Military Port Protesters in the Northwest Expose Government Infiltrator
by Megan Cornish
October 10th, 2009
Surprise! The government has done it again. It simply can't resist
spying on groups who actually use those pesky rights of free speech
Activists in the Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) of Olympia,
Wash., recently exposed an infiltrator employed by the Army. His
exploits are proof that the government fears a strong antiwar movement.
Since 2006, PMR has inspired antiwar forces nationally with seven
major direct action disruptions of military shipments at Washington
ports. Its very effectiveness is what made it a government target. So
now, Olympia activists are teaching the lessons learned about
movement defense to a new generation.
And that's as it should be. Militants can assume spies are around,
and must learn to build the movement despite such obstacles.
John J. Towery, alias "John Jacob," works on the Fort Lewis Army base
near Olympia in "force protection." He claimed to be a civilian
computer technician and for two years got close to several activists
in Olympia PMR, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS), and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
He passed information not only to his bosses at Ft. Lewis and the
national military intelligence hub in New Jersey, but also to local
police, the state patrol, FBI, Homeland Security, Immigration Control
and Enforcement (ICE), and others.
He became an email list-serve administrator violating the privacy
of everyone on the list. He sowed dissention among activists, and
tried to sabotage blockades of war equipment at the Olympia port.
Such spying is illegal under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, but
this prohibition doesn't stop military brass from doing it anyway. In
the 1970s, the Army similarly spied on the anti-Vietnam War G.I.
coffeehouse movement, including Freedom Socialist Party and Radical
Women, which were active in it.
Patty Imani, a founder of Olympia PMR, observes that it wouldn't have
been surprising to learn the FBI was involved. "Their dirty deeds are
The FBI has repeatedly attacked antiwar, people of color, labor and
left movements. They have disrupted organizations, framed or
entrapped activists for crimes, and even carried out political
assassinations. These outrages reached their height in the FBI's
COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) of the 1960s and '70s.
History shows that one end goal of infiltration is to find or
concoct evidence for a grand jury to wield against the movement.
The grand jury meets in secret and has extraordinary investigative
powers that originated with the anti-communist witch hunts of the
1950s. A grand jury indictment is required for federal criminal
charges, but juries typically act as a government rubber stamp.
Mark Cook, a former political prisoner and Black Panther, spoke to
student activists in Olympia about lessons he learned in the
struggle. He heard about the security leaks they were experiencing
before the spy was discovered, and says he saw all the same things
before he went to jail. "They monitor free speech and build a
'sociogram' (pattern) of who people associate with." Despite being
illegal, government spying is a constant that activists should
expect. Cook says, "No matter how old you are, they follow you."
Those who worked closest with Towery unmasked him. One activist made
a public records request to the city of Olympia on behalf of the IWW
for any communications between Olympia police and the military, on
anarchists, SDS or the IWW. He received hundreds of documents.
One email with John J. Towery's name popped up. Not knowing him,
several people researched and discovered Towery was their "friend" John Jacob.
From these revelations, Patty Imani emphasizes the importance of
building Olympia PMR's defenses. She notes that Towery avoided more
seasoned activists, who grew suspicious of him due to his divisive
behavior. He gained the trust of a few people in key positions.
Giving him charge of the PMR email list was not a democratic decision
by the group. Imani says, "If we are truly building a movement, we
need to be inclusive and have democratic decision-making structures.
Then we won't be as vulnerable."
Imani points to self-reliance as another important defense against
infiltrators. Towery persuaded some contacts that his insider status
was essential to PMR. But figuring out the Army's plans can be done
other ways, such as by following the media.
Here are some other lessons this writer learned during the Vietnam
G.I. coffeehouse movement: act in such a way that grand juries have
no ammunition; stand up to disrupters whether they are agents or
not; know the full background of anyone who has access to mailing
lists or is trusted with information gathering and transmission!
The Army is supposedly "looking into the matter," but don't hold your
breath. Better to learn from experience, expect government
interference, and build the fight for social change in spite of it.
First published in the Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 30, No. 5,
Megan Cornish worked at the Shelter Half G.I. coffeehouse in Tacoma,
Wash., in the early 1970s. She can be reached at: MCornish@igc.org.