Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 19, 2007

Encounters with the FBI

Filed under: repression — louisproyect @ 10:58 pm

While going through some old papers this weekend, I came across my FBI files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in early 1979. With the Democrats in Congress giving George W. Bush the right to use the FBI against the American people, it might be useful to share some of my FBI dossiers with you since I am a typical victim of police state abuse in many ways.

In early 1967, I was living in Hoboken, New Jersey in a tenement apartment that cost $39 per month. The building was filled with some colorful characters, including a number of people who had gone to Bard College like me. Two of the non-Bardians fit right in to the bohemian scene. One was a skinny guy named Hans Kary, who sold LSD and pot for a living, including to me. Around this time, Hans had stumbled across the Hare Krishna on the Lower East Side and became a convert immediately. He explained the attraction to me. “Man, if you chant Hare Krishna all day, you get higher than if you were on acid and it is free.”

Hans became a leader of the Hare Krishnas in no time at all and changed his name to Hansadutta das. He was eventually expelled after becoming a big-time cocaine dealer in the 1980s when he was running a Hare Krishna temple in Berkeley. Apparently, the cult began selling blow as a way of supporting its other activities. Eventually, the drug dealing became an end in itself and led to members killing each other. You can read about this in the excellent “Monkey on a Stick” by John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson. You can also check out Hansadutta’s website at: http://www.hansadutta.com/. There’s nothing about his notorious past.

Hans was pals with a guy named Luke Faust, who lived on the top floor. Luke earned a living as a model in life drawing classes and doing occasional gigs as a folk banjo player. He was a pleasant but taciturn fellow. He never mentioned it to me, but was deeply involved with the folk revival scene in Greenwich Village and played with Dave van Ronk and Bob Dylan. After I moved to New York City, a guy named Robert Palmer from Little Rock, Arkansas took over my apartment and began gigging with Luke. They formed a band called Insect Trust that included Elvin Jones on drums. One of their two albums was called “Hoboken Saturday Night”. I don’t remember who did the cover art, but it was a drawing of our back yard–clothes lines and all. Palmer eventually became an editor at Rolling Stone and then a reporter for the New York Times. He died in 1997.

Shortly before I had joined the Socialist Workers Party, my application for a seasonal job at the passport bureau in Rockefeller Center prompted an FBI visit. Apparently, they did background checks on low-level clerical jobs. When they knocked on my door, they announced themselves as building inspectors. After I flushed a marijuana plant down the toilet, I let them in. After answering a few innocuous sounding questions, the interview concluded and they went on their way. In 1979, I learned the true purpose of their visit:

The Kennedy referred to in the file was a good friend of mine at Bard College who had flunked out in 1963. There was only one woman in the building at the time, so she must be the informant who told the FBI about the “beatniks” in the building. I can’t remember her name but she was a prostitute that worked the riverfront bars in Hoboken. She looked like a character out of “Threepenny Opera”.

A few months later I got my first programming job at Met Life in New York and moved to West 20th Street, which was convenient to work and to SWP headquarters on Broadway and 17th Street. At this point, the FBI saw me as threat to national security and decided to do something about it under the auspices of the Cointelpro program. The SWP successfully sued the government in the years following Watergate to ban FBI dirty tricks against the group and the movement as a whole, but I suspect that Cointelpro type programs are being reintroduced under the auspices of the “war on terror”.

Here’s the FBI internal memo recommending that action be taken against me:

Shortly afterwards, I received a postcard at work shown below. By the time it reached my desk, everybody sitting near me–including my project manager–had already heard about it. I was apparently the last to find out that I was the victim of a dirty trick.

Not five minutes after the postcard was in my hands, I was instructed to go see John Falzon, a vice president at Met Life who was in charge of the floor I worked on with more than 300 people reporting to him. I was sure I was going to be fired.

After I took a seat in his office, he gave a little speech that indicated how much things had changed since the 1950s. He said that he would not abide by any harassment of his employees. If I ever received any kind of communication like this again, he would track down the person responsible and see that they were fired. By 1968, the mood of the country had changed completely and I was the beneficiary.

In 1979, I made the decision to leave the SWP. After moving back to New York from Kansas City, I was all set to begin writing novels. Fortunately for the world of belles lettres, I was a far better politician than writer. Within a year or two I was connected with Peter Camejo, who had been drummed out of the SWP for thinking for himself. He encouraged me to get involved with CISPES, which I did. Although I never was a victim of FBI harassment when I was in CISPES, the group encountered a new outbreak of Cointelpro even though the program had been supposedly shut down. PublicEye.org has a useful summary of the FBI disruption:

The first FBI investigation of CISPES was launched in September of 1981 to determine if CISPES should be forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Among the documents used by the FBI to justify this CISPES probe, according to Congressional testimony by FBI official Oliver “Buck” Revell, was a 1981 article by a former FBI informant and ongoing right-wing private spy-John Rees. The Rees article appeared in Review of the News a magazine published by the paranoid ultra-right John Birch Society. This FBI investigation was terminated without indictments in December of 1981.

A second FBI investigation of CISPES began in March of 1983. It was premised on the right-wing conspiracy theory that CISPES was a cover for “terrorist” activity. To justify this view, the FBI relied not only on reports from its informant Varelli, but also in part on a conspiratorial analysis contained in a report written by Michael Boos, a staffer at the right-wing Young Americas Foundation. This FBI “counter-terrorism” investigation was terminated without indictments in 1985.

In 1986 I went to Nicaragua with a group organized by the Guardian in the US, a radical newsweekly with no connection to the British daily. We went to monitor the elections and provide testimony about their fairness once we returned back home. While I was there, I got a flyer from a group called Tecnica that was sending volunteers in the programming, engineering and other skilled trades to help train Nicaraguans. Many white collar employees had fled Nicaragua after Somoza was overthrown and Tecnica, as well as other progressive nonprofits, were trying to address the crisis that had been created.

As an experienced radical and computer programmer, I found Tecnica a perfect match for my background and launched an East Coast group after returning to the US. Hundreds of programmers and engineers would come to recruitment meetings that I organized in New York, including some people who had no background in radical politics.

Within a year or so, the Reagan administration decided to strike out at the Nicaragua solidarity movement by making an example of Tecnica. As indicated in the article below, the FBI conducted a raid on April 1, 1987 against returned volunteers under the pretext that they were trying to root out an espionage ring running high technology to the USSR from Nicaragua using Cuba as a link between the two countries.

In discussions with Michael Ratner, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, we figured out that the FBI might have been interested in exploiting two possible vulnerabilities. One of our returned volunteers, a retired engineer in his 70s, lived in San Diego and had salons at his home on a fairly regular basis. Like many people his age, he had once been in the CP and became friendly with Russian diplomats including one who was a regular at his gatherings. The FBI had taken telephoto shots through the window of his home and made sure to include the Soviet diplomat. When our volunteers were interrogated by FBI agents at their workplace, they stuck photos of the diplomat under their nose and said, “See we have the goods on you. This is a Soviet spy.”

Meanwhile, I had been meeting regularly with a Cuban diplomat to discuss sending volunteers to Cuba. After one meeting at the Cuban Mission to the UN, I agreed to meet with the diplomat every month or two. Since he was probably acting on ill-conceived instructions from his higher-ups, the meetings were like something out of “I Led Three Lives”. I would get a phone call from him telling me to meet him on the corner of 56th and Madison or some other location. He only arrived there after driving away from New York to throw off the FBI agents following his every step and then making a sharp u-turn on the Long Island Expressway. I had no idea why such security measures were necessary since my only interest in meeting with him was to set up a workshop on using Lotus 123, etc. In the eyes of the FBI, these meetings must have made me look like Julius Rosenberg.

Oddly enough, the Cuban eventually decided that socialism had no future in Cuba and became an American citizen believing in democracy and Sears-Roebuck. I received a long, rambling letter in the mid-1990s along the usual “God that Failed” lines but wondered whether he was trying to convince me or himself of his new ideas.

Here’s the Washington Post on the FBI harassment:

About 15 years ago I filed a new FOIA request to see if anything would turn up about these events. After all, I was the President of the Board of Directors of Tecnica. The FBI wrote back saying that there was nothing. When I read their reply, I said to myself that it would have to wait for a revolution in the US to take a look at their files for myself. We certainly can’t rely on the Democrats to make sure that the files are not being accumulated once again.

11 Comments »

  1. Interesting. The FBI is using “data mining” today to monitor citizens’ activities such as where they shop and what they buy and who they send emails to and what’s in those emails. Also, they know what books you checked out at the library.

    Comment by Doug — August 19, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

  2. Wonderful story Lou. Why can’t tales like this about the life of radicals be turned into real movies? BTW I note that inthe Denzil Washington movie ‘Siege’ and many others the FBI is cast in the role of the hero organisation that will save the US from totalitarianism.

    br

    Gary

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — August 20, 2007 @ 12:40 am

  3. This is an fascinating story. Thanks very much for sharing. Though it’s been many decades since we were in the Socialist Workers Party, I remember that there was a certain moment when all of us were asked – required, really – to sign some kind of a statement waiving our rights to sue under the Freedom of Information Act. It had something to do with the SWP’s lawsuit against government spying, which it eventually won. Do you remember anything about this?

    Anyway, your recollections of your days in the SWP are very good. Hope you’ll do more of them. Those of us who spent long years in the organization can be grateful for these recollections.

    Thanks,

    Walter Lippmann
    Los Angeles, California

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 20, 2007 @ 3:24 am

  4. You got lucky that your boss was a stand-up guy in that situation – did he know it was the FBI sending you that or did he think it was some random jerk?

    Also, the FBI docs are hard to read and I can’t click to enlarge them. Great post otherwise.

    Comment by Binh — August 20, 2007 @ 6:44 pm

  5. “Also, the FBI docs are hard to read and I can’t click to enlarge them. Great post otherwise.”

    My sentiments also. The assault on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua was one of the vilest things done by a vile Administration. (The only positive thing Reagan ever did was talk to Gorbachev.)

    Comment by Feeder of Felines — August 21, 2007 @ 7:51 am

  6. Good post. I applied for my Special Branch files from the Queensland police 10 years ago. The thing that struck me was their utter incompetence. For 2 years they thought I was up my punchy drug dealing apolitical brother by night, mad activist by day. Years later I worked processing FOI application in a state government department, and got talking to colleagues processing FOI applications in the police department. It seems they are a little more sophisticated in what they release to activist types nowadays, mostly due to material being used to seek compensation from cops, notably the Richmond school application, and recently G20

    Comment by Bas — August 21, 2007 @ 10:12 am

  7. I read your page, it was a flight in time reading about my days in HOBOKEN with Luke Faust, Bryn Zucker and dale evans etc….
    I left there in march of 1967, later, 1968 I met John lennon in montreal spent a week with him at his ” bed in ” and made GIVE PEACE A CHANCE he like chanting Hare Krishna, so did george Harrison who bought us a manor estate on th4e outskirts of London.
    . I went on to many more amazing events, some good some bad. Would I do it all over again YES I WOULD A HUNDRED TIME. HARE KRISHNA , I hope you are well,Hansadutta das ( I live in Oakland Ca and Cloverdale, and sometimes in INDIA

    Comment by hansadutta das — August 30, 2008 @ 12:44 am

  8. […] after he got his law degree. He probably would have been pleased to learn that I was the victim of an FBI Cointelpro operation to get me fired at Met Life a few months after our meeting. That was the last time I ever saw my […]

    Pingback by Encounters with Louis R. Proyect « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — May 20, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

  9. Lou: John Rees was not, as you wrote above, an FBI informant.

    The following data comes from a 3-page FBI memo dated September 27, 1968 from Alex Rosen (Assistant Director, General Investigative Division) to Assistant Director Cartha DeLoach (HQ file 176-1410-78, #334). The first page of the memo is a “synopsis” of the details presented on pages 2 and 3. What follows below is the entire text of the synopsis:

    “An investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) informed our Chicago office that John Herbert Rees will testify before this committee as a friendly witness about information he has concerning the disturbances at the Democratic National Convention. Rees was in Chicago in an undercover capacity. In addition, the following hostile witnesses have been subpoenaed, all of which we have under intensive investigation as principal subjects in the disturbances: Abbott Hoffman, Thomas Hayden, Rennard Davis, David Dellinger, and Jerry Rubin.

    Rees, a 44-year old white male and British national is an official of National Goals, Inc., a non-profit counseling firm to police and other Government agencies in management and training. Last April he contacted our Newark office with an investigator from HCUA stating he had information of a racial and criminal nature. He spoke in generalities and furnished no information of value. Interviewing Agents were of the opinion his interests in contacting the FBI were self-serving. Rees was forced to resign his full-time position with a Federally funded local organization in Newark on 3/8/68 when it determined he had another full time job. U.S. Dept. of Labor is attempting to recover $7,597 paid to Rees in salary. Rees was fired from his job as a reporter with the London Daily Mirror when he used the paper to enhance his own personal standing. He kept company with a former secretary of our Legat in London in 1962 who planned to marry Rees before she discovered he was married and had five children. Rees presently married to a Negro. In 1964 he received nation-wide publicity when Grace Metalious, author of the novel `Peyton Place’ died and left her quarter million dollar estate to him based on a death-bed will leaving nothing to her estranged husband and three children. She had known him for only a few months. Rees subsequently renounced all claim to the estate when it was determined the liabilities exceeded the assets.

    ACTION: 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.”

    Comment by ernie1241 — September 11, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

  10. […] In that capacity Griesa served as the judge in the landmark suit that the Socialist Workers Party filed against the FBI in 1973 for its decades-long disruption of party activities, including the burglaries and poison pen letters that victimized many members including me. […]

    Pingback by Argentina, vulture funds, and Thomas Griesa « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — December 20, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

  11. Somehow, i felt while reading this i was in a Charles Bukowski novel ~ the underbelly seemed (and is) so much more real than its fat surface. My time hasn’t the depth as yours ~ i was off to save you from some Dominoes Oct ’67 who’d eat your babies (‘Agit-prop’ new in my vocab) propaganda. You’re a terrorist if your are caught in certain zones these days. And that kind of shingle will get you locked away ~ would Hayden do now what he did then? i don’t think so. What is also intreaguing is these FBI men /agents Men in Black are same ages, same backgrounds, how do they turn on their fellows country men and women?
    thank you for sharing those intense times, ‘beat nik’

    Comment by Darwin26 — December 21, 2012 @ 6:24 am


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