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Documents link Army to man accused of spying on anti-war protesters

More than four years after an Olympia anti-war group accused John Towery of spying on them on behalf of the Army under an assumed name, new evidence has emerged showing that at least some of Towery's former superiors at the Army were aware of and supported his intelligence-gathering activities.

However, officials at Joint Base Lewis McChord,  Wash., would not comment on this new evidence on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether Army officials knew -- as members of the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance contend -- that beginning in 2007, Towery was attending the group's meetings under an assumed name, befriending its members and conducting surveillance of its activities.

The documents detailing JBLM's knowledge of Towery's activities "providing crucial police intelligence" were released as part of the discovery in the Olympia anti-war group's federal civil rights lawsuit against Towery, a former civilian employee of Joint Base Lewis-McChord; and Thomas Rudd, Towery's former boss who is still employed at JBLM Force Protection.

JBLM's "Force Protection Division" is under the Directorate of Emergency Services, and "consists of both military and civilian employees whose focus is on supporting law enforcement and security operations to ensure the safety and security of Fort Lewis, soldiers, family members, the workforce and those personnel accessing the installation," according to JBLM.

During the time frame that Towery was attending the Olympia anti-war group's meetings while employed at JBLM, the anti-war group conducted direct action protests at the Port of Olympia in November 2007, aiming to block JBLM from transporting military equipment used in the war from the port back to JBLM. More than 60 protesters were arrested.

The federal lawsuit filed by members of the anti-war group, known locally as OlyPMR, alleges that Towery and Rudd, along with various local law enforcement agencies, disrupted the anti-war group's right to peaceful protest and deterred their political speech by enabling their arrests without probable cause.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in June 2014.

The documents included in the discovery that were shared with The Olympian on Tuesday include:

  • - A certificate presented to Towery on Dec. 12, 2007 by a lieutenant general for the U.S. Army. The certificate is for Towery's "exceptionally meritorious achievement while providing crucial police intelligence during the 3d Stryker BDE redeployment from the Port of Olympia to Ft. Lewis."

The certificate states that "Mr. Towery demonstrated outstanding professionalism and devotion to duty by rendering up to the minute reports that clearly stated the intentions of anti-war protesters at the Port of Olympia. This vital information was relayed to the local law enforcement agencies which assisted them in ensuring that the convoys were conducted safely and without injury to soldiers or damage to military equipment during hostile demonstrations at the Port of Olympia."

  • - A July 25, 2008 email from Rudd to Towery -- before Towery was unmasked by OlyPMR members in the summer of 2009 -- stating that a request for overtime for Towery has been approved.

Other documents that are part of the discovery in the lawsuit and were released to The Olympian on Tuesday show that the Army was concerned about activists potentially interfering with military shipments and deployments after the November, 2007 protests at the Port of Olympia. They include:

  • - A Jan. 14, 2009 email from Tom Knight, a deputy garrison commander at JBLM, to Rudd, stating, "Success ref. the activists is being able to conduct our operations while avoiding a confrontation -- out-maneuver them; e.g. project what they'll do and preclude giving them opportunities to embarrass us or make news of a confrontation. Need to avoid confrontations with Soldiers at all costs (speaking for example about a convoy op where Soldiers are directly confronted by activists)."
  • - A May 8, 2009 email to Rudd from Lt. Col. Robert Lehman states: "Your efforts have contributed tremendously in our situational awareness, thus allowing us to posture for successful and safe operations. Hopefully tonight's event will fizzel (sic) and contribute to deflate the motivation to protest."
  • - A March 2009, "point paper" detailing JBLM's "concerns" over JBLM Force Protection's operations being reported on in the "mainstream media." The point paper states concern over: "Possible negative media coverage should mainstream media decide to report U.S. military ?spying," on protesters."

JBLM spokesman Joseph Piek declined to comment on the JBLM documents that were provided to The Olympian on Tuesday. Piek was provided with copies of the documents, and responded, "I don't think so," when asked whether any of the documents were forged or fraudulent. Piek stated Tuesday in an email: "there is still ongoing litigation in this case; therefore, we are not providing a response to questions that may be a part of the litigation."

In September 2009, after the news broke that Towery was attending the Olympia anti-war group's meetings under an assumed name, a JBLM spokesman said the allegations against Towery were under investigation. The four-year old e-mail stated: "When the investigation is complete, we will provide as much information about the finding as possible. Our goal is tranparency."

OlyPMR member Drew Hendricks said Tuesday that it's possible Towery wasn't adequately supervised. But he believes that Towery's former superiors at JBLM "had a legal duty to know exactly what Towery was doing."

"They owe the public an explanation," Hendricks added.

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