Break-ins, Death Threats and the
The covert war against the Central America movement
a book by Ross Gelbspan
On Frank Verelli and Other
The Roles of Frank Varelli
Beginnings of a Secret War
The FBI - Death Squad Connection
Government By Secrecy
Active Measures and Privatized Intelligence
An Epidemic Of Terrorism
Monitoring Subversion in Miami
From Dallas to San Salvador
"Gilberto" and "The Doctor"
Allies in the Shadows: The FBI's Private Network
From the Moon Files
Western Goals: The Strange Case of John Rees
William Casey's Active Measures
An Early Target: The Nuclear Freeze Movement
A Private Use of Active Measures
An Album of Terrorists, An Underground of Spies
Fingering Congressional Terrorists
The Miami Network
The Decoy or the Duck
The Terrorism Cover
No More Witch Hunts
Privatized Intelligence Salvadoran Style
The CIA At Home, the FBI Abroad
An Explosion of Names
Passing the Torch: From the FBI to the NSC
The FBI and Oliver North's "Private Network"
A Private Eye of the Private Network
The FBI-NSC Connection
An Epidemic of Terrorism: Continued
Completing the Cover-Up
A Speculative Scenario: The Guiding Hand of the CIA
Unasked Questions: The FBI and the Disappeared Refugees
CISPES: The Latest Chapter in an Old History
The "DO NOT FILE" File
Criminal Penalties for Criminal Conduct
On Frank Varelli and Other Sources
My involvement in this book began near the end of 1984. As a Boston Globe reporter, I covered two break-ins at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had recently joined the Sanctuary movement and which housed the offices of several Central America-oriented political groups. While the stories ran only a few paragraphs, I found the break-ins at the church very troubling.
In both cases, the intruders who ransacked the offices and rifled and apparently copied organizational files, left-untouched-cash, office equipment and other items of value. Since it was clear this was not a case of normal street crime, I wondered why these political groups had been targeted. At the time, I had little interest in-and less knowledge of-events in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. But I had (and continue to have) an almost religious belief in the United States' bedrock commitment to free speech and the sanctity of the democratic process. The break-ins, as inconsequential as they appeared, evoked an ominous premonition of a "brownshirt" type of political thuggery.
Over the next few years, I was appalled to learn that the break-ins in Cambridge were merely the early symptoms of a nationwide epidemic of such events. Over the next six years, Central America activists experienced nearly 200 incidents of harassment and intimidation, many ~ ~ involving such break-ins and thefts or rifling of files. Many of those reports came from the Movement Support Network of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which had set up a hotline for political groups to report various types of political harassment. A number of other reports of such harassments came to me from people who were aware of my reporting for the Globe. In the case of virtually all such reports, confirmed them personally, both through interviews with the victims and, wherever possible, interviews with investigating police officers.
While many of the victims felt virtually certain that the break-ins were the work of the FBI, which had established a track record for "black-bag jobs" in the 1960s, I was more prone to accept the Bureau's explanation that the FBI played no direct role in the break-ins. What did disturb me about the FBI, however, was its failure to investigate what surely constituted an interstate conspiracy to deprive political activists of their civil liberties. Time and again, the FBI declined to investigate the break-ins, saying they constituted sub-felony level burglaries which fell under the jurisdiction of local police and did not warrant the intervention of a federal enforcement agency. But local police, many of whom asserted their belief that the break-ins were political in nature, had neither the resources nor the inclination to devote serious time and personnel to low-level break-ins during a period when family violence, street crime and drug-related brutality were reaching alarming proportions.
Beginning in 1985 ... [r]eports surfaced of a number of public, overt activities by the FBI which seemed designed to harass and frighten political activists concerned with Central America. First came the reported interrogations by FBI agents of more than 100 American citizens who had traveled to Nicaragua. Later, we learned of the confiscation by Customs officials of personal diaries, books and newspapers from U.S. citizens returning from Central America. There were reports as well of Internal Revenue Service audits of low-budget political groups which seemed to have no explanation except for political motivations.
My convictions about the importance of this story were strengthened by the famous November 1986, Reagan-Meese press conference, and subsequent revelations, about a covert government operation, run out of the National Security Council, to provide illegal support to the Nicaraguan contras. We later learned that our allies in El Salvador played a key and, as yet, largely unexplored role in the covert contra-support operation.
As the cumulative revelations of the Iran-Contra affair indicated an increasingly extensive public-private apparatus that had contravened and undermined our constitutional form of government, I became more and more convinced that the break-ins, as well as the massive FBI investigation of Central America groups, represented the domestic side of a national scandal of which only the international aspects had been partially revealed to the public and the Congress.
That conviction was strengthened when I came to learn that the covert assault on political activists involved not only the FBI and the Salvadoran security forces, but also the CIA, the National Security Council and a range of private, right-wing groups-most of whom had been integrally involved in the secret contra operation.
What troubled me more, perhaps, than the clarifying picture of a well coordinated, multi-pronged assault on political dissenters was the apparent indifference of the press and the public to a brazen attack on the civil liberties of a significant segment of U.S. society. The implicit message in the lack of press attention was that there is nothing improper about widespread domestic surveillance. Equally disturbing was the tacit assumption that there is nothing newsworthy about the government condoning the harassment and intimidation of political dissenters. The attitude of many of my journalistic colleagues seemed to be a mix of deference to the overwhelming popularity of the President and indifference to an alarming threat to civil liberties. To this day, I am puzzled by the news judgment of peers who determined that a clear pattern of break-ins, thefts of files and death threats aimed at political dissenters is not a compelling subject of coverage.
So it was with eager anticipation that attended a two-day hearing on the break-ins before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights in February 1987.
The star witness at that hearing was Frank Varelli, a naturalized Salvadoran-born U.S. citizen and a former employee of the FBI who had infiltrated the Dallas branch of one of the largest Central America groups, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).
In his prepared statement to the House committee, Varelli alluded to a bizarre subterranean collaboration between the FBI and the Salvadoran National Guard designed to target U.S. Iiberal and left-wing activists as well as Salvadoran refugees. That collaboration involved the passing of names of both U.S. activists and Salvadorans between the FBI and the Salvadoran security forces and death squads. Varelli cited his role in preparing a Terrorist Photo Album for the FBI, which included entries on a former U.S. ambassador as well as several members of Congress. And he implicated his former case agent in the Dallas FBI office, Special Agent Daniel Flanagan, in the break-in of the apartment of a political activist in Texas. (That allegation was later denied by the FBI following an internal investigation by the Bureau.)
Varelli's testimony was effectively sabotaged-and his presentation discredited-by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a conservative Republican member of the committee. During his testimony, Varelli told the Committee that "not once did I find, see, hear or observe any illegal conduct of any nature. The CISPES organization was peaceful, nonviolent, and devoted to changing the policies of the United States towards Central America by persuasion and education." But Sensenbrenner interrupted Varelli's testimony to produce a copy of a report-attributed to Varelli-which indicated that the group was plotting to assassinate President Reagan at the 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas. The production of that report effectively put an end to Varelli's testimony.
It was only later, after hearing Varelli's account of how a former right-wing colleague in Texas had altered the report on the colleague's word-processor-and after listening to tape recordings of Varelli's private briefing by Secret Service agents entrusted with the security of the convention-that I became convinced of the essential truth of the bulk Varelli's testimony.
The Roles of Frank Varelli
The roles of Frank Varelli-both in the FBI's campaign against Central America groups and as a central character in this book-are complex and multi-faceted. Initially viewed by the FBI as an intelligence analyst to help advise the Bureau in its investigations of Central American terrorism, he became, just a few months into his FBI employment, an "operational asset" through his infiltration of the CISPES chapter in Dallas. The FBI would later cast Varelli as a "mere informant'' to dismiss his allegations of FBI misconduct on the ground that he was too marginal and insignificant a player to speak with authority about FBI policies and operations.
But his infiltration of CISPES was only one of the roles Varelli played.
In addition to establishing a back-channel of communication between the Bureau and a network of intelligence sources in El Salvador, Varelli also provided a great deal of the political and historical context that underlie the FBI's terrorism investigations. He identified various factions both in the U.S. and El Salvador for the Bureau, and provided the FBI with the Salvadoran intelligence community's version of the permutations and linkages between various radical and revolutionary groups in Central America and elsewhere. His acceptance by the Bureau as an expert in Central American terrorism peaked in 1983 when he was invited to address a gathering of elite FBI and CIA counter-terrorism officials at a special seminar at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
Because of that special status, he was given access to far more information by his FBI superiors than would normally be furnished to an informant. As a result, he was much more knowledgeable about the overall outlines of the FBI's operations-as well as those of the CIA- than most "operational assets."
I am sending this small book out into the public arena with two hopes. One is that readers will be sensitized to the fragility of their personal and political freedoms. Won at terrible costs to countless patriots, they can be lost with the ease of a yawn.
The second is to add a small document to the depressingly persistent history of the FBI as a national political police force. The Bureau should be in the business of catching criminals. It should be removed, once and forever, from the business of monitoring citizens' political beliefs. As a federal police force engaged in the pursuit of inter-state crime, drug trafficking, fraud and violence, the FBI is a significant element in the defense of society. As a political police, mobilized to protect the interests of any political establishment, it is an affront to the basic rights of free speech and association and an insult to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.
Beginnings of a Secret War
During the eight years of the Reagan Administration, members of the President's inner circle mobilized the federal law enforcement and intelligence apparatus in a massive campaign of surveillance, disruption, information suppression and character assassination which targeted citizens who opposed the administration's policies, especially in the area of Central America. This operation involved at least four federal agencies - the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and the National Security Council, in concert with a variety of private conservative groups and the security forces of a foreign government-in an effort to intimidate, terrorize, discredit and silence Administration opponents. The campaign not only drew upon the federal government's awesome intelligence and police powers, but, perhaps as significantly, it made full use of the government's instruments of information control to neutralize opposing viewpoints, to bury uncomfortable facts under an avalanche of rhetoric, and to alter the public's perception of domestic and international realities.
Driven by the anti-communist obsession of the Reagan Administration, the campaign ironically came to incorporate aspects of abuse of official power, intimidation, character assassination and official Iying which U.S. citizens have traditionally associated with totalitarian regimes.
In a cynical exploitation of the public's fear of terrorism, the Administration branded thousands of law-abiding policy dissenters as "terrorists." In order to discredit legitimate expressions of opposition by religious and political groups, it labeled them as "fronts" through which the Soviet Union and its allies were "manipulating" the American political process.
Perhaps the most troubling legacy of the administration's war on citizen activists was the embrace by the FBI, CIA, National Security Council and State Department of a doctrine called "active measures," under which political dissenters can be labeled as "communist proxies" and investigated as "terrorists" simply because some of their opinions may conform to some positions held by the Soviet Union or another government which is considered hostile to the United States.
While elements of the FBI's probe of domestic political groups in the 1980s may have been discredited by subsequent revelations, the doctrine of "active measures" remains in force as a justification for investigating citizens-whose activities are not only legal but are specifically protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution-as terrorists. So categorized, an individual can become subjected to governmental surveillance, harassment and intimidation which is legitimized by an array of arcane regulations governing the federal law enforcement and intelligence apparatus; may become an instant suspect in the event of an outbreak of violence in the United States; can be denied any public- or private-sector job requiring a security clearance and can at any time, find his or her reputation in shambles. During the 1980s, the FBI's terrorism files swelled by more than 100,000 names, a large portion of whom were law-abiding activists who participated in demonstrations, contributed to political groups or subscribed to publications critical of Administration policies.
At the same time the Reagan White House was using the nation's intelligence and police powers to "neutralize" adversarial points of view it was also, under cover of secrecy, pumping a stream of propaganda through the nation's libraries, universities and communications media into the public consciousness through writers and speakers who posed as "independent" experts, but who were, in fact, acting covertly on behalf of the governing Administration. That operation was apparently conceived by CIA director William Casey and directed by Walter Raymond, Jr., a long-time CIA propaganda expert who worked with Oliver North at the National Security Council and directed the covert domestic propaganda campaign through a little known office in the State Department.
The FBI - Death Squad Connection
The Administration, moreover, entered into an alliance with the Salvadoran security forces to pressure and intimidate liberal North American activists. Through its contacts with the Salvadoran National Guard, the CIA passed on forged and altered intelligence material to the FBI which used it as the basis for its investigations of liberal groups inside the United States.
This confluence of FBI and CIA operations, of foreign and domestic spies working against U.S. citizens, marks a distinct difference between the government's secret domestic war of the 1980s and the Bureau's earlier politically-motivated campaigns against civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, Black Liberation and American Indian groups in the 1960s and 1970s. The National Guard of El Salvador is one of the more repressive and terrorist police agencies in the world. While Salvadoran intelligence officials helped the Bureau target U.S. groups by providing falsified material to implicate them in illegal activities, the Bureau, in turn, entered into an intelligence-sharing relationship with Miami-based Salvadorans who had organized right-wing Salvadoran activists into a secret intelligence-gathering network inside the United States. That collaboration resulted in, among other things, the harassment and surveillance of left-wing Salvadorans who had fled to the United States.
In return, FBI agents used their access to records of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to provide the Salvadoran security forces with the names and flight numbers of Salvadoran refugees who had entered the U.S. illegally only to be denied asylum and deported back to El Salvador. Although their numbers cannot be verified, it seems clear that many of those refugees were met, surveilled and, in a number of cases, assassinated on their return.
In its broad efforts to capture public opinion and discredit dissent, the Administration also entered into a partnership with private right-wing propagandists, spies and provocateurs whose activities were protected from Congressional oversight, insulated from inquiries by the press and immune to disclosure under such laws as the Freedom of Information Act.
The government's official, overt campaign against its opponents included FBI interrogations of members of domestic political groups, as well as citizens who traveled to Nicaragua. It also involved the seizure by Customs officials of books, documents and personal papers by hundreds of U.S. travelers returning from Central America. It spawned a host of apparently politically motivated audits of such groups by the Internal Revenue Service, as well as hundreds of incidents of reported mail tampering. The investigations, moreover, involved the surveillance and compilation of FBI files on at least a dozen U.S. Senators and Congressmen who were opposed to Reagan foreign policies in the hemisphere.
Simultaneous with the official investigations of intelligence and law enforcement agents, political and religious activists around the country reported more than a hundred break-ins and thefts of files at their homes, offices and churches. In virtually all cases, lists of names and organizational material were stolen or copied while valuable items were left untouched. None of those break-ins-several of which involved the abductions and terrorizing of political activists, as well as arson attacks on at least two of their homes-have been solved. From the accumulated clues surrounding the episodes, it seems clear that the perpetrators might be found in a network of private, right-wing groups which worked in concert with the nation's law enforcement and intelligence agencies to terrorize policy opponents.
Even before Ronald Reagan took office, it was apparent that the refinement of democracy through the free play of ideas was not a priority of his administration. Between his election and his inauguration, a transition team headed by his campaign manager, William Casey, was laying the groundwork for a massive domestic operation to stifle dissent and engineer the terms of the national debate over U.S. foreign policies.
In 1980, the conservative Heritage Foundation compiled a report which laid the groundwork for a number of Reagan-era governmental policies, particularly in the areas of intelligence-gathering and information controls. The report recommended the restoration of extraordinary powers to the intelligence agencies, many of which had been restricted by Congress following the inquiries into FBI and CIA abuses by the Church, Pike and Rockefeller committees in the mid-1970s. Those hearings yielded stunning revelations of assassinations abroad and spying at home by the CIA, as well as disruptive and illegal activities by the FBI's counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), including forgeries and burglaries aimed at people involved in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.
The 1980 Heritage report recommended, for example, reinstating a much broader use of wiretaps and domestic spies and infiltrators as well as the reinstatement of burglaries as a tool for gaining intelligence on citizens suspected of "subversive" activities.
The Heritage report also recommended exploiting a political asset of the Reagan Administration. The new president's ideological rhetoric and ultra-conservative agenda provided tremendous encouragement for activists on the far right who had been excluded from the inner circles of power for three decades. In keeping with the President-elect's emphasis on privatizing some of the functions of government, the Heritage Foundation recommended that the intelligence agencies be permitted to contract secretly with private sources for intelligence-gathering and, moreover, be authorized to conceal the existence of such contracts.'
A year after the publication of the Heritage Foundation report, President Reagan ordered most of its recommendations into effect by way of a classified executive order. At the same time, the President ordered the Department of Justice to draft new and less restrictive FBI guidelines which were implemented two years later in 1983.
Shortly after taking office, the President further sought to bolster the morale of the FBI by pardoning two FBI officials who had authorized a series of break-ins against Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War groups in the 1960s and early 1970s. Responding to requests by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that he forbid the Bureau from committing such "black-bag jobs" in the future, the President responded that it was not his intention to tie the Bureau's hands and that such a prohibition was unwarranted.
Government By Secrecy
The Heritage report, which proved to be a partial blueprint for the Reagan transition team, also recommended a number of measures for controlling information, including severe restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act. Using that report as a springboard, Administration officials instituted a series of measures designed to tighten the cloak of secrecy around the federal apparatus. Virtually all those measures were implemented through secret presidential orders which bypassed the processes of Congressional ratification.
As early as 1981, the President ordered the seizure of thousands of Cuban publications, claiming the import of such books and magazines violated an act prohibiting "trading with the enemy," although the material had been permitted to enter the country freely for 20 years. In 1982, he signed an order which dramatically increased the amount of federal documents which could be "classified" and withheld from public view. That same order authorized the "re-classification" of information which had previously been released into the public domain. That same year, the President signed the "Intelligence Identities Protection Act," which, while it purported to protect the identities of CIA agents, also threatened to subject anyone who exposed illegal activities by U.S. intelligence agents to up to 10 years in jail and $50,000 in fines. The act threatened to silence journalists and government "whistleblowers" who have traditionally served the country by exposing illegal intelligence abuses.
The following year, announcing that his presidential powers were being undermined by "leaks" from civil servants, the President announced an initiative to subject more than five million bureaucrats and one and a half million government contractors to random lie detector tests. The unreliable nature of polygraphs aside, the use of the tests flew in the face of a report from the President's own Office of Information Security Oversight that the Administration had suffered only "between six and 10 significant leaks" in the first three years of the Reagan Presidency. Around the same time, President Reagan signed an order requiring officials with access to certain categories of classified information to sign secrecy agreements which would require them to submit any speeches, books or articles to censorship boards for the rest of their lives.
Throughout the Reagan presidency, moreover, the State Department denied visas to scores of foreign speakers whose views were antithetical to the Administration, thus depriving the public of the right to hear from a range of foreign authors, experts and officials whose opinions were likely to challenge assumptions promoted by the Administration.
The effect of these information restrictions was to intimidate civil servants into silence, to place off limits whole categories of information which were previously accessible to the public, and to marginalize, if not eliminate, viewpoints which the Administration wanted to keep outside the mainstream of political dialogue. It also fortified the wall of secrecy which protected a host of covert and, in some cases, illegal operations. Were it not for the exposure of the government's covert dealings with the Iranian government in a Lebanese newspaper, for instance, the Iran-Contra scandal may never have come into full public scrutiny. But even while that operation attracted a good deal of attention in the late 1980s, a veil of secrecy covered the domestic aspects of the Administration's Central America policies.
President Reagan's Central America position was initially presented in terms of a new set of foreign policy priorities: human rights, the guiding policy of the Carter administration, was to be subordinated to counter-terrorism-the new policy umbrella under which the administration would wage its fight against the advance of communism in all its forms. But despite the best efforts of the Reagan Administration, the controversy surrounding the United States' role in Central America grew into one of the most polarizing and inflammatory issues in the nation's political life.
Almost from the beginning of the 1980s, the controversy spawned a proliferation of grassroots political groups which supported the fight of the Salvadoran rebels, who had unified under the banner of the FMLN to oppose a government marked over the last fifty years by repression, death squads and institutionalized terrorism. At the same time, religious and political activists, moved by the plight of thousands of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees seeking safe haven in this country from the relentless violence in their homelands, began a movement that eventually grew to include more than 200 churches and synagogues around the country whose members worked to change the Administration's immigration policies and to provide sanctuary for the undocumented aliens.
Other groups formed to support the new Sandinista government of Nicaragua which was enjoying the widespread support of its citizens despite the escalating attacks from the United States-at first through trade embargoes and the mining of that country's harbors, and later through the ClA's creation and support of an armed opposition force popularly known as the Nicaraguan contras.
The Administration's activities gave rise to a third set of organizations which, beginning around 1986, set out to investigate and expose the covert and illegal policies which came to be known as part of "the Iran-Contra affair" and which threatened not only to destabilize the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua but to undermine and subvert the Constitution of the United States as well.
Active Measures and Privatized Intelligence
Three developments at the beginning of the Reagan presidency would prove critical to the Administration's war against dissenting citizens. The first was the commissioning of the FBI by the new President and his Director of Central Intelligence to take the lead in the fight against international as well as domestic terrorism. That charge was embodied in the 1981 executive order which governed the conduct of intelligence.
That order authorized the FBI to ``conduct counterintelligence activities outside the United States in coordination with the CIA as required by procedures agreed upon by the Director of Central Intelligence and the Attorney General. 'The same order authorized the Bureau to "produce and disseminate foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence." The international scope of the Bureau's new mandate would become more visible later in the decade when the FBI asserted its right to travel to foreign countries to arrest foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorist operations directed against U.S. citizens.
Early in his tenure as CIA Director, Bill Casey ordered two studies done by analysts within the Agency. One study, aimed at implementing the new executive order, recommended ways of breaking down barriers between the CIA, on the one hand, and the FBI and other intelligence agencies on the other. It is not known what that study recommended nor to what extent it was implemented.
The second development involved a newfound concern by Casey and others in the intelligence establishment with traditional Soviet attempts to influence the U.S. political process through a set of activities which, in the past, had been marginally successful, if at all. Despite a finding that the Soviets had been unable to ever significantly affect the decision-making process in the United States, Casey also ordered the CIA to produce a second study containing a set of recommendations to counteract Soviet "active measures." ``Active measures" is a term used by the Soviets to denote ``soft', propaganda and disinformation activities designed to promote Soviet interests in the political processes of other countries. The techniques include such time-honored tactics of political advocacy as propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of the media. The CIA study cited the recently formed Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) as an "active measures" front group. And in March of 1981, shortly after the completion of the CIA study, the FBI requested and won approval from the Justice Department to launch an investigation into CISPES on grounds it was representing a hostile power-the Salvadoran FMLN rebels-and, as such, had violated the Foreign Agents' Registration Act. That was the beginning of a massive FBI operation which targeted more than one thousand domestic political groups-and hundreds of thousands of citizens-opposed to the President's policies in Central America.
A third initiative promoted by Casey and others in the Reagan national security establishment involved the "privatization of some of the government's intelligence-gathering functions.
A little-noticed but extremely important provision of the 1981 executive order authorized U.S. intelligence agencies "to enter into contracts or arrangements for the provision of goods or services with private companies or institutions in the United States and need not reveal the sponsorship of such contracts or arrangements for authorized intelligence purposes."
During the Reagan presidency, the Administration enlisted the aid of a host of domestic conservative activist groups in its campaign against domestic political opponents. Many of those same organizations, together with a number of foreign intelligence and security forces, would eventually surface as players in the Administration's secret and illegal initiative to train, arm and support the Nicaraguan contras.
One of the earliest and most influential of these private conservative groups was the Western Goals Foundation, founded at the end of 1979 by Larry McDonald, U.S. Representative from Georgia and chairman of the John Birch Society. Western Goals' agenda included the creation of the largest private database of "subversives" in the U.S. in order to help the intelligence community root out domestic "terrorists" and augment the power of the FBI, which had been "crippled" in the previous decade by a "runaway" Congress. McDonald's partner in the operation was John Rees, a right-wing journalist, publisher since 1967 of a newsletter about the left, a consultant to police in Newark, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and a paid informant of the FBI.
Much of the bogus allegations, character assassinations and red-baiting contained in Rees' newsletters and in Western Goals publications later turned up in the files of the FBI and other federal agencies, where it was used to open files on groups and individuals as "terrorist" threats or Soviet "fronts."
Similar material was recycled and generated by other private, conservative groups-the Council for Inter-American Security, Students for a Better America, the Young Americas Foundation and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's organization, among others-until it became cited as gospel by conservative activists and commentators. Much of the material generated by those groups was also disseminated by an obscure division of the State Department, the Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy, which turned out to be the center of a secret CIA-conceived domestic disinformation and propaganda campaign designed to promote the Administration's Central America policies.
It was not until 1987 that the FBI's massive campaign against political dissenters surfaced briefly into public view with the Congressional testimony of Frank Varelli. Varelli, a former FBI employee, began to detail both the FBI's secret collaboration with Salvadoran security forces as well as its illegal assault on liberal activists in the United States before his testimony was sabotaged by conservatives in Congress who wanted to protect the reputation of the Reagan-era FBI.
The full scope and extent of the FBI's investigations into domestic political groups became publicly known in January, 1988, when attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights won a long and difficult Freedom of Information lawsuit, which the Bureau fought tenaciously, which resulted in the release of some 3,500 pages of FBI documents.
Defenders of the FBI point out that the Bureau's political neutralization campaign of the 1980s was less intrusive and more restrained than the COINTELPRO activities of the 1960s and early 1970s. But it is clear that the difference in degree reflected only the fact that the Central America movement never attained the breadth and impact of the radical movements of the 1960s. Had the issue of Central America attained the same proportions as those earlier movements, it seems evident that the Bureau's campaign would have intensified apace with the strength and influence of the dissenters.
Finally, there remains the mystery of the little-publicized epidemic of low-grade, domestic terrorism. It includes break-ins, death threats, and politically motivated arson attacks which have plagued hundreds of activists and organizations across the country for the past seven years. While the FBI has repeatedly denied any role in those activities, the Bureau has, at the same time, refused scores of requests to investigate what is clearly an interstate conspiracy to violate the civil liberties of the victims.
From 1984, when the first reports of mysterious political break-ins and death threats began to surface, the list of such episodes has continued to escalate. Nevertheless, the FBI has maintained they were all local crimes subject to the jurisdictions of local police. But America's urban police departments, overburdened by serious crime, have few resources to expend on solving crimes which, taken in isolation, seem insignificant as well as virtually impossible to solve, given the care and expertise of their perpetrators. Of nearly 200 political break-ins and thefts of files reported by Central America and Sanctuary activists, not one has been solved.
... it should be borne in mind that the Administration's early groundwork in hiding a substantial portion of the government's operations behind a maze of regulations and laws designed to strengthen the wall of official secrecy was quite successful. So was its practice of privatizing some of those operations and putting them beyond the reach of conventional journalistic tools of inquiry. As a result, this picture of the multi-faceted assault on thousands of concerned citizens remains an approximation of the reality that haunted many U.S. citizens during the 1980s-and continues to haunt them as a still-persisting threat to their constitutionally-protected political liberties even as the Reagan Administration recedes into history.
An Epidemic Of Terrorism
It is difficult to date with precision the beginning of the extended campaign of official harassment and covert low-grade domestic terrorism that continued to the end of the Reagan Administration and beyond. The reporting of such incidents is not comprehensive. Except for a few veteran activists, most Americans are not comfortable telling others they are the subject of an FBI inquiry. Many mainstream church members and younger activists, as well as refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala, have been intimidated into silence. Other targets of harassment and intimidation, unaware of the systematic nature of such activities and believing their experiences to be isolated events, had no reason to go public with their stories.
But in piecing together scores of confirmed reports of both official harassments and secret, mysterious violations, there emerges the unmistakable picture of a deliberate, coordinated and extended campaign of political rape, in which the homes and workplaces of political activists have been invaded, their belongings stolen or trashed and their sense of security deeply violated.
Monitoring Subversion in Miami
In January, 1985, Edward Haase, a 32-year-old Kansas City-based radio journalist, arrived in Miami after spending two months in Nicaragua.. As he moved through the Miami airport, a Customs official examined his belongings, which included personal diaries and a number of Nicaraguan newspapers. The Customs official told Haase: "We're checking for possible subversive material for the FBI. They want to talk to you. " After a twenty minute wait, Haase was approached by an FBI agent from the Miami office.
He asked the journalist how long he had been in Nicaragua and what he had been doing. Haase explained he was a freelance journalist who had gone down to observe the elections. When he asked the agent what constituted subversive material, he was told: "Anything that advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government." Haase breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought, I'm fine. I'm not carrying anything like that here. Meanwhile, Customs officials were combing Haase's belongings-especially books, writings and printed material. After about three hours, told the Customs officials he was concerned about missing his connecting flight to Kansas City. As the Customs official took him to an upper level of the airport to check on flight times, Haase saw the FBI agent, Jose Miranda, leaning over a Xerox machine copying his papers. He was subsequently given his material back and allowed to leave. On his return, Haase called the Center for Constitutional Rights. Attorney Michael Ratner contacted the Miami FBI office who said they copied Haase's material in order to disseminate it to the INS and other FBI field offices. The material included an address book that listed the names and phone numbers of Haase's friends and contacts. They had also copied his diary. "There was nothing special in it that disturbed me. But it feels like a tremendous violation of my person," he said later.
Haase said that the FBI later defended its activities, citing its mandate for foreign counter-intelligence. But, as in the case of the 100 or so other travelers subjected to Customs seizures, nothing illegal was discovered. "This might have been legitimate had the FBI had some prior evidence that the travelers were working on behalf of the Nicaraguan government. But no such evidence existed. This was harassment pure and simple. Even then, it didn't do what it set out to do-stop citizens from participating in work to prevent American intervention in Nicaragua," Haase said. "There was no evidence that any of us was acting as an agent of a foreign power. What we were doing was carrying out our responsibility as citizens of the United States, expressing our opinions and doing everything within the law to make this a better country. If we think our country is doing something wrong, it is a duty as an American to raise our voices."
... January 7, 1987: The office of Rev. Timothy Limburg, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Washington, D.C., was burgled for the second time within a month. "In December, I went to my office on Sunday morning to find the door had been jimmied. The office was a mess. A bottle of ink had been thrown against the wall. I called the police, who told me fingerprint people would be by later. They never showed up. When I began to clean up the office, I realized this was not simple vandalism. I found they had rifled a box of old records in my closet. They went through old canceled checks and old income tax returns. One thing they found-and obviously examined-were two old passports of mine. One was issued in 1976 when I visited my brother in Managua. He's been active in Central America work for a long time. The second passport used to go to Guatemala in 1981. I had no idea the passports were still around. But they found them and looked them over. Then on January 7, the office was broken into again. This time, they went through all the files in the outer office. They took the office copy of the church directory, our only updated copy with the names of new members. That was an act of intimidation. They're telling me, 'We can get in whenever we want.' At this point, I'm far more angry than I am intimidated. I think it's outrageous that this happens in this country. It can't go on."
From Dallas to San Salvador
From its beginnings, the history of El Salvador has been a history of unrelenting power struggles, of periodic uprisings followed by periods of brutal repression by a series of military and civilian rulers. By the end of the 19th Century, a group of wealthy land-owning families had virtually abolished El Salvador's traditional export crops of balsam and indigo to establish large, lucrative coffee plantations. They were helped by President Rafael Zaldivar's order in 1880 to expropriate communal lands inhabited by the native population for the coffee growers, a decision that was backed by the creation of an armed rural police force.
The succeeding years of peasant revolts, economic depressions and the proliferation of security and police forces led, in 1931, to the election of a socialist president, Arturo Araujo, who was promptly overthrown by the Minister of War General Maximiliano Hemandez Martinez. The following year, the Salvadoran Communist Party, led by Agustin Farabundo Marti, led an attempted overthrow of the military government. That revolt resulted in "la matanza," a massacre of between 10,000 and 30,000 Salvadoran peasants, leftists and trade unionists at the hands of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez who, almost 50 years later, would be honored when a newly-formed Salvadoran death squad was named after him.
By 1970, according to United Nations data, the top 10 percent of the country's landowners owned about 80 percent of El Salvador's agriculturally productive land. At the same time, crushing poverty contributed to the deaths by age 5 of 38 out of every 100 children. By 1976, a U.N. report cited El Salvador's unemployment rate as the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 50 percent of adult Salvadorans were unemployed or underemployed. Around this period, elements of the Salvadoran leftist community split over whether to pursue reforms through armed struggle or electoral strategies. While some radicalized students and workers formed guerrilla bands under the umbrella of the People's Revolutionary Army, a coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Communist Party supporters mounted a slate headed by presidential candidate Jose Napoleon Duarte and his vice-presidential running mate, Guillermo Ungo.
Their apparent electoral victory in 1972, however, fell apart when Col. Arturo Molina, the candidate of the Salvadoran military, seized power. His troops occupied the National University and arrested 800 student protestors. At the same time, Duarte was captured and put on trial for subversion.(The military judge who rendered the guilty verdict that resulted in Duarte's exile was the director of the Salvadoran Military Academy, Agustin Martinez Varela, father of Frank Varelli.) In 1977, President Molina was succeeded by his Defense Minister, Gen. Carlos Romero. Shortly after his installation, Romero's security forces killed more than 100 demonstrators opposing what they claimed was his fraudulent election.
While the United States had generally turned a blind eye to the repression perpetrated by El Salvador's military dictators, State Department and CIA officials traditionally used U.S. aid to leverage favorable treatment of U.S. economic interests in El Salvador. Behind-the-scenes manipulations usually succeeded in maintaining pro-U.S. Ieadership in San Salvador. While the Carter Administration slightly modified that pattern, it did nothing to fundamentally alter it. Reacting to the continuing human rights abuses and escalating polarization, officials in the Carter Administration pressured the Romero government to curtail abuses and ensure electoral reforms. The succession of Salvadoran military leaders was interrupted by a coup in October, 1979, led by a Carter-supported junta which included members of the country's left wing as well as of reform-minded military officers. In the spring of 1980, following the resignations of several members of the junta, Jose Napoleon Duarte was appointed to the ruling body. Nine months later, he assumed the presidency with Washington's blessings.
U.S. officials described Duarte as moderate-able to communicate with both sides, to help the country attain political security and economic justice, in short, a grand mediator who might help El Salvador find a middle road to democracy and stability. The choice could hardly have been worse. Rather than emerging as a force for stability and reconciliation, Duarte became a lightning rod for all sides of the conflict-each of whom saw him as a representative of the other side's agenda.
To the anti-communist elements in El Salvador's business and military leadership, Duarte seemed the front man running interference for a long-term Soviet-Cuban plan for the communist take-over of El Salvador and, ultimately, all of Central America. They saw Duarte as a mere puppet of Jimmy Carter, U.S. Ambassador Robert White, and the Carter State Department in their deceitful sell-out of El Salvador. And they saw their salvation in the incoming administration of President-elect Ronald Reagan.
But if Duarte personified the political nightmare of the Salvadoran right wing, his failure to implement meaningful land reform and to bring the security forces and death squads under control left him with virtually no support among the FMLN rebels in El Salvador or the left-wing and liberal activists to the North.
At the same time that Reagan's transition chief, and soon-to-be Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, was advising the new President to make a dramatic show of U.S. political and military resolve in Central America, thousands of U.S. citizens found themselves sickened by the increasing brutality in El Salvador.
The previous March, Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero preached a sermon at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador in which he called for an end to the violence. Addressing the members of the military, the National Guard and the National Police, Msgr. Romero told them: "Each one of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your brothers and sisters...In the name of God, I beg you: stop the repression." The next day, March 24, 1980! as he was celebrating mass in a hospital chapel, Archbishop Romero was assassinated by a sniper. The death of the compassionate Archbishop, who had become increasingly known for his advocacy on behalf of the poor and oppressed in El Salvador, propelled him into international martyrdom.
The revulsion of U.S. citizens was heightened in November of 1980, following the kidnapping of 20 leaders of the leftist FDR party. The mutilated bodies of six of the leaders were discovered outside San Salvador the next day.
The brutality hit North Americans hardest on December 4, 1980, when the bodies of four recently murdered U.S. churchwomen, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel, were discovered in an unmarked grave near the airport.
Near-daily reports in the news media of the institutionalized terrorism of the Salvadoran security forces and the increasing atrocities perpetrated by the country's death squads-which, in turn, provoked sabotage, assassinations and bombings by the leftist FMLN-led U.S. citizens to form a number of new organizations, as well as to reinvigorate existing groups, around the issue of U.S. policies in El Salvador and Guatemala.
To liberal and leftist activists, Duarte appeared as the handmaiden of the Reagan State Department, holding power by the grace of U.S. military force. To them, Duarte appeared as the Reagan Administration's adopted surrogate, sanctioning the increasing U.S. military presence in the country while turning a blind eye to the rampant abuses of the Salvadoran security forces and death squads which propelled the flight of an endless stream of exploited, impoverished and terrified refugees.
In fact, their assessment of Duarte was not entirely wrong. Duarte was listed in the ClA's files as an asset, a source of intelligence from whom the Agency benefited, even if it did not control his activities.
It was this perception of El Salvador, Duarte and the Reagan agenda that gave rise to the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES}a small group, born in 1980, that would grow in the next few years to over 300 chapters in virtually every major city in the United States. Formed initially as a vehicle to protest U.S. policies in El Salvador, CISPES' membership grew to include people concerned about conditions in Guatemala and Honduras as well. And when the Reagan Administration turned all its guns on the tiny country of Nicaragua-mining that country's harbors, blockading its ports and fielding a small CIA-created army of Nicaraguan contras-the U.S. Iiberal community gave birth to a profusion of CISPES-type groups which rallied citizens around the Nicaraguan cause and against U.S. military intervention in the region.
CISPES remained the first and largest of the Central America-oriented political groups of the 1980s. And depending on one's point of view, the group either arose spontaneously to protest what its members saw as offensive and unjust U.S. policies or covertly as a diabolically clever creation of Moscow and Havana which insinuated itself into the mainstream of U.S. political life in order to undermine the forces of democracy and render the U.S. vulnerable to an onslaught of international communist terrorism.
"Gilberto" and "The Doctor"
If Frank Varelli had never been born, he would have existed a~ figment of Bill Casey's imagination. The short, spectacled, mustachioed Varelli grew up in a crucible of political violence which hardened in him a ruthless and obsessive hatred of communism. From mentors in the Salvadoran military he learned the street ways and strategies of the FMLN guerrillas and how they fit into the right-wing version of a larger terror network driven by Moscow, Havana and the PLO. But Varelli's study of human nature was no less rigorous than his study of history. An evangelist by training, he developed a deep understanding of what motivates people-an understanding that served him well as one of the FBI's most effective undercover agents.
As "Gilberto Mendoza" he appeared to his fellow CISPES members as humble, deferential, ingratiating and a valuable source of information about developments in El Salvador. In tape recordings of his phone calls to CISPES members, Mendoza's Colombo-like manner is disarming and, when one understands his real purpose, chilling:
(Call No. 1)
Mendoza: Hello, is this the number of CISPES?
Woman: Yes, it is.
M: Well, I'm trying to get this material that came out in the Mother Jones magazine. And I wanted to know how I will go about getting that.
W: OK. What materials were you interested in?
M: Well, I got it here. This one is "El Salvador on the Threshold of a Democratic Revolutionary Victory." The other one is called "E1 Salvador: A Brief Overview." One is four dollars and the other is seventy five cents.
W: Listen, I need to look through my materials. I think I have the brief overview. If I can have your address, Ill send you what I do have that might be interesting.
M: Well, I think that would be fine.
W: Another thing is, I'll write on the material the date of our next meeting in Dallas. You might like to come to that.
M: I'm very interested in finding out more.
W: Well, we're having a dinner a week from tonight-a fundraiser-for us to keep working on the issue. And there'll be a speaker there. I'll send you all this material plus the dates of the dinner and of our next meeting. Could I have your name and address?
M: Let me get it because I just moved here. Just a second please. OK. Let me give you this one. My name is Gilberto Antonio Ayala Mendoza. Do you speak Spanish?
W: Just a little bit. Can you spell it?
M: (Spells it) And my address is PO Box 57294. And at the bottom you put 1505 Slocum, Dallas, Texas 75207.
W: Listen, would you mind if you gave me your phone number so if something comes up I could call you?
M: OK. Just a second please...I'm calling here from a friend's house. I'm at 624-1939.
W: Thanks very much.
In fact, the phone number Varelli gave to activists was a direct line to the terrorism unit in the Dallas FBI office.
Allies in the Shadows: The FBI's Private Network
While Frank Varelli was the first FBI employee to infiltrate and report on developments within CISPES, a network of private, right-wing organizations was also at work spying on emerging liberal and left-wing Central America groups, disrupting their activities and providing material for the FBI's files. Many of the same groups that gathered intelligence on religious and political groups, including CISPES-and disseminated a blitz of distorted, scurrilous material tying them to purported international communist-inspired terror networks-would later be shown to have formed the propaganda and funding core of the Reagan Administration's private contra-support network.
In the context of domestic intelligence gathering, their affiliation with the FBI had been authorized by a little-noticed provision of a presidential order signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 which permitted the FBI to "contract with...private companies or institutions...and need not reveal the sponsorship of such contracts or arrangements for authorized intelligence purposes."
A number of the domestic conservative groups who aided the Administration's secret campaign to support the contras and to neutralize opponents of its Central America policies worked with other foreign governments and organizations under the umbrella of an international organization known as the World Anti-Communist League. The League's membership includes some of the most ultra-conservative and reactionary elements in the non-communist world. Founded in 1967, WACL has included in its membership a number of former Nazis and Nazi collaborators and counts among its various regional affiliates Guatemalan and Salvadoran death squad leaders, including Mario Sandoval Alarcon, a former vice president of Guatemala known as the "Godfather of the Death Squads." League members were invited to Taiwan's Political Warfare Academy for training in counter-insurgency and police techniques, as well as to Argentina, where they were trained in brutal interrogation techniques by members of the Argentine military.
During the 1980s, WACL's chief spokesman in the United States was Retired Major General John K. Singlaub, a former Army chief who resigned his commission after openly criticizing President Jimmy Carter's proposal to reduce US troop strength in South Korea. In 1980, Singlaub founded a US branch of WACL and, four years later, became chairman of the League. In that capacity, he helped facilitate covert military support from League members to anti-communist resistance movements in a number of countries, including Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Nicaragua, whose former dictator Anastasio Debayle Somoza, was an influential member of the League before his ouster by the Sandinistas in 1979.
As League chairman, Singlaub told a WACL conference in 1984: "Our struggle with Communism is not a spectator sport. . .We have opted for a course of action which calls for the provision of support and assistance to those who are actively resisting the Soviet-supported intrusion into Africa, Asia and North America."
At the time, Singlaub was assuming the role of the leading publicly visible figure involved in securing weapons and money for the Nicaraguan contras under a private-sector initiative apparently conceived by the late CIA director William Casey and coordinated by Lt. Col. Oliver North from the National Security Council.
Back in the winter of 1980, following Ronald Reagan's election Singlaub traveled to Central America, along with another WACL official former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Daniel O. Graham, to tell officials in El Salvador and Guatemala that the emphasis of the Carter administration on human rights was being downgraded and that counter-terrorism and hemispheric security would be the dominant policies of the new Administration. One Guatemalan official quoted Singlaub and Graham as telling military leaders in that country that "Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done." Within weeks of the Singlaub-Graham visit, the level of death squad activities in Guatemala increased dramatically.
From the Moon Files
One of the more prominent United States-based offshoots of a member group of the World Anti-Communist League was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's organization. While most publicity about the Moon organization has centered on stories of the psychological "captivity" and "deprogramming" of young members of the cult, as well as the federal tax evasion conviction of the Rev. Moon in the late 1970s, the organization, with its large accumulation of capital, has been a major player in international right-wing circles for 20 years.
The international spread of the Moon organization has been paralleled by the proliferation of Moon-funded organizations within the US to promote the profoundly anti-communist and anti-democratic ideology of the Moon church, which itself has been alleged by a number of researchers in and out of Congress to be directed by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
One of the more active Moon groups in the early 1980s was a campus organization created under the acronym CARP, the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. In early 1981, CARP strategists determined that Central America was becoming a critical arena in the fight against the advance of Marxism-Leninism. As a result, they mounted a campaign on more than 100 campuses around the country to counteract the activities of groups like CISPES by presenting support for the Salvadoran junta and its emerging leader, Jose Napoleon Duarte.
CARP members began to make their intentions known to the FBI as early as April 1981, when Moon activists wrote a barrage of letters to the FBI informing the Bureau of their activities. In short order, the entries in the FBI files, some of which are headed "Miscellaneous - Non-Subversive," grew into a more active partnership between the Bureau and CARP. And by the spring of 1981, CARP members were infiltrating CISPES l meetings and sending reports into various FBI offices.
The 48 pages released by the FBI, which constitute only a small portion of the Bureau's files on CARP, includes submissions from Moon groups on campuses as diverse as Columbia University, Boston University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Chicago. While the FBI released CISPES-related references to CARP, it declined to release any of the entries in the Bureau's main file on the Moon organization.
The activities of CARP allegedly went beyond intelligence gathering into more active forms of political harassment and disruption. A number of FBI documents note the outbreak of fights and rock throwing incidents at CISPES demonstrations that involved members of CARP. To a casual reader, the FBI notations seem to be neutral accounts by observing agents. In fact, CARP's relationship to the FBI-at least in Texas-was much more active. At the SMU campus in Dallas, for instance, where CARP had a contingent of about 75 members, Special Agent Dan Flanagan would go the campus once a month to pay the Moonies for their support services to the FBI. In addition to supplying intelligence to the Bureau, the Moonies started fights among the audience whenever CISPES held a rally or demonstration on campus. After a series of such incidents, CISPES moved off the SMU campus to the Martin Luther King Center, much to the relief of authorities at the university who were concerned about the violence that seemed to follow CISPES campus events.
... A second private group which flourished during the Reagan era was the Washington-based Council for Inter-American Security. The group disseminated reams of material during the 1980s purporting to prove linkages between a Soviet-inspired global terror network and liberal and left-wing American groups opposed to US foreign policies. CIS also expended considerable effort to improve the public image of the reputed Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson. When the FBI's CISPES files were pried open in 1988 by a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, they were found to contain several reports written by J. Michael Waller, a researcher whose work has been sponsored by the nongovernmental Council for Inter-American Security. But Waller's work to connect American political dissenters to an international communist-terrorist plot was part of a public-private partnership. According to several contracts on record, Waller's research- which helped swell the FBI's files on Central America groups-was also financed by no less a source than the Reagan Administration's Department of State.
Western Goals: The Strange Case of John Rees
Of all the emerging private conservative organizations working to support the policies of the new Administration, none was more effective than Western Goals. Housed in a townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, this foundation turned out a series of publications designed to expose the "communist-terrorist" menace inside the country.
One of the purposes of the foundation was described in a statement of purpose by founder Larry McDonald: "In the field of Marxists, terrorism and subversion, Western Goals has the most experienced advisors and staff in the United States...The Foundation has begun the computerization of thousands of documents relating to the internal security of our country and the protection of government and institutions from Communist-controlled penetration and subversion."
A long-time colleague of McDonald and a key figure in the work of the new foundation was John Rees-the same right-wing journalist whose article was used by the FBI to launch the first CISPES investigation and whose writings were cited by the Denton Committee to brand nuclear peace groups as Soviet "active measures" front groups.
In assembling a board of directors, McDonald wasted no time in soliciting a man who was already prominent in international right-wing circles-John Singlaub.
Beginning in 1982, the foundation-under the guiding hand of Rees, himself a long-time confidant of Singlaub-began publishing a series of books targeting liberal and progressive activists involved in a range of causes and organizations. ~e War Called Peace dealt with the array of US peace groups supporting nuclear arms reduction and the nuclear freeze movement. Broken Seals attacked the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for National Security Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups which had, in the previous decade, been in the forefront of the effort to demand stronger Congressional oversight over the CIA and the FBI. Ally Betrayed...Nicaragua catalogued the role of the Carter Administration in "selling out" the Somoza regime in that country and permitting the establishment of the Sandinista regime in its place. Soviet Active Measures Against The United States laid out an elaborate theory of contacts and linkages which purported to explain how domestic political and religious groups, such as the Washington Office on Latin America and the National Council of Churches, were being used by the KGB as fronts for Moscow's political operations.
In defense of his activities, Rees has pointed out that he has never been successfully sued for libel, a fact he attributed to his knowledge of libel law, his meticulous research and his dependence on open source information for most of the material he has compiled on left and liberal activists. But another reason Rees may have avoided such litigation lies in the limited nature of the circulation of Western Goals materials. At least in the early days of the foundation's operations, very few of the group's publications made their way into left-liberal circles. According to former employees of the foundation, the publications were circulated, almost exclusively, to John Birch Society chapters, other groups on the far right, local police departments, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI."
In a suit against the Bureau and the Washington, D.C. police department, the Institute for Policy Studies introduced a deposition by Rees in which he testified that he had supplied information about the group to the FBI both by phoning FBI agents and providing the Bureau with copies of his publications. In the deposition, Rees listed a number of law enforcement agencies as recipients of his newsletter, including the Internal Revenue Service, BATF, the Secret Service, Customs, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the Maryland, New York and Michigan State Police.
People familiar with Rees' operations over the last twenty years- he began his own newsletter, Information Digest, in 1967, around the same time he began working as an informant for the Newark Police Department-are amazed at his resilient ability to stay in business despite a series of discrediting events.
Rees, who was born in Great Britain and came to the United States in 1963, worked for a spell for the London Daily Mirror. His career as a mainstream journalist was aborted, however, when superiors at the paper discovered he had been trading on his professional standing by receiving free meals and hotel reservations. When officials at the paper discovered Rees' unethical activities, they fired him from the paper and paid off his bills.
He first came to the attention of the FBI when he began dating a woman who was secretary to the FBI's Legal Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London. The woman was reportedly prepared to marry Rees when she learned he was already married, according to an FBI document.
Rees gained a measure of notoriety in 1964, shortly after his arrival in the United States, when he moved to Boston and gained the confidence of Grace Metalious, the author of Peyton Place, who was terminally ill. Hours before Metalious died, Rees brought a new will to her room at Beth Israel Hospital. He persuaded her to sign the document, which left her entire estate, then valued at nearly $150,000, to Rees, cutting off her husband and three children. Metalious' lawyer at the time said that the author fully understood her actions in leaving her estate to Rees. The attorney quoted her as saying, "I have complete trust in Mr. Rees with regard to my children." It was only later, when Rees learned that the liabilities and outstanding claims against Metalious' estate were greater than her assets, that he renounced his claim to her legacy.
Rees subsequently married a black woman and moved to Newark where, in 1967, he launched "New Careers," a program designed to provide jobs for poor black residents of that city. At the same time, capitalizing on his wife's contacts in Newark's black community, he began secretly reporting to the Newark police on activities of black activist groups in the city. But his Newark career was cut short when the U.S. Labor Department, which partially funded his "New Careers" program, determined that Rees overcharged the city some $7,500. The department also blocked payment of another $12,000 to a job training firm for which Rees was a consultant.
The following year, Rees moved to Chicago where he began to work as an undercover informant for the Chicago Police Department infiltrating groups opposing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Rees offered to testify on his findings before the House Un-American Activities Committee and to share his material with the FBI as well. But, at that time at least, officials at FBI headquarters determined that Rees was next to useless as a source of reliable information.
In a 1968 internal memo, Special Agent Alex Rosen wrote to several top deputies of J. Edgar Hoover about Rees' offer, noting that, during his stay in Newark, "he attempted to sell himself and his services to the FBI. The interviewing agents believed his interests were self-serving and that he came to the FBI thinking this would enhance his credentials in contacting other clients." The memo added that Rees "talked in generalities regarding persons and events connected with racial and criminal problems in Newark and furnished no information of value."
The FBI memo concluded that: "Rees is an unscrupulous, unethical individual and an opportunist who operates with a self-serving interest. Information he has provided has been exaggerated and in generalities. Information from him cannot be considered reliable. We should not initiate any interview with this unscrupulous, unethical individual concerning his knowledge of the disturbance in Chicago as to do so would be a waste of time."
Despite his rebuff by the FBI, however, Rees stepped up his political spying activities, drawing on local police contacts he had cultivated in Newark, Chicago, New York and elsewhere. During the early 1970s, Rees gathered extensive material on political activists from various police officials, informants and private political spies with whom he exchanged information. That material was recycled in his Information Digest, which, in turn, went to a number of law enforcement agencies who, in turn, used it to compile files on political activists.
The bizarre and damaging secret flow of unsubstantiated and scurrilous reports surfaced in 1976 when an investigative arm of the New York State Assembly conducted an investigation into the compilation of hundreds of thousands of files by the New York State Police on political groups and activists. They discovered that information reported in Information Digest "was casually used to create dossiers on a wide spectrum of Americans whose only crime was to dissent on what the Digest authors considered the left of the political spectrum. This information was, in turn, kept in state police files throughout the nation and widely disseminated. For police officials to have participated in this procedure is a shocking commentary on the decline of democratic safeguards."
"It is important to note," the investigators added, "that this was a national police procedure. Information Digest was the string that held together a network of hidden informants whose information was recorded by police departments throughout the nation without the individual involved knowing of the process and without independent checking by the police as to validity and source of this derogatory information."
Noting that material was compiled by both John and Sheila Louise Rees, his third wife, who, at the time worked as a Congressional staffer for Rep. Larry McDonald, the investigators asked McDonald to elaborate on his relationship with Rees and his wife. McDonald, however, declined to comply. Even without McDonald's testimony the investigators unraveled a longstanding covert, deeply concealed network of information-sharing on liberal activists which assumed greater proportions the further the investigators dug into it.
To avoid having to identify Rees and his newsletter as the source of many of their political files, officials in the New York State Police classified Information Digest as a "confidential informant" thereby investing it with the same aura of authority as an undercover asset who had actually infiltrated groups which were the subject of its reports.
The material's authoritativeness was further enhanced when it was forwarded from the files of the New York State Police to other law enforcement agencies around the country in response to inquiries about political activists. When other agencies received the Rees-generated information, they assumed it was reliable since it bore the imprimatur of the New York State Police. "Few liberal organizations escaped being targets of derogatory reports or of infiltration by the agents of Information Digest who hid behind a maze of false names and Post Office boxes taken out under mysterious circumstances," the report added. "Opponents of the Vietnam war, including journalists, union leaders, campus dissenters, state and national politicians and liberal organizations were frequent targets. At times, personal remarks about the lifestyles of targets were included."
Elaborating on Rees' mode of operations, the report quotes "a highly-placed source" as explaining that Rees would go to one police department with information. While collecting payment as an informant, Rees would gather new material and pass it along to other police departments, either in exchange for pay or for yet new material.
The report detailed Rees' work with the Washington, D.C. police between 1971 and 1973. The relationship began prior to a major and-war demonstration in May 1971, which resulted in the jailing of more than 12,000 protestors. Before the rally, Rees suggested to D.C. police officials that they rent an office for him and install listening devices to monitor leftists he would invite to the office. Using the alias John Seeley, Rees opened the Red House Book Store, which was conveniently located one floor below the headquarters of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The store, which provided an easy listening post for Rees, was rented and paid for by the intelligence division of the Washington D.C. police department.
Investigators for the New York State Assembly concluded that: "Information Digest's raw, unevaluated, editorialized and frequently derogatory information was used to develop dossiers on thousands of patriotic and decent Americans who had committed no crime and were not suspected of committing a crime...It should be noted that the extraordinary cost of maintaining a million-card file on innocent civilians could be put to use to curtail real criminal activities."
The New York investigation succeeded in eliminating one subscriber-the New York State Police-from Rees' list of clients. But the resourceful Rees, aided perhaps by his association with McDonald, lost little time in cultivating a new client, the FBI-which had, just ten years earlier, determined him to be "unscrupulous, unethical and unreliable."
It was also during the late 1970s as well that Rees worked with a partner in the private spy business who had personal connections to two men who would become among the most powerful people in the country: Ronald Reagan and his Attorney General, Edwin Meese.
For several years, Rees worked with Patricia Atthowe, a security consultant who compiled files on political activists, especially those opposed to nuclear power, which she used in her security work with large West Coast utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric. According to the notes of two Los Angeles detectives who interviewed Richard Miller, then a vice-president of PG&E: "Atthowe and [her organization] provided good information. Ronald Reagan could verify Atthowe's reliability. Atthowe's husband was a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department and Edwin Meese was a District Attorney in Alameda County at about the same time."
It is unclear how, and at what date, Rees managed to establish a new relationship with the FBI, but the climate in 1980 was clearly conducive to the Bureau's cultivation of private-sector resources like Rees. The first document on file which speaks to a formal relationship between Rees and the FBI surfaced in December 1981, when an assistant United States Attorney in New York testified, in a case involving the National Lawyers Guild, that: "Some federal agencies received information about the National Lawyers Guild from John Rees or S. Louise Rees or both, sometimes in the form of Information Digest, and from time to time they were compensated by the FBI for furnishing information."
During the 1980s, Rees attained greater public visibility when he began to write a column for the Moon-owned Washington Times. But toward the end of the Reagan Administration, he again managed to become an embarrassment to the FBI.
In 1987, Jonathan Dann produced for KRON-TV in San Francisco a three-part series on private political spies. Dann reported in the final segment of the series that in 1982 the State Department published a list of groups which it declared were "Communist fronts" controlled by the KGB and the Kremlin. One group on the list was the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a long-standing peace organization. When members of the group learned they had been branded as agents of Moscow by the State Department, they filed a Freedom of Information request to ascertain the origin of the charge. They learned that the State Department's report quoted, word for word, from a Western Goals publication, The War Called Peace, written by John Rees. Initially, Rees denied writing the passages quoted by the State Department but, when confronted by Dann with a draft of his own booklet, stating that WILPF "supports revolutionary national liberation movements utilizing terrorism and armed struggle" and that WILPF "is thoroughly penetrated by the Moscow-line Communist party," he conceded it was his work.
Angered by the FBI's red-baiting of the group, and especially troubled by the government's use of scurrilous, unverified information from a private right-wing activist, Congressman Don Edwards demanded an explanation of the FBI's conduct from William Webster, then director of the Bureau. The responses from the FBI's Office of Congressional Affairs were characteristically unenlightening. They are worth nothing less for the information they contain than for the glimpse they provide of the impotence of Congress in effectively overseeing the Bureau.
Edwards had asked the FBI how Rees' book came to be retained in the FBI's files and how the portion dealing with WILPF was retrieved and disseminated to the State Department. The Bureau's response was: "A search of our indices does indicate a copy of the Rees booklet was retained in FBI files. It does show that two copies were provided to the U.S. Department of State. The FBI may acquire pertinent public information material and appropriately disseminate that material to other agencies if that information is of possible interest or use to them."
Edwards further asked the FBI whether it had advised the State Department that the document in question was "an unverified report from an outside source whom the Bureau had previously discredited."
In characteristic FBI jargon, the Bureau responded: "The transmittal communication only advised the State Department that the booklet was edited by John Rees and published by the Western Goals Foundation and contained no opinions as to the credibility of the editor, publisher or authors...The decision on the credibility of such a public document in most circumstances is left to the reader. It is noted that the publisher of the booklet, Western Goals Foundation, had as its chairman the late Congressman Lawrence P. McDonald, killed when the Soviets shot down the KAL airliner..."
At the time, McDonald had been en route to a meeting of the World Anti-Communist League.
While the FBI may not have explicitly endorsed the reliability of the material, that subtlety was obviously lost on the State Department. Shortly before Dann's report aired in late 1987, the State Department removed the name of WILPF from its group of Moscow "front" organizations. A spokesman for the State Department indicated that the Department, itself, had no way of knowing whether the allegations about WILPF were true. The reason the group was included on the list was that the State Department received the information from the FBI. It was the FBI's imprimatur on the material that led the Department to believe in its authenticity and accuracy.
In the summer of 1982 the FBI dramatically upped the stakes in its campaign against political activists. In its initial investigation of CISPES for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the FBI sought tangible evidence that the group was directly linked to the FMLN. But CISPES was not being paid by the FDR, was not helping provide weapons to the FMLN and was not taking its political direction from any "foreign principal," according to a memo from FBI headquarters to the Justice Department in early 1982.
The following year , however, the Bureau determined that it no longer needed such specific evidence of tangible links between a U.S. group and an international adversary in order to investigate the group. Henceforth, the FBI declared, it would be enough for dissenters inside the United States to publicly espouse positions which conformed to those of, say, the Soviet Union, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua or the Salvadoran FMLN rebels. That, alone, would provide the necessary evidence that the group was, in intelligence parlance, an "active measures front"-and, as such, a legitimate target for an FBI terrorism investigation.
William Casey's Active Measures
... Shortly after [William Casey] assumed the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1981, Casey ordered two internal studies done for him by agency personnel. The Qrst was to develop mechanisms for improving coordination between the CIA, on one hand, and the FBI and other elements of the intelligence community, on the other.
The second internal study involved a CIA report on "Soviet Active Measures"-a broad term that included "soft" covert activities designed to influence the political process in other countries. These so-called "active measures" included activities such as propaganda, disinformation, manipulation of news media, the cultivation of foreign opinion leaders and the use of "front" groups by the Soviets or their political clients to promote Moscow's line on particular issues. Significantly, the early CIA study identified CISPES as one such "active measures front," even while the group was barely becoming an organized political entity. Domestically, the political meaning of the '`active measures" concept- minus the mystifying jargon of intelligence specialists-was enunciated in a hearing of the Denton committee just a month before a presentation in the summer of 1982 by FBI and CIA officials to the House Intelligence Panel.
In a statement which opened the subcommittee's hearings on the FBI's guidelines, Denton noted that: "...In the reordering of priorities and the restructuring of the entities within the Bureau which deal with substantive foreign counter-intelligence and domestic security, an important aspect of the Bureau's work may have fallen through the cracks. . . What seems to be missing. . . is attention to organizations and individuals that cannot be shown to be controlled by a foreign power and which have not yet committed a terrorist or subversive act, but which, nevertheless, may represent a substantial threat to the safety of Americans and, ultimately, to the security of the country. " s J Despite the FBI's own pronouncements that domestic terrorist events had been declining for the previous three years, Denton continued: "At this time of ever increasing terrorist activity, I believe the American people need an organization that has the ability, the desire, and the understanding of the threat to see through propaganda and false ~ colors so that American people can be informed of the threat represented by organizations committed to the destruction of our freedoms. When I speak of a threat, I do not just mean that an organization is, or is about to be, engaged in violent criminal activity. I believe many share the view that the support groups that produce propaganda, disinformation or legal assistance may be even more dangerous than those who actually throw the bombs."
The following month, the House Select Committee on Intelligence heard presentations by both the deputy director of the CIA and the FBI's director of intelligence that prefaced a dramatic relaxation of the restrictions on domestic surveillance-and that would come to justify hostile government action against virtually any group or movement that expressed opinions which wandered too far beyond the accepted guidelines of mainstream political dialogue.
At a two-day session of the House Intelligence Committee in July 1982, CIA deputy director John McMahon and FBI intelligence expert Edward J. O'Malley laid out for Congress the dangers of "Soviet Active Measures."
Although it was O'Malley who laid out the FBI's concerns about Soviet manipulation of domestic political groups through the use of "active measures," his presentation was actually a follow-up on the earlier study by the CIA's Operations Directorate. McMahon explained to the Intelligence Committee the use of "political front groups" as an element of "active measures" campaigns that, in retrospect, would take on enormous significance in the context of domestic surveillance. "With Soviet and Cuban encouragement and participation, Salvadoran leftists in the spring of 1980 established the FDR, the political front that represents the [Salvadoran] insurgency abroad," McMahon testified. "The [governing body of the FDR-FMLN] called for the establishment of solidarity committees. . .to serve as propaganda outlets, conduits for aid, and organizers of solidarity meetings and demonstrations. These committees are sometimes organized as part of a broader 'Nicaragua-El Salvador Solidarity Committee,' or 'Guatemala-El Salvador Committees,' or sometimes simply as 'El Salvador Solidarity Committees,"' he concluded.
The presentation to the Intelligence Committee contained an indication of how central the concept of "active measures" had become in the Reagan Administration. To respond to the "active measures " threat, the government convened a permanent inter-agency task force on countering "active measures" initiatives. The group, which is chaired by the State Department and includes representatives of the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Council and the Defense Department, was still active as of the spring of 1990.
The emergence of an inter-agency effort to counter "Soviet active measures" raises the key question of operational links between the FBI and CIA. It is one of the first indications that the FBI's assault on domestic political groups was part of a larger inter-agency effort that involved numerous other elements of the federal intelligence community. And it explains why the FBI felt justified in employing the same investigative techniques against political dissenters that they used against suspected terrorists.
An Early Target: The Nuclear Freeze Movement
While a range of groups which mobilized around Central America issues became the targets of the most extensive terrorism investigations conducted under the "active measures" designation, it was the overnight mushrooming of the Nuclear Freeze movement that first prompted the Administration's most public denunciation of a political movement as an "active measures" threat. In October 1982, President Reagan himself voiced concern that the Freeze movement was being manipulated by Soviet forces. The rapid growth of the movement-and the sensitivity of the issue of arms control-magnified the Administration's concern about a hidden Soviet hand manipulating the groundswell of opposition to U. S. arms control policies.
By mid-1982, the list of groups and communities endorsing the Nuclear Freeze was formidable. It included 17 state legislatures, 276 city councils, 450 town meetings and 56 county councils. Nearly three million citizens signed Freeze petitions. And, in addition to a large number of mainstream religious groups, including 140 Roman Catholic bishops, labor and civic organizations, the Freeze's supporters included the former Director of the CIA William Colby, former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and Gen. James Gavin. Nevertheless, the Freeze movement-which was one of the largest and fastest spreading grassroots movement of the 1980s-acted as a lightning rod for the most conservative elements in the government.
Just a few days before Reagan's remarks, for instance, Senator Jeremiah Denton, head of the Security and Terrorism Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, charged that the wife of Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Wyo.) chaired a group called Peace Links which was subversive in nature and which "lends itself to exploitation by the Soviet Union." Denton charged that at least four groups represented on the Peace Links board "are either Soviet-controlled or openly sympathetic with, and advocates for, communist foreign policy objectives." To support his allegations, Denton put into the record nearly 50 pages of right-wing extremist literature which purported to show direct links between the Soviet KGB and the Nuclear Freeze movement. Similar material, virtually all of it lacking any credible substantiation, flooded out from Readers Digest, Human Events magazine, the National Review and other politically conservative organs. One such group charged that at least 13 Freeze sponsors-from SANE, to the American Friends Service Committee to Friends of the Earth and Physicians for Social Responsibility-"have all been identified as communist front organizations." The source of that information was a group called the Young Americas Foundation-whose material on CISPES would subsequently turn up in the files of the FBI."
That climate of red-baiting, provoked by the sudden mass popularity of the Freeze movement, provided an encouraging environment for the FBI. The Freeze movement peaked in 1982 when ABC-TV broadcast a terrifyingly realistic fictional account of the outbreak of a nuclear war between the two superpowers. The week the film was to be aired, a group of the nation's most prominent scientists took out a full page ad in the New York Times urging the public to support the Freeze movement. The ad bore an address with a post office box for members of the public to send donations and letters of support. At the direction of headquarters, FBI agents put a mail cover on the post office box and entered the names of everyone who responded to the ad in the Bureau's terrorism files.'
A Private Use of Active Measures
The zeal with which the "active measures" theme was picked up by private right-wing activists was reflected the following spring in a speech by John Rees to the Conservative Caucus.
In his presentation, Rees first made the audience aware of his very close relationship to the Bureau's counter-intelligence division. "The title of the talk I prepared for this morning was Soviet Activities in the U. S.... In the case of classical espionage, which the FBI is supposed to monitor, I noted that one of the KGB spies deported from France this week has the same name as the third counselor at the Soviet Embassy on 16th street [in Washington]. When I called the FBI to see if there was a relationship- whether they were brothers or came from the same family-experts in counterespionage at the FBI had not yet made that connection..."
Rees then laid out the nature of "active measures." Getting down to specific cases, he cited the campaign in Congress against the Administration's policies in El Salvador. "When the [human rights] certification program of the President is put into effect in Congress, first of all, and absolutely by coincidence and with no coordination, the terrorists in El Salvador step up their campaign-and take measures like blowing up generating stations, etcetera, that achieve national publicity in the United States thanks to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. This is all designed to show that the legitimate needs of the Salvadoran people are better met by the communist terrorists than by anyone else."
"Then various congressmen-usually in the case of El Salvador led by Tom Harkin and Ed Markey-will unleash a series of lies based on forgeries provided to them by the Cuban DGI [the Cuban intelligence service]. These will then become issues and there will be street protests, attempts to blockade the State Department... The overall effect is to discredit whatever intelligent policies we try to develop in Central America. And at no time do you see this program being initiated unless you see as an initiator a member or former member of CPUSA [U.S. Communist Party] or one of the front groups, like the National Lawyers Guild, that is organizing, funding and taking care of logistical activities. That is a prime indicator that it is an 'active measures' campaign."
For Rees-as for the FBI and for Bill Casey-the involvement of a left-wing group in a protest against Administration policies provides sufficient proof that the protest is a Soviet-manipulated effort designed to injure or embarrass the United States government.
An Album of Terrorists, An Underground of Spies
... The idea was to compile a book of entries on known and suspected terrorists-or people who were providing support to known terrorists- that would provide basic identification data, photographs and a summary of the Bureau's investigative interest in the individual.
Fingering Congressional Terrorists
In one segment of the album, the FBI managed to squeeze the names of seven terrorist "supporters" into one entry-that of Rep. Patricia Schroeder who for a short time considered mounting a run for the presidency in the 1988 election. According to the FBI album: "She is openly working on behalf of the Sandinista Government in the U.S. through the Nicaraguan Network (NNSNP) and CISPES. Schroeder is actively raising money for the Sandinistas. Schroeder is involved in operation HAND (Humanitarian Aid for Nicaraguan Democracy). She has ties with other pro-Sandinista members of Congress: Tip O'Neill, Christopher Dodd, Michael Barnes, Ed Boland, Edward Kennedy, Ron Dellums. WARNING. She could be the target of right wing groups. Strong resentment in right wing circles in the U.S. and El Salvador against her. Advise if she travels abroad."
... the entry on Schroeder and the other members of Congress were not included in the final edition of the album which was subsequently retained in FBI Headquarters.
The Miami Network
At the time Varelli was compiling Terrorist Photo Album entries for the FBI, he was also facilitating the Bureau's exchange of information with a group of private operatives established by a handful of Salvadoran expatriate businessmen in Miami. The initiative, about which Varelli had been briefed during his visit to the home of Professor Peccorini in San Salvador in 1981, involved the establishment of a propaganda and intelligence-gathering operation in the United States. It followed the formation, in the late 1970s, of several new death squads in El Salvador.
The squads in El Salvador presented themselves initially as neighborhood defense patrol groups whose mission was to protect the population from attacks by rebel guerrillas. They were composed of from 15 to 20 people, including off-duty military and police personnel working in conjunction with private anti-communist activists. Many of the private death squad patrons provided equipment or logistical support-trucks, jeeps, nightscopes, for example-as well as physical support. One squad might include four military officers plus bodyguards and another ten to twelve civilians. They worked in small groups of five to ten people, intimidating, threatening or assassinating people they saw as a threat to the stability of the country.
Frustrated by the reluctance of the junta to turn the country's full military power against the guerrillas, the death squads soon escalated their activities from community defense to a full-blown battle against known and suspected leftists. In the couple of years after the 1979 installation of the junta, the death squads were, by many accounts, fairly tightly focused on known political enemies and their supporters. But as time passed, the squads began to widen their sights, attacking households and villages throughout the country and killing not only confirmed political and paramilitary operatives but their relatives, neighbors and children-as well as personal enemies of death squad members.
The most highly visible Salvadoran identified with the death squads has been Roberto D'Aubuisson-an official in El Salvador's executive security force, Ansesal, until it was disbanded in 1979. D'Aubuisson also coordinated the operations of Orden-a vigilante organization of rural farmers designed to promote Salvadoran-style democracy and to set up system of surveillance to monitor the activities of the Salvadoran left. In late 1980, both Ansesal and Orden were disbanded, casualties of the newly-installed junta's attempts to bring the most virulent of the nation's security forces under the control of the government. The shift, however, served to stimulate the growth of a more privatized network of death squads, many of which were said to be under the direction of D'Aubuisson and Col. Nicolas Carranza, head of the Treasury Police.
The public-private death squads saw their mission as protecting the country from the communist guerrillas as well as El Salvador's more moderate leftist elements, including the Christian Democrat Party. Between 1979 and 1982, for instance, right-wing death squads are said to have assassinated more than 260 members of that party, including 35 mayors.
It was around the end of 1981 that the private Salvadoran intelligence-gathering apparatus was established in the United States. Based in Miami and operating through a network of Salvadoran activists-including a number of former National Guard and death squad members- the operation utilized a Wang computer in Houston to store and collate information gathered in cities where CISPES was active and where there was a significant Salvadoran population.
To their Miami-based Salvadoran organizers, the new North American operation seemed the most natural way to combat what they viewed as the move of the Salvadoran communists to bring the war in El Salvador into the United States under cover of CISPES and other sympathetic organizations.
When former members of the Salvadoran military or security forces turned up in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Miami or Washington, D.C., they would be put in touch with the organizers in Miami who would welcome them into the network.
As the bands of Salvadoran activists grew to between 50 and 100 people in those southern and western cities which harbored large Salvadoran populations, they began to gather as much information as they could on CISPES and other groups sympathetic to the Salvadoran rebels. Working in small cell-like groups of three or four members of the secret network would spy on liberal groups, monitor rallies, speeches and other political events and, according to some reports, terrorize members of CISPES in an effort to stop their propagandizing on behalf of the FMLN rebels.
The operation funneled material to the FBI-at first to the Dallas office, but, according to Varelli, the Miami-based Salvadorans subsequently dealt directly with the FBI's Miami office. The operation was so extensive and so successful, that Varelli was amazed to learn, when he traveled to Miami in 1985, that the Salvadorans knew as much, if not more, about domestic Central America groups as did the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Decoy or the Duck
Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner, Chip Berlet and Dr. Ann Mari Buitrago saw it coming from the beginning. The only problem was that for the longest time they couldn't tell which direction it was coming from.
The Ratners worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a public interest group of liberal and left-wing lawyers based in lower Manhattan. For them, as well as for Berlet, a political researcher who had been involved in cases involving the FBI and the Chicago Red Squad, and Buitrago, one of the country's foremost experts in the use of the Freedom of Information Act, the election of Ronald Reagan began to raise alarms as early as the winter of 1980. They were concerned not only about the candidate's rhetoric but about the composition of his transition team and the Heritage Foundation recommendations for strengthening the nation's domestic intelligence apparatus.
In general, however, those early signs were dismissed, if not ignored, as left-wing paranoia. The leadership of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, declared that civil liberties and government surveillance would not be significant issues in the 1980s. Instead, it argued, the emphasis of the Reagan Administration would be almost exclusively economic-and the battles of the coming years would involve issues of economic justice and the rights of the poor rather than issues of free speech and civil liberties. In fact, Morton Halperin, of the ACLU, accused attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights of raising a specter of alarmism without giving the administration an opportunity to prove that it was not bent on subverting the intelligence and law enforcement communities to do its political bidding.
But while the Ratners, Berlet and Buitrago were concerned about what they saw as the coming crackdown on political freedom, it was not the FBI that first caught their attention, but a new Senate committee-the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism (SST - which was created by the incoming Republican majority in Congress to focus public attention on the threat of international terrorism and the peril of domestic subversion.
Created as a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the SST was staffed by Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and John East of North Carolina, and headed by Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton, a member of the Moral Majority who spent seven years as a prisoner of war in a Vietnamese prison camp. Along with Senator Jesse Helms, East, Hatch and Denton believed that the greatest threat to the United States was the danger of "creeping communism." And, to that end, the committee set j out to expose the danger of internal subversion.
The Terrorism Cover
In his opening address at the first meeting of the subcommittee in 1981, Denton declared: "The subcommittee plans to investigate certain organizations which, within the United States, engage in, or have engaged in acts of terrorism, including bombings, acts of sabotage, aircraft hijacking, armed assaults and homicides."'
But the political implications of Denton's proclamation came clear in short order when staffers in Hatch's office leaked the fact that the SST planned to investigate, among others, three left-liberal institutions that had never been associated with terrorism or violence of any sort. According to those early leaks, the SST would take on the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a left-liberal think tank in Washington which provided substantial input to Congressional deliberations on a range of domestic and foreign policies; the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), a left-wing research institute in New York which conducted a number of studies critical of U.S. economic and diplomatic policies in Latin America; and Mother Jones, a left-liberal magazine which featured investigative reports on corporate excesses, environmental abuse and social injustices.
In the spring of 1981, concerned by the emergence of SST, Margaret Ratner drafted a letter of opposition to the subcommittee which read:
"In the 1950s, the country was convulsed by a series of political acts which made a mockery of the concept of democracy. Hundreds and thousands of people saw their lives and livelihoods destroyed as the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee engaged in their nightmarish witchhunts for dissidents...These committees were determined to ruin all who opposed their interpretation of 'Americanism'. .. History has since repudiated that tragic period...[Today, however] we are alarmed by the establishment of the new Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism. This new subcommittee has wrapped itself in a thoroughly vague mandate: it will investigate 'terrorist activities' and matters relating to 'national security.' Yet, who is to define those terms? Is opposition to the committee itself a 'threat to national security? 'Will those who maintain their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly be deprived of their human rights as they were at other times in this nation's history? Committee member John East has remarked that 'the biggest threat to civil liberties today is terrorism.' But we assert that the committee, itself, poses the biggest threat to our civil liberties."
Noting that such committees have traditionally operated more by holding public hearings and generating publicity for their causes than through actual legislative initiatives, Ratner accused the Administration of planning to use the SST to "rally support for the concept of a terrorist threat and to act as a propaganda machine to generate fear." The public success of the committee would subsequently be used, she wrote: "to allow us to support regimes such as the one in El Salvador; to grant the FBI and the CIA the extra support required if they are to carry out more illegal and repressive operations... to control dissent...and, finally, to curtail civil liberties."
At the same time that the attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights were warning activists about the new Denton committee, Berlet, who had worked with the National Lawyers Guild and who had written extensively on the FBI abuses of the 1960s, was becoming increasingly concerned at what he saw as a new climate of red-baiting not only of political groups but also of left-wing and liberal journalists.
In an article in Alternative Media, Berlet noted that the SST and other elements close to the Reagan White House were taking aim at such outlets as Pacifica Radio, CovertAction Information Bulletin and Mother Jones. "Charges that the media is part of the Soviet plan for world conquest have escaped the confines of conservative living rooms and are now ringing in the halls of Congress...Publications on the Right are calling for investigations into how alternative media groups are part of a KGB disinformation campaign," Berlet wrote, noting that the Heritage report identified even mainstream journalists "who may engage in subversive activities without being fully aware of the extent, purposes or control of their activities."
No More Witch Hunts
In June 1981, Berlet, the Ratners and other activists organized simultaneous conferences around the theme of "No More Witch Hunts" in 19 cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and Washington. In New York "No More Witch Hunts" took the form of a street fair on West 8th Street, in which participants were exposed to a frightening array of surveillance technology-high-tech bugging devices, infra-red night-vision telescopes, and wigs, fake mustaches and make-up kits used by undercover infiltrators.
In Chicago, the conference attracted more than 1,000 people and featured an address by Mayor Harold Washington. The event was endorsed by nearly 90 organizations-including the Illinois branch of the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, the Gray Panthers, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Chicago, the Mobilization for Survival, the United Auto Workers and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Whether by coincidence or design, the names of the majority of those sponsoring organizations were discovered, seven years later, to have been entered into the FBI's terrorism files in the course of the Bureau's investigation of CISPES and the octopus-like spread of the Bureau's probe into a vast array of domestic groups dedicated to reducing the risks of nuclear war, to protecting the environment, to advocating for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, and to criticizing the policies of the Reagan Administration in Latin and Central America.
Privatized Intelligence Salvadoran Style
A super-secret, paramilitary group, the Tecos, who date their organization from 1910, were revived after World War II by a Mexican Nazi who spent the war in Germany and an Argentine Jesuit priest who was an admirer of Hitler. By the early 1970s, the Tecos, supported by a network of anti-communist activists throughout Central and Latin America, formed the Mexican Anti-Communist Federation, with links to death squads in Guatemala, Argentina and Paraguay. In 1972, the Tecos spearheaded the formation of the Latin American Anti-Communist Federation, the Latin American chapter of the World Anti-Communist League. The group was heavily involved in the formulation of the "Banzer Plan" in 1976. The "Banzer Plan," aimed at identifying and destroying networks of left-wing clergy who were promulgating 'Liberation Theology' in Latin America, called for a shared database, involving the security forces of ten Central and Latin American countries, to "maintain up-to-date information about the ideological orientation of the main religious institutions, as well as to elaborate a file containing the names of priests and nuns along with their personal background, to be annually revised." Within two years after the operation of the database, at least twenty-eight bishops, priests and lay workers were killed in Latin America, allegedly by right-wing death squads destroying networks of left-wing clergy who were promulgating 'Liberation Theology' in Latin America, called for a shared database, involving the security forces of ten Central and Latin American countries, to "maintain up-to-date information about the ideological orientation of the main religious institutions, as well as to elaborate a file containing the names of priests and nuns along with their personal background, to be annually revised." Within two years after the operation of the database, at least twenty-eight bishops, priests and lay workers were killed in Latin America, allegedly by right-wing death squads.
It was shortly thereafter that Berlet began to organize a series of public conferences on the threat of FBI and governmental harassment.
Asked why he and other movement people did not suspect the FBI earlier than 1984, Berlet explained: "Because you are so acutely aware of the propensity to become paranoid, you bend over backwards to be skeptical and un-paranoid." Berlet, who initially set out to work as a higher education policy analyst, explained he was attracted to movement work because "I get passionately upset when I see that the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not enforced. It's just not a fair fight. For doing this, I have seen countless people hurt, jailed, even killed. What you're up against when you take on the FBI, the CIA, the undercover informants who feed the governmental apparatus, is a self-selected group of people who have a messianic vision of themselves. It keeps rising up over and over again. Trying to protect civil liberties is like Sisyphus. It is an unceasing battle. All governments want more power. It makes them more efficient. But democracy, on the other hand, implies inefficiency. So there's always the need to fight back. The battle over domestic civil liberties will never be won. It just has to keep being fought."
For Dr. Ann Mari Buitrago, a longtime movement activist and one of the country's pre-eminent experts in understanding and deciphering FBI files, the secret of the CISPES investigation was foreshadowed by the Reagan Administration's efforts to gut the Freedom of Information Act. As a graduate student, Buitrago had gotten involved with progressive causes during the Rosenberg trials. In the late 1970s, when the FBI released thousands of pages of Rosenberg files on the case, Buitrago found herself fascinated by the challenge of trying to piece those files into a whole picture. That fascination led her to establish, in 1979, an organization called FOLA, Inc., which was devoted to helping scholars, historians, researchers and plain citizens use the Freedom of Information Act.
"In early Reagan years, the Freedom of Information Act came under sustained attack by the Justice Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and all sorts of executive agencies. As the attacks on the Freedom of Information law mounted, we worked with Congressional committees to keep the law alive. That was our main battle during the early period. That's where FOLA, Inc. was most active."
Buitrago, who in 1988 and 1989 would quarterback the effort to secure release of field office documents and work with Central America groups in various cities to decipher what she could of the FBI's operations against those groups, has long seen the Freedom of Information Act as a barometer of the overall activities of an administration.
"The Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful tell-tale. If you see an administration that sets out to attack it, gut it, get rid of that act, that means it is intending to do something it thinks the public will not approve of. It is setting out with something to hide, and repression will follow. You don't have to know what precisely they're up to. If you just watch what they do to freedom of information, you can figure out where to start looking.
The CIA At Home, the FBI Abroad
Around the same time that the FBI dramatically intensified its ~ crackdown on Central America groups, a separate cluster of government l agencies was establishing a clandestine operation aimed at secretly pumping the Administration's own brand of propaganda into the consciousness of the American electorate through a covert campaign aimed at securing newspaper space and television and radio time for advocates of Reagan policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The architect of this second line of information control was none other than William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Toward the end of 1982, Casey made it clear that the Administration was not doing what it should to win the battle of public opinion and convince the mass of voters to support the Reagan Administration's military intervention in El Salvador and, more importantly, its increasing isolation of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and its concurrent mobilization of the contras.
As a result, Casey established an operation designed to control the flow of information on which the voting public would base its attitudes toward Central America policies. The second front of the assault on the U.S. public involved pumping pro-Administration propaganda into the public consciousness via the press, the television networks, and the nation's libraries, to win the "hearts and minds" of the voters for a set of policies which had hitherto been rejected by a substantial portion of voters and their representatives in Congress.'
Although the Administration's viewpoint-including much of the real and fabricated intelligence that it used to justify its Central America policies-was made public through a network of conservative publications as well as through a regular program of White House briefings for conservative supporters, Casey feared that the Administration was basically "preaching to the converted." What was needed, he felt, was a new and separate apparatus which would better explain the rationale for U.S. activities in Central America to the public. To accomplish the mission, Casey tapped Walter Raymond, Jr., a long-time propaganda specialist with the CIA. But there was one problem. The CIA is forbidden by law from conducting operations inside the United States. For Casey or his employees at the Agency to run a covert domestic propaganda campaign would be to invite the harshest kind of Congressional retribution should the operation ever be discovered. The problem was difficult-but not insurmountable.
An Explosion of Names
At 10:59 on the night of November 7, 1983, a tiny wristwatch timer hidden in a crevice of a second-floor window of the United States Senate ticked off the last 60 seconds of its functional life.
A minute later, a clap of thunder echoed out across Capitol Hill. The explosion splintered the doors to the Senate Chamber, some 30 feet away. A hole fifteen feet high and several feet wide appeared in the wall of the ornate, ceremonial Mansfield Room. Debris and plaster dust filled the nearby Republican cloakroom. A rare 1815 Grandfather clock lay in pieces. Portraits of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun were reduced to strips of torn canvas.
The bombing of the Capitol-climaxing, as it did, a chain of similar, unsolved attacks over the previous year and a half-provided the Bureau with an extraordinary opportunity.
On one level, a break in the bombings would go far to restoring the FBI's image as an effective and dependable guardian of the nation's domestic security.
More significantly, the bombing of the Capitol sounded a starter's gun for the FBI to dramatically expand and intensify its next round of intelligence gathering activities on virtually every liberal and left-wing political group in the country.
While the FBI's public information office had portrayed the bombings as relatively insignificant events perpetrated by small, isolated groups of radicals, the more zealous agents in the counter-terrorism unit believed that assessment was designed to serve the political needs of FBI director William Webster. Webster had declared three years earlier that the FBI had "broken the backs," of such revolutionary groups as the Weather Underground and the Puerto Rican FALN. But to many agents in the foreign counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism units, Webster was seen as the ultimate bureaucrat, the kind of man who would go along to get along. In Ronald Reagan's America, it was not good form to indicate that there was substantial discontent within American society. An admission of a domestic terrorist threat would focus attention on discontent.
But agents like Davenport and Flanagan knew that there was discontent. The evidence lay in the dramatic growth and spread of groups like CISPES which were bitterly critical of U.S. foreign policy. And they knew that the best way to neutralize those groups and silence their expressions of discontent would be to connect them to the string of bombings that had been reported in the press as relatively insignificant events committed by a small splinter group of isolated revolutionaries. Any concrete link between the bombers and the network of highly visible Central America political groups would completely vindicate all the FBI's investigations of groups opposed to Reagan Administration policies in Central America. Such a connection would prove that groups like CISPES, the Inter-Religious Task Force, the Nicaraguan Network and the Central America Solidarity Association were all part of a larger terror network, with links to international terrorists.
Such a break could lead at least to a federal conspiracy indictment, with all its attendant publicity. Even more important in the minds of the more zealous agents, it would, once and for all, generate the public revulsion needed to put a stop to the propaganda and disinformation these "active measures" organizations were using to pollute the public discussion of U.S. policies in Central America.
But it was obvious that any investigation aimed at linking highly visible political groups to an international terrorist network would involve extensive domestic intelligence gathering. And that was something with which Webster did not want to be associated. With his blessing, Oliver Revell, at the time the head of the FBI's criminal investigative division, took on the job of overseeing the Bureau's counter-terrorism apparatus. It was a way for Webster to be assured the job was being handled-but without any of his fingerprints, lest the campaign of domestic surveillance be discovered down the line. It was the kind of plausible deniability that enabled Revell to tell a Senate committee in 1988 that Webster did not authorize the CISPES investigation, nor was he informed about developments in the probe-although it lasted at least five years and involved every FBI field office in the United States.
Operating ostensibly behind the back of Director Webster, the FBI stepped up its intelligence gathering activities to a feverish pitch following the bombing of the Capitol. "The Bureau used the bombing as a pretext to gather every possible bit of intelligence on every group they had identified. It was an opportunity to rebuild and reconstruct legally the FBI files on domestic activists that had been ordered deactivated by the Church Committee," Varelli recalled later. "The Bureau exploited the bombing like hell. It triggered a nationwide intelligence gathering mobilization. It was used to the maximum."
Officially the FBI indicated it was most concerned about the emergence of a secret, armed terrorist group which included members from various organizations but which was traceable through none. The fear the FBI expressed in classified briefings to overseers in Congress was that CISPES and a host of other groups, many reincarnations of groups born in the 1960s, were all part of a terrorist infrastructure which drew support and direction from the Cuban intelligence agency as well as the KGB and the International Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party.
If members of that hidden network could bomb the Capitol with impunity, what did that mean for the upcoming Republican National Convention in Dallas or the summer Olympics in Los Angeles? The FBI asserted that the spate of bombings could be the signal for a full-blown terrorist offensive in the United States. Whatever damage the bombings might inflict on innocent individuals and private property, moreover, would be dwarfed by the psychological victory of demonstrating to the world the weakness and vulnerability of the nation's law enforcement agencies.
Privately, however, FBI's intelligence contained precious little information to suggest that a coordinated network was actually planning a nationwide campaign of armed violence. And even if such a network of the most hard core groups-those with histories of violent activities -had such plans, it had virtually no public support. The country was in no imminent danger of a mass uprising led by an advance guard of the revolution.
More to the point was the fact that FBI officials had determined the identities of the suspected bombers even before the next round of political intelligence-gathering, under the cover of a terrorism investigation, was underway.
Within days of the bombing, Headquarters officials advised the various field offices that the bombing was the work of a splinter group that the FBI suspected was connected to the small May 19th Communist Organization. The near-instant identification of the suspects came from evidence which had been gathered from the string of bombings over the previous year in New York, where bombs had damaged the Bankers Trust Building, the offices of IBM, the South African airline office. and police and court buildings in New York City-and in Washington, where bombs had exploded at Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard.
In the case of virtually every bombing, callers claiming responsibility indicated that they acted on behalf of either the Puerto Rican FALN, the PLO, the Salvadoran FMLN or two hitherto unknown groups, the Armed Resistance Unit or the United Freedom Front. But from forensic evidence and discoveries of explosives and plans, the FBI learned that the bombers were part of the Armed Resistance Unit, a tiny offshoot of the May 19th Communist Organization-with no known connections to the FMLN or any of the domestic Central America groups.
Nevertheless, despite the Bureau's almost immediate identification of the bombing suspects, the FBI used the occasion for a massive intensification of the probe of hundreds of left-wing and liberal groups.
Heart of Terror Network
... Agents from different units presented reports on the status of various groups and activists they had been monitoring.
A number of the groups were known to have had close contact- and, in some cases, virtual sponsorship-by various liberals in Congress The discussion led into a reading by Davenport and others from the FBI's files on those legislators.
Varelli had known the Administration considered the legislators threats to the security of the country. In fact, he learned from his Salvadoran contacts that Otto Reich, the head of the State Department's Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy, had put out the word through COPREFA, the public information arm of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, that the dozen or so legislators were either confirmed communists or, at least, active supporters of the communist cause. During the morning session, one agent referred to the Congressional liberals as Lenin's "useful idiots" who provided platforms for propaganda and disinformation to forces hostile to the United States. Other agents spoke mockingly of their politics. During the meeting, Davenport read from file information on the legislators, including transcripts of wiretapped telephone conversations.
Ostensibly the legislators were subject to FBI investigation because of their contacts with representatives of foreign governments. That was the hook in the FBI's guidelines that permitted the Bureau to investigate them. But Varelli knew the real reason lay in their sympathy with groups or movements that were clearly "communist-inspired." In fact, the FBI had been monitoring the legislators less to find out what kind of information they were passing to Salvadoran communists and members of the Nicaraguan Sandinista government than to determine how and to what extent they were being used as "agents of influence" by those enemies of the United States.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, (D-Conn.), for instance, was suspected by the Bureau of having clandestine ties to some Sandinista leaders. The FBI knew that Bianca Jagger, a journalist and the former wife of the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, had close ties to the Sandinistas. Dodd dated Bianca Jagger, although the FBI believed that was a cover to conceal his true political agenda which was to promote the Sandinista cause. Material in FBI files indicated that a number of Dodd-Jagger meetings were actually working sessions to arrange plans for demonstrations or for Dodd's promotion of the Sandinista regime on the floor of the Senate, according to Varelli. At the very least, the Bureau concluded, Dodd had made himself a willing target for cultivation by the Nicaraguans as an agent of influence in a textbook "active measures" operation.
Rep. Michael Barnes was generally despised in the Bureau as a vigorous and outspoken opponent of Administration policies in Central America. Moreover, Barnes, along with Conyers, Dodd, Dellums and Solarz, sponsored a number of rallies against the Reagan Administration which were orchestrated by groups strongly suspected by the FBI of being part of the terror network.
Rep. Ron Dellums was suspect because of ties between his staff members and the late Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop. Don Edwards, the California Democrat who had oversight over the FBI through his chairmanship of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, had recently met several years ago with a visiting Soviet delegation to a World Peace Council conference.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, another outspoken opponent of Reagan foreign policies, came under FBI suspicion because of his refusal (along with one other legislator) to condemn the Soviet shootdown of Korean Air Lines flight 007. In addition, Conyers was known to have made overtures to Yasser Arafat, reviled by the Administration as one of the world's foremost practitioners of terrorism. Several months earlier, Conyers wrote to an organizer of the United Nations Conference on the Question of Palestine. In the letter, he conveyed special greetings to the PLO's delegate to the UN, as well as to Arafat, adding: "I urge you to continue your struggle on behalf of peace and to remember there are those of us within the U.S. who represent a broad coalition which supports you. We represent another America, a rainbow coalition dedicated to changing the direction of our country."
The agents read file reports on about a dozen legislators altogether, including Senator Thomas Harkin and Representatives Conyers, George Crockett, Mervin Dymally, Mickey Leland, George Miller, Stephen Solarz, Gerry Studds and Ted Weiss-all of whom had known contacts with people high up in one or more leftist political groups and all of whom had opposed Reagan Administration policies in Central America.
"It was an absolute rule that every single name in the newspaper, everyone quoted as saying things against the Administration or in favor of CISPES or the FDR-FMLN, went into the computers, into the terrorism files. There were no exceptions," he noted.
Passing the Torch: From the FBI to the NSC
At the time the 25-member Western Goals advisory board included a number of figures who would subsequently become known for their activities in what has come to be characterized as Oliver North's private network. Chief among them was John Singlaub, the Administration's point man in raising money for weapons for the contras from private sources. Singlaub's connections went to the center of the clandestine "private network. " He served under CIA director Bill Casey during World War II when Casey was stationed in London for the OSS. Singlaub, moreover, boasted publicly that Casey's office door was always open to him. Following the disclosure of the Iran-Contra scandal, Singlaub acknowledged to Congressional investigators in the summer of 1987 that, through his position with the World Anti-Communist League, he had worked to support anti-communist resistance fighters in five countries in addition to Nicaragua. A former president of the League, Singlaub was closely allied with the Rev. Moon organization, the Korean CIA and elements of South Africa's security forces, as well as with reputed Guatemalan and Salvadoran death squad leaders, including Roberto D'Aubuisson.
In 1985, Singlaub proposed to Casey a plan to get Soviet-made weapons to anti-communist rebels in Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Ethiopia through an "off-the-shelf' operation which bypassed both Congress and the State Department. And while the proposal was apparently never implemented, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), a member of the Iran-Contra committee, called the plan "as serious a concern as anything I have seen that has come before us in these hearings."
Some of the material which was gathered on liberal and left-wing groups by Rees, Singlaub and others-and which was disseminated to conservative activists and law enforcement agencies-consists of disinformation, character assassination and scurrilous accusations. In a 1985 issue of Information Digest, for example, Rees focused on the movement of some 200 churches and synagogues to provide sanctuary for Central American refugees: "The 'Sanctuary movement' is an outgrowth of long-standing organizing...by radicals who want to [open] the borders to "the totalitarian left." The article added that a lawyers' group sympathetic to the Sanctuary movement has filed lawsuits "of direct benefit to...the Sandinistas, Cuba and the Soviet Union," as well as a "Communist Party front." The article includes the names, addresses and phone numbers of 21 Sanctuary leaders and organizations around the country. Several of those individuals suffered break-ins and other forms of terrorizing harassments.
Westem Goals fell into disarray at the end of 1983, with the death of Larry McDonald. The organization was subsequently taken over by Carl Channel and used as a financial conduit to launder secret payments to the Nicaraguan contras. By that time, Rees had left the organization following a dispute with its executive director Linda Guell.
But Western Goals was only one of several organizations that directed considerable energy, manpower and financial resources to "neutralizing" liberal political and religious Central America groups with a flood of disinformation, red-baiting and character assassination. Early in 1984, a number of private right-wing groups stepped up their own attacks on groups opposed to Reagan Administration policies in Central America.
For instance, reports accusing CISPES of supporting terrorists by both the Young Americas Foundation, a right-wing group with two White House advisers on the board, and by J. Michael Waller, of the ultra-conservative Council for Inter-American Security, were circulated among FBI field offices and retained in the FBI files."
The YAF report cited the fact that CISPES had helped raise money for a shoe factory in El Salvador as evidence it was supporting the armed guerrillas, since combat boots, which could have been produced at the factory, are, according to the report, a form of military assistance.
The Waller reports, moreover, were financed by the ubiquitous State Department Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy-the office set up by Casey to orchestrate domestic propaganda.
Other FBI documents indicate that members of CARP, the campus arm of the Moon's organization, spied on meetings of left and liberal Central America groups and passed their reports to the FBI. Frank Varelli, moreover, has said that the Moonies were on the payroll of the FBI in Dallas. Their purpose was both to spy on the Central America groups and to create disruptions whenever CISPES or other groups held rallies, marches or other. Even Varelli said his knowledge of Flanagan's payments to the Moonies was reinforced in 1984 following revelations that Flanagan had withheld money from Varelli, as well as other sources. At that point, Special Agent Jim Evans, in the FBI Dallas office, went to the Moon organization to verify Flanagan's payment vouchers, Varelli recalled.
... late in 1984-marked the beginning of a terrorizing and infuriating string of break-ins, death threats, ransacking of offices, thefts of files, torching of homes and abductions of activists that marked the second and most covert phase of the assault during the administration of Ronald Reagan on groups of citizens who found the President's Central America policies repugnant to their own conception of the role of the United States as a vanguard of democracy.
The FBI and Oliver North's "Private Network"
Around the same time that the Office of Public Diplomacy was geared-up for its CIA-inspired covert disinformation and propaganda campaign, Lt. Col. Oliver North was working with officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency-an obscure agency which had traditionally overseen relief planning for disasters-to draw up a secret contingency plan to surveil political dissenters and to arrange for the detention of hundreds of thousands of undocumented aliens in case of an unspecified national emergency. The plan, part of which was code-named Rex 84, called for the suspension of the Constitution under a number of scenarios, including a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua.
The strongest objection to the plan within the administration came from William French Smith, at the time President Reagan's Attorney General. In a strongly worded letter to National Security Adviser Robert MacFarlane in August 1984, Smith wrote: "I believe the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the revised Executive Order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness." According to Miami Herald reporter Alfonso Chardy, Smith's letter added: "The [Justice] Department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an 'emergency czar' role for FEMA."
The plan, which was modeled after a plan that Reagan and Edwin Meese had developed in California to deal with black activists, anti-war protesters and members of the student Free Speech Movement, involved the cooperation of a number of agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service which took steps to establish a network of detention centers capable of holding thousands of undocumented aliens.
The number of U.S. activists targeted by the preliminary plans for Rex 84 was never disclosed. But in addition to groups opposing United States policies in Central America, the FEMA plan reportedly included environmental activists, opponents of nuclear energy and refugee assistance activists. In addition, the plan reportedly called for the establishment of 50 State Defense Forces, to be composed of members of local law enforcement and military reserve agencies, who would implement the plan at a local level.
The fate of Rex 84 has never been definitively explained. Nor has the plan's development been thoroughly explored. During the Iran-Contra hearings in the summer of 1987, Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) attempted to raise the issue during an open session of the committee during the appearance of Oliver North.
Brooks: "Col. North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned, at one time, to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster?"
Sen. Daniel Inouye (Co-chair): "I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area so may I request that you not touch upon that."
Brooks: "I was particularly concerned, Mr. Chairman, because I read in the Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan developed, by that same agency, a contingency plan in the event of an emergency that would suspend the American Constitution. And I was deeply concerned about it and wondered if that was the area in which [North] had worked. I believe that it was, and I wanted to get his confirmation."
Inouye: "May I most respectfully request that that matter not be touched upon at this stage. If we wish to get into this, I'm certain arrangements can be made for an executive session."
That was the beginning and the end of any Congressional discussion of the plan. Apparently, there was no follow-up executive session in which committee members tried to learn just how extensive and well-developed was this plan to surveil and imprison large numbers of citizens and refugees who might object to the United States invading Nicaragua or becoming embroiled in armed hostilities in other parts of the world. But, as researcher Diana Reynolds and others have noted, "It ) is clear that the FEMA contingency plans to round up political dissenters was related to the FBI's investigation of political dissidents."
A Private Eye of the Private Network
In the summer of 1984, North was reassigned from domestic crisis planning to managing the covert and largely privatized effort to support the Nicaraguan contras. But while his new role emphasized the coordination of the Nicaragua initiative, it is clear that North still kept his eye on domestic developments. His relationship with Philip Mabry, a private investigator in Fort Worth, Texas, is a case in point.
In late 1983, Mabry, a former CIA contract agent who works as a security consultant in the Fort Worth area, wrote to Edwin Meese that he wanted to help the cause of the "freedom fighters" in Nicaragua. Meese responded with a letter advising Mabry that his name had been given to the "appropriate people.", Shortly thereafter, Mabry said, Meese's secretary, Dee Kuhn, put him in touch with Wilma Hall, a secretary at the National Security Council who, in turn, put him in contact with North. Her daughter, Fawn, had recently begun a job as North's secretary. At North's encouragement, Mabry set up a small organization called Americans for Human Rights and Social Justice. And while the group, which consisted of the 49-year-old Mabry and his associate, Randy Pearce, a young, entrepreneurial auto mechanic, operated on a shoestring budget, it was quite successful in gaining access to local newspapers and television stations to counter the growing demonstrations against United States policies in Central America.
(Mabry gained inadvertent notoriety during the Tower Commission hearings when the commission unveiled a hand-drawn diagram of a number of interlocking private foundations and conservative organizations involved in the contra support operation. While the commission initially attributed the schematic to North, it was later learned that the diagram was made by Mabry on a memo which later turned up in North's files.)
In a series of interviews, the short, balding, pipe-smoking South Carolina native-whose telephone bills show more than 40 calls to North's NSC office in 1984 and 1985, and whose name pops up frequently in North's diaries-explained that North gave him a list of individuals and organizations opposed to U.S. policies in Central America. "Ollie suggested to me very strongly-I think his exact words were,
'A good way to get these assholes is to let the FBI check them out. This list includes pro-Marxists, communists, traitors.'" Mabry said that North instructed him to write to the FBI, requesting that the Bureau investigate the groups-and asked Mabry to arrange for a number of other conservative activists to send similar letters to the FBI all citing the names of the same liberal and left-wing activists and groups. "Ollie explained that if the Bureau got a bunch of letters from different sources all citing the same people, that would be enough for the FBI to have a legal mandate to investigate those groups," Mabry recounted.
Writing under the letterhead of his organization, Americans for Human Rights and Social Justice, Mabry addressed his letter to William Webster, then FBI director. In the letter, Mabry wrote: "In the interest of justice...and our U.S. National Security, we respectfully request an investigation of the following protest groups and individuals that are in our opinion. . . pro-Marxist and. . . a threat to our national security and vital interest in [Central America.]"
The groups cited in the list included the National Network in Solidarity with the Nicaraguan People, the Nicaragua Exchange Office, the Central America Peace Campaign, the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America. The individuals Mabry cited in the letter include Robert White, former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador; Elaine and Gene Lantz ... and Hollywood personalities Arthur Gorson, Sean Daniel, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Vonetta McGee, Susan Anspach and Susan Sarandon. (Sarandon was active in a group called Madre, which provides literacy, parenting and nutrition assistance to poor women, especially in Central America. The group suffered two mysterious break-ins several years later.) In addition, Mabry listed 10 members of Congress, including former Speaker Jim Wright, who had signed a conciliatory letter that year to Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.
The FBI-NSC Connection
While the documentary evidence linking North to the FBI's sweep of Central America groups is more suggestive than conclusive, it is clear that the former lieutenant-colonel used the FBI to go after Administration critics who were threatening to expose the illegal contra support operation he coordinated. In fact, a body of clues points to a back-channel relationship between the NSC and the Bureau far broader than anyone in Congress or the FBI has acknowledged.
There are indications, as well, that the FBI also cooperated with North in his efforts to spy on and sabotage the work of domestic critics who were trying to unravel the cloak of secrecy surrounding his operations.
The FBI's Revell, for instance, told a Congressional committee that North had asked him to order the FBI to investigate the funding sources behind a suit brought by two journalists, Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan, who were being represented by the Christic Institute in a lawsuit against members of North's private network. But, Revell added: "I told [North] that is what the FBI didn't do."
Revell's response, however, was less than candid. The relationship between North and the FBI was far more extensive than Revell acknowledged. And it did involve, among other efforts, an FBI check on Daniel Sheehan, the lead attorney for the Christic Institute, as well as the surveillance of Honey and Avirgan, the plaintiffs in the Christic lawsuit. On another front, the FBI also assisted North in his efforts to neutralize Jack Terrell, the former member of the private contra operation who turned whistleblower A key to the relationship between North and the FBI lies in a 14-month series of contacts by phone and in person between North and
Special Agent David Beisner, an FBI foreign counter-intelligence agent assigned to the same Washington Field Office that was involved in the first CISPES investigation and that was central to the Capitol bombing investigation in which Varelli participated.
... Beisner told Congressional investigators that he spoke with North on numerous occasions in 1985 and 1986. Shortly after his meeting with North in May 1986, Beisner requested FBI and CIA checks on Sheehan, the Christic Institute attorney who was representing Avirgan and Honey. A June 2, 1986, notation in North's calendar, moreover, refers to a conversation with Beisner and bears the notation: "Looking at what can be done to expand surveillance activity of Avirgan and Honey."
The following month, after learning of Terrell's assistance to liberal and left-wing groups, North told Revell that Terrell might be involved in a plot to assassinate President Reagan. Revell assigned the case to Beisner, among others. But it appears fairly clear that the investigation of Terrell as a possible presidential assassin was not taken at all seriously inside or outside the FBI. For one thing, the FBI's questioning of Terrell involved material such as a book proposal by Terrell and accounts of his work with the left-wing and liberal watchdog groups, according to Terrell's attorney, John Mattes. The operation resembled an attempt to intimidate Terrell and take pressure off the contra operation much more than one designed to protect the President.
In a memo for President Reagan, prepared by North and forwarded over the signature of National Security Adviser John Poindexter, Terrell was described, in July 1986, as: "An active participant in the disinformation/active measures campaign against the [contras]. Terrell has appeared on various television 'documentaries' alleging corruption, human rights abuses, drug running, arms smuggling and assassination attempts by the [contras] and their supporters. Terrell is also believed to be involved with various Congressional staffs in preparing for hearings and inquiries regarding the role of U.S. Government officials in illegally supporting the Nicaraguan resistance."
... While the Iran-Contra Committee never undertook to explore what linkages may have existed between North and the FBI's massive investigation and harassment of political groups opposed to the President's policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador, an appendix to the Committee's final report, authored by Representatives Peter Rodino, Dante Fascell, Jack Brooks and Louis Stokes, concluded that in the fall of 1986:
"Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary wrote to the Attorney General requesting a preliminary investigation [regarding allegations] that North, Poindexter, Casey and others illegally assisted the contras...Attorneys [in the Justice Department] canvassed the FBI and Customs to determine what investigations involving the contras were pending. Neither the FBI nor Customs revealed their numerous contacts with North in various criminal investigations. It is a question the appropriate committees of Congress should pursue more fully."
Such pursuit never materialized in the rush of Congress to put the half-explored Iran-Contra scandal behind the country.
An Epidemic of Terrorism: Continued
And how effective were the break-ins, the death threats, and the FBI investigations in curtailing the Central America movement?
"It depends on who you talk to. Many American church activists- those who responded out of their hearts rather than out of political ideology-have clearly been intimidated by these activities. The Central Americans up here-Salvadorans and others-who have been the object of these threats have been absolutely terrified. Many have been reluctant to give their names. Others have made us promise never to divulge their identities. They recall the death squads and security forces first hand. Those are the most terrified of all. A lot of Salvadoran groups were so freaked out they simply stopped functioning.
"On the other hand, many North Americans, especially those who have worked as activists before, are better able to cope with this sort of thing. For many, it only strengthens their resolve. On the other hand, we've gotten a number of calls from church groups who want to know how to deal with their congregations. They feel, in some cases, they have to find a way to prove they're not communists. In several cases, congregations have been split by internal dissension and fear. Look at Old Cambridge Baptist Church. The FBI refused to release their files on the church on the grounds that it could compromise the identity of a confidential informant. Can you think of any better way to turn a congregation against itself with suspicion and intimidation? The issue of informants inside a congregation or a group is very divisive, very destructive. The FBI could not have found a better strategy."
Completing the Cover-Up
The real secret ... is the fact that the FBI-following the lead of the White House and the Reagan CIA-allowed the direction of its investigation of American liberals to be partially dictated by the Salvadoran security forces, thereby collaborating in the persecution of American citizens with one of the most terrorist governments in the world.
In fact, the CISPES investigation was but one of at least a half dozen investigations of U. S. citizens who opposed the Administration's policies \ in Central America. By burying aspects of the same investigation under separate captions, the FBI in fact investigated thousands of groups and individuals under a number of investigations of which CISPES was only one. Documents on file indicate that the FBI used such captions as "Salvadoran Leftist Activities, " " Salvadoran Leftist Activities in the United States," "Nicaragua Demonstrations" and "Central American Terrorism" to surveil, penetrate and possibly disrupt religious and political activists concerned about U.S. policies in the region. Unfortunately, the relevant Congressional committees have not seen fit to call the FBI to account for any of those other investigations.
In its report on the CISPES campaign, the Senate Intelligence Committee essentially endorsed the FBI's version of events. It concurred with Sessions that the problem lay not in a deliberate abuse of political power by the FBI but in lax management by FBI officials at middle and lower levels of the Bureau. While both the Committee and the FBI deny it, it appears that the investigation was known to officials in the Reagan White House and National Security Council. What neither Sessions nor the Committee acknowledged, moreover, is that the investigation was authorized and encouraged by the top level of FBI leadership. Hundreds of documents in the CISPES files, for instance, were initialed by Oliver "Buck" Revell, until recently the number two person at the Bureau. It was Revell, moreover, who authorized the October 1983 order to expand CISPES into a nation-wide investigation.
But five years later, that development would prove the occasion for a curious display of institutional amnesia by Bureau officials. When FBI director Sessions testified before Congress in 1988, he called the October 1983 expansion of the investigation the "biggest mistake" of the whole investigation. During his appearance before Congress, Sessions was asked by one senator why no FBI higher-ups had been punished for their roles in the investigation. Sessions responded that, try as he might, he could find no evidence in the documents to indicate the involvement of higher-level officials. He must not have looked very hard. A copy of the October 28 teletype-directing the nation-wide expansion-was signed by no less a higher-up than Buck Revell.
A Speculative Scenario: The Guiding Hand of the CIA
It is clear from notations on a number of FBI documents that the Central Intelligence Agency was certainly kept abreast of the FBI's campaign against political dissenters. One speculative scenario suggests that the guiding hand behind the FBI's campaign was that of William Casey, the late Director of Central Intelligence.
It was Casey who, shortly after assuming his post in 1981, declared to colleagues that El Salvador had become the latest battleground in the global contest between freedom and communism. It was also Casey who raised the issue of "active measures" as a major threat to the security of the United States. And it was Casey's CIA that identified CISPES, within months of the group's formation, as an "active measures front" of Moscow.
Simultaneous with the production of the CIA study that cited CISPES as an "active measures" operation, the CIA forwarded to the FBI intelligence material that purported to prove that the group was the creation of the Salvadoran leftist guerrillas. That material, which allegedly came from the diaries of two Salvadoran communist leaders, was provided by the Salvadoran National Guard to the CIA, which forwarded it to the FBI.
But, as Senate investigators would conclude eight years later, the FBI, in using that material: "...asserted without documentation that CISPES was composed of groups 'initiated by the Communist Party USA...and Farid Handal'." Calling the diaries "alleged," and "unauthenticated," the investigators concluded: "The FBI's CISPES file does not reflect any Justice or State Department characterization of the nature or reliability of the alleged captured document or any effort to evaluate its bona fides. The [FBI's] Inspection Department was unable to find any information directly corroborating the statements in the purported Handal document."
What is most ironic is that the CIA and FBI, in collaboration with the Salvadoran security forces-the elements that most feared the persuasive power of CISPES' message-were driven to use a disinformation-based "active measures" strategy in their effort to paint CISPES as an "active measures" front group.
William Casey's sensitivity to the threat of adverse public opinion was clearly the motivation behind his initiative in establishing a covert "public diplomacy" operation designed to reach beyond the conservative elements of American society who already supported the Reagan Central America policies.
Finally, as Bob Woodward noted in Veil, his 1987 book about Casey's CIA, there was a strong constituency around Casey which favored breaking down the traditional barriers between the CIA and the FBI. That notion was articulated by Kenneth de Graffenreid an expert on counter-intelligence who was to become a major force inside the Reagan National Security Council. In a study of the country's counter-intelligence de Graffenreid promoted the notion that "[b]ureaucratic barriers needed to be broken down between the FBI, the CIA and the military intelligence agencies. . . If necessary, a centralized counter-intelligence authority with centralized records should be created. The split of counter-intelligence functions at the U.S. borders (CIA abroad, FBI at home) was artificial. It was a civil liberties bugaboo to worry whether they were joined. It was not a distinction the KGB observed."
Given the extraordinary expertise in the use of disinformation by both the CIA and the Salvadoran National Guard, one can make the argument that, if the FBI was not explicitly "tasked" by the CIA to crack down on political dissenters, it certainly could have been "unwittingly duped" by the Agency into the same operation.
In fact, there is evidence the relationship was more deliberate. One month after the issuance of the President's December 1981 order governing the intelligence operations, Reagan signed a directive authorizing the CIA to "request the FBI to collect foreign intelligence or support foreign intelligence requirements of other [intelligence] agencies..."9 Given William Webster's statement to Congress in 1985 that the FBI may have been "tasked" by the CIA or National Security Council to interview activists returning from Nicaragua, it seems apparent that such "tasking" had become a routine part of FBI activities by the mid-1980s.
As for the doctrine of "active measures" which was raised to the level of high policy focus by Casey and used by the FBI to justify numerous operations-including a campaign to spy on users of public libraries-it is still the subject of an ongoing inter-agency task force and, as such, can still be used to discredit and investigate law-abiding citizens by labeling them as "fronts" for Moscow, Havana or other purported hostile foreign powers.
As late as August 1989, for instance, the State Department issued a report titled: "Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1987-1988." That report, according to its preface, was prepared by an inter-agency Active Measures Working Group which includes representatives of State, the CIA, the U.S. Information Agency, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Departments of Defense and Justice.
The speculative scenario, which casts the CISPES campaign as merely one arm of a CIA-directed operation which involved the country's entire national security apparatus, is supported by a good deal of evidence that the FBI did not pursue its investigation of policy foes in a vacuum. Its campaign against political dissenters was paralleled by the surveillance of political activists at the request of Oliver North's National Security Council as well as by the secret domestic propaganda campaign run out of the NSC at the direction of Bill Casey. And the activities of all those agencies-the FBI, the NSC, the CIA and the State Department- were augmented by a network of private individuals and organizations all of whom united under the umbrella of the Administration's foreign policies-especially those in Central America. As former Ambassador Robert White said in response to a question about the CISPES investigation: "You're only looking at the FBI. That's just one piece of it; What Ronald Reagan has done is to mobilize the entire government around his policies in Central America."
Unasked Questions: The FBI and the Disappeared Refugees
The most sinister aspect of the FBI's collaboration with the Salvadoran National Guard may lie in unmarked graves and obscure ravines in the small war-ravaged Central American nation, where refugees, having sought shelter and a safe haven in the United States, were buried after being deported by U.S. officials back to waiting security forces.
One sample of 154 refugees deported in 1983 and 1984, which was reported by the Political Asylum Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Fund, included 52 returnees who were killed, seven who were arrested, five who were jailed as political prisoners, who disappeared (fates unknown) and 43 who were captured and disappeared under violent circumstances." But because of a number of circumstances-including Salvadorans' fear of speaking out, the use of false names by refugees, the problem of admittedly inaccurate record keeping of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the lack of cooperation by the Salvadoran security forces-it is impossible to document the number of refugees killed or "disappeared" on their forced return to El Salvador. Given the additional blanket of secrecy covering the collaboration between the FBI and the National Guard, it is impossible to estimate the numbers killed by Salvadoran security forces with the cooperation of the FBI.
But if, as Varelli has maintained, "the FBI knew and approved of every damn call I made [to the National Guard]," then the Bureau has on its hands the blood of innocent refugees. And it is remarkable that, in its efforts to call the FBI to account for abuses of lesser gravity, the Congress chose not to question the Bureau about its possible participation in the most grotesque kind of human rights violations.
The Unsolved Break-Ins
From a U.S. standpoint, the most frightening aspect of the assault on dissenting citizens lies in the string of break-ins, thefts, death threats and assaults that stretches forward from 1983 to 1990 like an underground epidemic of low-grade terrorism.
Partly because the FBI has consistently declined to investigate those break-ins-categorizing them as local crimes under the jurisdiction of local police rather than evidences of an interstate conspiracy-we may never know who has planned and coordinated them.
The CIA could well have coordinated a number of private groups, Salvadoran as well as North American, in a campaign of break-ins which it hid under the cover of the FBI's official investigations of those groups. It does not seem coincidental that the majority of break-in victims were also affiliated with groups which were targeted for official investigation by the FBI.
It is equally plausible to speculate that the string of break-ins was coordinated by elements in Oliver North's private network, using lists of targets produced by the FBI, CIA or State Department. When Revell, for instance, said he was afraid that Glenn Robinette, the head of security for North's "private enterprise," may have been running a plumbers' operation, he could have been referring to a campaign of illegal burglaries and harassments that extended far beyond a few groups like the Christic Institute or the International Center for Development Policy, which were working to expose North's illegal operations.
It is also possible that at least some of the break-ins were the work of right-wing Salvadorans and other zealots inside the United States who, by virtue of their earlier information-trading arrangements with the FBI, felt they had the Bureau's sanction in taking the next step and stealing files, trashing offices and terrorizing activists.
Rep. Don Edwards, the former FBI agent who has chaired the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights which held hearings on the break-ins in February of 1987, has said he believes the break-ins to be the work of Central American operatives. In late 1987, Edwards wrote an article titled "The Unsolved Break-Ins," in which he stated that "there are two likely sources for these break-ins...[One possibility is that they] may be the work of agents of one or more Central American government or of factions representing the ruling classes in those countries. We know in the past, violent governments have sent their agents to the U.S. to harass and intimidate their opponents here. The Shah of Iran and Marcos of the Philippines both had active intelligence operations in this country...The right-wing government of Chile was involved in the car bombing in Washington that killed Orlando Letelier. Is history repeating itself? Are foreign agents now carrying out break-ins against sanctuary churches and opponents of the Administration's militaristic policy in Central America?"
"Another possibility," Edwards wrote, "is that the break-ins are the work of [U.S.] right-wing groups who support the contras and U.S. policy in Central America. We know there was a private network established to raise money for the contras. We also know that some members of the network were active in promoting the Administration's views. Is it possible that they were interested as well in frustrating the efforts of groups opposing those views and sought to collect information about them? Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to these questions."
Perhaps the most likely scenario is that the break-ins were coordinated by the CIA, which had (and continues to have) direct lines into both the network of private right-wing activists in the U.S., as well as into the security forces of El Salvador and Guatemala. And while the break-ins may not have been committed by U.S. government agents, there is no doubt they are part of a well-coordinated, centrally-directed campaign to neutralize and intimidate opponents of U.S. policies.
CISPES: The Latest Chapter in an Old History
Whether or not the FBI played an active role in the break-ins-or whether the Bureau was merely a passive accomplice in declining to investigate them-the FBI's operations against liberal and left-wing citizens opposed to U.S. policies beg to be seen in the context of the Bureau's history of abusing its law enforcement powers by persecuting law-abiding dissenters for strictly political reasons.
Given that historical context, the FBI Director's description of the CISPES probe as an "aberration" is indefensible. For the FBI's investigation and harassment of Central America groups in the 1980s is, after all, simply one more chapter in a continuing series of FBI political police operations which date back at least to the 1950s-and which have continued, virtually unabated, to the present.
One contention of numerous experts which is worth noting here is that the FBI, which was established in 1908 as a national law enforcement agency, has never been explicitly authorized by Congress to gather intelligence on political, as contrasted with criminal, targets. In fact, virtually every authorization of the FBI to gather political intelligence and mount political operations against domestic political activists and movements has come in the form of Justice Department guidelines and Presidential executive orders-without passing the test of open public debate.
Nevertheless, dating at least from the McCarthy period of the 1950s, the Bureau has engaged in active investigations of virtually every major dissident political movement in recent American history. Those investigations have involved techniques ranging from file checks to active surveillance to infiltration and provocation to harassments and character assassination to such covert operations as "black-bag jobs," wiretaps and assassinations.
In its report on "Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans," the Senate's Church Committee in 1976 cited a series of FBI campaigns all of which were patently political in nature and had little, if anything, to do with the FBI's legal mandate to investigate criminal activities.
According to that report: "Intelligence agencies have collected vast amounts of information about the intimate details of citizens' lives and about their participation in legal and peaceful political activities. The targets of intelligence activity have included political adherents of the right and the left, ranging from activist to casual supporters. Investigations have been directed against proponents of racial causes and women s rights, outspoken apostles of nonviolence and racial harmony; establishment politicians; religious groups; and advocates of new lifestyles."
The targets of FBI intelligence operations cited by the Church Committee 15 years ago included participants in virtually every significant political movement.
"The 'Women's Liberation Movement' was infiltrated by informants who collected material about the movement's policies, leaders and individual members. One report included the name of every woman who attended meetings, and another stated that each woman at a meeting had described 'how she felt oppressed, sexually or otherwise.' Another report concluded that the movement's purpose was to 'free women from the humdrum existence of being only a wife and mother....
An adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Stanley Levison, was investigated on suspicion he was a communist sympathizer. According to a 1964 FBI memorandum which ordered the investigation to continue:
"The Bureau does not agree with the expressed belief of the field office that [Levison] is not sympathetic to the Party cause. While there may not be any evidence that [he] is a Communist, neither is there any substantial evidence that he is anti-communist."
The Committee found, moreover, that the Bureau continued to investigate the NAACP for possible communist links for more than 25 years despite an early FBI report that the NAACP had a "strong tendency" to "steer clear Communist activities."
Similarly, the Bureau investigated the Socialist Workers Party for more than 30 years, collecting information on the organization's attitudes toward food prices, race relations and the Vietnam War, despite an FBI finding that the group had committed no illegal acts.
In the case of the small SWP alone, the Bureau employed 1,600 informants in a 16-year-period to infiltrate the group, at an estimated cost of $26 million.
In 1970, according to the Congressional report, the FBI ordered
investigations of every member of the Students for a Democratic Society and of
every Black Student Union, regardless of "their past or present involvement in
disorders.' As a former FBI intelligence official told the Committee, the Bureau
opened files on thousands of young men and women so that "the information could
be used if they ever applied for a government job."
Nor was the Bureau immune to the political bidding of a succession of U.S. presidents. President Franklin Roosevelt instructed the Bureau to open investigative files on citizens who wrote the White House to espouse an "isolationist" policy in opposition to the President's foreign policies. Harry Truman solicited FBI reports on union organizers, journalists and former Roosevelt aides. Dwight Eisenhower received FBI reports on "purely political and social contacts with foreign officials" of Bernard Baruch, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. And officials in the Kennedy White House had the FBI wiretap "a Congressional staff member, three executive officials, a lobbyist and a Washington law firm," while Attorney General Robert Kennedy received the fruits of FBI wiretaps on Martin Luther King, Jr. At the request of President Lyndon Johnson, the FBI conducted file checks on various anti-war legislators and compared their statements on the Vietnam war to the statements of the Communist Party.
Given the FBI's compilation during the 1980s of investigative files on at least a dozen Senators and Representatives who opposed President Reagan's policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador-some of which included material procured through electronic surveillance-it is difficult to accept the assertion in the 1989 report of the Senate Intelligence Committee that "there were no instructions given or requests for information made to FBI officials during the conduct of the CISPES investigation by anyone within the office of the White House or acting on behalf of the White House in an effort to influence their investigation."
In the course of its operations against civil rights organizations, black political activists, anti-Vietnam War groups, the Free Speech Movement of university students, the American Indian Movement and the movement for Puerto Rican independence, the FBI opened hundreds of thousands of letters; wiretapped thousands of telephone conversations; conducted break-ins at hundreds of residences and offices; and surveilled untold numbers of groups and activists.
The Bureau, moreover, engaged in a number of disruptive tactics which the Church Committee called "indisputably degrading to a free society." These included attempts to have political activists fired from their jobs by anonymously informing their employees about their political beliefs-a tactic which was repeated in 1987 with the FBI's approach to employers of members of the TecNica organization.
It included, as well, anonymous letters to the spouses of FBI targets in order to destroy their marriages. One favored tactic of the FBI involved anonymously labeling political activists as FBI informants, thereby destroying their credibility and effectiveness as political organizers...
The Bureau's anonymous provocations included ... anonymous letters to Black Panther Party members indicating they were on the "hit list" of other Panther activists and implying their wives or girlfriends were engaged in secret affairs with other Party members. One of the FBI's more notorious operations included providing Dr. King with a tape recording of his private activities, along with a note suggesting he commit suicide to avoid public humiliation.
One of the FBI's most egregious actions involved the Bureau's engineering of the 1969 assassination of Panther leader Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago.
In the following decade, between 1973 and 1976, the Bureau is said to have either provided assistance for or participated in the murder of nearly 70 members of the American Indian Movement and the violent attacks on another 300 Native Americans who had occupied the areas of Pine Ridge and Rosebud in South Dakota.
Ten years later, the FBI's campaign against advocates of Puerto Rican independence peaked when more than 300 FBI agents and U.S. Marshalls conducted raids throughout Puerto Rico in 1985, trashing homes and offices and arresting scores of activists-two of whom were held without bail in pre-trial detention for more than two-and-a-half years. The FBI's operations in Puerto Rico resulted in the creation of files on 74,000 individuals.
Given the FBI's history of thinly rationalized political repression, it is very difficult to accept the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee that: "The Committee does not believe the CISPES investigation reflected significant FBI political or ideological bias...."
Unfortunately, a review of the FBI's political operations also suggests that, with the exception of the Church and Pike Committee investigations in the mid-1970s, Congress has been unable or unwilling to exert the kind of control and oversight with which the public has entrusted it. In the case of the CISPES scandal, it is unclear whether the Senate report endorsed the FBI's cover-up because it was politically expedient or because the FBI withheld critical material from Congressional investigators. It seems that both factors played a significant role.
Concurrent with the history of documented FBI political abuses over the past 35 years, is an equally clear history of an institutionalized FBI practice of routinely Iying about its activities. That history of Iying to Congress has continued unabated from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s.
When the first set of FBI documents in 1988 indicated that the CISPES investigation was far more extensive than Congressional overseers had been led to believe, investigators on Capitol Hill said flatly that the FBI had lied to them in its previous briefings. Nor were the FBI's lies to Congress confined to the CISPES investigations.
The "DO NOT FILE" File
The Bureau, during the 1960s, maintained a set of files which were headed "DO NOT FILE." The files, which recorded FBI break-ins and thefts at civil rights and anti-war offices during the 1960s, were used to keep such activities away from public scrutiny. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, FBI officials swore under oath that they had discontinued the use of the "DO NOT FILE" caption, especially since the federal Freedom Of Information Act requires that the existence of all agency files be acknowledged, if not released, to requesters using the act.
But a "DO NOT FILE" file, provided to the author in 1988, indicates that the FBI has continued to maintain such records. The "DO NOT FILE" document, apparently unrelated to the FBI's campaign against Central America dissenters, was a 1985 communication from Revell to then-FBI Director William Webster. It cited a request from Henry Kissinger for a personal meeting with Webster about alleged harassment by members of the Lyndon LaRouche political organization. The document was titled "DO NOT FILE" apparently because-Kissinger did not want any bureaucratic paper trail indicating his private meeting with Webster to discuss the LaRouche group.
When Rep. Edwards questioned the FBI about the document, he was told simply that it was erroneously captioned. Despite Edwards' concern that "reinstituting 'Do Not File' files would emasculate the oversight process," Congress apparently accepted the Bureau's explanation that the file should have been captioned "Informal Advice-Not For Retention"-a freshly-minted FBI euphemism for "Do Not File."
Then there is the matter of the Terrorist Photo Album. While Webster himself assured Rep. Patricia Schroeder, Sen. Christopher Dodd and others that they were not included in the FBI's Terrorist Photo Album and were not the subjects of FBI Central America-related investigations, an internal FBI memo, initialed by Webster, indicates that the Bureau deliberately lied to the legislators.
A reading of the Senate Intelligence Committee's CISPES reports indicates, as well, that the FBI withheld critical documents from the committee. In addition to concealing its retroactive alterations of Varelli's polygraph results, it is clear from the report that the FBI withheld other significant documents as well. As one example, the Senate report concluded that during his 1983 visit to Washington, "Mr. Varelli's report indicates that he never actually met any Washington members of CISPES or attended any of their meetings. He did report on several left-wing bookstores, however, as well as some churches..."
However, the FBI's files contain a full debriefing of his infiltration of CISPES headquarters following the bombing of the Capitol-a document which was apparently withheld from the Committee to further discredit Varelli. The airtel sent from the FBI's Dallas Office to FBI headquarters, moreover, bears a handwritten notation, apparently from an FBI supervisor who wrote: "Good job. Thanks. I talked to (DELETED) who was very pleased. He said the unit chief was impressed also." The document substantiates Varelli's version of his visit to CISPES headquarters in Washington in December, 1983, following the bombing of the Capitol Building.
Again, when William Webster told the Congressional Iran-Contra Committee that he had disclosed all of the FBI's contacts with Oliver North, he neglected to mention a 14-month relationship between North and special agent David Beisner of the Washington Field Office-a relationship which was aimed at gathering intelligence on groups attempting to expose North's illegal contra-supply operations.
The findings of both the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee stand in stark contrast to those of U.S. District Executive Magistrate Judge Joan H. Leflkow, who ruled in February 1991 on a case involving Chicago-based Central America groups. In that ruling, the federal judge found that the FBI used infiltrators to penetrate the leadership of several groups. Moreover, the FBI's Chicago field office obtained copies of bank deposit slips, canceled checks, and signature cards for CISPES members, as well as copies of the group's long-distance telephone records "to determine the identity of Chicago CISPES memberships and contacts."
"At the direction of Headquarters, the FBI conducted a photographic surveillance...of one Chicago CISPES leader and, on April 8, 1985, submitted his photograph and background data for inclusion in the Terrorist Photograph Album. "
The judge found, moreover, that "In a sworn statement made on April 8, 1988 [three years after the original submission], the FBI case agent for the Chicago CISPES investigation, who submitted the photograph and data, admitted that he did not believe his investigation had established the Chicago CISPES leader to be a terrorist."
According to the decision, "The Chicago Field Office received and placed in its file articles attacking CISPES written by the political organizations Young Americas Foundation, Students for a Better America, Inc., and the Council for Inter-American Security. The FBI later, as a result of its internal inquiry, characterized these articles as 'conservative material."'
The inadequacy of the Senate Intelligence Committee's findings was underscored by Judge Leflkow, who concluded: "The FBI has not shown that there is no reasonable expectation of recurrence against either the named petitioners or other[s]...Although the FBI has enacted new guidelines, they have also enacted guidelines in the past which were meant to prevent this type of investigation. . .The FBI's own regulations are, therefore, not sufficient to prevent violations. The regulations can also be repealed or modified in the future and do not, therefore, guarantee future compliance...Based on the FBI's past behavior, there is a reasonable likelihood of repetition."
Criminal Penalties for Criminal Conduct
Clearly the FBI systematically uses distortion, disinformation and deliberate lies as official instruments of policy. Whether those lies are directed toward political adversaries, news reporters, other agencies of the executive branch or overseers in Congress charged with monitoring the Bureau's operations, the record of the FBI's counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence units demonstrates unequivocally that it is not to be trusted to tell the truth. With the acquiescence of the Congressional committees, the FBI has succeeded in Iying its way out of a series of scandals whose casualties have been truth, the democratic process, and the First Amendment to the Constitution.
In the spring of 1990, Adm. John Poindexter, the former National Security Adviser to whom Oliver North reported, was sentenced to six months in prison for lying to Congress. At Poindexter's sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Greene said that, had Poindexter not served time in jaiI, it would be tantamount to a statement that a scheme to lie to and obstruct Congress is of no great moment, and that even if the perpetrators are found out, the courts will treat their criminal acts as no more than minor infractions." Judge Greene held that Poindexter and North had acted "in violation of a principle fundamental to this constitutional republic-that those elected by and responsible to the people shall make the important policy decisions, and that their decisions may not be nullified by appointed officials who happen to be in positions _ that give them the ability to operate programs prohibited by law."
It is perplexing that the appropriate officials of the FBI-Ronald Davenport, Oliver Revell, and William Webster-have not been held to the same standards as Poindexter and other federal employees who have been convicted of Iying to Congress. The message inherent in the lack of such convictions is that the very agency empowered to enforce the t_ federal laws of the country is, itself, beyond the reach of those laws.
Given the Bureau's tenacious adherence to illegal domestic operations in the face of public and Congressional criticism, given its unwillingness or inability to police its own actions in accordance with the requirements of free speech embedded in the Constitution, and given its time-tested proclivity to act, not as a guardian of the law but as a proprietary police force for the incumbent power structure, there seems no reason for advocates of civil liberties to accept, once again, another promise that the FBI will respect the basic rights of freedom and privacy of U.S. citizens.
The CISPES investigation, alone, involved 59 field offices, stretched from 1981 through mid-1985, generated thousands of pages of file material and resulted in not one conviction for illegal activities. (A 1990 report by the General Accounting Office found that between 1982 and 1988, the FBI used the "terrorism" excuse to open some 10,000 investigations of U. S. citizens, most of which were subsequently closed because no links between the subject of the investigation and terrorism could be found.)
As Frank Wilkinson, a former minister who endured more than three decades of FBI surveillance and dirty tricks, has consistently pointed out, the only reliable remedy for illegal FBI activities is a Congressional charter that would remove the responsibility for overseeing the Bureau from the Bureau itself. Such a charter would mandate the so-called "criminal standard." Under its terms, the FBI would be prohibited from any investigation unless there were clear and present indications that a law had been broken or was about to be broken. Whether Wilkinson's organization, the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, will be successful in its current efforts to promote such a charter remains to be seen. But short of completely abolishing the FBI, there seems no other solution that would be acceptable to the hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens who have been victimized by the zealotry of the Bureau.
A major accomplice of the unidentified individuals who coordinated, planned and executed the break-ins is a press corps which finds nothing extraordinary or ominous about a sustained campaign of political assault against law-abiding citizens who disagree with their president's foreign policies. That was the kind of activity that heralded the rise to power of Hitler. And, if the United States ever falls prey to demagoguery, zealotry or institutionalized intolerance, this is the way it will begin. And it will proceed with an assist from the press whose members who will most likely dismiss victims of political repression as "fringe types" as they turn away from uncomfortable clues of tyranny.
It was the press, after all, that was unconcerned that the FBI was permitted to enter tens of thousands of names of citizens into its terrorism ( files-records which can be used to deny them jobs, to savage their reputations, to subject them to arbitrary surveillance, and to make them criminal suspects the next time a bomb explodes in one of America's cities.
Caught in the grip of economic uncertainty and facing a future of environmental degradation and global political upheaval, much of the U.S. public has lost sight of the very civil liberties that distinguish the United States from other empires that were merely powerful and wealthy. If that forgetfulness persists, this country will have lost that which has made it an ideal for newly emerging "Pro-Democracy" regimes throughout Eastern Europe, that which has made it special in the light of history.
The notion of civil liberties-a major hallmark of the American Constitution-seems very elusive to many Americans in the 1990s and virtually irrelevant to others. But from both a societal and an individual point of view, it is critical to the survival of the country as we know it. Throughout U.S. history, solutions to problems have often come from oppositional political movements-most recently the Civil Rights movement, the Nuclear Freeze, the environmental movement, the women's movement-many of which began with small followings and marginal influence. But the existence of unpopular or dissenting groups provides a kind of intellectual wetlands, a spawning ground for new experiments, new ideas, new solutions to problems which are intractable to traditional approaches.
To wipe out those wetlands by means of censorship, intimidation or enforced silence is to undermine one of the richest resources of the country's public life. When new problems arise, there will be only old solutions. And both an important early warning system, as well as a source of innovation and ingenuity, will have been eliminated.
What we have learned about the operations of the FBI-not only against Central America activists, but also against opponents of nuclear weapons, civil rights groups, and environmental organizations-suggests that the Bureau sees its basic mandate as preventing the success of any significant movement for social change in America. From its mission as a national police force, dedicated to thwarting interstate and international crime, the FBI has become a guardian of the status quo, the incumbency, and the front line in the war against any set of citizens who oppose the policies of the country's leadership. That mission may have been appropriate in Stalin's Soviet Union or Deng's China or Pinochet's Chile. It is not appropriate to the laws of the United States.
From an individual point of view, the country was founded on the premise that each citizen has the political right and the moral obligation to develop his or her self and work to realize his or her potential as fully as possible.
Contrast that ideal with the hypothetical situation of a concerned individual in the 1980s-we will call her Jill-who is moved to action by her sympathy with Central American refugees she has seen on television or in the downtown area of the city she lives in. Or, perhaps, she found herself outraged at her government's support of a foreign regime which murders and incarcerates its citizens at will. Or, let's assume, she feels compelled to speak out against her government's attempts to undermine and destroy a democratically elected government in another part of the world.
Jill would probably be surveilled by FBI agents who enter her name in the Bureau's terrorism files. Her telephone could be tapped and her mail periodically opened and inspected. She might come home one night to find the house ransacked, files stolen and a death threat left in full view. She could spot her name in any one of a dozen publications published by extremist political groups and disseminated and financed by the State Department. She could, at the same time, be on a "watchlist" provided to the National Security Agency so that every international phone call she made was monitored and recorded. Her taxes could be audited by the Internal Revenue Service because of "questionable" political activities. Her landlord, employer and close friends could be interviewed by FBI agents who may well suggest that continued association with or employment of Jill could result in their own entry onto a government list. Because of her sincere convictions and her courage to act on them, she can find herself deprived of her rights to privacy, limited in her occupational opportunities, subject to physical attacks, and shunned by the society she thought she was working to improve.
All these things have happened to citizens who publicly opposed the Administration's policies in Central America and elsewhere.
They happened in the 1980s with barely a notice in the mainstream press and with hardly a protest from the public at large.
And, unless American citizens are able to remember why this country was founded and what made it unique in the sight of history, it will, no doubt, happen again.