SEATTLE (AP) -- The Army is investigating an antiwar group's claim that a civilian Army employee infiltrated it, in violation of federal law barring the Army from conducting domestic law enforcement.
Under a post Civil War-era law, federal troops are prohibited from performing law enforcement actions, such as making arrests, seizing property or searching people. In extreme cases, however, the president can invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows him to use active-duty or National Guard troops for law enforcement.
Members of the antiwar group said John J. Towery, a criminal intelligence analyst for the Force Protection Division at Fort Lewis in Washington state, attended meetings and protests and administered an e-mail list for Olympia Port Militarization Resistance over the past two years.
He identified himself as an anarchist named "John Jacob." Group members said they learned his true identity after receiving documents from the city of Olympia under a public disclosure request.
"This is very serious. Domestic surveillance by the military is one of the third rails of our culture," said Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School and heads the National Institute of Military Justice. "It's one of the things that separates the democratic society from other kinds of societies."
Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said that because of the sensitive work Towery does, it would not be appropriate for him to speak with reporters, and Towery did not return a voice mail message left on his home number Tuesday.
The Force Protection Division includes civilian and military workers who support law enforcement and security operations to ensure the security of Fort Lewis personnel, Piek said.
"To ensure all regulatory guidelines were followed, the command has decided that an inquiry is prudent, and an officer has been appointed to conduct the inquiry," the statement said.
The port protest group -- one of several in the region -- formed in 2006, in objection to civilian ports being used to ship Stryker vehicles and other supplies to Iraq. Members sometimes engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience by trying to block the shipments.
Towery began showing up for meetings and protests in 2007, and eventually became an administrator of the e-mail list, giving him access to personal information about the protesters, said group member Brendan Maslauskas Dunn.
"He knows every gritty detail about how we organize, how we function, how we plan an action, who's involved, the politics of people involved," Dunn said. "We would plan very specific actions, and we were wondering how the police and the military would always know ahead of time what we were doing."
Drew Hendricks, another member of the group, said the infiltration came to light after the city of Olympia responded to the group's public disclosure request for documents relating to anarchists. Among the documents was a redacted e-mail Towery, writing from a military e-mail address, had sent to another military address.
In researching who Towery was, Hendricks learned he lived in the same house as "John Jacob" and drove the same car. The group then did some spying of its own, and confirmed visually that they were the same.
Dunn said he was one of two members of the group who confronted Towery late last month, and that Towery confessed, saying he passed on information about the group's activities to law enforcement agencies. Towery further said the base was investigating him for espionage and that he had been reassigned to other duties for the time being, Dunn said.
It was unclear if Towery was acting alone, or under someone else's orders.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state said this week it is investigating the details of what happened, including which agencies received information that Towery gathered.
The U.S. attorney's office in Seattle declined to say whether it was looking into the matter.
Last year, the Maryland State Police drew criticism for spying on peace activists and anti-death penalty groups. During the Bush administration, the Pentagon also monitored peaceful protest groups.
Fidell said he knew of no other recent cases akin to Towery's.
"The public has to have an explanation of who did what to whom and on whose authority," he said.