The other day, I described how peace groups in Washington had gotten proof that a spy from a DOD facility had infiltrated their groups. A local paper and Jeff Stein have more on the story–including (from the paper) these statements that the infiltration probably violated posse comitatus.

A Yale Law School faculty member and military law expert said he is disturbed by allegations that Fort Lewis employed a civilian who spied on an Olympia-based anti-war organization.

Eugene R. Fidell, a former judge advocate for the Coast Guard and the president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a practice appeared to violate the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law that prohibits the use of the Army for conventional law enforcement activities against civilians.

[snip]

Another legal expert, Stanford Law School lecturer Steven Weiner, said there are exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act that allow the secretary of defense to authorize the Army to pass on information to local law enforcement agencies when it is gathered through normal military training and operations. Weiner said that does not sound like what happened in Olympia. Weiner, an expert in national security law, added that for the military to use “an employee as a covert operative … is probably over the line.”

“The basic rule is the military’s not supposed to be engaged in law enforcement activities,” he said.

Weiner said he doubts that someone high up in the Army chain of command would authorize spying on OlyPMR. When told about OlyPMR’s activities, he said it sounded as though the group “is not actively imperiling national security” in a manner that would justify violating Posse Comitatus.

I’ll come back to this story as it develops. But in the meantime, I wanted to draw attention to a different case–happening in San Diego–in which a number of Marines and Marine reservists are being tried for leaking terrorism-related information to the Los Angeles police departments and (possibly) private companies.

On June 26, the military charged Marine reserve Colonel Larry Richards with stealing classified documents. Those charges come after the military has gotten guilty pleas from Eric Froboese and Gary Maziarz, two of the guys whom Richards had recruited to get classified intelligence documents from Camp Pendleton and the US Northern Command and give to him to use in his role in Los Angeles’ anti-terrorism units.

Maziarz testified that Richards recruited him in 2004 as his successor for taking classified documents from Camp Pendleton. Maziarz said he routinely passed such information to Richards, plus to and from Martin.

“Almost weekly, Commander Martin would e-mail me information to tell Colonel Richards, or Colonel Richards would ask me to pass information to Commander Martin,” Maziarz said during his court-martial.

Sometimes, Maziarz said, he gave the material to law enforcement officers whom Richards had sent to Camp Pendleton. Other times, he handed off files during lunch with Litaker and Richards at a club on the base, Maziarz testified.

“Colonel Litaker knew that I was downloading information and, you know, packing it up for Colonel Richards, .utbullet.gif .utbullet.gif . (who) would leave with the package,” Maziarz testified.

The files – some classified as “Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information” – included details about terrorists or suspected terrorists in Southern California.

This spy ring was first discovered in 2006 when Maziarz was investigated for stealing Iraq war trophies–but it was in place since at least 2001.

The theft operation began in 2001 or earlier with Richards at the helm, Maziarz testified during his court-martial. It might have stayed undetected had naval agents not stumbled upon classified material while questioning Maziarz for a different crime – stealing Iraq war trophies – at the end of 2006. 

Effectively, the spy ring was started by guys like Richards who had a counter-terrorism role in LA law enforcement and who wanted the information the military had collected on domestic terrorist threats (including information on local mosques) for use in their police roles.

In other words, the spy ring was accomplishing–illegally–what seems to be occurring with some kind of official sanction up in Washington.

The centrality of a bunch of LA cops in this spy ring is of particular concern given that LA has served as a model for the fusion centers proliferating around the country–particularly since 2006. In other words, the kind of information-sharing these guys were doing illegally has been replicated–with the sanction of national counter-intelligence–around the country.

And, voila! Now we’ve got spies from the military infiltrating peace groups.

Now, to the military and FBI’s credit, they are prosecuting the spy ring that worked out of Pendleton. But what seems to have happened–even while these guys were being court-martialed–is that some smart guy in Washington (probably named Michael Chertoff, though Janet Napolitano has embraced fusion centers as well) decided they were onto something and decided to institutionalize precisely what the military is prosecuting in San Diego.