America's Dirty Little Secret
Domestic Surveillance and Covert Disruption of Dissent.


Food Not Bombs organized a peace march to Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1981. Draper Laboratory was in the process of designing systems for nuclear missiles. The march was co-sponsored by Food Not Bombs and the Cambridge City Council. Food Not Bombs first realized that Food Not Bombs was under government surveillance when the secretary of the City Council told the volunteers that a man from the CIA had stopped by and was looking for someone from Food Not Bombs just prior the protest. A photographer came to the protest with a very unusual camera. He didn t introduce himself and when we approched him believing he was a member of the media he disappered into the Polaroid Building next to Draper Lab. We discovered that the C.I.A. rented office space in that same building.

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry was an early member of the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). Ross Gelbspan's book Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI The covert war against the Central America movement talks about Reagan's authorization of covert activity against peace activists in the United States. The CISPES office at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church was broken into several times. The only things missing were files. Around that same time several men visited the office where Food Not Bombs rented a private mail box and threatened the owner claiming she should stop letting us use her service. During the five years Food Not Bombs rented the box we recieved over 20 envelopes that had been damaged by coffee on the stamp end. Each envelope contained a check. Not one envelope that did not contain a check was damaged. The owner described the men that threatened her as being from Latin America. Ross Gelbspan's book includes this history of domestic spying at the begining of the Reagan administration. The entire book is worth reading.

Three developments at the beginning of the Reagan presidency would prove critical to the Administration's war against dissenting citizens. The first was the commissioning of the FBI by the new President and his Director of Central Intelligence to take the lead in the fight against international as well as domestic terrorism. That charge was embodied in the 1981 executive order which governed the conduct of intelligence.

That order authorized the FBI to 'conduct counterintelligence activities outside the United States in coordination with the CIA as required by procedures agreed upon by the Director of Central Intelligence and the Attorney General. 'The same order authorized the Bureau to 'produce and disseminate foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence.' The international scope of the Bureau's new mandate would become more visible later in the decade when the FBI asserted its right to travel to foreign countries to arrest foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorist operations directed against U.S. citizens.

The second development involved a newfound concern by Casey and others in the intelligence establishment with traditional Soviet attempts to influence the U.S. political process through a set of activities which, in the past, had been marginally successful, if at all. Despite a finding that the Soviets had been unable to ever significantly affect the decision-making process in the United States, Casey also ordered the CIA to produce a second study containing a set of recommendations to counteract Soviet 'active measures.' 'Active measures' is a term used by the Soviets to denote 'soft', propaganda and disinformation activities designed to promote Soviet interests in the political processes of other countries. The techniques include such time-honored tactics of political advocacy as propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of the media. The CIA study cited the recently formed Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) as an 'active measures' front group. And in March of 1981, shortly after the completion of the CIA study, the FBI requested and won approval from the Justice Department to launch an investigation into CISPES on grounds it was representing a hostile power-the Salvadoran FMLN rebels-and, as such, had violated the Foreign Agents' Registration Act. That was the beginning of a massive FBI operation which targeted more than one thousand domestic political groups-and hundreds of thousands of citizens-opposed to the President's policies in Central America.

A third initiative promoted by Casey and others in the Reagan national security establishment involved the 'privatization of some of the government's intelligence-gathering functions.'

Another indication that the state was monitoring our work occurred in the weeks leading up to the October 6, 1979 occupation attempt of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Reactor site. A rumor started to make the rounds before our planning meetings at one of our affinity groups was planning to break into Fort Devans to steal some weapons to use at the protest. We were dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action so this was of great concern. Fortunately the rumor turned out to be false. Few years later several of us requested our F.B. I. files. One friend who had participated in the meeting where the theft of guns was discussed received several documents and discovered that she was the only one attending the meeting where the break in of Fort Devens was proposed that was not a paid informant. That made sense considering she was the only one that argued against the plan.

We also realized that we were being monitored when a Jamaican neighbor came to tell us we were being watched. He stopped by our place at 195 Harvard Street while we were out. When he turned to leave a couple of men in trench coats questioned him about our activities. The men claimed to be with the F.B.I. and showed our neighbor there identification to support their claim.

For many people dedicated to seeking positive social change there can be that first case of government disruption that makes you question your sanity. For me that happened when I volunteered with the Boston Alliance Against Registration and the Draft (BARD.)

When President Carter announced his intentions to restart Selective Service which was ended by President Ford in March 1975 I joined the founding meeting of the local anti-draft group initiated by an organization I was helping called Boston Mobilization For Survival. Most of those attending suggested that we elect officers and make decisions using majority rule. News of a return to the daft only a couple of years after the end of the Vietnam War had ended inspired dozens to join our group. Soon we were having meetings of sixty or more people making plans for rallies on the Boston Commons and efforts to encourage young men to refuse to register when it was set to start on July 21, 1980. Even though the risks were great if convicted of intentional refusal to register including the possibility of spending five years in prison, a $50,000 fine and restrictions on educational benefits many people in our gout agreed to resist. After a couple of months the number of people participating in the meetings started to diminish even though the date to register was growing near. The meetings soon dwindled to only a ten or twelve participants.

My friend Frank and I proposed we call everyone that had been attending to ask why they stopped participating. One after another explained they felt uncomfortable with the jokes about "getting guns for the revolution" and other references to armed rebellion. I introduced proposal suggesting that we refrain from statements and jokes about armed revolution for six weeks and call everyone back saying we had agreed end the references to violence even if they were only jokes. Frank second the motion and the director suggested we bring it to a vote at the next meeting. Frank and I assumed good will being in our early twenties and arrived the next week believing the proposal would pass. As we waited for the meeting to start one new person after another arrived to join the meeting but these were not the people we had called to question their absence. The new people were older and seemed to know one another. When it came time to vote on our proposal Frank and I were the only ones that voted in favor. It was clear the others enjoyed their victory as they suggested they go home and get their guns after the meeting. Discouraged I decided to go out and wheat paste flyers once the meeting was over. A few minutes after I left the First Church the police arrived and arrested me for vandalism even though I hadn't had time to post one flyer. Frank told me the director of BARD had called the police as soon as I had mixed my glue. Later that week Frank and some of our friends started another group hoping to rekindle opposition to Selective Service. We organized a meeting at the Clamshell office in Central Square. The leaders of BARD arrived with clubs made of iron rebar and attacked Frank and I. We were able to force them out of the office but the meeting didn't go to well. We also tired to gain use of the BARD phone number since we had invested so much time and money directing draft age men to our organization but it was registered in the name of the director.

BARD disappeared a couple of weeks later. A month before the date that young men were required to register for Selective Service. Our protest that day was poorly attended. As a young activist I had great respect for the leaders of BARD and considered them my friends. This violent turn of events made me question my sanity. A few years later we discovered that many of the people leading BARD were working for the F.B.I.


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