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Annals Of The Bush Legacy

If you don't live around D.C. and haven't been following the completely bizarre Maryland police surveillance saga, the Post put out an amazing story this weekend revealing the breadth of the state police's inappropriate efforts to spy on advocacy groups. There are just so many weird details:

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. ... The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

... Investigators also tracked activists protesting weapons manufactured by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. They watched two pacifist Catholic nuns from Baltimore. Environmental activists made it into the database, as did three leaders of Code Pink, a national women's antiwar group, who do not live in Maryland. ... [B]y July police were looking into a tip that [PETA] had learned about a failing chicken farm in Kent County and planned on "protesting or stealing the chickens." A "very casually dressed" undercover trooper attended a speech by PETA's president that month and waited afterward to see whether anyone talked about chickens. Nobody did.

An outside review commissioned by Maryland's governor determined that the program -- which sucked up 300 hours of police time -- constituted "overreaching by law enforcement officials who were oblivious to their violation of the activists' rights of free expression and association."

The whole episode is crazy in its own right, but it also demonstrates the power of the example the president sets, and how the White House's tone and political approach is adopted by state and local executive units down the line. The audacity of the Maryland police's program, the blithe obliviousness to potential constitutional restrictions, the nebulous fear of terrorism as a motivation, even the failure to follow through on the program's aims -- it's all in the Bush style.

--Eve Fairbanks