Hundreds of documents from the Maine State Police unit at the center of a bombshell lawsuit have been published online as part of a wider hacking of U.S. law enforcement agencies, revealing sensitive information about potential victims and suspects of crime in the state.

The Maine-specific documents originated from the Maine Information and Analysis Center, the secretive intelligence agency run by the state police and the Maine Emergency Management Agency that is at the center of a May whistleblower lawsuit from a state trooper who alleges the center has been illegally spying on residents.

The documents shed little light on those allegations and seem to mostly show interactions with outside agencies. While they include requests for help from agencies on investigations and reveal how the unit tracks events protected by the First Amendment, they do not disclose data-gathering techniques or internal communications such as emails between center staff.

Last week, an activist group that publishes leaks online released more than a million files stolen from police departments across the country. The group, called Distributed Denial of Secrets, published 269 gigabytes of internal police documents, including about 5 gigabytes of information apparently hacked from the Maine Information and Analysis Center.

The founder of the group that published the leak, Emma Best, told WIRED that the files came from Anonymous, a loosely organized “hacktivist” group known for cyberattacks against governments, corporations and other institutions. Best told the magazine that none of the files appear to be classified and may not show police acting illegally, but they instead reveal controversial practices and the tone of police discussions.

The Maine Information Analysis Center, a so-called “fusion center,” collects, analyzes and shares intelligence between the federal government and state and local agencies. It also provides analytical support for crimes of a complex or statewide nature.

It is unclear how the documents were stored and how they were hacked, but it appears they were obtained through a website developer vendor used by the fusion center since 2017. The hacked Maine documents are dated from 2017 to as recently as this month.

Netsential, a company that provides third-party web hosting services to more than 200 law enforcement and government agencies throughout the country, first notified the fusion center of a data breach on June 20, according to a statement from the Maine State Police. Since then the center has been assessing the extent of the data breach with local, state and federal partners, including the FBI Houston field office, which is investigating.

On Friday, the center learned that datasets submitted by partner organizations and maintained by Netsential were made public “through various unlawful means,” according to the statement from state police.

“We will be engaging in additional, more specific notifications to those agencies affected as we learn what the contents of those breaches are to ensure that ongoing investigations are not jeopardized,” the state police said.

In addition to being the subject of the federal whistleblower lawsuit from Maine State Police Trooper George Loder — alleging police illegally collected personal data on gun owners, protesters and counselors at an international camp for Arab and Israeli teens — the fusion center was also the subject of a legislative hearing on Wednesday where lawmakers questioned how it holds itself accountable or keeps Maine people safe.

Top legislators have criticized the unit. Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, the co-chair of the committee overseeing police said Friday she had read about the hack and that it would be raised in another hearing with law enforcement officials to be scheduled within a month. The news arm of the liberal Maine People’s Alliance first reported on the Maine-specific document leak Friday.

“If you’re a data collection organization and you can’t protect your data, I think you’re probably not worth Maine taxpayers’ money,” she said.

The leaked documents show that the center was closely watching the recent Maine protests over racism and police brutality. As part of a “Civil Unrest Daily Report,” the center listed the locations, dates, times and expected attendance of upcoming Black Lives Matter protests.

It also noted the “tactics” and “techniques” of recent protesters, such as how they prepared gallons of milk “presumably to aid in exposure” to tear gas, lit fireworks “presumably to gauge police reaction, but possibly to agitate the crowd,” and repeated “taunting and insulting statements toward law enforcement.”

When asked during Wednesday’s legislative hearing why law enforcement officials would have an interest in lawful protests and gatherings protected under the First Amendment, Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said it was so police could help people assemble safely — not snoop on them.

“This is what we need to do to make sure we have enough staffing to make sure that people are safe,” he said.

The leak also contains information that could have serious consequences for people’s personal lives, given that it appears to reveal details about ongoing investigations, name suspects who may have never been charged with a crime, provide identifying information about victims of abuse and name overdose victims.

It shows the requests made by police departments, sheriff’s offices, state police, the Maine Attorney General’s office and some federal law enforcement agencies for help gathering information on suspects and crimes.

One request shows authorities are investigating a suspect in an unsolved southern Maine murder from the early 1990s. A fusion center document includes the suspect’s name, his city of residence and his Social Security number. Another shows police attempting to construct a roster of motorcycle club members.

The requests include criminal histories of suspects from other states, requests for help determining the owner of certain phone numbers and general information about the whereabouts of suspects in investigations. Files show the contents of cell phones searched by police, including text messages, photos and internet browsing histories.

The leak also contains tips from the public, including screenshots of violent threats made on social media.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, expressed concern about whether soliciting tips from the public encouraged people to spy on one another, noting how reports of suspicious activity could unfairly target certain groups of people, especially Black people.

Some of the hacked files appear to highlight that tension over how proactive law enforcement should be in monitoring the potential for violence while respecting free speech and privacy. In one case, a person contacted the fusion center with concerns about the radicalization of the white nationalist organization New Albion, formed by former Jackman town manager Tom Kawczynski.

“Ultimately, do I think these folks just need a hug and to be more involved in their community to get out of their fear induced anxiety spirals- yes,” said the December 2019 tip from a private citizen monitoring the group’s social media activity. “But they also advocate for arming themselves and they’re creating this ideology around it.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.