Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1999 , pages 43, 137
Los Angeles Court Hands Down Final Judgment in Anti-Defamation League Illegal Surveillance Case
By Michael Gillespie
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) versus the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) litigation resulting from the 1993 ADL spy scandal was settled in a California federal court on Monday, Sept. 27, following nearly six years of legal wrangling.
“The ADL was running a major espionage organization against progressive groups in the United States,” said Hussein Ibish, media director for the ADC, the Arab-American organization that provided leadership in the class action suit representing over 800 groups and individuals targeted by the ADL.
The settlement is an important victory in the effort to curtail espionage activity by the ADL, which, with an annual budget of some $45 million, is still the best funded American Jewish group and one that, prior to the 1993 domestic spying scandal, had sought recognition as a national civil rights monitoring organization.
“Under the permanent injunction issued by Federal Judge Richard Paez, the ADL is permanently enjoined from engaging in any further illegal spying against Arab-American and other civil rights groups,” said Ibish. The ADL is also required to provide an annual statement to the court and ADC’s legal counsel in years to come explaining the measures it is taking to remain in compliance with the court order.
A court-appointed Special Master will supervise the removal of illegally obtained information from the ADL’s files. Those documents will be held by the Special Master for a maximum period of 10 years, time to allow the adjudication of other, related civil suits still pending against the ADL. The ADL also will contribute $25,000 to a jointly administered community relations fund. More significant was the judge’s order to ADL to pay $175,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
The Arab-American group’s lead counsel, Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, characterized the ADL’s sharing of illegally obtained confidential law enforcement information with Israeli, apartheid South African and other foreign and domestic intelligence organizations as antagonistic to positive social change. “The work the ADL was doing was not civil rights work,” said Schey, “it was anti-civil rights work.”
After COINTELPRO, a still-controversial FBI operation to destabilize black nationalist and other groups in the ’60s and ’70s, the FBI, state and local law enforcement authorities were ordered out of the business of gathering information about legitimate political activity by American citizens. But in some major American cities, law enforcement files relating to legitimate and Constitutionally protected political activities that had been ordered destroyed instead found their way to the offices of the ADL, which quickly became a clearinghouse for such illegally obtained and illegally retained information.
The absence of the FBI, state, and local police investigators in the field therefore created a void the ADL rushed to fill, with remarkable success, by increasing its in-house “fact-finding” assets and capabilities and developing enhanced working relationships with “official friends”—government officials, investigators, and intelligence officers. Some of these were the officials who had not destroyed files of illegally obtained materials, or had made private copies of the official files before they were destroyed in compliance with the court order.
An Intelligence Conduit
The ADL favored many of its “official friends” with expense-paid trips to Israel, where they met with and were entertained by friendly officers of Israel’s espionage and counter-intelligence organizations, Mossad and Shin Bet, thus creating a major conduit for the flow of sensitive and useful U.S. domestic political intelligence to Israel’s spymasters in Tel Aviv.
Knowledgeable observers have characterized the San Francisco district attorney’s 1993 investigation of the ADL as a continuation by proxy of an investigation begun more than two years earlier by FBI counter-intelligence officials. Their apparent aim was to impede if not halt the activities of the ADL’s sophisticated nation-wide espionage and intelligence gathering network.
“Government investigators or private investigators, there is no lesser of two evils here. No one should be doing that kind of work,” said Schey. “The ease with which the ADL moved into a position of gathering information on groups not threatening to them was insidious. They really got sucked into this intelligence subculture and went into the service of war policy, especially in Central America.”
On the domestic level, Schey characterized the ADL’s shift from civil rights monitoring to espionage and intelligence-gathering as intolerable. “That they would turn their capabilities on people and groups engaged in legitimate civil rights causes—by any measure that’s outrageous conduct for an organization that presents itself as a civil rights organization. They were targeting everyone from the Asian Law Caucus to the United Farm Workers.”
The ADL became a clearinghouse for illegally obtained and retained information.
“Why the hell was ADL watching Greenpeace or the National Conference of Black Lawyers?” asked Ibish. “It doesn’t make sense for ADL to want that kind of information, but a national security organization like Mossad would, of course. They spied on everyone within reach, left, right, and center. Their actions, methods, and means are typical of a national espionage organization but unprecedented for a civil rights organization. Why was ADL behaving like an espionage organization?
“The permanent injunction is tacit admission that they were spying,” said Ibish. “They can’t deny what they have promised to stop doing. The injunction ought to have an effect on any sensible organization. Of course, if the connection with the Mossad is a factor, the injunction probably won’t have much effect.”
The ADL continues to deny any wrongdoing. An ADL press release proclaims that the League is “pleased to finally resolve the litigation” in a manner that “explicitly recognizes the ADL’s right to gather information in any lawful and Constitutionally-protected manner, which we have always done and will continue to do.”
No other major American Jewish organization has condemned the ADL for its political excesses or its documented association with Israeli intelligence organizations.
Schey said the ADL developed a completely distorted view of who presents a threat to the Jewish community in the U.S., describing “such an isolationist vision that it perceived a wide range of ethnic communities as threatening, assigning them to an ”˜enemy camp.’ Many of those groups might disagree with the ADL on the Middle East, for example, but they might agree on many other issues. The way the ADL drew boundaries was completely irrational.”
Disappointingly, the mainstream American media have devoted little ink and less airtime to the settlement of this major civil rights case. “The settlement is being ignored by the mainstream press,” charged Ibish. “We had hoped the press would understand the importance of this case without our reminding them, but that has not happened. The Jewish press is taking it more seriously.”
The case was settled in a Los Angeles federal court, but the Los Angeles Times gave the story a mere 281 words in a news summary in its Sept. 28 Metro Home Edition. And although the investigation involved files stolen from the San Francisco police department, the San Francisco Chronicle also buried its brief account of the court’s decision.
The apparent disinterest of San Franciso and Los Angeles reporters in a local story of such importance is all the more astonishing in view of the ADL’s systematic violation of privacy and the broad targeting of its intelligence gathering effort which, in addition to the organizations named above, included Artists Against Apartheid, ACT UP, Action for Animals, the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco, the American Indian Movement (AIM) and, among hundreds of individuals, a number of prominent elected officials and public figures. The ADL conducted covert surveillance of many groups and individuals and, through its “official friends,” illegally accessed confidential government and law enforcement files to obtain fingerprints, photos, social security numbers, drivers’ license numbers and information, vehicle registration and license plate numbers, post office box numbers, and other information not legally available to the public.
Roy Bullock, an espionage operative working out of the ADL’s San Francisco office and in the employ of the group for more than 30 years, was paid through a secret ADL bank account held in a false name and controlled by Bruce Hochman, a prominent Beverly Hills lawyer, former federal prosecutor and former president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.
Among co-plaintiffs with ADC in the suit were former Congressman Melvin Dymally, former Los Angeles City Councilor Robert Farrell, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, the Bay Area Anti-Aparthied Network, the National Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG), the Coalition Against Police Abuse, the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador, Global Exchange, the International Jewish Peace Union, AIM and the Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Still pending adjudication are at least two additional civil cases that arose as a result of the 1993 spy scandal and media revelations of illegal ADL espionage activities in California and beyond. ❑
Michael Gillespie is a free-lance journalist based in Ames, Iowa. He writes frequently about politics and media.