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The ADL Snoops

The organization’s main “fact-finder” was doubling as a spyfor the white South African government while his buddy, a San Franciscocop who had tutored El Salvadoran death squads on the finer aspects of torture,was providing its officials with personal information on the organization’sputative enemies when the story broke in San Francisco in December, 1992.The organization was the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL claims to be the nation’s leading defender against prejudiceand bigotry but in this instance its targets were members of the AfricanNational Congress and its supporters, and apparently everyone, Arab andnon-Arab, who had the temerity to criticize Israel. This included some whodrove to Arab community events where the ADL’s “fact-finder,”Roy Bullock, and the cop, Tom Gerard, took turns writing down their licenseplate numbers, which Gerard turned into addresses thanks to his access toCalifornia motor vehicle records.

Their spying efforts proved to be part of a much larger intelligencegathering operation that targeted some 12,000 individuals and more than600 left-of-center organizations in northern California.

After the first flurry of publicity, the ADL’s spin doctors successfullykept the story from receiving the national coverage that the situation warranted.But the story hasn’t gone away.

Last November the California Court of Appeals handed down a decisionthat paves the way for a major test later this year of the ADL’s penchantfor spying on its enemies. It was the most significant episode in a slow-movingclass-action case filed in 1993 by 19 pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheidactivists who claim to be victims of the ADL’s snooping operations.

The plaintiffs say they were illegally spied on by Bullock, then consideredthe ADL’s top “fact-finder” by his now deceased chief, Irwin Suall,and that such spying constituted an invasion of privacy under the provisionsof the California Constitution.

The ADL’s defense, accepted by the court in 1994, is that the Jewishdefense organization is, collectively, a “journalist” and, therefore,can legally engage in information-gathering activities regardless of thesource. At question was access by the plaintiffs to information containedin 10 boxes of files seized by the San Francisco police from the ADL’s SanFrancisco office in April, 1993, and placed under court seal where the ADLhas fought fiercely to keep them. In the years since then, efforts by thecourt to settle the case have foundered on the ADL’s refusal to allow potentiallyembarrassing depositions taken by plaintiffs’ lawyer ex-Congressman Paul(Pete) McCloskey of Bullock, ADL officials and police officers to be bemade public and its files opened. The plaintiffs have been unwilling tocompromise on either of these issues.

Then, in September, 1997, Judge Alex Saldamondo ruled that McCloskey’sclients were entitled to see what the ADL had on them in its files. Twoplaintiffs, Jeffrey Blankfort and Steve Zeltzer, co-founders of the LaborCommittee on the Middle East, who had “outed” Bullock as an ADLspy after he infiltrated their group in 1987, received an extract of theirfiles from the DA’s office the day before they were ordered sealed. Bothcontain illegally obtained information, much of which, say Blankfort andZeltzer, is erroneous.

When ADL’s appeal of that decision was rejected by Court of Appeals JudgeAnthony Kline, the ADL persuaded the State Supreme Court to return the caseto the full court for a hearing. On November 15, 1998, the court reaffirmedADL’s status as a journalist and acknowledged its right to maintain filesand obtain information on all but two of the remaining plaintiffs on thebasis that they are “limited-purpose public figures”, which itdefined as having been publicly engaged and identified in activities arounda particular issue, in this instance opposition to Israeli occupation and/orSouth African apartheid. There is no protection, said the court, for obtaininginformation illegally on non-public figures.

The court made an important qualification, however, ruling that for “limitedpurpose” figures, the journalist’s shield only applies if the informationobtained is to be used for journalistic purposes. It does not protect theADL from charges that it passed information about the plaintiffs to “foreigngovernments (in this instance, Israel or South Africa) or to others”,which is what the plaintiffs claim the ADL has done.

Although the Court of Appeals vacated Judge Saldamando’s decision, itdid state that representatives of the plaintiffs had the right to requesta review of ADL’s files to discover possible constitutional violations,each of which would be worth $2500. While this may seem a small sum, thereare hundreds of Arab-Americans and anti-apartheid activists whose namesappear in the ADL’s files who potentially could collect if the ADL losesin court or is forced to settle the case.

The origins of the story are murky. What the press reported was thatthe SFPD acted on a tip from the FBI, which was supposedly concerned aboutfiles on the Nation of Islam that were stolen from its local office, andarrested Gerard, who allegedly had done the pilfering. In Gerard’s computerthey found files on more than 7,000 individuals, many of them Arab-Americans,as well as information on hundreds of left-to-liberal organizations filedby Gerard as “pinko”. In his locker, they found a black executioner’shood, a number of photos of dark-skinned men bound and blindfolded, CIAmanuals, a secret document on interrogation techniques, stamped “secret”and referring to El Salvador, and numerous passports and IDs in a varietyof names, all with his picture.

This splendid fellow began meeting with Richard Hirschhaut, chief ofthe ADL’s San Francisco office in 1986, during which, according to a “confidential”Hirschhaut memo to the aforementioned ADL chief “fact-finder”Suall, he provided “a significant amount of information” on “theactivities of specific Arab organizations and individuals in the Bay Area”.That memo hasn’t been made public but what was reported created a nightmarefor the ADL when it turned out that Gerard had been exchanging non-public,personal information from government files with Bullock, a paid informantfor the ADL since 1954 and whose own computerized “pinko” fileson leftish and liberal folks, when seized by the police, proved to be athird again as large as Gerard’s. According to police, his computer containedthe names of nearly 12,000 individuals, 77 Arab-American organizations,29 anti-apartheid organizations, and more than 600 “pinko” groupswhich included such revolutionary outfits as the NAACP, Asian Law Caucusand SANE/FREEZE, as well as 20 Bay area labor unions including the SF LaborCouncil. There were in addition, files on 612 right-wing organizations and27 skinhead groups.

According to SF police inspector Ron Roth, 75 percent of their contentswas non-public information illegally obtained from government agencies.

After indicating that the ADL would be charged with violating the California’sBusiness and Profession’s code, SF District Attorney Arlo Smith did an extraordinarything. He made available to the public, merely for the copying costs, some700 pages of documents incriminating the ADL in a nation-wide intelligencegathering operation run out of New York by Suall. One of the significantparts of that report was Bullock’s admission that he was paid by a SouthAfrican intelligence agent to spy on anti-apartheid activists (which hewas already doing for the ADL.) He had reported on a visit to Californiaby the ANC’s Chris Hani, ten days before the man expected by many to succeedNelson Mandela, returned home to be brutally murdered.

The ADL attempted to portray Bullock as a free-lance investigator, butno one was convinced, because since 1954 Bullock had been paid through acutout, an ADL lawyer in Beverly Hills. After his exposure, Bullock wasput directly on the ADL’s payroll. ADL’s position on the ANC was identicalto that of the South African government – they considered it to be a “terrorist”,”communist” organization. At the time, Israel was furnishing armsto maintain the apartheid regime in power.

In 1994, Smith announced that he would not prosecute either the ADL orBullock since it would be “expensive and time-consuming both to theSFDA and the defendants,” a curious judgement considering the overwhelmingevidence in his possession.

In its settlement with the city, the ADL, admitted no wrongdoing, agreedto restrain their operatives from seeking non-public data on ADL’s enemiesfrom government agencies and, putting a happy face on the story, promisedto create a $25,000 Hate Crimes Fund and another $25,000 for a public schoolcourse.

Another class-action case filed by the American-Arab Anti-DiscriminationCommittee and other spied-upon groups such as CISPES, the Bay Area Anti-ApartheidNetwork and the National Lawyers Guild, was settled in 1996, also underconditions favorable to the ADL, but without the approval of some of thesuing groups.

In that instance, again without admitting wrongdoing or opening its files,the ADL agreed: to remove questionably obtained information from its files;that it would not seek non-public information on individuals from governmentemployees and would pay $25,000 to a fund to improve relations among Jews,blacks and other minorities. A similar deal was offered to McCloskey’s plaintiffsbut they turned it down since it would let the ADL off the hook and allowits secrets to be kept intact.

Both sides will be back in Judge Saldamando’s court in March to heara new discovery motion from McCloskey and probably to set a trial date,something the ADL has been trying to avoid, given the embarrassment thatwould inevitably ensue, whatever the outcome. Its latest ploy has been toask the judge for a summary judgement, in other words, dismissal of thecase, something he is unlikely to do.

The deaths of veteran journalists Colin Edwards and George Green reducedthe number of plaintiffs by two and subsequently four others, whose politicalactivities were relatively limited, were dropped from the case. McCloskey,himself a victim of ADL attacks and whose wife Helen is one of the plaintiffs,is pursuing the case pro bono. Typically he is faced in court by four orfive lawyers for the ADL. Contributions for the plaintiffs may be sent toPaul N. McCloskey, Jr. Atty., 333 Bradford St., Redwood City, CA 94063 (Formore information see: http://www.adlwatch.orgor e-mail at melblcome@igc.com.) CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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