An Epidemic Of Terrorism

From Dallas to San Salvador

"Gilberto" and "The Doctor"

Allies in the Shadows

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


It is difficult to date with precision the beginning of the extended campaign of official harassment and covert low-grade domestic terrorism that continued to the end of the Reagan Administration and beyond. The reporting of such incidents is not comprehensive. Except for a few veteran activists, most Americans are not comfortable telling others they are the subject of an FBI inquiry. Many mainstream church members and younger activists, as well as refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala, have been intimidated into silence. Other targets of harassment and intimidation, unaware of the systematic nature of such activities and believing their experiences to be isolated events, had no reason to go public with their stories.

But in piecing together scores of confirmed reports of both official harassments and secret, mysterious violations, there emerges the unmistakable picture of a deliberate, coordinated and extended campaign of political rape, in which the homes and workplaces of political activists have been invaded, their belongings stolen or trashed and their sense of security deeply violated.

Monitoring Subversion in Miami

In January, 1985, Edward Haase, a 32-year-old Kansas City-based radio journalist, arrived in Miami after spending two months in Nicaragua.. As he moved through the Miami airport, a Customs official examined his belongings, which included personal diaries and a number of Nicaraguan newspapers. The Customs official told Haase: "We're checking for possible subversive material for the FBI. They want to talk to you. " After a twenty minute wait, Haase was approached by an FBI agent from the Miami office.

He asked the journalist how long he had been in Nicaragua and what he had been doing. Haase explained he was a freelance journalist who had gone down to observe the elections. When he asked the agent what constituted subversive material, he was told: "Anything that advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government." Haase breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought, I'm fine. I'm not carrying anything like that here., Meanwhile, Customs officials were combing Haase's belongings-especially books, writings and printed material. After about three hours, told the Customs officials he was concerned about missing his connecting flight to Kansas City. As the Customs official took him to an upper level of the airport to check on flight times, Haase saw the FBI agent, Jose Miranda, leaning over a Xerox machine copying his papers. He was subsequently given his material back and allowed to leave. On his return, Haase called the Center for Constitutional Rights. Attorney Michael Ratner contacted the Miami FBI office who said they copied Haase's material in order to disseminate it to the INS and other FBI field offices. The material included an address book that listed the names and phone numbers of Haase's friends and contacts. They had also copied his diary. "There was nothing special in it that disturbed me. But it feels like a tremendous violation of my person," he said later.

Haase said that the FBI later defended its activities, citing its mandate for foreign counter-intelligence. But, as in the case of the 100 or so other travelers subjected to Customs seizures, nothing illegal was discovered. "This might have been legitimate had the FBI had some prior evidence that the travelers were working on behalf of the Nicaraguan government. But no such evidence existed. This was harassment pure and simple. Even then, it didn't do what it set out to do-stop citizens from participating in work to prevent American intervention in Nicaragua," Haase said. "There was no evidence that any of us was acting as an agent of a foreign power. What we were doing was carrying out our responsibility as citizens of the United States, expressing our opinions and doing everything within the law to make this a better country. If we think our country is doing something wrong, it is a duty as an American to raise our voices."

Targeting Churches

... January 7, 1987: The office of Rev. Timothy Limburg, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Washington, D.C., was burgled for the second time within a month. "In December, I went to my office on Sunday morning to find the door had been jimmied. The office was a mess. A bottle of ink had been thrown against the wall. I called the police, who told me fingerprint people would be by later. They never showed up. When I began to clean up the office, I realized this was not simple vandalism. I found they had rifled a box of old records in my closet. They went through old canceled checks and old income tax returns. One thing they found-and obviously examined-were two old passports of mine. One was issued in 1976 when I visited my brother in Managua. He's been active in Central America work for a long time. The second passport used to go to Guatemala in 1981. I had no idea the passports were still around. But they found them and looked them over. Then on January 7, the office was broken into again. This time, they went through all the files in the outer office. They took the office copy of the church directory, our only updated copy with the names of new members. That was an act of intimidation. They're telling me, 'We can get in whenever we want.' At this point, I'm far more angry than I am intimidated. I think it's outrageous that this happens in this country. It can't go on."

From Dallas to San Salvador

From its beginnings, the history of El Salvador has been a history of unrelenting power struggles, of periodic uprisings followed by periods of brutal repression by a series of military and civilian rulers. By the end of the 19th Century, a group of wealthy land-owning families had virtually abolished El Salvador's traditional export crops of balsam and indigo to establish large, lucrative coffee plantations. They were helped by President Rafael Zaldivar's order in 1880 to expropriate communal lands inhabited by the native population for the coffee growers, a decision that was backed by the creation of an armed rural police force.

The succeeding years of peasant revolts, economic depressions and the proliferation of security and police forces led, in 1931, to the election of a socialist president, Arturo Araujo, who was promptly overthrown by the Minister of War General Maximiliano Hemandez Martinez. The following year, the Salvadoran Communist Party, led by Agustin Farabundo Marti, led an attempted overthrow of the military government. That revolt resulted in "la matanza," a massacre of between 10,000 and 30,000 Salvadoran peasants, leftists and trade unionists at the hands of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez who, almost 50 years later, would be honored when a newly-formed Salvadoran death squad was named after him.

By 1970, according to United Nations data, the top 10 percent of the country's landowners owned about 80 percent of El Salvador's agriculturally productive land. At the same time, crushing poverty contributed to the deaths by age 5 of 38 out of every 100 children. By 1976, a U.N. report cited El Salvador's unemployment rate as the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 50 percent of adult Salvadorans were unemployed or underemployed. Around this period, elements of the Salvadoran leftist community split over whether to pursue reforms through armed struggle or electoral strategies. While some radicalized students and workers formed guerrilla bands under the umbrella of the People's Revolutionary Army, a coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Communist Party supporters mounted a slate headed by presidential candidate Jose Napoleon Duarte and his vice-presidential running mate, Guillermo Ungo.

Their apparent electoral victory in 1972, however, fell apart when Col. Arturo Molina, the candidate of the Salvadoran military, seized power. His troops occupied the National University and arrested 800 student protestors. At the same time, Duarte was captured and put on trial for subversion.(The military judge who rendered the guilty verdict that resulted in Duarte's exile was the director of the Salvadoran Military Academy, Agustin Martinez Varela, father of Frank Varelli.) In 1977, President Molina was succeeded by his Defense Minister, Gen. Carlos Romero. Shortly after his installation, Romero's security forces killed more than 100 demonstrators opposing what they claimed was his fraudulent election.

While the United States had generally turned a blind eye to the repression perpetrated by El Salvador's military dictators, State Department and CIA officials traditionally used U.S. aid to leverage favorable treatment of U.S. economic interests in El Salvador. Behind-the-scenes manipulations usually succeeded in maintaining pro-U.S. Ieadership in San Salvador. While the Carter Administration slightly modified that pattern, it did nothing to fundamentally alter it. Reacting to the continuing human rights abuses and escalating polarization, officials in the Carter Administration pressured the Romero government to curtail abuses and ensure electoral reforms. The succession of Salvadoran military leaders was interrupted by a coup in October, 1979, led by a Carter-supported junta which included members of the country's left wing as well as of reform-minded military officers. In the spring of 1980, following the resignations of several members of the junta, Jose Napoleon Duarte was appointed to the ruling body. Nine months later, he assumed the presidency with Washington's blessings.

U.S. officials described Duarte as moderate-able to communicate with both sides, to help the country attain political security and economic justice, in short, a grand mediator who might help El Salvador find a middle road to democracy and stability. The choice could hardly have been worse. Rather than emerging as a force for stability and reconciliation, Duarte became a lightning rod for all sides of the conflict-each of whom saw him as a representative of the other side's agenda.

To the anti-communist elements in El Salvador's business and military leadership, Duarte seemed the front man running interference for a long-term Soviet-Cuban plan for the communist take-over of El Salvador and, ultimately, all of Central America. They saw Duarte as a mere puppet of Jimmy Carter, U.S. Ambassador Robert White, and the Carter State Department in their deceitful sell-out of El Salvador. And they saw their salvation in the incoming administration of President-elect Ronald Reagan.

But if Duarte personified the political nightmare of the Salvadoran right wing, his failure to implement meaningful land reform and to bring the security forces and death squads under control left him with virtually no support among the FMLN rebels in El Salvador or the left-wing and liberal activists to the North.

At the same time that Reagan's transition chief, and soon-to-be Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, was advising the new President to make a dramatic show of U.S. political and military resolve in Central America, thousands of U.S. citizens found themselves sickened by the increasing brutality in El Salvador.

The previous March, Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero preached a sermon at the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador in which he called for an end to the violence. Addressing the members of the military, the National Guard and the National Police, Msgr. Romero told them: "Each one of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your brothers and sisters...In the name of God, I beg you: stop the repression." The next day, March 24, 1980! as he was celebrating mass in a hospital chapel, Archbishop Romero was assassinated by a sniper. The death of the compassionate Archbishop, who had become increasingly known for his advocacy on behalf of the poor and oppressed in El Salvador, propelled him into international martyrdom.

The revulsion of U.S. citizens was heightened in November of 1980, following the kidnapping of 20 leaders of the leftist FDR party. The mutilated bodies of six of the leaders were discovered outside San Salvador the next day.

The brutality hit North Americans hardest on December 4, 1980, when the bodies of four recently murdered U.S. churchwomen, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel, were discovered in an unmarked grave near the airport.

Near-daily reports in the news media of the institutionalized terrorism of the Salvadoran security forces and the increasing atrocities perpetrated by the country's death squads-which, in turn, provoked sabotage, assassinations and bombings by the leftist FMLN-led U.S. citizens to form a number of new organizations, as well as to reinvigorate existing groups, around the issue of U.S. policies in El Salvador and Guatemala.

To liberal and leftist activists, Duarte appeared as the handmaiden of the Reagan State Department, holding power by the grace of U.S. military force. To them, Duarte appeared as the Reagan Administration's adopted surrogate, sanctioning the increasing U.S. military presence in the country while turning a blind eye to the rampant abuses of the Salvadoran security forces and death squads which propelled the flight of an endless stream of exploited, impoverished and terrified refugees.

In fact, their assessment of Duarte was not entirely wrong. Duarte was listed in the ClA's files as an asset, a source of intelligence from whom the Agency benefited, even if it did not control his activities.

It was this perception of El Salvador, Duarte and the Reagan agenda that gave rise to the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES}a small group, born in 1980, that would grow in the next few years to over 300 chapters in virtually every major city in the United States. Formed initially as a vehicle to protest U.S. policies in El Salvador, CISPES' membership grew to include people concerned about conditions in Guatemala and Honduras as well. And when the Reagan Administration turned all its guns on the tiny country of Nicaragua-mining that country's harbors, blockading its ports and fielding a small CIA-created army of Nicaraguan contras-the U.S. Iiberal community gave birth to a profusion of CISPES-type groups which rallied citizens around the Nicaraguan cause and against U.S. military intervention in the region.

CISPES remained the first and largest of the Central America-oriented political groups of the 1980s. And depending on one's point of view, the group either arose spontaneously to protest what its members saw as offensive and unjust U.S. policies or covertly as a diabolically clever creation of Moscow and Havana which insinuated itself into the mainstream of U.S. political life in order to undermine the forces of democracy and render the U.S. vulnerable to an onslaught of international communist terrorism.

"Gilberto" and "The Doctor"

If Frank Varelli had never been born, he would have existed a~ figment of Bill Casey's imagination. The short, spectacled, mustachioed Varelli grew up in a crucible of political violence which hardened in him a ruthless and obsessive hatred of communism. From mentors in the Salvadoran military he learned the street ways and strategies of the FMLN guerrillas and how they fit into the right-wing version of a larger terror network driven by Moscow, Havana and the PLO. But Varelli's study of human nature was no less rigorous than his study of history. An evangelist by training, he developed a deep understanding of what motivates people-an understanding that served him well as one of the FBI's most effective undercover agents.

As "Gilberto Mendoza" he appeared to his fellow CISPES members as humble, deferential, ingratiating and a valuable source of information about developments in El Salvador. In tape recordings of his phone calls to CISPES members, Mendoza's Colombo-like manner is disarming and, when one understands his real purpose, chilling:

(Call No. 1)
Mendoza: Hello, is this the number of CISPES?
Woman: Yes, it is.
M: Well, I'm trying to get this material that came out in the Mother Jones magazine. And I wanted to know how I will go about getting that.
W: OK. What materials were you interested in?
M: Well, I got it here. This one is "El Salvador on the Threshold of a Democratic Revolutionary Victory." The other one is called "E1 Salvador: A Brief Overview." One is four dollars and the other is seventy five cents.
W: Listen, I need to look through my materials. I think I have the brief overview. If I can have your address, Ill send you what I do have that might be interesting.
M: Well, I think that would be fine.
W: Another thing is, I'll write on the material the date of our next meeting in Dallas. You might like to come to that.
M: I'm very interested in finding out more.
W: Well, we're having a dinner a week from tonight-a fundraiser-for us to keep working on the issue. And there'll be a speaker there. I'll send you all this material plus the dates of the dinner and of our next meeting. Could I have your name and address?
M: Let me get it because I just moved here. Just a second please. OK. Let me give you this one. My name is Gilberto Antonio Ayala Mendoza. Do you speak Spanish?
W: Just a little bit. Can you spell it?
M: (Spells it) And my address is PO Box 57294. And at the bottom you put 1505 Slocum, Dallas, Texas 75207.
W: Listen, would you mind if you gave me your phone number so if something comes up I could call you?
M: OK. Just a second please...I'm calling here from a friend's house. I'm at 624-1939.
W: Thanks very much.

In fact, the phone number Varelli gave to activists was a direct line to the terrorism unit in the Dallas FBI office.

Allies in the Shadows: The FBI's Private Network

While Frank Varelli was the first FBI employee to infiltrate and report on developments within CISPES, a network of private, right-wing organizations was also at work spying on emerging liberal and left-wing Central America groups, disrupting their activities and providing material for the FBI's files. Many of the same groups that gathered intelligence on religious and political groups, including CISPES-and disseminated a blitz of distorted, scurrilous material tying them to purported international communist-inspired terror networks-would later be shown to have formed the propaganda and funding core of the Reagan Administration's private contra-support network.

In the context of domestic intelligence gathering, their affiliation with the FBI had been authorized by a little-noticed provision of a presidential order signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 which permitted the FBI to "contract with...private companies or institutions...and need not reveal the sponsorship of such contracts or arrangements for authorized intelligence purposes."

A number of the domestic conservative groups who aided the Administration's secret campaign to support the contras and to neutralize opponents of its Central America policies worked with other foreign governments and organizations under the umbrella of an international organization known as the World Anti-Communist League. The League's membership includes some of the most ultra-conservative and reactionary elements in the non-communist world. Founded in 1967, WACL has included in its membership a number of former Nazis and Nazi collaborators and counts among its various regional affiliates Guatemalan and Salvadoran death squad leaders, including Mario Sandoval Alarcon, a former vice president of Guatemala known as the "Godfather of the Death Squads." League members were invited to Taiwan's Political Warfare Academy for training in counter-insurgency and police techniques, as well as to Argentina, where they were trained in brutal interrogation techniques by members of the Argentine military.

During the 1980s, WACL's chief spokesman in the United States was Retired Major General John K. Singlaub, a former Army chief who resigned his commission after openly criticizing President Jimmy Carter's proposal to reduce US troop strength in South Korea. In 1980, Singlaub founded a US branch of WACL and, four years later, became chairman of the League. In that capacity, he helped facilitate covert military support from League members to anti-communist resistance movements in a number of countries, including Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Nicaragua, whose former dictator Anastasio Debayle Somoza, was an influential member of the League before his ouster by the Sandinistas in 1979.

As League chairman, Singlaub told a WACL conference in 1984: "Our struggle with Communism is not a spectator sport. . .We have opted for a course of action which calls for the provision of support and assistance to those who are actively resisting the Soviet-supported intrusion into Africa, Asia and North America."

At the time, Singlaub was assuming the role of the leading publicly visible figure involved in securing weapons and money for the Nicaraguan contras under a private-sector initiative apparently conceived by the late CIA director William Casey and coordinated by Lt. Col. Oliver North from the National Security Council.

Back in the winter of 1980, following Ronald Reagan's election Singlaub traveled to Central America, along with another WACL official former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Daniel O. Graham, to tell officials in El Salvador and Guatemala that the emphasis of the Carter administration on human rights was being downgraded and that counter-terrorism and hemispheric security would be the dominant policies of the new Administration. One Guatemalan official quoted Singlaub and Graham as telling military leaders in that country that "Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done." Within weeks of the Singlaub-Graham visit, the level of death squad activities in Guatemala increased dramatically.


From the Moon Files

One of the more prominent United States-based offshoots of a member group of the World Anti-Communist League was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's organization. While most publicity about the Moon organization has centered on stories of the psychological "captivity" and "deprogramming" of young members of the cult, as well as the federal tax evasion conviction of the Rev. Moon in the late 1970s, the organization, with its large accumulation of capital, has been a major player in international right-wing circles for 20 years.

The international spread of the Moon organization has been paralleled by the proliferation of Moon-funded organizations within the US to promote the profoundly anti-communist and anti-democratic ideology of the Moon church, which itself has been alleged by a number of researchers in and out of Congress to be directed by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.

One of the more active Moon groups in the early 1980s was a campus organization created under the acronym CARP, the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles. In early 1981, CARP strategists determined that Central America was becoming a critical arena in the fight against the advance of Marxism-Leninism. As a result, they mounted a campaign on more than 100 campuses around the country to counteract the activities of groups like CISPES by presenting support for the Salvadoran junta and its emerging leader, Jose Napoleon Duarte.

CARP members began to make their intentions known to the FBI as early as April 1981, when Moon activists wrote a barrage of letters to the FBI informing the Bureau of their activities. In short order, the entries in the FBI files, some of which are headed "Miscellaneous - Non-Subversive," grew into a more active partnership between the Bureau and CARP. And by the spring of 1981, CARP members were infiltrating CISPES l meetings and sending reports into various FBI offices.

The 48 pages released by the FBI, which constitute only a small portion of the Bureau's files on CARP, includes submissions from Moon groups on campuses as diverse as Columbia University, Boston University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Chicago. While the FBI released CISPES-related references to CARP, it declined to release any of the entries in the Bureau's main file on the Moon organization.

The activities of CARP allegedly went beyond intelligence gathering into more active forms of political harassment and disruption. A number of FBI documents note the outbreak of fights and rock throwing incidents at CISPES demonstrations that involved members of CARP. To a casual reader, the FBI notations seem to be neutral accounts by observing agents. In fact, CARP's relationship to the FBI-at least in Texas-was much more active. At the SMU campus in Dallas, for instance, where CARP had a contingent of about 75 members, Special Agent Dan Flanagan would go the campus once a month to pay the Moonies for their support services to the FBI. In addition to supplying intelligence to the Bureau, the Moonies started fights among the audience whenever CISPES held a rally or demonstration on campus. After a series of such incidents, CISPES moved off the SMU campus to the Martin Luther King Center, much to the relief of authorities at the university who were concerned about the violence that seemed to follow CISPES campus events.

... A second private group which flourished during the Reagan era was the Washington-based Council for Inter-American Security. The group disseminated reams of material during the 1980s purporting to prove linkages between a Soviet-inspired global terror network and liberal and left-wing American groups opposed to US foreign policies. CIS also expended considerable effort to improve the public image of the reputed Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson. When the FBI's CISPES files were pried open in 1988 by a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, they were found to contain several reports written by J. Michael Waller, a researcher whose work has been sponsored by the nongovernmental Council for Inter-American Security. But Waller's work to connect American political dissenters to an international communist-terrorist plot was part of a public-private partnership. According to several contracts on record, Waller's research- which helped swell the FBI's files on Central America groups-was also financed by no less a source than the Reagan Administration's Department of State.


Western Goals: The Strange Case of John Rees

Of all the emerging private conservative organizations working to support the policies of the new Administration, none was more effective than Western Goals. Housed in a townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, this foundation turned out a series of publications designed to expose the "communist-terrorist" menace inside the country.

One of the purposes of the foundation was described in a statement of purpose by founder Larry McDonald: "In the field of Marxists, terrorism and subversion, Western Goals has the most experienced advisors and staff in the United States...The Foundation has begun the computerization of thousands of documents relating to the internal security of our country and the protection of government and institutions from Communist-controlled penetration and subversion."

A long-time colleague of McDonald and a key figure in the work of the new foundation was John Rees-the same right-wing journalist whose article was used by the FBI to launch the first CISPES investigation and whose writings were cited by the Denton Committee to brand nuclear peace groups as Soviet "active measures" front groups.

In assembling a board of directors, McDonald wasted no time in soliciting a man who was already prominent in international right-wing circles-John Singlaub.

Beginning in 1982, the foundation-under the guiding hand of Rees, himself a long-time confidant of Singlaub-began publishing a series of books targeting liberal and progressive activists involved in a range of causes and organizations. ~e War Called Peace dealt with the array of US peace groups supporting nuclear arms reduction and the nuclear freeze movement. Broken Seals attacked the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for National Security Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups which had, in the previous decade, been in the forefront of the effort to demand stronger Congressional oversight over the CIA and the FBI. Ally Betrayed...Nicaragua catalogued the role of the Carter Administration in "selling out" the Somoza regime in that country and permitting the establishment of the Sandinista regime in its place. Soviet Active Measures Against The United States laid out an elaborate theory of contacts and linkages which purported to explain how domestic political and religious groups, such as the Washington Office on Latin America and the National Council of Churches, were being used by the KGB as fronts for Moscow's political operations.

In defense of his activities, Rees has pointed out that he has never been successfully sued for libel, a fact he attributed to his knowledge of libel law, his meticulous research and his dependence on open source information for most of the material he has compiled on left and liberal activists. But another reason Rees may have avoided such litigation lies in the limited nature of the circulation of Western Goals materials. At least in the early days of the foundation's operations, very few of the group's publications made their way into left-liberal circles. According to former employees of the foundation, the publications were circulated, almost exclusively, to John Birch Society chapters, other groups on the far right, local police departments, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI."

In a suit against the Bureau and the Washington, D.C. police department, the Institute for Policy Studies introduced a deposition by Rees in which he testified that he had supplied information about the group to the FBI both by phoning FBI agents and providing the Bureau with copies of his publications. In the deposition, Rees listed a number of law enforcement agencies as recipients of his newsletter, including the Internal Revenue Service, BATF, the Secret Service, Customs, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the Maryland, New York and Michigan State Police.

People familiar with Rees' operations over the last twenty years- he began his own newsletter, Information Digest, in 1967, around the same time he began working as an informant for the Newark Police Department-are amazed at his resilient ability to stay in business despite a series of discrediting events.

Rees, who was born in Great Britain and came to the United States in 1963, worked for a spell for the London Daily Mirror. His career as a mainstream journalist was aborted, however, when superiors at the paper discovered he had been trading on his professional standing by receiving free meals and hotel reservations. When officials at the paper discovered Rees' unethical activities, they fired him from the paper and paid off his bills.

He first came to the attention of the FBI when he began dating a woman who was secretary to the FBI's Legal Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London. The woman was reportedly prepared to marry Rees when she learned he was already married, according to an FBI document.

Rees gained a measure of notoriety in 1964, shortly after his arrival in the United States, when he moved to Boston and gained the confidence of Grace Metalious, the author of Peyton Place, who was terminally ill. Hours before Metalious died, Rees brought a new will to her room at Beth Israel Hospital. He persuaded her to sign the document, which left her entire estate, then valued at nearly $150,000, to Rees, cutting off her husband and three children. Metalious' lawyer at the time said that the author fully understood her actions in leaving her estate to Rees. The attorney quoted her as saying, "I have complete trust in Mr. Rees with regard to my children." It was only later, when Rees learned that the liabilities and outstanding claims against Metalious' estate were greater than her assets, that he renounced his claim to her legacy.

Rees subsequently married a black woman and moved to Newark where, in 1967, he launched "New Careers," a program designed to provide jobs for poor black residents of that city. At the same time, capitalizing on his wife's contacts in Newark's black community, he began secretly reporting to the Newark police on activities of black activist groups in the city. But his Newark career was cut short when the U.S. Labor Department, which partially funded his "New Careers" program, determined that Rees overcharged the city some $7,500. The department also blocked payment of another $12,000 to a job training firm for which Rees was a consultant.

The following year, Rees moved to Chicago where he began to work as an undercover informant for the Chicago Police Department infiltrating groups opposing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Rees offered to testify on his findings before the House Un-American Activities Committee and to share his material with the FBI as well. But, at that time at least, officials at FBI headquarters determined that Rees was next to useless as a source of reliable information.

In a 1968 internal memo, Special Agent Alex Rosen wrote to several top deputies of J. Edgar Hoover about Rees' offer, noting that, during his stay in Newark, "he attempted to sell himself and his services to the FBI. The interviewing agents believed his interests were self-serving and that he came to the FBI thinking this would enhance his credentials in contacting other clients." The memo added that Rees "talked in generalities regarding persons and events connected with racial and criminal problems in Newark and furnished no information of value."

The FBI memo concluded that: "Rees is an unscrupulous, unethical individual and an opportunist who operates with a self-serving interest. Information he has provided has been exaggerated and in generalities. Information from him cannot be considered reliable. We should not initiate any interview with this unscrupulous, unethical individual concerning his knowledge of the disturbance in Chicago as to do so would be a waste of time."

Despite his rebuff by the FBI, however, Rees stepped up his political spying activities, drawing on local police contacts he had cultivated in Newark, Chicago, New York and elsewhere. During the early 1970s, Rees gathered extensive material on political activists from various police officials, informants and private political spies with whom he exchanged information. That material was recycled in his Information Digest, which, in turn, went to a number of law enforcement agencies who, in turn, used it to compile files on political activists.

The bizarre and damaging secret flow of unsubstantiated and scurrilous reports surfaced in 1976 when an investigative arm of the New York State Assembly conducted an investigation into the compilation of hundreds of thousands of files by the New York State Police on political groups and activists. They discovered that information reported in Information Digest "was casually used to create dossiers on a wide spectrum of Americans whose only crime was to dissent on what the Digest authors considered the left of the political spectrum. This information was, in turn, kept in state police files throughout the nation and widely disseminated. For police officials to have participated in this procedure is a shocking commentary on the decline of democratic safeguards."

"It is important to note," the investigators added, "that this was a national police procedure. Information Digest was the string that held together a network of hidden informants whose information was recorded by police departments throughout the nation without the individual involved knowing of the process and without independent checking by the police as to validity and source of this derogatory information."

Noting that material was compiled by both John and Sheila Louise Rees, his third wife, who, at the time worked as a Congressional staffer for Rep. Larry McDonald, the investigators asked McDonald to elaborate on his relationship with Rees and his wife. McDonald, however, declined to comply. Even without McDonald's testimony the investigators unraveled a longstanding covert, deeply concealed network of information-sharing on liberal activists which assumed greater proportions the further the investigators dug into it.

To avoid having to identify Rees and his newsletter as the source of many of their political files, officials in the New York State Police classified Information Digest as a "confidential informant" thereby investing it with the same aura of authority as an undercover asset who had actually infiltrated groups which were the subject of its reports.

The material's authoritativeness was further enhanced when it was forwarded from the files of the New York State Police to other law enforcement agencies around the country in response to inquiries about political activists. When other agencies received the Rees-generated information, they assumed it was reliable since it bore the imprimatur of the New York State Police. "Few liberal organizations escaped being targets of derogatory reports or of infiltration by the agents of Information Digest who hid behind a maze of false names and Post Office boxes taken out under mysterious circumstances," the report added. "Opponents of the Vietnam war, including journalists, union leaders, campus dissenters, state and national politicians and liberal organizations were frequent targets. At times, personal remarks about the lifestyles of targets were included."

Elaborating on Rees' mode of operations, the report quotes "a highly-placed source" as explaining that Rees would go to one police department with information. While collecting payment as an informant, Rees would gather new material and pass it along to other police departments, either in exchange for pay or for yet new material.

The report detailed Rees' work with the Washington, D.C. police between 1971 and 1973. The relationship began prior to a major and-war demonstration in May 1971, which resulted in the jailing of more than 12,000 protestors. Before the rally, Rees suggested to D.C. police officials that they rent an office for him and install listening devices to monitor leftists he would invite to the office. Using the alias John Seeley, Rees opened the Red House Book Store, which was conveniently located one floor below the headquarters of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The store, which provided an easy listening post for Rees, was rented and paid for by the intelligence division of the Washington D.C. police department.

Investigators for the New York State Assembly concluded that: "Information Digest's raw, unevaluated, editorialized and frequently derogatory information was used to develop dossiers on thousands of patriotic and decent Americans who had committed no crime and were not suspected of committing a crime...It should be noted that the extraordinary cost of maintaining a million-card file on innocent civilians could be put to use to curtail real criminal activities."

The New York investigation succeeded in eliminating one subscriber-the New York State Police-from Rees' list of clients. But the resourceful Rees, aided perhaps by his association with McDonald, lost little time in cultivating a new client, the FBI-which had, just ten years earlier, determined him to be "unscrupulous, unethical and unreliable."

It was also during the late 1970s as well that Rees worked with a partner in the private spy business who had personal connections to two men who would become among the most powerful people in the country: Ronald Reagan and his Attorney General, Edwin Meese.

For several years, Rees worked with Patricia Atthowe, a security consultant who compiled files on political activists, especially those opposed to nuclear power, which she used in her security work with large West Coast utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric. According to the notes of two Los Angeles detectives who interviewed Richard Miller, then a vice-president of PG&E: "Atthowe and [her organization] provided good information. Ronald Reagan could verify Atthowe's reliability. Atthowe's husband was a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department and Edwin Meese was a District Attorney in Alameda County at about the same time."

It is unclear how, and at what date, Rees managed to establish a new relationship with the FBI, but the climate in 1980 was clearly conducive to the Bureau's cultivation of private-sector resources like Rees. The first document on file which speaks to a formal relationship between Rees and the FBI surfaced in December 1981, when an assistant United States Attorney in New York testified, in a case involving the National Lawyers Guild, that: "Some federal agencies received information about the National Lawyers Guild from John Rees or S. Louise Rees or both, sometimes in the form of Information Digest, and from time to time they were compensated by the FBI for furnishing information."

During the 1980s, Rees attained greater public visibility when he began to write a column for the Moon-owned Washington Times. But toward the end of the Reagan Administration, he again managed to become an embarrassment to the FBI.

In 1987, Jonathan Dann produced for KRON-TV in San Francisco a three-part series on private political spies. Dann reported in the final segment of the series that in 1982 the State Department published a list of groups which it declared were "Communist fronts" controlled by the KGB and the Kremlin. One group on the list was the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a long-standing peace organization. When members of the group learned they had been branded as agents of Moscow by the State Department, they filed a Freedom of Information request to ascertain the origin of the charge. They learned that the State Department's report quoted, word for word, from a Western Goals publication, The War Called Peace, written by John Rees. Initially, Rees denied writing the passages quoted by the State Department but, when confronted by Dann with a draft of his own booklet, stating that WILPF "supports revolutionary national liberation movements utilizing terrorism and armed struggle" and that WILPF "is thoroughly penetrated by the Moscow-line Communist party," he conceded it was his work.

Angered by the FBI's red-baiting of the group, and especially troubled by the government's use of scurrilous, unverified information from a private right-wing activist, Congressman Don Edwards demanded an explanation of the FBI's conduct from William Webster, then director of the Bureau. The responses from the FBI's Office of Congressional Affairs were characteristically unenlightening. They are worth nothing less for the information they contain than for the glimpse they provide of the impotence of Congress in effectively overseeing the Bureau.

Edwards had asked the FBI how Rees' book came to be retained in the FBI's files and how the portion dealing with WILPF was retrieved and disseminated to the State Department. The Bureau's response was: "A search of our indices does indicate a copy of the Rees booklet was retained in FBI files. It does show that two copies were provided to the U.S. Department of State. The FBI may acquire pertinent public information material and appropriately disseminate that material to other agencies if that information is of possible interest or use to them."

Edwards further asked the FBI whether it had advised the State Department that the document in question was "an unverified report from an outside source whom the Bureau had previously discredited."

In characteristic FBI jargon, the Bureau responded: "The transmittal communication only advised the State Department that the booklet was edited by John Rees and published by the Western Goals Foundation and contained no opinions as to the credibility of the editor, publisher or authors...The decision on the credibility of such a public document in most circumstances is left to the reader. It is noted that the publisher of the booklet, Western Goals Foundation, had as its chairman the late Congressman Lawrence P. McDonald, killed when the Soviets shot down the KAL airliner..."

At the time, McDonald had been en route to a meeting of the World Anti-Communist League.

While the FBI may not have explicitly endorsed the reliability of the material, that subtlety was obviously lost on the State Department. Shortly before Dann's report aired in late 1987, the State Department removed the name of WILPF from its group of Moscow "front" organizations. A spokesman for the State Department indicated that the Department, itself, had no way of knowing whether the allegations about WILPF were true. The reason the group was included on the list was that the State Department received the information from the FBI. It was the FBI's imprimatur on the material that led the Department to believe in its authenticity and accuracy.

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