How Government Intelligence Agencies and Private Right-wing Counter-subversion Groups Forge Ad Hoc Covert Spy Networks that Target Dissidents as Outlaws
by Chip Berlet
Current version: 2/2/93
To be published in revised and expanded form by Political Research Associates 678 Mass. Ave., #702, Cambridge, MA 02139 (617) 661-9313
(Original version 05/01/87)
==="Our First Amendment was a bold effort. . .to establish a country with no legal restrictions of any kind upon the subjects people could investigate, discuss, and deny. The Framers knew, better perhaps than we do today, the risks they were taking. They knew that free speech might be the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny."
--U. S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black
The rhetoric, source, and outlet for the story are all familiar components of an institutionalized domestic counter-subversion network. One arm of this network is comprised of private right- wing groups that spy on progressive dissidents and then publicize claims that the dissidents are engaged in potentially-illegal activity. These biased claims are then used by the other arm of the network, counter-subversive units within government intelligence agencies, as a rationale to launch investigative probes which frequently interfere with legitimate protest acitivites of dissidents who are not engaged in criminal activity, but merely exercising their First Amendment rights.
Human Events, is an ultra-conservative weekly newspaper that periodically carries articles claiming to have uncoverd subversive plots. And, as Human Events reporter Cliff Kincaid pointed out in his story on the Gulf War protest, Louise Rees is "publisher of Information Digest, the publication that monitors extremist groups."
Starting in the late 1960's, S. Louise Rees and her long-time partner John Rees conducted political monitoring and surveillance operations on leftists for twenty-five years, circulating their reports in their Information Digest newsletter to a wide range of public and private groups. The Reeses supplied information to such private sector conservative groups as the Old Right John Birch Society, the Christian Right Church League of America, the New Right Heritage Foundation, and the Neo-conservative Anti- Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The Reeses also provided information to government law enforcement and investigative agencies such as the FBI, congressional committees, and local police intelligence units. In addition, the Reeses supplied data to private sector industrial and corporate security departements.
Allegations by the Reeses and other right-wing spies have been used by the FBI as a justification for launching massive investigative probes. These intrusive FBI investigations harassed, smeared, and disrupted groups that were not engaged in any criminal activity, but simply exercising their constitutional rights to dissent from offical government policies. For instance, articles by John Rees in Information Digest and a John Birch Society magazine, along with material from other right-wing sources, were used by the FBI as part of their justification to probe members and allies of the anti-interventionist group Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) as possible terrorists or foreign agents. In the suspicious world of counter- subversion, information such as that printed in Human Events and Information Digest targets a liberal or leftist political movement as acting as a foreign agent for a hostile government, promoting communist revolution, or providing a cover for terrorism, all of which involve violations of criminal law.
The view of treacherous subversion embraced by the ultra- conservative right was based on a paranoid conspiratorial world view with its historic roots in turn-of-the-century xenophobic nativism. Some persons who share this paranoid worldview work in public government intelligence agencies and private right-wing groups, and they forge ad hoc covert spy networks to investigate dissidents and trade information and files on activists they suspect of subversion or other criminal activity.
As government intelligence agencies came under public scrutiny in the 1970's, and some limited reforms were implemented, many functions of the government counter-subversion apparatus were privatized. When the Reagan Administration resuscitated the intelligence community, a parallel public/private counter-subversion network emerged once again on the political scene.
The loosely-knit domestic counter-subversion network engages in an ongoing obsessive witch hunt against dissidents, surviving through different presidential administrations, working inside and outside of government agencies and congressional committees, and pursuing its goals in the public and private sectors with little regard for legislative or Constitutional safeguards. The network sees itself as composed of latter-day knights on a patriotic crusade, with all liberal or radical-left dissenters pictured as infidels.
The existence of a public/private counter-subversion network is not new. Paranoid nativism predates both the Cold War and the Red Menace. Even before the rise of Bolshevism there were periodic hysterias in the U.S. centered around imagined subversive plots by Papists, Freemasons, and the Bavarian Illuminati. The scapegoat is interchangeable, but the process remains constant. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the counter-subversion network quickly shifted its scapegoats from the minions of the Red Menace to the threat posed by other contemporary worldwide movements seen as threatening to U.S. national security interests. These perceived threats include narco-terrorism, Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, spying by economic competitors, militant environmentalists, homosexuals, and other members of movements which are stereotyped and then presented as scapegoats.
The civil liberties problems created by the excesses of this domestic counter-subversive network remain unresolved, as was demonstrated by revelations in 1993 of an intelligence network that involved persons associated with the San Francisco Police Department, the CIA, and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. In at least one instance, information collected by an ADL associate was provided to the foreign intelligence service of Israel, and one ADL contract agent, Roy Bullock, also sold information on anti-apartheid groups to the government intelligence service of South Africa. This incident was not an aberration, but another example of the unrestrained counter- subversion network in action.
Following the end of World War II, a coalition of conservative, ultra-conservative, right-wing and liberal anti- communist political movements and groups organized support for high levels of military spending, promoted the use of covert action abroad, and cultivated the acceptance of obsessive governmental secrecy, surveillance and repression at home. In the domestic public sphere this coalition shaped an overwhelming willingness among citizens to trade real civil liberties for illusionary national security safeguards. Some observers of this phenomenon see it as having fueled Cold War antagonisms and resulted in what they term the "National Security State."
Within the United States there developed a covert apparatus to suuport domestic anti-communism in the form of a loosely-knit infrastructure where both public and private intelligence agents and right-wing ideologues shared information both formally and informally. The result was an ad-hoc domestic counter-subversion network. Oliver North relied on elements of this institutionalized counter-subversion network to raise funds for the Contras and serve as a public lightning rod to hide his own government- backed covert operation. In fact, some of the same players North orchestrated in the off-the-shelf private foreign policy drama were also involved in an off-the-shelf private domestic intelligence network.
The private domestic intelligence network is that sector of the counter-subversion network which conducts surveillance of progressive groups, and then feeds the information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other public law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as other private right-wing groups, and in some cases corporate and industrial security. Some of the groups involved in the domestic intelligence network utilized by North were outgrowths of McCarthy Period witch hunts, others were projects of former agents who fled federal employ in the wake of civil-liberties reforms of intelligence agencies prompted by the intelligence agency scanndals of the 1970's, still others were new groups created by ideologues of the New Right.
The counter-subversion network is comprised of many overlapping institutional and individual components: · Individuals employed at government law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies on the federal, state and local level. · Staff of various congressional committees and executive agencies. · Agents and officers of foreign intelligence services. · Private associations made up primarily or exclusively of law enforcement personnel that share information, run computerized data exchanges, and conduct training seminars on suspected subversives and terrorists. · Associations of former intelligence agents that facilitate the sharing of information on subversives and jobs. · Private security firms with industrial and commePrivate spies who supply information to a variety of groups as part of a commercial enterprise. · Corporate security specialists who utilize political intelligence operatives, hire private firms to supply political intelligence, or share intelligence information with their public and private counterparts. · Groups specializing in workshops and seminars predicated on the supposition that demands for social-change are frequently covers for foreign "active measures," disinformation, criminal subversion, or terrorism. · Private right-wing intelligence gathering groups which frequently publish their allegations in small limited- circulation newsletters. · Blacklisting publications that report on the activities of community, labor, anti-nuclear, civil-rights, peace and social justice activists. · Ultra-conservative and far-right magazines and newspapers and other publicly-disseminated publications that target liberal and left dissidents.
Havens within the U.S. government for members of the counter- subversion network include congressional committees such as the now-disbanded House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (especially the counter-terrorism section), military investigative units especially Naval Intelligence, certain sectors of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and many others. In pursuit of their goal of exposing and stopping alleged subversion, government intelligence agents periodically make tactical alliances with conservative, ultra- conservative, and even anti-democratic far right political groups and movements, both domestic and foreign. Working cooperatively, the public and private components of the domestic counter-subversion network carry out legal, electoral, political, and extra- legal attacks on dissidents-primarily on the political left.
Political surveillance, by private or public agencies, is designed to preserve and protect the status quo. Often, the tactic of infiltration or surveillance is used to gather real, imagined, or invented mud to sling at social change organizers in order to smear their public image and neutralize their organizing efforts. Even when the spying fails to turn up any illegal (or even faintly embarrassing) information, the reports are dutifully filed, and frequently traded back and forth between private and public intelligence-gathering agencies. Eventually the information percolates into conservative and right-wing publications.
Among the scapegoats historically promoted by the counter-subversion network: the Soviet military threat, the international communist Red Menace, KGB spies, airplane hijackers, terrorists, drug lords, secrets about U.S. nuclear weapons, rioting by urban Blacks, persons organizing against the war in Vietnam, the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, political radicals, Palestinian rights activists, members of the Arab community in the U.S., protesters against U.S. policy in Central America, environmental activists, feminists, persons calling for equal rights based on sexual preference, and AIDS activists.
Each of these targets have been portrayed as powerful sinister forces attacking the very foundations of America. Each, we have been told, could only be stopped by using law enforcement and intelligence agency techniques that required trading civil liberties for safety and security. Real terrorists, airplane hijackers, and others engaged in criminal activity can and should be prosecuted for their crimes-but for the most part, the persons spied on by the public and private components of the counter-subversion network are not criminals, but persons simply seeking to exercise their First Amendment rights to speech, association, religion, or petitioning to redress grievances.
The domestic counter-subversive network was built by persons who share a perception that the U.S. is constantly at peril from foreign attack or domestic subversion by those who wittingly or unwittingly serve the goals of radical politics, global communism, or terrorism. This is not a rational critique of communism, radical political theory, or actual terrorism, but a non-rational ideological construct which resembles the Manichean rightist worldview described in Professor Richard Hofstadter's classic work The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Despite its non-rational metaphysical nature, the views of these counter- subversion ideologues have consequences which are real and documentable.
Many authors have discussed the recurring themes of political repression by government and private groups, and noted how the end result was a defense of the status quo that benefits powerful ecomomic and political interests.
Historian Frank Donner's 500-page book The Age of Surveillance: The Aims & Methods of America's Political Intelligence System.<$F Donner, Frank. The Age of Surveillance: The Aims & Methods of America's Political Intelligence System. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1980.> is considered the definitive study of this phenomenon and its relationship to federal law enforcement probes of dissent. Donner followed with Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Political Repression in Urban America.<$F Donner, Frank. Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Political Repression in Urban America. Berkeley: University of California, 1991.> In Protectors of Privilege<M> Donner showed how local police intelligence units-often dubbed Red Squads-subverted the Constitution while justifying their actions as preserving democracy in the fight against subversion. Because they believed the country was on the brink of ruin due to internal subversion organized by communist agents, local police Red Squads not only conducted surveillance and built dossiers on a wide range of activists, but also worked with far-right vigilante groups to carry out break- ins and assaults, sometimes with an assist from the FBI.
Political Repression in Modern America, 1870 to Present, by Robert J. Goldstein is another lengthy look at government and corporate attacks on dissident political groups through the years. <$F Goldstein, Robert J. Political Repression in Modern America, 1870 to Present, 2nd edition. Rochester VT: Schenkman Books, Inc., 1978.>
Murray B. Levin examined the underlying social and political forces that create repressive periods such as the McCarthy Period and the Red Scare of the 1920's in Political Hysteria in America-the Democratic Capacity for Repression.<M>. <$F Levin, Murray B. Political Hysteria in America-the Democratic Capacity for Repression. New York: Basic Books, 1971.><M>
In Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall wrote a chilling account of the murderous tactics used against non-white political activists during the FBI's COINTELPRO program and in the years that followed. <$F Churchill, Ward & Jim Vander Wall. Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Boston: South End Press, 1988.><M> When some academics challenged their thesis they wrote COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, which uses numerous actual FBI documents to make a strong case for convincing skeptics that COINTELPRO-type activity continued after the name was shelved. <$F Churchill, Ward & Jim Vander Wall. COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States. Boston: South End Press, 1989.><M> Both books discuss the way in which political repression involves portraying the targeted group as essentially an outlaw formation.
It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America by Bud Schultz and Ruth Schultz <$F Schultz, Bud and Ruth Schultz.It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America. , Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989> uses interviews with victims of political repression in the U.S. to construct a powerful indictment of the myth of equal justice under law in the U.S. Perhaps the nadir of illegal government attacks on non-criminal dissidents occurred during the FBI's secret COINTELPRO operations in the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's. "Racial Matters": The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972 by Kenneth O'Reilly <$F O'Reilly, Kenneth. "Racial Matters": The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972. New York: Free Press, 1988.>documents how under COINTELPRO the FBI undermined the civil rights movement while posing as its defender against violent attacks by the Klan and other white supremacists.
Break-Ins, Death Threats and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement<M> by Ross Gelbspan, a veteran Boston Globe<M> reporter, examines the pattern of robberies and attacks reported by persons and groups opposing Reagan Administration policies in Central America, especially CISPES. <$F Gelbspan, Ross. Break-Ins, Death Threats and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement. Boston: South End Press, 1991><M>. Gelbspan reported that hundreds of offices, homes, and cars were broken into, files were ransacked or stolen, but valuable equipment was left untouched. Several years, hundreds of interviews and many thousands of pages of FBI files later, Gelbspan concluded the perpetrators of the robberies will probably remain a mystery, but reveals the FBI repeatedly lied to Congress about the extent and purpose of its investigations into the same network of Central America activists victimized by the robberies. Gelbspan documents how the FBI forged back-channel ties to far- right anti-communist groups in the U.S. and a shadowy network of government agencies and death squads in El Salvador, and how the press was used in the campaign. The chart in the Gelbspan book (with the addition of ADL), is an accurate sketch of the dimensions of the counter-subversion network.
Brian Glick summarized many of the techniques of government intelligence abuse in War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It<M> and offered suggestions on how to fight back. <$F Glick, Brian. War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It.<M> Boston: South End Press, 1989.><M> He included an analysis of the relationship between U.S. political economy and domestic covert action.
Eve Pell's The Big Chill looked at the erosion of civil liberties during the first years of the Reagan Administration, and the role played by right-wing and authoritarian ideology.
In The Terrorism Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape View of Terror, authors Edward Herman & Gerry O'Sullivan <$F Herman, Edward & Gerry O'Sullivan. The Terrorism Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape View of Terror, New York: Pantheon, 1990>argue that our national security mania has even spawned a specialized industry of self-promoting experts who manipulate our fears by exaggerating the actual threat of terrorism, and then tell us if we give up more rights the problem could be solved.
Another book detailing the high price we pay for our reliance on secret spying is The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity In The Global Drug Trade by Alfred W. McCoy<$F McCoy, Alfred W. The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity In The Global Drug Trade.Lawrence Hill Books, 1991.> McCoy, in this revised edition, unravels the CIA's long-standing links to drug-running networks used as allies during counter-insurgency operations. McCoy's first version of this book was published during the Vietnam War and dealt primarily with the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia. McCoy traces CIA drug-tainted political operations from today back to post-war France where our government secretly funded anti-communist political parties and labor unions and a group of drug smugglers who helped break a dockworkers strike.
When our national security interests are perceived as threatened, apparently the ends justify the means. This view was harshly criticized in The Secret Government: The Constitution In Crisis. by Bill Moyers. <$FMoyers, Bill, Maryland: Seven Locks Press, ]]]].> Moyer stepped back to examine the covert operations revealed in Iran-Contragate and concluded:
=== "What is secret is often squalid as well. In the dark, men were able to act contrary to the values they proclaimed in public. Paying service to democratic ends, they made league with scoundrels whose interest is anything but the survival of democracy...today's New Right ideologues believe in the omnipotence of the goal and the irrelevance of the deed. So their tactics are those of the enemy they hate and fear, and they award America's franchises to con men, hustlers, terrorists, racketeers, murderers and other sleazy characters who for a fee sign up for the crusade.
Historian Henry Steele Commanger, in his introduction to Moyer's book, noted that "Corruption of language is a special form of deception that recent administrations and the Pentagon have brought to a high degree of perfection....Along with the corruption of language goes, of course, the corruption of truth. If there were lies during the Vietnam years-and lies there were-nothing can compare with the corruption of truth of the Reagan administration."
Washington's War on Nicaragua by Holly Sklar <$F Sklar, Holly. Washington's War on Nicaragua, Boston: South End Press, 1988>showed how the Reagan administration worked with far-right groups to use patriotic language to reframe the Contras, a CIA- spawned anti-Sandinista army, as "Freedom Fighters." It's not just Reagan and the Republicans, of course. Harry Truman, a Democrat, was the first President who relied on the rhetoric of freedom while secretly sending the CIA on anti-democratic (and frequently disastrous) foreign covert operations.
How can this happen? According to William W. Keller in The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover, <$F Keller, William W. The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989>the problem goes back to the issues raised by Moyers regarding balance of powers. Keller believed liberal congresspersons are uncomfortable having oversight over agencies of police power, and by default, they allow their more reactionary colleagues to craft agencies such as the FBI into tools of repression.
Another structuralist view comes from Under Cover: Police Surveillance in America. by Gary T. Marx, 1988, Twentieth Century Fund/University of California Press. <$FMarx, Gary T. Under Cover: Police Surveillance in America. California: Twentieth Century Fund/University of California Press, 1988> This thoughtful critical analysis of undercover police techniques warns of several serious Constitutional problems posed by the uncritical expansion of secretive undercover operations in recent years.
Many of the authors cited above conclude that intelligence activities, whether domestic or foreign, almost inevitably turn toward undemocratic techniques without unequivocal guidelines, firm congressional oversight, and thoughtful judicial intervention. All of these constraints have failed to keep government surveillance abuse from recurring.
The process is not just a historical oddity.
Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies by S. Steven Powell <$F Steven, Powell, S. Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies. Green Hill Publishers, 1987> demonstrates that right-wing paranoid conspiracy theories continue to be treated seriously in some circles. Here a Washington-based left-leaning think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies, was portrayed as a den of communists subversives plotting with KGB agents to bring down the government.
Intelligence Requirements for the 1990's: Collection, Analysis, Counterintelligence, and Covert Action edited by Roy Godson <$F Godson, Roy, ed. Intelligence Requirements for the 1990's: Collection, Analysis, Counterintelligence, and Covert Action. Lexington Books/D.C. Heath, ]] is a collection of hard-line recommendations which provides what academic Diana Reynolds calls a "blueprint for creating a virtual U.S. police state". This shopping list for the guardians of post-Constitutional America is a sequel to the equally-onerous Intelligence Requirements for the 1980's which was used as a guide by the Reagan administration. Godson authored a 1993 report Assessing Accusations That U.S. Journalists Worked For Moscow: Criteria for Testing "Agents of Influence" Charges. Godson, an associate professor at Georgetown University, coordinates the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, a group devoted to finding rationalizations for perpetuating the primary role of intelligence agencies in our country's foreign and domestic policy debates. The Consortium has spawned the Working Group on Intelligence Reform which publishes reports such as "The FBI's Changing Missions in the 1990's."
The counter-subversion network of the political right was involved in the Palmer Raids, the McCarthy Period, the FBI's illegal COINTELPRO operations, and political repression during the Reagan years. Donner, especially, discusses the existence of a counter-subversion network that persistently survives through a variety of political and social conditions, and is a deeply- rooted institutional and ideological presence in American society. The network is seldom discussed publicly since it is secretive by nature, even paranoid, with some sectors constantly on the alert for penetration by subversives or foreign agents. It frequently cloaks its activities by invoking fears that its critics are breaching national security or assisting terrorism.
The counter-subversion network should not be viewed as an exotic conspiracy, merely a loose coalition of groups and individuals, some of whom manipulate a conspiratorial view about subversion to justify maintaining the staus quo so they and their mentors can retain the perquisites of power and profit margins. Like any successful social movement, the counter-subversion network has an informal yet frequently cooperative national infrastructure that provides educational and ideological resources. The paranoid and authoritarian views of the counter-subversion network in the U.S. are circulated and perpetuated through nativist publications, institutions and events, adminstered by a core of persons who have made counter-subversion and counter-terrorism a profession.
The key component of the counter-subversion network is the various political intelligence specialists who actually conduct political spying and primary information gathering. John and S. Louise Rees and their Information Digest newsletter are perhaps the best known practitioners in this field. Other groups that have supplied information on political dissidents since the 1970's include the Council for Inter-American Security, the American Sentinel newsletter (renamed back to its original title Pink Sheet on the Left), Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church network, Young American's for Freedom and its spin-off Young America's Foundation, the Council for the Defense of Freedom, Students for a Better America, and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The LaRouchians are publicly shunned by many on the political right, but their information regularly showed up in right wing (and a few left wing) publications.
There are scores of right-wing magazines, newspapers, and newsletters that ply the reader with tales of progressive plots to plunder free enterprise in America. These include the weekly newspaper Human Events, newsletters from Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media, the Schlafly family's Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, Fred Schwarz's Christian Anti-Communism Campaign, and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. There are hundreds of other periodicals, as well as publications such as books, pamphlets, and flyers. In the past, films, filmstrips, and slide shows were circulated. As they became more popular and relatively inexpensive, audiotapes and videotapes have been utilized, and a few computerized telecommunications networks and bulletin board systems have emerged. Radio talk shows and syndicated radio and television programs reach large audiences, with Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Chuck Harder and Tom Valentine among the major information sources attacking liberal conspiracies. Every week there are dozens of direct mail appeals with gossipy tidbits about leftist treachery and predicting doom if checks are not in the mail to help counter the subversion.
A number of rightist think tanks, membership organizations, lobbying groups, trade and professional groups, internship centers, direct mail concerns, and a handful of academic institutions create a permanent institutional infrastructure to keep counter-subversive theories alive and fresh. A leading purveyor of counter-subversion theories during the Reagan Adminstration was the Heritage Foundation and its various publications including Policy Review. Others include the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FRPI) at the University of Pennsylvania. The FPRI journal Orbis was particularly of interest due to its glorification of authoritarian solutions to numerous problems. The Free Congress Foundation run by New Right strategist Paul Weyrich circulates many publications that reflect its ultra-conservative, reactionary and narrow fundamentalist views. The exclusive and secretive Council for National Policy serves as a network and resource for the nativist right. The Madison Foundation trains conservative campus activists in counter-subversion, and funds a network of conservative campus publications.
The word is spread through myriad events including speeches, conferences, investment seminars, conferences, and training workshops. For instance, the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation holds weekend workshops and an annual conference spreading the gospel of anti-communism. The educational effort includes slide shows at American Legion halls, speeches at Reserve Officers Association conventions, and workshops at the World Anti-Communist League annual convention. American Security Council films targeted at Republican audiences provided a forum where the public and private contra aid networks did their propaganda and fundraising. In one "documentary" film , dominoes topple up the isthmus of Central America toward downtown Houston. Reader's Digest, an occasional source of paranoid counter-subversion, tolds us in the 1980's that anti- nuclear and pro-peace activists were unwitting dupes who spread KGB disinformation as part of a Soviet "active-measures" campaign to weaken the West. One newsletter published by the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade even suggested the Soviets exploited abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and mass murder to demoralize the American spirit in preparation for invasion.
To understand contemporary counter-subversion operations it is necessary to study their lineage which traces back to Nativism, through the anti-radical anti-labor manias of the 1920's and 1930's, and from there to McCarthy Period theories developed to serve the ideological needs of the Cold War-theories which have steered this country away from the Constitutional guarantees of liberty and toward the authoritarianism implicit in the demands of the National Security State.
The activities of the FBI provide a clear example of how this Nativist authoritarian phenomenon functions as the domestic component of the "National Security State". Drawing resources from both the public and private sector, the FBI has a long history of collaborating with right-wing groups to attack movements for peace and social justice. Other federal agencies also play a role, as do local and state law enforcement agencies. At the same time there is competition among the groups. The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit was established in part to serve as a horizontal information sharing network among state and local intelligence units frustrated by the fact that the FBI expected information to flow up the ladder into their files, but seldom sent information down the ladder to the state and local units.
While the revelations of Watergate and the Church Committee in the 1970's resulted in temporary restraints against the public side of the domestic intelligence apparatus, these gains were soon erased by the Reagan Administration which began a broad assualt on civil liberties under a variety of national security slogans.
The FBI probe of the anti-interventionist group Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) reflected the cooperation of the public and private counter-subversion network, but was ahistorically dismissed by the Congress and the media as an abberation. The CISPES investigation involved almost every FBI Field Office and eventually involved the creation of file indices on 200 other organizations. When the CISPES probe was revealed in documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, the FBI contended it was an aberration. Yet even a cursory review of FBI history argues against that claim. Since its inception, the FBI has conducted endless surveillance and infiltration of U.S. dissident groups in a vain quest for the domestic incarnation of the "Red Menace".
While certain aspects of the FBI surveillance of CISPES prompted media coverage, Congressional hearings and lawsuits, there has been almost no public discussion of the underlying political assumptions and justifications which fuel most counter-subversive investigations by both public and private agencies in the U.S., leaving the door open for continuing FBI abuses against Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech and association. The FBI investigation of CISPES was not an aberration, but the logical outcome of the long-standing consciously-implemented institutional policies of the counter-subversion network.
The Bush Administration continued the domestic counter-subversive intelligence polices of the Reagan Administration, and there was little reason to believe the situation would change under the Clinton Administration.
This study sets out to examine the assumptions behind the vain hunt for the Red Menace. It will argue that the views of the public/private counter-subversion network are based on a faulty (and frequently paranoid) analysis of how peace, justice and social change organizations function in our society, and erroneous assumptions regarding the acceptable limits of political discourse in a pluralistic democracy. The study will describe and analyze both the institutional and ideological framework of the domestic counter-subversive network, and will examine the incidents and linkages revealed during the various brief moments of public scrutiny from the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920 to the immigration raids of today.
Even before the FBI was established the Justice Department relied on private nativist groups to help smash dissent and ferret out alleged subversion. Frank Donner traces the roots of this network in The Age of Surveillance: "Beginning in 1918, private intelligence forces emerged to combat radicalism, labor unionism, and opposition to the war," Donner observed. Louis F. Post, the Labor Department official who signed the deportation order for anarchist Emma Goldman after the Palmer Raids in 1919-1920, later wrote a book, The Deportations Delirium of Nineteen-Twenty where he argued that no evidence of a widespread subversive conspiracy among immigrants ever emerged: <$F Post, Louis F. The Deportations Delerium of Nineteen-Twenty. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1923. P. 209>
=== "The records seldom showed any cause whatever for deportation other than a purely technical one. It seemed to me at the time, and the impression has been deepened by subsequent developments, that if there were any alien conspirators in the United States who were at all dangerous to its institutions, its free institutions, the detectives of the Department of Justice did not "hit their trail." === "As a rule the hearings showed that the aliens arrested to be workingmen of good character, who had never been arrested before, who were not anarchists nor revolutionists nor obnoxious to the spirit of our laws in any other sense. Many of them were faithful fathers of American-born children. Nearly all had been subject to arbitrary arrest, to long detention in default of bail beyond the means of hardworking wage-earners to furnish, and for nothing more reprehensible, so far as intent counted, than affiliating with friends of their own race, country and language. Cases in which there was substantial proof of any unlawful act with sinister intent or guilty knowledge were exceptions-very rare exceptions.<$F The Deportations Delirium of Nineteen-Twenty>
According to Donner, the nativist counter-subversion movement became an institutional fixture in the American political scene and took on a metaphysical and crusading nature as part of its hunt for the Red Menace:
=== "The root anti-subversive impulse was fed by the Menace. Its power strengthened with the passage of time, by the late twenties its influence had become more pervasive and folkish. Bolshevism came to be identified over wide areas of the country by God-fearing Americans as the Antichrist come to do eschatological battle with the children of light. A slightly secularized version, widely-shared in rural and small-town America, postulated a doomsday conflict between decent upright folk and radicalism-alien, satanic, immorality incarnate.
The Nativist network eventually transformed into a network of right-wing ideologues who saw communist subversion behind every international movement for national liberation and every domestic movement for peace and social justice. This type of simple-minded conspiracy mentality was discussed by Professor Richard Hofstadter who traced its historic influence in American right-wing movements in, The Paranoid Style in American Politics.
According to Hofstadter, paranoid movements rise and fall periodically, and appeal to people fearful about the world political and economic situation, and longing for simple solutions to complex problems. The use of scapegoats is common among these movements, said Hofstadter who laid out the three "basic elements of...right-wing thought" shared by many conservatives who succumbed to paranoid forms of conspiracy thinking in the 1950's and 1960's:
=== "First, there has been the now familiar sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt's New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism. . . . === "The second contention is that top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy, at least since the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, has been dominated by sinister men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests. === "The final contention is that the country is infused with a network of communist agents. . .so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media are engaged in a common effort to paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.
One primary role of this right-wing network is the dissemination of propaganda on what Donner calls the fear centered twin myths of "an all-powerful internal subversive enemy and a permanently endangered national security." As Donner explains:
=== "A pattern of support and collaboration between government and private intelligence forces dominates the history of radical-hunting in this country. The values and priorities of American Nativism have decisively influenced both official and private intelligence activities. As a vital ideological resource of American capitalism, nativism has kept the counter-subversive tradition burning by continuing and enlarging its own private intelligence activities.
There is a symbiotic relationship between right-wing hard-liners in law enforcement and the radical hunters in Congress and the private sector. Law enforcement has long relied on the political right-wing to fight subversion, and this has always been especially true when it comes to the FBI response to critics who point out the FBI's anti-democratic ideological mission. Yet whether or not a group or individual cooperated with government law enforcement agencies and congressional committees or choose to resist, the overall effect on society was to crush dissent and narrow the acceptable range of political discourse in the United States.
The anti-communism of the domestic counter-subversion network was not a rationale critique of communism as a political theory, or communist repression of dissidents, or communist foreign intervention, but a zealous view of communism, real or perceived, as the Red Menace. The most extreme form of this view saw the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire and believed there was no compromise with godless Satanic communism.
Premised on this obsessive paranoid phobia, the anti-communist counter-subversive movement in the U.S. pursued through public and private channels the increased reliance on covert action as a major pillar of U.S. foreign policy, and secrecy and anti-subversive witch-hunts as a significant factor in domestic policy. Since this movement wanted to "Rollback" communism and believed in the inevitability of war with nations that were communist (or were perceived as communist), it saw a need to maintain a high level of defense spending for military preparedness, and the need for constant domestic surveillance against internal subversion.
Civil liberties are seen as always secondary to national security. Acheiving "Law and Order" is seen requiring the use of state power to force conformity. It is appropriate to refer to this movement as sharing an ideology that is paranoid and authoritarian and manifesting itself most concretely in terms of anti- communism and anti-liberalism with an undercurrent of reactionary anti-modernism, and, in a few instances, echoes of fascist theories of nationalism.
The counter-subversive nativist views on subversion were adapted to the geo-political realities of the post WWII period to form the basis of the Cold War, the political witch hunts culminating in the McCarthy Period, and a number of other events and movements which combined to create the National Security State.
The Cold War consensus in the 1950's was forged primarily through a coalition of three disparate groups: · Liberals, such as those in the State Department and analysis section of the CIA. · Conservatives and reactionaries such as those in Congress and the operational section of CIA. · Nativist xenophobes such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy and those who would later form the secretive John Birch Society.
There was certainly contention among these groups. The liberals distrusted the reactionaries as authoritarian and militarist and distrusted the nativists as anti-intellectual proto-fascists. The conservatives distrusted the liberals as naive dupes who flirted with socialism and distrusted the nativists as zealous and isolationist. The nativists distrusted the conservatives as rich elitists and interventionists and distrusted the liberals as either naive "one-world-government" dupes or witting communist agents.
Remember that McCarthy, the quintessential nativist was seeking out communists and "fellow travellers" in the State Department, which at the time was already actively fighting communism. But nativists were isolationist, and thought every attempt to involve the United States in global politics was part of an internationalist plot, even attempts to involve the country in fighting global communism.
Still, there was agreement among the three main political tendencies that the spread of communism had to be stopped if their unique (often contradictory) vision of Western civilization was to survive.
A seminal work in shaping the Cold War was William R. Kintner's 1950 book "The Front is Everywhere" in which Kintner lays out his analysis of the communist style of subversion through a "Communist Fifth Column" involved in otherwise legal "political activity."
=== "The Communist plan, as fashioned by Lenin, is always to `carry on work that is possible,' work that will finally end in `commencing and carrying out the national armed insurrection'. <$F Kintner, Front: p. 225. Emphasis in the original.>
According to Kintner, since the ultimate goal of communist subversion is armed revolution and the destruction of the democratic state, it is a national security necessity to ferret out the presence of communists in organizations involved in non-criminal political activity.
=== "If American Communists wore the uniform of the Red Army, steps would be taken to safeguard the national security by preventing the operation of the Communist party's intelligence net and its fifth-column activity in behalf of a foreign power. <$F Kintner, Front: p. 246.> === "How can they be stopped? Are additional laws needed?. . .Is the American judicial system flexible enough to convict the professional revolutionaries of a quasi-military party, whose mode of operation is designed to make convictions on the accepted rules of evidence next to impossible? <$F Kintner, Front: p. 246> === "The passage of a law outlawing Communist conspiratorial practices would only be the first step. . . .A law- enforcing problem to overcome would be the procurement and training of a sufficient number of agents to infiltrate into every corner of the Communist conspiracy. <$F Kintner, Front: p. 250.> === "The practical problem involved is the development of a concise legal doctrine on the question of proof through association. Because of the very nature of the Communist party, the government may have to fall back on such proof. <$F Kintner, Front: p. 251.> === "The false accusation of `Communist' against citizens who desire some change in the existing order does much harm and no good. The best way to stop these malicious attacks is to distinquish accurately between loyal American liberals and radicals and those professional revolutionaries who take their orders from Moscow. <$F Kintner, Front: p. 251>
Up until 1948, articles on the NLG cited in the "Times" index center on substantive activities and positions of the NLG on law and legislation. Starting in 1948, however, the Times coverage of the NLG through the next ten years centers on charges relating to subversion.
Much of the "documentation" on the NLG as a communist front can be traced to Congressional hearings held during the McCarthy Period. This labelling was part of a coordinated campaign involving the Congressional committees, the FBI and right-wing groups.
New York attorney Michael Krinsky, who represents the National Lawyers Guild in its lawsuit against 30 years of FBI surveillance, points to an incident during the McCarthy period when an FBI wiretap revealed that Yale Law School professor Thomas Emerson was discussing with the NLG the publication of a study criticizing as unconstitutional a variety of FBI investigative methods. The FBI passed the information to Richard Nixon, then a congressman on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and pursuaded him to hold a press conference announcing a HUAC probe of the NLG as a communist front.
According to Krinsky, a partner in the law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky, Lieberman, the FBI then publicly launched an investigation of the NLG and privately fed inflammatory information to right-wing and anti-communist contacts. Certain leaders of the American Bar Association even worked with the FBI in a campaign to destroy the National Lawyers Guild. Fred Schlafly, Phyllis's husband, was a leader in early attempts at red-baiting the Guild.
Hoover had the FBI write a report (which HUAC issued under the Committee's name) without hearings or an investigation. The report was titled "Report on the National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of the Communist Party."
Krinsky said, "The FBI files reveal that HUAC's report on the NLG, which almost destroyed the Guild by labeling it the `legal bulwark of the Communist Party,' was not the product of HUAC's attempt to carry out any legislative function, but was issued by the Committee on the sole instigation of the FBI."
The NLG fought back in court and eventually forced the government to remove it from a list of so-called "subversive" groups, but the power of the false accusation alone nearly destroyed the NLG, with membership dropping from over 4,000 to under 600. The Guild eventually recovered, and, unlike many political and legal organizations of the period, did so with its principles intact, having never conducted an internal purge of communists, socialists or other targeted groups.
In a 1958 "consultation" with the House Committee on Un- American Activities, three major architects of Cold War theory summarized their hard line views concerning the "Communist Strategy of Protracted Conflict". Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupé, Alvin J. Cottrell, and James E. Dougherty, (all affiliated with the Foreign Policy Research Institute of the University of Pennsylvania) appeared before the Committee to answer critics of the Cold War who urged a less confrontational posture toward the Soviet Union. Hupé put it this way:
=== "The Communist strategy never has been, and is not now, a strategy of limited war such as that which has preoccupied many Western writers in recent years.... === "The strategy of protracted conflict prescribes the annihilation of the opponent by a long series of carefully calibrated operations, by feints and maneuvers, by psychological and economic warfare, and by diverse forms of violence.... === "It encompasses all known forms of violent and non-violent conflict techniques, and fuses them into a weapons spectrum which begins on the left with the seeminingly most innocuous political activities, such as the clandestine distribution of leaflets, and terminates on the right end of the spectrum with the megaton bomb. === "There is no difference between cold and hot war. There is no essential difference between military and political means. They are all instruments of conflict, leading to the same objective of power accumulation.
Hupé was describing his perception of the communist view of conflict, but the description also fits the ideology underpinning U.S. Cold War counterinsurgency methods against its political enemies, methods now artfully called "low-intensity conflict".
At the same hearing, Cottrell argued that just like "in time of war the American people, generally, and their political parties abstain from partisan politics," that since the Communists were in fact waging an ongoing war through their theory of protracted conflict, that the Executive branch should be able to conduct its policies concerning Communists with wartime efficiency and support absent extended political debate. Cottrell observed, "The great debates which are sources of strength in the internal affairs of a democracy actually vitiate our foreign policy". Cottrell proposed the following as the solution:
=== "The United States should be able to wage psychological warfare more effectively than the Soviet Union. The fact that it has been unable to do so derives from certain features of its own democratic system, such as the sensationalism of the press, the irresponsibility of many journalists and politicians, and the rivalry of the armed services. The answer does not lie in any institutional modification of our democratic social structure. What is urgently needed is an advance to political maturity and responsibility on the part of American elites, who should be able to act as intelligent critics of American policy without depriving the Government of all freedom of choice in the conduct of American diplomacy.
Despite the lofty-sounding rhetoric, Cottrell's position was essentially that when it came to fighting Communism, the democratic process should be short-circuited. . .an argument reeosundingly similar to that made by Lt. Col Oliver North. In fact, this same mentality of giving government elites a free and covert hand in fighting the international Red Menace permeated the domestic side of the Cold War equation when it came to fighting the internal Red Menace.
The underlying theory of subversion held by both the reactionary conservative and nativist authoritarian schools of anti-communism share a common belief in the concept of the political front, intentional or unwitting, as the most common form of political organization on the left.
The most persistant theoretical underpining of the FBI's COINTELPRO-era activity was the notion of the naive front controlled by communist infiltration, or COMINFIL in Bureau jargon. COMINFIL was described succinctly by author William W. Keller:
=== "...the theory behind Cominfil is that the Communist party members seek to infiltrate or join the ranks of legitimate organizations, rise to positions of leadership, establish effective control of the organization, and ultimately convert it into a vehicle for mass communist revolution.<$F Keller, William W. The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover. Lawrenceville, N.J.: 1989, Princeton University Press, pp. 157-158.>
In this theory, communists are thought to have developed a method of control using surrogates, both witting and unwitting, to actually hold the titular reins of power.
Generally, for both conservatives and reactionaries, any movement that challenges the status quo, the assumptions of the state, and the control by its leading interest groups, can be perceived as part of what is today called a "Soviet Active Measures" campaign to undermine America. While this may appear overly simplistic and paranoid, one need only read the literature of the counter-subversion empire to see the many variations on the theme. Orbis, West Watch, and Information Digest, all have detailed elaborations and fine tunings of these overall views.
According to Keller, the conservatives and reactionaries effectively control counter-subversion activities in the U.S. due to the unwillingness on the part of Congressional liberals to actively pursue an oversight role over all counter-intelligence activity. Keller sees this unwillingness stemming from liberal ambivalence regarding the questionable security techniques employed, and their ultimate allegiance to the perceived security needs of the state.
=== "The cold war military buildup to deter future conflict is analogous to the domestic security intelligence buildup to prevent future subversion, sabotage, civil unrest, and even revolution. In both spheres, the liberal polity demonstrates its stateness.<$F Keller, Liberals, p. 193.>
While courts have consistently ruled that passive monitoring of First Amendment activity is permissible, critics charge that passive monitoring and dossier-compiling often turns into disruption or attack, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally. As Donner explains:
=== "The listing of individuals, whether for ultimate detention in the event of war or for clues to the source of civil disorders, masked an underlying tension between passive monitoring and barely suppressed aggression. Why wait for the future showdown? What can be done to get at these people now? This tension found an outlet in special programs directed at `key figures' and `top functionaries,' singled out for close penetrative and continuous surveillance. <$FDonner, Age: p. 166.
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