Heart of Terror Network
From FBI to NSC
Oliver North's Private Network
Epidemic of Terrorism Continued
excerpted from the book
Break-ins, Death Threats
and the FBI
the covert war against the Central America movement
by Ross Gelbspan
South End Press, 1991
... 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
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
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
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
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
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
... 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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Death Threats and the FBI