The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.63/No.11           March 22, 1999 
FBI On Trial: SWP Case Against Gov't Harassment  

From the frame-up trial of Puerto Rican nationalist José Solís now under way in Chicago to locked-out oil workers at Crown Central Petroleum in Texas who faced an FBI investigation of bogus sabotage charges by the company, growing numbers of working people have direct experience with Washington's political police. FBI on Trial: The Victory in the Socialist Workers Party Suit against Government Spying is a valuable tool in understanding the methods and record of the FBI in attempting to victimize the workers movement. The excerpts below are from the introduction by Margaret Jayko, the book's editor. The book, which contains Judge Thomas Griesa's ruling against the FBI in the historic 15-year lawsuit and many related documents, is copyright (c) 1988 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

This book is about a historic victory for democratic rights. It contains the federal court decision that codifies the accomplishments of the successful fifteen-year legal battle waged by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) against decades of spying, harassment, and disruption by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The ruling in this case places a valuable new weapon in the hands of all working people fighting to defend their rights and living standards and all those struggling for progressive social change. It can and should be used widely to win broader freedoms for everyone.

The SWP and YSA filed the lawsuit July 18, 1973, in federal court in Manhattan. They charged government agencies with "illegal acts of blacklisting, harassment, electronic surveillance, burglary, mail tampering, and terrorism" against the socialist organizations. They demanded a court injunction to halt these illegal activities and that the government be ordered to pay damages.

The trial opened in New York April 2, 1981, and continued for three months. In eight years of pretrial proceedings the plaintiffs had managed to pry hundreds of thousands of pages out of the secret files of the FBI and other government police agencies, substantiating many of the allegations made in the original complaint. Many of these documents were submitted into evidence at the trial.

Five years after the trial, on August 25, 1986, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge found the FBI guilty of violations of the constitutional rights of the SWP and YSA and of their members and supporters.

On August 17, 1987, Judge Griesa issued an injunction barring any further government use of the FBI files on the SWP, YSA, and their members and supporters that had been compiled illegally.

On January 14, 1988, the government served notice that it would appeal Judge Griesa's rulings. Two months later, just days before the deadline for submitting its appeal brief, the Justice Department withdrew its appeal. This ended the court case. An unprecedented victory for constitutional rights had been won.

Judge Griesa's decision, reprinted in this book, represents a victory for the basic right to engage in political activity free from government interference.

The FBI investigation of the SWP started, wrote Griesa, "with a series of directives issued by President Roosevelt to J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI. Roosevelt met with Hoover on August 24, 1936, and this meeting was recorded in a memorandum written by Hoover. According to the memorandum, Roosevelt `was desirous of discussing the question of the subversive activities in the United States, particularly fascism and communism'. . . .

"In 1941 Director Hoover wrote the New York office of the FBI complaining about the lack of information regarding the SWP and requesting that every effort be made `to obtain from book shops, informants and other sources' whatever written materials existed about the SWP." Ever since then, the SWP was a target of the FBI.

Judge Griesa found that "the FBI's disruption activities, surreptitious entries and use of informants" were "violations of the constitutional rights of the SWP and lacked legislative or regulatory authority."

The court ruling provides a compelling summary of the government's illegal operations against the SWP and YSA as revealed in the case. Judge Griesa dealt extensively with the FBI's use of informers to spy on and seek to disrupt the SWP and YSA.

His decision details several of the fifty-seven disruption operations conducted by the FBI. These include poison-pen letters, malicious articles planted in the press, instances of harassment and victimization, covert attempts to get SWP members fired from their jobs, and efforts to disrupt collaboration between the SWP and Black rights and anti- Vietnam war groups.

It enumerates 20,000 days of wiretaps and 12,000 days of listening "bugs" between 1943 and 1963. It documents 208 FBI burglaries of offices and homes of the SWP and its members, resulting in the theft or photographing of 9,864 private documents.

Judge Griesa concluded that these government operations were illegal and a violation of the Bill of Rights. He ruled that appeals to "national security" - by the president or anyone else - cannot be used as an excuse to violate the Constitution. "The FBI exceeded any reasonable definition of its mandate and had no discretion to do so," the judge concluded.

Based on these findings, Judge Griesa ordered the government to pay the SWP and YSA $264,000 in damages.

The decision in this case codifies significant advances for political rights. Important new ground has been conquered in extending the right to privacy of political organizations and individual activists. This, more than any other single issue, was at the heart of the case....

The SWP and YSA case made a political impact because it wasn't limited to a battle in a courtroom - terrain that's not very favorable for working-class organizations. Public exposure of FBI crimes and cover-ups of those crimes and mobilization of a broad united effort in defense of constitutional rights were key to making progress on the legal front in this battle with the FBI. This was a political fight with a legal component.

From the day this lawsuit was filed, the SWP and YSA sought to collaborate in this undertaking with all organizations and individuals with a stake in the fight to defend and extend democratic rights. The vehicle for this united-front effort was the Political Rights Defense Fund (PRDF), a nonpartisan organization formed in 1973 to gather the backing and funds to make this lawsuit possible.

PRDF held broad public meetings across the country at every crucial juncture in the case to explain what was going on and to seek support. It organized to get the maximum press coverage for the legal fight and to disseminate as widely as possible the lessons to be learned from the secret files forced to light through the suit. Publishing literature on the case was another big aspect of what PRDF did.

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