urged to arrive 15 minutes before the start time.

We are pleased that Johanna Hamilton has agreed to join us for conversation after the film at Asian Bistro (around the corner from AFI). She is deeply concerned about mass surveillance by the NSA, and continued FBI monitoring and disruption of peace and justice groups. Let’s discuss with her how her film can illuminate and educate. It will be a fascinating discussion!

AFI Theater is located at 8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD

Asian Bistro is at 8537 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD

You will be able to purchase lunch or beverages at Asian Bistro.

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MCCRC supports Maryland marijuana reform efforts

The drug war in general and the criminalization of marijuana use in particular have been costly, oppressive failures throughout the United States, Maryland, and Montgomery County.  While the potential and actual harms of substance overuse and abuse cannot be denied, not all substance use is abuse — and an unnecessarily punitive, unequally enforced legal system exacerbates and creates harms of its own.

In a recent national study, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” the ACLU has shown that in state after state and county after county, black Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at rates generally anywhere from twice to eight times that of white Americans — despite basically identical marijuana usage:

The War on Marijuana has largely been a war on people of color. […] In 2010, the Black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 716 per 100,000, while the white arrest rate was 192 per 100,000.  […] In states with the worst disparities,  Blacks were on average over six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents in the same county.

The ACLU of Maryland finds a similar pattern in its own report, “The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White“:

In every county in the Free State, Blacks are disproportionately targeted for enforcement of marijuana laws. The glaring racial disparities are as staggering in the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington D.C. as they are on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland. They are as likely to exist in large counties as small, in counties with high median family incomes or low median incomes. They exist regardless of whether Blacks make up a large majority or small minority of a county’s population. And the disparities have only gotten worse over time.

In particular, blacks are over three times as likely as whites to be arrested on marijuana possession charges in Montgomery County — and that may understate the disparity.  From the ACLU Maryland report: “Between 2001–2010, Black arrests went up by 45%, even though the Black population increased by less than half that much. By 2010, Blacks made up 18% of Montgomery County’s population, but 46% of all marijuana possession arrests. These statistics likely underestimate race disparities in marijuana possession arrests, as Montgomery County has Maryland’s largest Latino population, which was not accounted for in the data reviewed.”  While there’s reason to support decriminalization of marijuana in any event, these unequal arrest rates make this a particularly urgent civil rights issue.

Fortunately, a groundswell of support for decriminalization or legalization of marijuana is building in Maryland:

MCCRC was also asked to join in support of the ACLU of Maryland’s marijuana reform efforts.  We are proud to do so.  We hope to actively advocate for marijuana reform bills before the Maryland legislature, actively educate supporters and the public about the costs to civil liberties caused by the war on drugs — and actively support politicians and candidates such as Heather Mizeur who advocate for marijuana reform.  Advocacy like theirs — and the campaign season ahead — make us optimistic that the time has come for marijuana reform in Maryland.

Activism on this issue falls squarely within MCCRC’s mission to defend civil rights and civil liberties everywhere by defending them at home.  As outlined at newsrackblog, the drug war in general and marijuana criminalization in particular have gone hand in hand with erosions of civil rights and civil liberties: “Black, white, or Hispanic; Christian, Jewish, or Muslim; activist or not;  marijuana user or not: push back against the war on marijuana — both the biggest and arguably the least justified part of the War on Drugs — and the rights you restore or preserve will be your own.”

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MCCRC bids adieu to Kit Bonson

Kit Bonson was one of the founders of MCCRC — along with Sue Udry, Martine Zee and Thomas Nephew — in the wake of the FBI raids on the midwest activists in September 2010.  At the time, we came together to provide local support to those activists, who never had charges placed against them and refused to appear in front of the Grand Jury.  Since that time, Kit has been in the center of all the organizing that MCCRC has undertaken.  Now Kit is leaving MCCRC to spend more time with her work on reproductive rights with the Abortion Care Network and on promoting socially-engaged poetry with Split This Rock.  We wish her the best!

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2013 in review

Here’s the 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top viewed stories were:

[Home page] 1,783
Hundreds join DC rally to #RestoreThe4th on July 4th (videos, photos) 246
WMATA Metro police followed citizen who refused bag search 179
Banner drop at Fort Meade: “Save America – Close the NSA” 173
Restore the Fourth! McPherson Sq Rally — July 4 at noon 164
Sections 1021, 1022 of NDAA 154
Guest post: Equality for Eid – stay home from school, Oct 15 137
Thank you Edward Snowden! (Metro bus ad edition) 106
Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance — Sat Oct 26 101
Broad coalition battles NDAA at Annapolis hearing 97
MCCRC delegation presses Van Hollen: FISA court reform is fine – but end bulk collection too 89

Obviously, Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations of the summer drove our activities and those drove your readership.  We’re particularly proud of the early role MCCRC played in catalyzing resistance on the ground in the DC area, with a June press conference/rally against NSA surveillance that brought together a broad group of activists including some from the newly forming “Restore The Fourth” coalition; we like to think the larger rallies in July and October were in part a result of our June efforts (together with those of many others).

We’ll be making recommendations about what to do next in the weeks ahead.   Thanks for reading this blog, and thanks for being a part of our efforts!

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Banner drop at Fort Meade: “Save America – Close the NSA”

Save America – Close the NSA

On Saturday, December 7, 2013, two carloads of activists drove to the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade to demonstrate against the U.S. surveillance state.

They unfurled banners over US-295 with a simple message:

Save America – Close the NSA.

[videography, sound by N. van der Sluys, T. Nephew; for a sharper image while playing
the videos, click the settings “gear” icon (lower right menu) and select 720p HD]

- – -

NSA headquarters, Fort Meade, MD

The action, organized by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee with activists from Code Pink, Restore the Fourth, and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, helps kick off similar protests around the country leading up to the Bill of Rights Day on December 15th.

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MCCRC advocates lifesaving police car AEDs — arguing tasers make them obligatory

Montgomery County’s state delegates held a public hearing on local bills on Monday, Dec. 2. MCCRC was there to advocate for MC17-14, requiring AEDs in police cars in the county.

On Monday evening, MCCRC activist Thomas Nephew joined Mike Mage (ACLU Montgomery County) to advocate for Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez’s MC17-14 local bill, which (as stated) would require MCPD and other police forces in the county to deploy automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in their vehicles.

The occasion was a hearing held by the Montgomery County’s House delegation, held at County Council chambers in Rockville.   The bill was supported in person by Nephew and Mage, and opposed by Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg.  (MCPD Police Chief Manger and Takoma Park City Manager Suzanne Ludlow were also listed as opposed, but did not appear, presumably submitting written testimony instead.)

In his testimony, Mr. Mage said that recent court decisions hold that the Eighth Amendment compels law enforcement officers to protect the life and health of persons in their custody, and that when a person in custody has a cardiac collapse, carrying out that duty requires immediate access to an AED (according to the American Heart Association).  Failure or inability to provide medically recommended and constitutionally required medical care to persons under arrest or in custody could expose the county to serious lawsuits.

Thomas Nephew’s Monday evening testimony follows:

I’m Thomas Nephew.  I live in Takoma Park, and speak tonight as a member of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition.  We are strongly in favor of the MC17-14 law requiring MCPD patrol vehicles to carry automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

Our principal reason, of course, is that this legislation will save lives.  The more first responders with AEDs, the better a cardiac arrest victim’s chances.  There are going to be times when a police vehicle is on the scene before fire or medical vehicles already equipped with these devices, either by chance or – sometimes — by direct involvement in a cardiac arrest.  The Rochester, MN Police Department has saved over a hundred lives over a 20 year period with these devices.*

Having voiced our strong support for the bill’s life-saving effects, we also note that the first principle of lifesaving medicine applies here as well: first, do no harm – first, do nothing to bring about ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrests.

Ironically, tasers — weapons used by MCPD and other law enforcement — can bring about just the fibrillations AEDs are deployed to correct. Continue reading

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Surveillance & Foreign Intelligence Gathering in the US (panel discussion)

Ahead of next week’s continuation of the Georgetown Law Surveillance & Foreign Intelligence Gathering in the US panel series, we’re posting video of the first of three panels on the subject, a September 24th discussion of the Church Committee and the original FISA legislation. Senator Leahy — co-author of the USA Freedom Act — keynoted the event; Church Committee veterans Senator Gary Hart, former Vice President Walter Mondale, Committee Staff Director William Miller, and Dr. Loch Johnson (Assistant to Senator Church) formed the panel.

Next Tuesday’s event — “The Current State of Play” — will run from 9:30am to noon at Georgetown Law’s Hart auditorium (600 New Jersey Avenue, NW).  It will feature the other author of the USA Freedom Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, as keynote speaker, as well as panelists Jameel Jaffer (ACLU), Robert Litt (DNI), Matthew Olsen (ex-NSA), and Marc Rotenberg (EPIC). RSVP:

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Now that was an EPIC crypto-party

Michael Carbone (Access) explains the finer points of encryption to workshop participants.

Better late than never: here’s a report back from the “crypto party” hosted by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Public Citizen on Friday, October 25th in the offices of Public Citizen in connection with the “Stop Watching Us”rally against mass surveillance that weekend.

The evening was a pizza- and beer-fueled workshop on how and why to go about encrypting email and masking one’s Internet usage.  Much of it was (or should have been) familiar to me and MCCRC readers via our own Bill Day’s posts on the subjects (see here for an overview).

But a refresher course with hands-on help never hurts.  The email encryption workshop I joined led off with a clear, useful overview of the issues followed by excellent help from the experts on hand, via organizations like Access, Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier FoundationFree Software FoundationNational Democratic Institute (NDI), Open Technology Institute, Robinson + Yu, and Tor.  (Simultaneous presentations covered TOR internet use anonymization and secure messaging and storage practices.)

Security expert Bruce Schneier: “One of the big lessons of the Snowden documents with regard to encryption is that it works.”

Why to encrypt your email
Following the hands-on part of the workshop, security/privacy expert Bruce Schneier provided some useful context:

“One of the big lessons of the Snowden documents with regard to encryption is that it works. … What we’re really doing here is engaging in economics.  We have fundamentally made surveillance too cheap, and the plan is to make it more expensive, and one of the primary ways to make it more expensive is encryption. …the NSA can grab lots of data off the backbone because it’s not encrypted. And if we can push them from that kind of wholesale surveillance to a more retail surveillance, into going into individual computers one at a time, we’re going to a lot of good forcing them to focus on the bad guys and not to collect on the innocents. “

What to think about in email encryption
Below are videos of the ~20 minute email encryption workshop slideshow presentation and discussion, led by Michael Carbone of Access and Joseph Hall of CDT. Among the numerous simple but valuable points:

  • the most common encryption methods (PGP, GPG) don’t encrypt the subject line of an email — so keep sensitive information off the subject line
  • ditto with attachments
  • use levels of effort appropriate to the adversaries you consider realistic — e.g., journalists or activists overseas may face more determined adversaries and should exercise (even) more caution than most readers of this blog post.

The slideshow is also displayed below in embedded PDF format to make it easier for readers here to follow along. Continue reading

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MCCRC delegation lobbies Senator Mikulski for real surveillance reform

MCCRC delegation at Senator Mikulski’s office. L. to. r.: Alan Hyman, Thomas Nephew (MCCRC), Fran Pollner (Peace Action Montgomery), Sue Udry (Defending Dissent, MCCRC), Mike Mage (ACLU Montg. County)

A Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) delegation met Friday morning with staff from Senator Barbara Mikulski’s office to discuss Mikulski’s position on the ongoing NSA scandals and urge her to support real reform.  The delegation included Thomas Nephew (MCCRC), Alan Hyman (a member of Progressive Neighbors), Fran Pollner (Peace Action Montgomery), Sue Udry (Defending Dissent, MCCRC), and Mike Mage (ACLU Montgomery County).

The meeting continues a series of MCCRC lobbying visits to Capitol Hill about the issue; the two prior ones were to Congressman Van Hollen, in June and again in October.  Unlike with Rep. Van Hollen, we weren’t fortunate enough to meet with the Senator herself, but did engage in a wide-ranging, frank, and hopefully productive discussion with staffers  Tressa Guenov (Intel. Committee) and Teri Weathers (Judiciary Committee).

Discussion centered on the  legislation sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein’s “FISA Improvements Act” that won her committee’s approval by an 11-4 vote on Thursday.  The bill is widely criticized by civil liberties and civil rights advocates (e.g., ACLU, BORDC, EFF) as a perverse reaction to the Snowden revelations that does more to ratify NSA bulk data collection than put meaningful limits on it.  Most troublingly, the bill formally legalizes queries of U.S. persons’ names or email addresses without probable cause, requiring only “articulable foreign intelligence purposes.”  As the ACLU’s Robyn Greene continues, “one thing is clear: [the Feinstein bill’s provisions] won’t fix anything. In fact, they may even make government surveillance worse.”

To our disappointment but not surprise, Ms. Guenov confirmed that Senator Mikulski voted for the Feinstein bill, but added that the Senator had also voted for a number of amendments, including some of her own and some proposed by Senator Wyden (whose own bill is among those recommended by MCCRC).  Mikulski’s amendments were about Senate confirmation of the NSA Inspector General (currently appointed by… the NSA director!), as well as a provision for an ‘institutional ‘amicus curiae‘ (friend of the court) at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, presumably with expert-level understanding of communications technology and the law.*

Mikulski is thus aligned, so far, more with NSA-friendly damage control rather than efforts to substantively reform overly broad surveillance policies and rein in a runaway agency that has lied to her own committee.  Ms. Guenov’s description of the Senator’s views — “don’t unnecessarily penalize the agency,” a Senator opposed to “radical” or “kneejerk” reforms of the system — tended to confirm the impression that the Senator sees reform efforts as a bigger problem than the agency or the authorities it claims.  However, the Senator does support some transparency reforms: making constitutional rulings by FISC available to the public in redacted form, and open or more open Senate hearings.

Continue reading

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Stop Watching Us Coalition “Lobby Day”: a report back

[by Martine Zee]

U.S. Capitol Last Friday, I joined dozens of other activists for a “Stop Watching Us Lobby Day” dedicated to opposing NSA mass surveillance.   We were thrilled to learn that the coalition had booked 55 appointments with Congressional Members for participants!

After an hour long overview highlighting the issues with Patriot Act Section 215 (phone records) and FISA Section 702 (internet data), we broke up into teams to practice our messages to our Representatives.  Teams were based on congressional districts or states.  Each team was accompanied by a “team leader” from coalition member “Public Knowledge,” who left information packets with each visited Member’s office about the illegality of the NSA’s surveillance programs.  The packet contains a summary of a “framework of principles” for Congress to help bring the NSA’s programs into compliance with the U.S. Constitution and international law.

My team included Vanessa and Ian, who run an IT system consulting business together in Baltimore Maryland; Stephanie of Potomac, Maryland; Chris Lewis from coalition member Public Knowledge; and an event photographer .

The visit, summarized
The coalition also asked all participants to complete a 4 question survey on questions and after our meeting with VH’s staffer our group huddled and we all had the same answers:

  1. chrisvanhollenDoes the Member support ending the bulk phone record collection program?
    Our group agreed that for Van Hollen the answer is “NO.”
  2. Does the member support limiting the scope of Section 702 of surveillance?
    Our group agreed that for Van Hollen the answer is “YES.”
  3. Does the member support closing the “backdoor loophole” that allows the NSA to search for Americans’ communication it has collected without a warrant?
    Our group agreed that for Van Hollen the answer is “NO .”
  4. Does the Member support limiting the sharing the information with law enforcement to ‘serious crimes’?
    Our group agreed that for Van Hollen the answer is “YES.”

Our conversation with Ben Cook
I was pleased that Van Hollen’s staffer, Ben Cook, was very familiar with MCCRC’s position on the NSA spying and our“profound disappointment” with the Congressman’s vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment. Obviously, our coalition lobby visit in early October was still resonating with him!

Continue reading

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