ANNAPOLIS | State police told state lawmakers Tuesday they are purging 53 names from a federal database they had identified as terrorists, after a review of the department’s infiltration of antiwar and anti-death penalty groups.
State police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that police had contacted 27 of the 53 individuals who had been wrongly entered into the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) database since January 2005 and offered them the opportunity to view their files and have them purged.
“The letter explains that we made a big mistake and that we want to straighten it out,” Col. Sheridan said.
State police watched anti-death penalty groups from 2005 to 2006 and tracked their meetings and protests related to the planned executions of convicted murderers Wesley Baker and Vernon Lee Evans Jr.
As part of the surveillance, troopers entered names into the federal database, identifying them as terrorists, including two Catholic nuns and one Quaker antiwar activist.
The then-state police superintendent who presided over the surveillance, Col. Thomas E. “Tim” Hutchins, told lawmakers at the hearing he took full responsibility for the operation.
“I stand responsible for what happened,” he said. “That´s what leaders do.”
Col. Hutchins, who said he did not think the undercover surveillance qualified as spying, attacked a report commissioned by Gov. Martin O´Malley, a Democrat, as being part of a “partisan debate.”
Col. Hutchins said he never alerted former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, whom he served for two months, about the surveillance, or Mr. O´Malley, whom he served for six months.
Mr. O´Malley defeated Mr. Ehrlich in November 2006 and has attacked him for not knowing about the surveillance while it was happening.
Mr. O´Malley has said he was unaware of similar covert surveillance by Baltimore city police that occurred while he was mayor of Baltimore.
Ellen Barfield, a Baltimore antiwar activist and one of the 53 people identified as a terrorist in the federal database, said she was shocked to find she had been so labeled and demanded an apology.
“You are one of the individuals whose name was placed in the [HIDTA] system under the designation,” Col. Sheridan wrote in a Friday letter to Mrs. Barfield. “As superintendent of the Maryland State Police, I look forward to purging those entries.” He did not apologize.
The number of activists reported to have been categorized falsely as terrorists has steadily grown as state police have responded to increasing pressure to release more information on their covert activities.
The state police released a series of documents in July in response to a lawsuit by the ACLU that showed that only one activist, Max Obuszewski, had been identified as a terrorist in the federal database.
A report commissioned by Mr. O’Malley showed that four people were so classified.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, said he plans on holding further hearings next year to vet legislation that would limit the state police’s ability to conduct covert surveillance and track protesters.