Were the Spies "Journalists"?

The ADL Snoops

The organization's main "fact-finder" was doubling as a spy for the white South African government while his buddy, a San Francisco cop who had tutored El Salvadoran death squads on the finer aspects of torture, was providing its officials with personal information on the organization's putative 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 prejudice and bigotry but in this instance its targets were members of the African National Congress and its supporters, and apparently everyone, Arab and non-Arab, who had the temerity to criticize Israel. This included some who drove to Arab community events where the ADL's "fact-finder," Roy Bullock, and the cop, Tom Gerard, took turns writing down their license plate numbers, which Gerard turned into addresses thanks to his access to California motor vehicle records.

Their spying efforts proved to be part of a much larger intelligence gathering operation that targeted some 12,000 individuals and more than 600 left-of-center organizations in northern California.

After the first flurry of publicity, the ADL's spin doctors successfully kept 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 decision that paves the way for a major test later this year of the ADL's penchant for spying on its enemies. It was the most significant episode in a slow-moving class-action case filed in 1993 by 19 pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid activists who claim to be victims of the ADL's snooping operations.

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

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

Then, in September, 1997, Judge Alex Saldamondo ruled that McCloskey's clients were entitled to see what the ADL had on them in its files. Two plaintiffs, Jeffrey Blankfort and Steve Zeltzer, co-founders of the Labor Committee on the Middle East, who had "outed" Bullock as an ADL spy after he infiltrated their group in 1987, received an extract of their files from the DA's office the day before they were ordered sealed. Both contain illegally obtained information, much of which, say Blankfort and Zeltzer, is erroneous.

When ADL's appeal of that decision was rejected by Court of Appeals Judge Anthony Kline, the ADL persuaded the State Supreme Court to return the case to the full court for a hearing. On November 15, 1998, the court reaffirmed ADL's status as a journalist and acknowledged its right to maintain files and obtain information on all but two of the remaining plaintiffs on the basis that they are "limited-purpose public figures", which it defined as having been publicly engaged and identified in activities around a particular issue, in this instance opposition to Israeli occupation and/or South African apartheid. There is no protection, said the court, for obtaining information illegally on non-public figures.

The court made an important qualification, however, ruling that for "limited purpose" figures, the journalist's shield only applies if the information obtained is to be used for journalistic purposes. It does not protect the ADL from charges that it passed information about the plaintiffs to "foreign governments (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, it did state that representatives of the plaintiffs had the right to request a review of ADL's files to discover possible constitutional violations, each of which would be worth $2500. While this may seem a small sum, there are hundreds of Arab-Americans and anti-apartheid activists whose names appear in the ADL's files who potentially could collect if the ADL loses in court or is forced to settle the case.

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

This splendid fellow began meeting with Richard Hirschhaut, chief of the 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 "the activities of specific Arab organizations and individuals in the Bay Area". That memo hasn't been made public but what was reported created a nightmare for the ADL when it turned out that Gerard had been exchanging non-public, personal information from government files with Bullock, a paid informant for the ADL since 1954 and whose own computerized "pinko" files on leftish and liberal folks, when seized by the police, proved to be a third again as large as Gerard's. According to police, his computer contained the names of nearly 12,000 individuals, 77 Arab-American organizations, 29 anti-apartheid organizations, and more than 600 "pinko" groups which included such revolutionary outfits as the NAACP, Asian Law Caucus and SANE/FREEZE, as well as 20 Bay area labor unions including the SF Labor Council. There were in addition, files on 612 right-wing organizations and 27 skinhead groups.

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

After indicating that the ADL would be charged with violating the California's Business and Profession's code, SF District Attorney Arlo Smith did an extraordinary thing. He made available to the public, merely for the copying costs, some 700 pages of documents incriminating the ADL in a nation-wide intelligence gathering operation run out of New York by Suall. One of the significant parts of that report was Bullock's admission that he was paid by a South African intelligence agent to spy on anti-apartheid activists (which he was already doing for the ADL.) He had reported on a visit to California by the ANC's Chris Hani, ten days before the man expected by many to succeed Nelson Mandela, returned home to be brutally murdered.

The ADL attempted to portray Bullock as a free-lance investigator, but no one was convinced, because since 1954 Bullock had been paid through a cutout, an ADL lawyer in Beverly Hills. After his exposure, Bullock was put directly on the ADL's payroll. ADL's position on the ANC was identical to that of the South African government - they considered it to be a "terrorist", "communist" organization. At the time, Israel was furnishing arms to maintain the apartheid regime in power.

In1994, Smith announced that he would not prosecute either the ADL or Bullock since it would be "expensive and time-consuming both to the SFDA and the defendants," a curious judgement considering the overwhelming evidence in his possession.

In its settlement with the city, the ADL, admitted no wrongdoing, agreed to restrain their operatives from seeking non-public data on ADL's enemies from government agencies and, putting a happy face on the story, promised to create a $25,000 Hate Crimes Fund and another $25,000 for a public school course.

Another class-action case filed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and other spied-upon groups such as CISPES, the Bay Area Anti-Apartheid Network and the National Lawyers Guild, was settled in 1996, also under conditions favorable to the ADL, but without the approval of some of the suing 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 government employees 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 plaintiffs but they turned it down since it would let the ADL off the hook and allow its secrets to be kept intact.

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

The deaths of veteran journalists Colin Edwards and George Green reduced the number of plaintiffs by two and subsequently four others, whose political activities 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 or five lawyers for the ADL. Contributions for the plaintiffs may be sent to Paul N. McCloskey, Jr. Atty., 333 Bradford St., Redwood City, CA 94063 (For more information see: http://www.adlwatch.org or e-mail at melblcome@igc.com.)