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Newspaper: FBI and CIA worked covertly to harass UC students

The Associated Press
Monday June 10, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — The FBI, working covertly with the CIA and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, spent years unlawfully trying to quash the voices and careers of students and faculty deemed subversive at the University of California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday. 

After a 17-year legal battle to unearth FBI records, the Chronicle reported in a special section on its Web site and Sunday paper that documents show that during the 1950s and 1960s, the FBI schemed to kill the career of UC President Clark Kerr while aiding Reagan’s political career. 

Thousands of pages of documents were obtained by The Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act only after federal judges repeatedly ruled that the FBI had drifted unlawfully from intelligence gathering into politics. 

Experts said the FBI and CIA’s past activities involving the University of California provide a cautionary tale about potential dangers to academic freedom and civil liberties as President Bush commits more resources to domestic intelligence activities. 

“This ... raises a topic that we should be concerned about today: the balance between security and liberty,” said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, the CIA’s general counsel from 1990 to 1995 and current dean of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. 

“We learned some painful lessons,” said Rindskopf Parker. “We certainly don’t want to see ourselves rolling back to this time.” 

FBI spokesman Bill Carter refused to comment on the bureau’s campus files. In its unsuccessful battle to keep them secret, the agency said its actions had been proper — that it had merely tried to protect civil order and national security during a time when the nation feared Communism and waged war in Vietnam. 

“Things are done a lot differently today,” Carter told the Chronicle. “The files speak for themselves.” 

The broad outlines of the illegal FBI campaigns became public in the 1970s as Congress held hearings that showed the FBI and CIA had monitored law-abiding citizens and organizations that engaged in legitimate dissent. The documents obtained by the Chronicle show just how extensive these activities were in California, how Kerr and others were targeted, and how eagerly Reagan worked to quash protests. 

Gov. Reagan’s administration intended to mount a “psychological warfare campaign” against subversives, bring tax evasion and building code violation cases against them, and to do anything else it could to restore moral order, Herbert Ellingwood, Reagan’s legal affairs secretary, told the FBI in a request for confidential information about people on campus. 

The records show FBI director J. Edgar Hoover agreed to provide such information from the agency’s files. 

“This has been done in the past,” the director said, “and has worked quite successfully.” 

The documents show that Hoover was incensed after the University of California included this essay question on its 1959 English aptitude test for high school applicants that read: “What are the dangers to a democracy of a national police organization, like the FBI, which operates secretly and is unresponsive to public criticism?” 

Hoover ordered a campaign to embarrass the university and force it to retract the question. He also ordered agents to dig up dirt on the 6,000 faculty members and top administrators. The resulting report in 1960 listed the professor’s political activities, and said many had engaged in “illicit love affairs, homosexuality, sexual perversion, excessive drinking or other instances of conduct reflecting mental instability.” 

Records show CIA Director John McCone also was involved, meeting with Hoover in January 1965 after the Free Speech Movement held its first sit-ins. The documents describe their plans to leak information to conservative UC Regent Edwin Pauley, who would “use his influence to curtail, harass and at times eliminate” liberal faculty members. Pauley had hoped to fire Kerr. 

The documents also show that the FBI blamed the liberal Kerr for allowing the campus protests to grow, and that Hoover himself wanted a crackdown at Berkeley before student protests grew nationwide. 

“If agitational activity at Berkeley can be effectively curtailed, this could set up a chain reaction which will result in the curtailment of such activities on other campuses throughout the United States,” Hoover said in a memo to his aides. 

When, to Hoover’s dismay, President Lyndon Johnson picked Kerr to become his secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, the FBI background check included damaging information the agency knew to be false, and Johnson withdrew the nomination, the documents show. 

Reagan was elected California’s governor in 1966 after repeatedly consulting with the FBI while campaigning against “campus malcontents and filthy speech advocates” at Berkeley. One of his first moves was to fire Kerr, who never received another White House appointment. 

Kerr, whose own FOIA request was denied by the FBI, said he was unaware of the plots against him documented in the agency’s files. “Maybe I was too naive, but I never assumed they were taking efforts to get rid of me,” he told The Chronicle.