"What does a 'lying' government, or an
aggregation of liars working for the
government, mean to the American people?"
- Unsigned Editorial
OVER the years, as Scientology was called upon to defend itself against a growing number of attackers, church leaders clearly saw the need for a strike-back force to counter the threats to its survival.
Their answer to the problem was to create a Guardian's Office, separate from all the church's other activities.
"We had to establish a militant and protective organization that could shield the church so that it could proceed peacefully with its principal aims and functions without becoming embroiled in the constant skirmishing with those who wanted to annihilate us," a top-ranking church official told me.
"We set up a standard operation procedure, which coordinates the handling of legal affairs, public relations, and intelligence-data, by different departments within the Guardian Office. Guardian executives and the staffs in each Scientology church are trained to identify both active and potential sources of attack and to deal with them under the direction of the Guardian Worldwide, whose office is in East Grinstead, England."
Prior to enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, passed in 1966 and amended in 1974, the church combated false reports and black propaganda emanating from official sources by public relations and lawsuits. The media soon learned that if they allowed themselves to be taken in by information leaked to them by government functionaries, they could expect to be held accountable in court if the reports were libelous.
The church's Guardian Office hailed the passage of the Freedom of Information Act with enthusiasm, believing that under its provisions, Scientologists would at last have access to the massive accumulation of files on them and be able to correct the many defamatory falsehoods they contained.
But they were soon to learn that those agencies which were the most avid collectors of sensitive personal data and the most generous dispensers of information from "dirty dossiers", were precisely the ones which determined from the outset to contravene the law.
They were, and still are, as wily as alley cats in squeezing through legal loopholes in the Act, or getting around its provisions with a variety of explanations and delaying tactics, most of them untenable.
An IRS internal memorandum dated February 4, 1974 orders that IRS policy in dealing with Scientologists' FOI requests "be less cooperative and do no more than is necessary."
Christopher H. Pyle, associate professor of political science at Mt. Holyoke College, who for the past 10 years has been investigating official surveillance of law-abiding persons in
the U. S., and who helped draft the Privacy Act of 1974, has noted some of the dodges employed by federal agencies.
"It has been my experience that where agencies have been criticized for wrongful prosecutions, investigation, or surveillance, they have not responded fully, fairly, or promptly to legitimate demands for documents. This has been true whether the requests were made under the Freedom of Information Act, by a Congressional investigating committee, or by attorneys engaged in pre-trial discovery. Examples are too numerous to list here; what is important are the strategies they reveal.
"The first strategy of the agencies has been to delay, apparently in the hope that the inquirer would lose interest or that the controversy would dissipate.
"To get documents that are potentially embarrassing to an agency, it has often been necessary to threaten litigation or legislative hearings.
"The second strategy that the intelligence and investigative agencies have used to avert embarrassing revelations has been to issue 'plausible denials.' The term is part of the jargon of the intelligence agencies and refers to the issuance of a technically true statement that masks an essential falsehood.
"Thus, when it was disclosed that Army intelligence had a computer filled of political and private information about private citizens, the Army announced that the data bank had been destroyed. What it did not mention was that it had three other computers containing substantially the same information.
"A third, more drastic strategy has been for Government agencies to destroy documents in anticipation of inquiries ... When it became clear that the CIA's programs of drug testing on unwitting subjects were about to become the object of investigation, the CIA intensified its program of 'routine' destruction of obsolete files. Two IRS district offices destroyed intelligence files in anticipation of Congressional investigations."
It was not until January 10, 1980 (14 years after passage of
the FOIA) that a federal judge ordered the FBI to stop destroying its files until a court-approved procedure was set up for their destruction.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene was aimed principally at FBI field office files. For years they had served as a repository for documents the Bureau could not turn up in a "reasonable" search of its massive, centralized record system. A 1978 study by the General Accounting Office - Congress' investigative arm - found that more than one fourth of "special index" records were not fully retrievable through the central records system.
Even Congressional committees couldn't get a complete and honest answer to their queries. The FBI supplied the Senate Intelligence Committee with a memorandum written by J. Edgar Hoover in 1966, ordering his agents to discontinue "black bag" jobs, or surreptitious entries. What the Bureau did not reveal was documentation which showed that the burglaries were in fact resumed after that date. That was because the later memoranda were to be found only in the field office files.
An interesting fact which emerged from the proceedings before Judge Greene was that the FBI generates an incredible 400,000 pages of documents every day.
The FBI has never made any secret of the fact that the Bureau is vehemently opposed to the Freedom of Information Act, at least as applied to its own enormous archives. FBI Director William H. Webster is only the latest top-ranking G-man to propose sweeping cutbacks in the Freedom of Information Act. He urged a seven-year moratorium on releasing investigative information; and recommended the withholding of all files which would tend to identify a "confidential source" by subjecting an FBI release to a detailed analysis.
In an obvious, and not very blight, attempt to make the FOI Act's provisions appear ridiculous, the FBI answered a federal prison inmate's request for information with a mass of material, including the 4-volume FBI Manual.
Prison officials who skimmed through the 6-inch-thick pile
of documents, noted that it contained a discussion of the kind of tear gas used by FBI agents, including ways to avoid being incapacitated by it.
The prison warden was reluctant to place this kind of data in the hands of a convict. "It's the same kind of gas we use in the prison to control riot situations," he told newsmen.
FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley was right about one thing, though. The story got a big play in the media.
One of the common ways agencies may defeat an inquiry for information under the FOIA is to fail to locate anything in their files. The requester will receive a reply from the agency saying something like this: "A search of the central indices of ---- revealed no record of or reference to you."
Such a statement does not assert that no records exist (maybe in field offices or elsewhere); merely that none were found in the central indices.
Not finding anything has the added advantage that the requester has no right of appeal unless he happens to learn from other sources that records do exist. Under provisions of the FOIA, administrative and/or court appeals may be made when access to files is denied, but not when the agency reports that no records were found in a "reasonable" search of their files.
Sometimes, however, the practice of federal agencies in passing reports back and forth to each other, works in the citizen's favor.
That's how it happened when the Church of Scientology requested information concerning the church and its founder from the record systems of the National Security Agency (NSA). This top-secret "silent service" was created in 1952 by a classified Presidential directive, as a separately constituted department with the Department of Defence. With headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, it employs about 20,000 persons, including armed forces personnel who work abroad, most of whom staff about 2,000 sensitive intercept listening posts throughout the world. These stations monitor the communications of every foreign country of any consequence
in the world. The agency reportedly has an annual budget of $1.2 billion.
When the agency adheres to the proper parameters of its eavesdropping mission, it performs a service that is vital and necessary to our national defence. Like other members of the U.S. intelligence community, however, NSA agents apparently have not been able to resist the temptation to overstep their authority and mandate.
The Senate Select Committee investigating the performance of the intelligence establishment, found that NSA had freely exchanged information with the CIA, FBI, BNDD (now the Drug Enforcement Agency), and the Selective Service. These agencies had provided the NSA with "watch lists" of individuals and organizations in which they had an interest. In response to their requests, the NSA, under cover of its foreign intelligence gathering mission, would monitor private telephone conversations, intercept telegrams and cable messages; and obtain copies of telegrams from communications companies, which they then turned over to other federal agencies. Under the highly sensitive classification given NSA materials, these could be thus effectively concealed from review or release under the FOIA.
The Senate Select Committee concluded, after its extensive study of the watched activity, that the NSA's placing the intercepted material under classification was to obscure the fact that the agency was engaged in unrestricted and warrantless eavesdropping wholly outside its proper function.
"The secrecy was not due to the nature of the communications intercepted (most were personal and innocuous), but to the fact that American citizens were involved."
Having thus undermined the effectiveness of its mandated function, so important to national defense, NSA spokesmen and their supporters complained that those who criticised their wrongdoing were trying to destroy the country's intelligence services. The same specious charge was made by the CIA and the FBI, when those agencies were called to account for. their gross misconduct.
On December 13, 1974, officials of the Church of Scientology requested from the NSA, under provisions of the FOIA, any files maintained by that agency on the church or its founder. The NSA's Executive for Staff Services replied that the agency had neither established a file or record pertaining to Mr. L. Ron Hubbard or the Church of Scientology, nor transmitted information concerning either of them to the individuals or entities (i.e., other agencies) listed in their letter of request.
Six months later, during a legal discovery proceeding in a court action to force the CIA to release files that agency maintained on the church, CIA attorneys stated, "We have located documents provided to the CIA by the NSA."
It turned out that, in all, the NSA had provided its intelligence partner, the CIA, with 16 documents pertaining to the Church of Scientology. CIA said it was exempted from releasing them, on advice from NSA, the originating agency.
Confronted with this evidence, the NSA acknowledged that, on the basis of information received from CIA, it had found 15 of the documents in warehouse storage. However, said John R. Harney, NSA appeals authority, the agency was precluded by Title 18 U.S. C. 798 from providing information concerning classified communications intelligence activities.
Release of any record or portion thereof, declared the NSA, "would disclose information about the nature of NSA's activities including its functions."
The statement, of course, is open to more than one interpretation.
A lower court awarded NSA the summary judgment it sought; but upon appeal, Circuit Judge Spottswood Robinson reversed the district court decision and sent the case back for the lower court to establish a more specific justification for the NSA's claim.
With respect to the agency's assertion that it had failed to find the 16 documents when first requested because there is no central index to its files, the court observed:
"Since NSA's prime mission is to acquire and disseminate
information to the intelligence community, it seems odd that it is without some mechanism enabling location of materials of the type appellant asked for, particularly with identifying details as extensive as those furnished."
CIA officials were not a great deal more forthright than their confrères at the NSA, when responding to FOIA requests. When a Scientology organization brought suit to force CIA to release records pertaining to the church, Charles A. Briggs, CIA representative, supplied sworn answers to interrogatories served on the agency as follows:
Asked if the CIA, its agents or employees correspond regularly with Interpol, he said, "No." He answered with a similar negative when asked whether CIA ever passes intelligence or other information to, or receives it from, Interpol.
Despite these disclaimers under oath, in a memorandum supporting CIA's motion for summary judgment in the suit, the agency told the court that "disclosure of the documents would reveal that this Government had cooperated with Interpol in the collection of intelligence..."
As the growing collection of documents forced out of agency files under the Freedom of Information Act, began to reveal the incredible virulence and extent of the Government's conspiracy against the church, the Guardian's Office initiated a concerted effort to gain access to all the secret files amassed by federal agencies.
The church made more than 1,000 FOI requests, and filed 30 lawsuits against agencies which were withholding documents. By 1978, about 100,000 pages of material had been obtained through administrative action, and another 100,000 pages through litigation.
These were cross-indexed, filed and analyzed. The Rev. Kenneth J. Whitman, national spokesman for the church, said the documents accused the Scientologists of almost everything from gun-running, drug trafficking, white slavery, sex
perversion, hypnotism, brainwashing, currency smuggling, Communism, and even murder.
"We had to study intelligence tactics to understand what had happened. Thousands of man-hours were consumed in this massive project.
"What we found was a systematic campaign of 'wellpoisoning' in more than 14 countries, from Australia in the early 1960's to France in the 70's. In every instance where our church was attacked abroad, we have documents which prove that malicious false reports, rumors, unproven allegations of crimes, and other dirt were disseminated by American agencies to foreign governments prior to any action taken against the church in those countries."
According to Whitman, a close examination and cataloging of the FOI documents obtained, revealed the following: 302 instances of false statements about the church or its founder; 117 infiltrations or attempted infiltrations by covert operatives; 171 instances of inciting tax agencies to act against the church; 173 instances of surveillance, including mail openings, telex monitoring; 322 instances of a government official ordering or approving a subordinate's actions against the church; and 32 cases of theft, seizure, or improper procurement of church property.
Church leaders filed a multi-million dollar damage suit for conspiracy against five of the agencies from whom the documents were obtained. Separate suits were also brought against the FBI and the U.S. State Department.
Officials in the church's Guardian Office were greatly concerned about what they estimated to be a half million more pages of documents still being withheld by federal agencies and a huge number of files outside the United States.
They reasoned that so long as the false information remained unchallenged and uncorrected in those files, the very survival of the church was threatened. The damage already done to the Scientology movement was incalcuable.
It was imperative to gain access to the remaining files "legally if we can, covertly if we must."