Welcome Seth Rosenfeld (Center for Investigative Reporting) (SFGate) and Host Todd Gitlin (ToddGitlin.net) (Columbia Journalism School)

Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power

In 1977, The Daily Californian, Berkeley’s student paper, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents bearing on FBI surveillance in Berkeley during the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1981, Seth Rosenfeld, then a Daily Cal reporter, started reading those files that the FBI turned over. He published some initial reports. Later that year, having observed how many files were missing or blacked out (“I wondered whether the bureau was America’s biggest consumer of Magic Markers,” he writes), he filed an additional request for “any and all” records on former UC President Clark Kerr, former Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio, and more than a hundred other individuals, organizations, and events. Five lawsuits, many more Magic Markers, and 30 years later, he had succeeded in retrieving more than 300,000 pages of records, a federal judge having ruled that the FBI had no legitimate law enforcement purpose in keeping them secret. His venture in unearthing records about illicit espionage and political operations by America’s chief cops extended throughout, and outlasted, Rosenfeld’s distinguished career as an investigative reporter for San Francisco’s Examiner and Chronicle.

The resulting book is not only about campus surveillance but political causation. Much of it concerns the backstage maneuvers of a right-wing electoral-administrative conspiracy (an accurate word, for once) to subvert First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, press, and assembly. To clarify: Officials not only collected information, true and false, but they illegally shaped events—in particular, the political rise of Ronald Reagan in California politics. Rosenfeld has thoroughly digested various illegal and undemocratic efforts of this sort, supplementing the FBI archive with some two hundred interviews and arriving at a scrupulous chronicle and analysis of America’s deep politics, the likes of which exists nowhere else. This writer has long surmised that some of what he reports might be true, but wondered if his paranoia was getting the better of him. It was not. The record of the FBI’s obsession and meddling is overwhelming and, across the abyss of time, still shocking. (I should disclose that I read the proofs to write a blurb several months ago, but even on second reading, I’m bowled over by what Rosenfeld has found.)

What he uncovered is, to use a word of that era, dynamite. It would take the length of this review even to list bullet points of (so to speak) greatest hits, but among them are these:

• Starting in 1961, long before a mass student movement erupted at Berkeley, the campus vice chancellor for student affairs was telling tales to the FBI.

• In 1965, Hoover ordered up a report for his “close and trusted friend” Lewis Powell, so that Powell could give a talk denouncing campus radicals. (This was the same Lewis Powell later appointed by Richard Nixon to the Supreme Court.)

• An FBI informer, who had cut his espionage teeth infiltrating the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party in Berkeley, procured firearms for the budding Black Panther Party.

• The FBI colluded with Ronald Reagan before he was a political candidate, while he was a gubernatorial candidate, while he was governor of California, and thereafter. Sharing a political agenda­—to root out Communists–they scratched each others’ backs for decades.

• Their collaboration began during his years as a Hollywood performer ferreting out suspected Communists. As Reagan rendered favors, so did the FBI render them back. Among other things, they snooped on his daughter at the behest of her parents, helped protect one of his sons from scandal, and not least, during his first month in Sacramento, met secretly with him to spill intelligence about student protests and help him drive Clark Kerr out of the university presidency. Earlier, Hoover had also helped disqualify Kerr for a cabinet appointment by Lyndon B. Johnson.

There is, as they say, much more. But the story Rosenfeld tells so lucidly and at such necessary length should not be considered “ancient history,” a quarry for the antiquarian delectation of specialists and veterans. It points to something even more vast and unexplored: presumed troves of evidence concerning the surveillance of hundreds of thousands, or millions, of American citizens by government agencies, unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement purposes, and sequestered from public view for decades. In particular, Rosenfeld’s account raises the question of what else the FBI, and the CIA, and military intelligence knew about who was doing what in the ‘60s and ‘70s; and when they knew it; and who else they told.

There is plenty of talk about government transparency. But transparency gets encrusted over time. If we are interested in buried truth, it is a matter of urgency to get busy. To put it bluntly, those who were surveilled, infiltrated, and manipulated are passing away. So are those who conducted the surveillance, the infiltration, and manipulation. To make matters worse, the newspapers that fed Seth Rosenfeld during his years of dogged industry have cut to the bone.

Is this “ancient history”? Events of those years still cloud American politics. (See: Ayers, Bill.) Conventional wisdom about the past is alive—one may say festering — in the present. Rosenfeld convincingly shows that a picture of the student left of those years that fails to take government operations into account is askew. I write this as one who has long doubted that so-called intelligence operations can, by themselves, explain America’s political fortunes or even the demise of the New Left. I still doubt it. But this is one reason why we need journalists and historians: to unearth what is buried; to doubt our doubt. It’s past time for an onslaught of pro bono legal and journalistic work. Rosenfeld points the way.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

104 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Seth Rosenfeld, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power”

BevW November 11th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Seth, Welcome to the Lake.

Todd, Welcome back to the Lake, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

BevW November 11th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

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Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Greetings folks,

Thank you for inviting me for this visit to the Lake. And thank you Todd Gitlin, for hosting my chat today.

I’m happy to take any questions about my book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power.

BevW November 11th, 2012 at 2:00 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 3

Hi Seth, Thank you for a great book.

dakine01 November 11th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Seth and welcome to FDL this afternoon. Welcome back Todd.

Seth, I have not read your book so forgive me if you address this in there but to what do you attribute the actions of the vice chancellor and such as far back as ’61, before the student movement and escalation of US involvement in Vietnam were even thought about by anyone? Was all this in response to the red scare actions of the ’50s? Liberal had yet to be tagged as the ultimate insult I don’t think.

But yeah, Todd, all of these actions are still underlying so much of what we see today with the demonization of the left and liberals. And the spineless Democratic Party

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hi there, Seth. Could you start by telling your readers why you were interested in (some would say obsessed with) FBI files about Berkeley and Reagan in the 60s?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 6

Hello Todd,

I first became interested in the FBI’s activities at the University of California during the Cold War when I was a journalism studet there in 1981. I knew the FBI had been involved in unlawful domestic surveillance elsewhere (from disclosures by Senator Frank Church’s committee), and I knew Berkeley had been an epicenter of proteest. Also, UC had helped develop the atomic bomb. Here was a great collision of the First Amendment and National Security.

So I wondered what the FBI was up to at Berkeley. When my editor at the Daily Californian student newspaper asked me to look into it, I jumped at the chance.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:07 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 7

OK, so we’re off and running. Now I think it would be good if you’d reply to dakine01′s question about Alex Sheriffs and why he leaped at the chance to inform.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

I believe you are referring to Vice Chancellor Alex Sherriffs. Dr. Sherriffs had a bit of an authoritarian streak. And though he had been close to the frats and sororities that dominated campus life inthe fifties, he saw the early student protesters, like SLATE in 1961, as downright disrespectful and subversive. So he phoned the FBI and had a secret meeting with agents, without telling the University President Clark Kerr. That was the start of Sherriffs’ involvement with the FBI.

The times were changing, and many people were shocked that students would take positions on ‘adult’ subjects — and be so outspoken.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Seth, one implication of this story is that the FBI was interested in volunteers from august positions in institutions. Do you know where their other volunteers came from? How thorough, or not, were they vetted? Were they paid?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Subversives is based on more than 300,000 pages of FBI records released to me as a result of five lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act during a period of 27 years. But I wrote the book as the story of an epic clash between forces represented by three towering figures: UC President Clark Kerr, Mario Savio, a leader of the 1964 Free Speech Movement, and Ronald Reagan, the rising conservative star then running for Governor of California, his first elected office.

cocktailhag November 11th, 2012 at 2:16 pm

I look forward to reading your book, Seth, and I’m honored to make your acquaintance, Todd; I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of your work.
This period has always fascinated me; after reading Kenneth Lamott’s “Anti-California” and Curt Gentry’s “Last Days of the Late Great State of California” and “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets,” I was hooked.
As Todd pointed out, the past isn’t even past. The natural tendencies of spooks always win out over civil liberties, and they are again today, with FISA, telecom immunity, and the rollback of Occupy.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Todd, The FBI’s investigations into ‘subversive’ activities relied on a range of investigative techniques such as physical surveillance, wiretapping and illegal searches known as ‘black bag jobs. But the FBI especially depended on informers – paid and unpaid – who could attend meetings, join political groups, gather materials, and report back. At UC, the FBI had informers at every level of the campus community, from students to professors, to administrators like Sherriffs, to members of the Board of Regents like Edwin Pauley. Some informers were paid and were deemed by the FBI to be under the direction of their FBI agent handlers. Others, like Sherriffs and Pauley, were not paid but were involved for personal and political reasons. Ronald Reagan turned out to be a long-time informer.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to cocktailhag @ 12

There is an inherent tension between the secrecy and power that intelligence agencies like the FBI need to protect national security, and the openness and dissent that is crucial to democracy. This is especially true during times of national crisis, and these days the United States is in a perpetual state of emergency at one level or another. So the issue is very much with us, and I think always will be.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 13

Did lower-level volunteer informers ask to be paid? What was the going rate? Did the FBI ever approach potential informers and enlist them?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 15

Lower level informers, such as those in student political groups, or antiwar groups, or political groups like the Young Socialist Alliance, sometimes approached the FBI, but it seems that most often the FBI approached them. FBI records indicate that at first they would be asked to attend meetings and report back, and if that went smoothly the FBI would develop a more formal relationship. The FBI manual of operations set out clear procedures for developing informers, reviewing their performance, indoctrinating them against disclosing their work for the FBI, and paying them. Pay for a student informer during the sixties started at about $100 or so a month and could be several hundred dollars. Some students put themselves through school by informing.

cocktailhag November 11th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 14

I think it’s time for another Church Commission, if such a thing were even possible in the era of Fox News. Don’t you think the blatantly fake “terrorist” attacks the FBI has been cooking up lately are as bad as anything they did in the 60′s? I live in Portland, where they spent 2 years manipulating a teenager into cooperating as they set up their own car bombing incident for maximum media impact. The kid is likely to be convicted, as many others have.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 16

This was serious money. In 1965-67 my monthly rent (in Chicago) was $85.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 9

“The times were changing, and many people were shocked that students would take positions on ‘adult’ subjects — and be so outspoken.”

That’s a very good point. Those were my college years, and students today would be surprised at the environment of college campuses back then – the faculty and staff were parent substitutes much more than today.

cocktailhag November 11th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 16

Beats student loan debt, I guess.

BevW November 11th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

but it seems that most often the FBI approached them

Did your investigations reveal how much J Edgar Hoover was directing these actions? Was the FBI doing the same types of surveillance on the east coast in colleges and universities?

TarheelDem November 11th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Welcome, Seth and Todd.

This sort of disregard for the Bill of Rights was baked into the FBI as an organization from its beginning. It shaped J. Edgar Hoover and his ambition saw it institutionalized into every nook and cranny of the FBI.

So what has to be done to exorcise the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover from the FBI and who in America is the most qualified to do it? Hint: Robert Mueller’s term ends shortly.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to cocktailhag @ 17

I agree that it is crucial for Congress to fulfill its oversight responsibilites and make sure that the FBI does not misuse the great power that has been entrusted to it in order to protect the nation against terrorism. The potential for misuse is greater in immigrant communities that are disconnected from the mainstream, more isoalted and thus more vulnerable to intrusive government activities.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to BevW @ 21

I second this question from Bev.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Thank you for being here, Mr. Rosenfeld, and I look forward to reading your book. I remember Reagan’s role informing against actors in the Communist conspiracy investigations, and without giving away too much from what you discovered, could you give us an idea how the FBI was able to ‘reimburse’ him?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to BevW @ 21

The FBI files make clear that J. Edgar Hoover was directing the bureau’s investigations of campus dissent. The records also show that the FBI monitored campuses across the country, and that the bureau’s COINTELPRO to disrupt citizens engaged in lawful dissent operated in every state.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 26

When you speak of “monitoring,” do you have any sense of when this scrutiny began at other campuses, and when it ended? Can you put us onto any published reports on such scrutiny?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:38 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 22

Hoover essentially created the FBI and presided over it until his death in 1972. He shaped it and controlled every aspect of it, including its obsession with subversives. Since then, the FBI has become subject to much more public accountability and Congressional oversight. Robert Mueller is a very different director than was Hoover, and has done much to make the FBI more accountable. Still, the combination of power and secrecy at the FBI and other intelligence agencies inherently poses a potential threat to democracy and this requires vigilance by Congress and citizens.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Sorry, the part of my question I was most interested in had to do with UC President Clark Kerr – why and how he was targeted.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Have you come across evidence of California surveillance of student activists by other government agencies, in particular, military intelligence?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to juliania @ 25

Previous historians were frustrated in examining the FBI’s relationship with Regan because the bureau had released only a few hundred pages of heavily redacted records. As a result of my fourth lawsuit under the FOIA, the FBI released more than 10,000 pages of records on Reagan in the years before he became president. These records show that Reagan was more involved as an FBI informer in Hollywood than previously known, sometimes reporting fellow actors on the scantiest evidence. And in return, Hoover’s FBI did personal and political favors for Reagan. I believe Reagan’s covert relationship with the FBI was an important but little known part of his political development.

CTuttle November 11th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 23

Aloha, Seth and Todd…! Congress has basically abrogated it’s oversight these days, and what’s so spooky is how ‘militarized’ the FBI has become, those ‘Fusion Centers’ are lightyear’s ahead of what Hoover had to work with…! It’s completely asinine what they’ve done to Muslims alone here in the States…!

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 31

I read *Subversives* to suggest that the FBI *helped* Reagan during his 1966 gubernatorial campaign. Do you agree?

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 31

Thank you – that did surprise me. Had it been better known, I wonder if Obama would have seen him as so much of a role model.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 27

Certainly, FBI scrutiny of college campuses dates to at least World War II, and I believe in some cases before. It continued at least through the mid-seventies, when the Church hearings were held. Useful references include the Church Committee reports, and books by historians Athan Theoharis, Sigmund Diamond, Ellen Schrecker and Robert Cohen.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 33

I wonder if they also helped him during his presidential campaign, or is that taking it too far? I was reading just today about the investigation of the Iran hostage situation – it seems we do have to go very far back to understand what our history in actuality has been, and your book starts in my student days so it will be very helpful to me to read it. Thank you for your research.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:53 pm
In response to juliania @ 29

In the sixties, Mario Savio and other students involved in the Free Speech Movement saw UC President Clark Kerr as their enemy. But so did J. Edgar Hoover and certain conservatives. Kerr was a liberal Democrat and an anti-communist. He did much to open the UC campuses to free speech. He lifted a ban against Communist speakers on campus. Kerr famously said, The university is not engaged in making ideas safe for students, it is engaged in making students safe for ideas. But Kerr did lift the remaining ban on campus political activity, which infuriated Savio and other students. At teh same time, Hoover saw Kerr as a weak-kneed liberal who failed to crack down on student protesters – and possibly as a subversive himself.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 30

Yes, military agencies, the CIA, and private right-wing intelligence operatives were all part of a secret network that monitored student dissent at UC in the sixties.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 38

Please say more about “private right-wing intelligence operatives.”

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 33

According to the FBI files, Hoover did secretly help Reagan in the run up to his campaign for governor in 1966, during the campaign itself, and after he was elected governor.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 39

In the 1930s and 1940s, the FBI had a secret operation called the American Legion Contact Program. In this, the FBI used Legionnaires to help gather intelligence about people invovled in unions, left wing groups and dissent. As part of this operation, the American Legion set up regional outfits that collected voluminous files consisting of intelligence reports, newspaper clippings, congressional hearings, etc. In San Francisco, this outfit was called Western Research. In the late sixties it became known as Research West. It functioned as an off-the-books intelligence exchange for the FBI, police and corporations. It went out of business in the 1980s, according topublic records. This is one example.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 37

Thank you again. The subject of FBI investigation is currently a hot topic due to the resignation of General Petraeus from the CIA. Did you get a sense of the relationship between the FBI and the CIA in the time period you were looking at?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:04 pm
In response to juliania @ 36

Alas, I have not studied that part of Reagan’s relationship with the FBI. But as president he pardoned FBI agents who had been involved in unlawful surveillance under Hoover and expanded FBI domestic security powers, which was followed by a scandal in which Congress found that the bureau had improperly investigated a political group called CISPES. President Reagan also narrowed the Freedom of Information Act.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to juliania @ 42

FBI records released to me under the FOIA show that the FBI and CIA worked closely in sharing information on student radicals at UC. For example, the FBI gave the CIA reports on the Free Speech Movement. When Mario Savio travelled abroad to study, the CIA tracked his movements for signs of political activity and reported back to the FBI.

BevW November 11th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 41

the FBI had a secret operation called the American Legion Contact Program

When did this program end? or did it? Were other veterans organizations used against students/radicals?

RevBev November 11th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 44

Did the student groups start out so antagonistic to Reagan? Did someone like Savio know they were being tracked? That’s really creepy, if that’s the word. So much for intellectual freedom, academia, etc.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Subversives tells a secret history of the sixties — the story of the FBI’s covert operations at the Universty of California during the Cold War. The story is told by tracing the FBI’s involvement with three main characters — Reagan, Savio and Kerr — and the bureau’s role in their epic clash at Berkeley. Many other characters wander through the pages — such as Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Jessica Mitford, Hell’s Angels, Black Panthers, and a series of FBI agents.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Mr. Gitlin tells us it has taken you thirty years to gain access to materials you have used in your book. Your reply to me about Reagan’s narrowing of the Freedom of Information Act suggests we might still not know the full story, or has the passage of time meant most of those magic marker redactions could be revealed?

szielinski November 11th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Seth,

Were agent provocatuers important components of the FBI strategy in Berkeley? I suspect they can be far more dangers to rightful dissenters than informants.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to BevW @ 45

The FBI formally ended the American Legion Contact Program in 1966. The FBI enlisted other conservative groups in its fight against subversives, as well.

tejanarusa November 11th, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I am amazed to find that my local library has your book, with several holds on all the copies; I have not seen it in my local chain bookstore.

It is sad to find that the paranoia was not, in fact, paranoia. I’d like to think that true conservatives would also e shocked at this sort of spying and manipulating, but several generations now are convinced that anything goes in the name of “anti-communism.”

It had not occurred to me that Reagan was being “helped” by Hoover and the FBI, but I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. He showed his true colors by testifying and “naming names.”
Btw, I am just a little bit younger than the Free Speech generation; started college in ’67. Savio was like an elder statesman by then….

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to RevBev @ 46

Reagan made cracking down on campus unrest at UC one of his main campaign issues in the 1966 race for governor. He used the protests as a way to attack the Democratic incumbent Edmund G. “Pat” Brown (Jerry”s father), who was a big supporter of Clark Kerr. Reagan declared that the protests at Berkeley were evidence of what he called a morality gap and a decency gap — not only at UC but at the heart of the state’s Democratic Party.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to RevBev @ 46

Savio knew FBI agents were investigating the Free Speech Movement — in their suits and ties they stuck out. But he told me he and other students had no idea that the FBI was trying to disrupt them and deny them constitutional rights. Likewise, Clark Kerr was shocked when I showed him FBI files revealing that Hoover tried to get him fired as university president.

cocktailhag November 11th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 47

Ah, another Mitford fan. My favorite is A Fine Old Conflict, but Poison Penmanship is pretty hilarious, too. Mitford is greatly to be admired; she was “premature” about everything from ant-fascism to civil rights, and built tremendous success when she was being hounded out of clerical work for her beliefs.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to szielinski @ 49

Several activists I interviewed for the book recalled weird incidents involving people whom they suspected were provocateurs. They concluded the best way to protect against provocateurs was to operate openly and non-violently.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 53

Please say more about “trying to disrupt.”

RevBev November 11th, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 53

What was the phrase? Never trust anyone over 30….really makes disheartening sense, doesn’t it?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to cocktailhag @ 54

The book has several funny anecdotes about the FBI spying on Mitford. I interviewed one agent who had crawled under her house to eavesdrop on a meeting there. I won’t ruin it by telling you what happened next ….

szielinski November 11th, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 55

Thanks. Open meetings and public speech definitely are the antidote to the work of the agent provocatuer and, for that matter, the informant.

CTuttle November 11th, 2012 at 3:25 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 55

They concluded the best way to protect against provocateurs was to operate openly and non-violently.

That is the bedrock of the Occupy movement, and the main means for weeding out the agent provocateurs…!

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:25 pm
In response to RevBev @ 57

RevBev: This famous crack is one of the canards of the ’60s. Jack Weinberg of FSM meant “We don’t trust Communists.” This was his reply to a reporter’s question about whether Communists were big manipulators of the FSM.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to juliania @ 48

My court fight for the FBI files on which Subversive is based took 27 years, with the first of five lawsuits filed in 1985. First the FBI refused to waive fees for releasing the records (the FOIA requires agencies to waive fees when releasing the records would be in the public interest, but the FBI deemed there was no public value in releasing the records.) The court reversed the FBI and ordered it to waive all fees. The next lawsuit challenged the FBI’s delays: The court found that at the FBI’s current pace, it would take more than 40 years to release the records, and ordered the FBI to expedite it. A third lawsuit challenged the FBI’s massive redactions in the released records. The FBI claimed many records had to be withheld because they concerned law enforcement operations. But after reviewing the records, the courts ruled that the FBI’s investigation of the Free Speech Movement had turned into unlawful political surveillance, and therefore the records had to be released. The courts also ruled that the FBI had misused the routine background investigation process as a pretext to investigate Kerr and try to get him fired because bureau officials disagreed with his politics and policies. The fourth lawsuit was for the Reagan records, and the fifth is for records on Richard Aoki, who was known as a radical leader but I discovered was secretly a paid FBI informant.

tejanarusa November 11th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 60

I have been disheartened by the revelations of the past year or two of so much use of provocateurs in both the Occupy movements and the prosecutions of hapless Muslims for agent-instigated “terrorism” charges.
It’s a wonder there haven’t been more successful real terrorist attacks with all the time wasted hanging out with easily-led folks who end up in jail, when it’s highly unlikely they would have ever thought to “attack” anything or anyone without the agents egging them on, supplying materials, etc., etc.

November 11th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 26

Yes – it must have been in the late 60′s at Michigan State University. I spoke up against the illegal firing of a psych prof who was trying to teach students about patriarchy and fascism – the next day I was called into my superior (I was staff) and told to shut up or else. Later on I got my foi file and there I was (labelled “European Anarchist”).
The Special Collections at MSU collected quite a few of these “red files” and they should still be there.

RevBev November 11th, 2012 at 3:31 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 61

Thanks…where are the push-back voices today? Seems like there should be alot to protest.

eCAHNomics November 11th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Does this kind of FBI hankey pankey get in the way of the FBI solving, like ya know, real crimes? Does obsession with illegal domestic spying explain why the FBI has been an epic failure in matters of substance. Couldn’t get the mafia. Can’t get a decent computer system. Failure to find communist mole. Can’t get DNA testing lab to work right. Failure to find terriss that they didn’t entrap. To name a few.

RevBev November 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 62

Fascinating history…thanks, again.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 56

The FBI records show Hoover’s bureau went beyond sureveillance in an effort to ‘disrupt and neutralize” students and professors engaged in dissent. For example, FBI agents posed as reporters and asked Free Speech Movement leaders questions intended to discredit them, such as How many Communists are in the FSM. FBI officials also leaked false allegations that anti-war activists were under Communist control to friendly newspaper reporters, who then printed these “scoops.” In other instances, including one with Mitford, FBI agents visited employers in an effort to get people fired.

tejanarusa November 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 62

Ah! I read about the shocking revelations on Aoki recently. So I’m guessing it has taken all these years to actually get the documents released through all the lawsuits.
Your dedication to this issue is admirable. Did your newspapers support the cost of the lawsuits? I do worry that as newspapers cut cut and cut some more, our chances of learning truths like this diminish down to nothing.

Elliott November 11th, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Did/does the FBI do anything similar to right wing groups?

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to RevBev @ 65

The push-back is never enough but is everywhere. Progressives have a big oppty now. I wrote about economic aspects here: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/a-charter-for-the-99-percent/ This is also good time for civil libertarians to push on Guantanamo.

tejanarusa November 11th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 66

eCAHN! So good to see your fonts! I see we’re thinking along similar lines. After Salon is over, I will offer you the tradtional beverage…

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 56

In other cases, the FBI tampered with the criminal justice process by trying to get local police to blame a radical group with blowing up its own headquarters. The FBI records describe this effort to influence the investigation as a counterintelligence operation.

tejanarusa November 11th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 71

Why do you think now is a good time to push on Guantanamo? Do you think the campaign woke people up, or something else?

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I’m curious how the UC/Los Alamos connection figured into the intensity of the confrontations – do you explore that in your book? Just what you have mentioned makes me wonder about Reagan’s insistence on Star Wars as the definitive factor that broke up his detente with Gorbachev, or so we are told.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to tejanarusa @ 69

I pursued this research independently over the years, and was very fortunate to have the crucial assistance of several pro bono attorneys. Last month, a federal judge ordered the FBI to pay about $470,000 to my attorneys for their legal fees on the ground that we had substantially prevailed in court and the FBI would not have released the records otherwise. If the FBI had properly processed the records to begin with, we could have saved a lot of taxpayers’ money.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to tejanarusa @ 74

I think Obama is vulnerable now to pressure from the left.

CTuttle November 11th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 62

It’s interesting to see the Black Panthers recently defending Aoki’s participation…!

My comrade, Richard Aoki…

‘Big Man’ Howard even singled you out, Seth…!

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Elliott @ 70

The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had several COINTELPRO operations. One was dedicated to the disruption of what the bureau called “white hate groups.”

eCAHNomics November 11th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to tejanarusa @ 72

Hiya.

I’m having an email exchange on the same topic so I couldn’t resist asking someone who might know or have an informed opinion.

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 62

Wow. Thank you so much.

cocktailhag November 11th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 58

I can’t wait. As luck would have it Powell’s is just a dozen blocks away, and the pavement is worn between here and there. My favorite Mitford story was when she posed as a buyer for a black couple trying to purchase a house in a segregated area, and as she was warming to the task, she found out that her arch-nemesis, the racist local DA, lived across the street. “My heart leapt,” she wrote.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to juliania @ 75

The opening chapter in my book examines the FBI’s massive investigation into Soviet efforts to steal nuclear secrets from the radiation labs overseen by the University of California. The FBI had an important national security role in this. But the documents show that in the following years the FBI veered from this mission and instead focused on professors and students engaged in dissent.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:45 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 78

Just read the piece. Howard offers not a shred of response to Seth’s specific allegations. Not a shred.

tejanarusa November 11th, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 76

Ah. As a lawyer (who started in legal services and never made much money) that sort of question is always on my mind. Many kinds of cases I’d love to do but cannot figure out a way to finance. I hope your lawyers actually receive the ordered payment soon, and that they don’t drag their feet for years on paying.

It seems to me that we’ve lost ground in the last twenty or so years, maybe more, in winning cases in court, and in winning attorneys fees, which therefore makes attorneys who would otherwise run with many kinds of cases, unable to do so. I notice the retiring head of the ACLU’s national legal division shares that view; partly because of Republican-appointed judges.

Who gets to make those judge appointments – and not just the Supreme Court -
really does matter.

to Todd Gitlin: the question of pushing Obama is a very charged one around here (this website, I mean). Many of us regulars have been extremely disappointed in him. But I’d better leave it there.

The book sounds fascinating and valuable. I will look for it. Thanks, Mr. Rosenfeld, Mr. Gitlin, BevW.

CTuttle November 11th, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 84

I agree, Todd, I was merely pointing out that the duped were indeed duped…! ;-)

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Another chapter describes how Hoover launched a secret operation in the 1950s called the Responsibilities Program. Under his program, FBI officials secretly gave allegations that certain professors were disloyal to the governors of every state. The governors then ordered their respective university heads to investigate. In California, the allegations went to Governor Earl Warren, who passed them to UC President Robert Gordon Sproul. But the FBI files show that when UC officials investigated the allegations, they found many of them had no basis. Yet the accused professors had no way to defend themselves against the anonymous charges, no way to cross examine or challenge the claims. FBI records show that despite the lack of due process, nearly 1,000 professors across the country were forced from their jobs.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to tejanarusa @ 86

There’s no contradiction between being disappointed and being activist, energetic, and hopeful. None.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 78

I realize that the revelation that Aoki was an informant was shocking to many of his friends and supporters. But as more evidence has come out, more and more people are coming to accept that Aoki was a more complex person than they realized. Unfortunately, the FBI is still withholding many records on Aoki, so we don’t know the full story yet.

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 87

I hear you.

TarheelDem November 11th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 88

During the Responsibilities Program, did University of North Carolina President Frank Porter Graham get investigated?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I hope that Subversives will help people understand the role that the FBI played behind the scenes in the sixties, that it well shed light on Ronald Reagan, and that it will support the Freedom of Information Act and encourage greater transparency.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 92

I’m sorry I do not know, but an FOIA request on him might provide an answer.

BevW November 11th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Seth, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and your FOIA efforts and dedication to bring this information to light.

Todd, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Seth’s website and book (Subversives)

Todd’s website (ToddGitlin.net)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Todd Gitlin November 11th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

At the last minute, Seth: Anything you wish to say about hard evidence of agents provocateurs at work in the ’60s?

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Thank you Bev, thank you Todd, and thank you everyone for a great conversation!

wendydavis November 11th, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 93

Your discoveries of the FBI/Reagan collusion is fascinating as all giddy-up, but somehow not even close to surprising. Thanks a lot for all your investigative work, Seth Rosenfeld. A bit of a rarity these days, sadly.

Seth Rosenfeld November 11th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 96

One instance I discuss in my book involves a student who was a paid informant named William Tulio Divale and his role in starting the controversy over Angela Davis teaching at UC. My reporting on this is based on the FBI files.

CTuttle November 11th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Seth Rosenfeld @ 97

Mahalo, Seth, Todd, and Bev, for another excellent Book Salon…! *g*

juliania November 11th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

As a high school student in ’57 I toured the Berkley campus and was awed by its size. I went to a much smaller college instead. I will be fascinated to read what could have been happening in my education had I made a different choice. It’s not my history, but it’s my generation.

Thank you so much for your dedication; I hope others will keep at it the way you have done for this era’s secretive convolutions. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

TarheelDem November 11th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thank you, Seth, for providing the evidence to support what we all feared and suspected but couldn’t confirm.

Thanks, Todd, for providing questions to move the conversation along.

CTuttle November 11th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 80

Ya best not be a stranger, eCAHN…! ;-)

bigbrother November 11th, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Berkeley was great in the late sixties so much to learn. Went to peoples park and ws arrested for 30 days no hearing all solitary for being there. Alameda CO Jail tear gas and all.

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