Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

A year later, Army still owes answers in spy case

Post by Kim Bradford on Aug. 5, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
August 5, 2010 5:28 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

John J. Towery remains as much a mystery today as he was in July 2009 when a South Sound antiwar group accused him of being a government spy.

That’s unacceptable. The Army, which employed Towery at Fort Lewis, has held off providing the public answers for far too long.

Towery made international headlines last summer after Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, a group that has tried to block military shipments at the ports of Olympia and Tacoma, outed him.

Group members allege that Towery, masquerading as “John Jacob,” infiltrated their group in 2007 and insinuated himself into the organization in a way that would have helped the military monitor – and perhaps foil – the group’s activities.

The group learned his true identity last year after acquiring public records that listed Towery as a member of Fort Lewis Force Protection and ferreting out that Towery and Jacob were the same guy.

The Army has said precious little about the allegations to date, other than to confirm that Towery was a criminal intelligence analyst for Fort Lewis and to promise disclosure at some future date.

In a September e-mail to The News Tribune’s sister paper, The Olympian, a Fort Lewis spokesman said: “When the investigation is complete, we will provide as much information about the finding as possible. Our goal is transparency.”

Well, the investigation is complete – has been for weeks – but the Army’s not planning to hand it over anytime soon. Another spokesman, Joseph Piek, told The News Tribune last month that the Army won’t release the report because of a pending federal civil lawsuit against Towery and others.

“Our hope is that this matter will be resolved quickly so that we can inform the public regarding the findings of the investigation,” Piek wrote.

Don’t count on it. The lawsuit, filed in January by members of the Olympia antiwar group, is still in its infancy. Lawyer Larry Hildes says he is currently amending the claim and won’t begin requesting information from the Army for at least another month. The case could drag on for years.

We asked Piek what legal justification he had for denying public access to the report. He referred us to Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Freedom of Information Act office.

We filed a formal public disclosure request this week, but aren’t holding our breath. The American Civil Liberties Union announced Wednesday that it recently received documents related to Towery – nine months after asking for them.

Among the documents is a heavily redacted e-mail thread from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command detailing allegations against Towery. Not included in documents released to the ACLU: the findings of the Army’s subsequent investigation.

Towery might have been a disaffected Army employee who joined the Olympia group to indulge his own misgivings. He could have been a rogue agent conducting surveillance without authorization.

Possibly, but Towery remained employed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord until last month, according to a base spokeswoman who insisted he was not fired.

Given that he stuck around, the most likely scenario seems to be that Towery had been acting on the orders of his superiors – possibly in violation of prohibitions against the military conducting surveillance on civilians.

That’s a serious charge – one that the Army should answer. Instead, it appears to be hoping South Sounders have short memories.

*
The News Tribune now uses Facebook commenting on selected blogs. See editor's column for more details. Commenters are expected to abide by terms of service for Facebook as well as commenting rules for thenewstribune.com. Report violators to webmaster@thenewstribune.com.