Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Me and My Shadow

From the Los Angeles Times:

As a high-profile activist who crossed the country criticizing the Nixon administration’s role in the Vietnam War, John F. Kerry was closely monitored by FBI agents for more than a year, according to intelligence documents reviewed by The Times.

In 1971, in the months after the Navy veteran and decorated war hero argued before Congress against continued U.S. involvement in the conflict, the FBI stepped up its infiltration of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the protest group Kerry helped direct, the files show.

The FBI documents indicate that wherever Kerry went, agents and informants were following —including appearances at VVAW-sponsored antiwar events in Washington; Kansas City, Mo.; Oklahoma City; and Urbana, Ill. The FBI recorded the content of his speeches and took photographs of him and fellow activists, and the dispatches were filed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Nixon.

The files contain no information or suggestion that Kerry broke any laws. And a 1972 memorandum on the FBI’s decision to end its surveillance of him said the agency had discovered “nothing whatsoever to link the subject with any violent activity.”


The documents could become an important resource for historians because they show the extent of U.S. government surveillance directed against an individual who, three decades later, may become president.

They also suggest that Kerry’s memories of some of his antiwar activities, including the date he left his position on the VVAW national steering committee, were inaccurate. Kerry has stated that he left the group in the summer of 1971, but the files show that he did not quit until the late fall of that year.

Boy, does that bring back memories. Nixon and Hoover were positively paranoid about the anti-war movement. Nixon was sure the Kennedys were behind it, and Hoover was sure it was the commies. They went after anybody who showed any kind “unpatriotic” activity, including demonstrating against the war. The FBI must have been very, very busy in the 1970’s.

That would probably explain why I got a very cryptic phone call in 1979 when, in a previous life, I was a news director for a small-town radio station in Michigan. I was invited to one of those out-of-town press briefings at the White House hosted by Jody Powell. A week before I went I got a call from the Secret Service asking for the usual information – Social Security number, place and date of birth, and so on. Fine. But about an hour later, I got another call from someone else who said he was with the White House and wanted to verify some other information, such as where I went to high school and college. I complied, and a week later I attended the briefing. I had no trouble being admitted to the West Wing and had a great time meeting with other editors from around the country and getting to sit in the Cabinet room while we asked President Carter some polite questions for about a half-hour. (I also got to interview Alfred Kahn, Carter’s deregulation czar, who happened to be married to a relative.) During lunch I asked around; no one else had gotten the second call. I shrugged it off as just them being careful. But now I wonder; is there an FBI file on me because I was active in anti-war activities in high school and a Conscientious Objector? Wow, how cool is that! Me and John Kerry…