Thursday, April 17, 2008

RECOVERED HISTORY: HOW THE CIA & FBI DISRUPTED THE ALTERNATIVE PRESS

ANGUS MACKENZIE One of Ober's top agents, who excelled at analyzing divisions between political camps, was Chicago-born Salvatore John Ferrera, a diminutive young man with black hair, black eyes, and (according to his girlfriend of the time) a frightfully nervous stomach. He was recruited by the CIA while studying political science at Loyola University in Chicago. From his studies, he developed an ability to navigate the ideological, strategic, and tactical differences of the antiwar groups in the United States and abroad. Only a few bare facts of Ferrera's story as a domestic spy have surfaced, lines here and there in scattered news reports. The full story is still classified as secret, but what is now known provides a noteworthy illustration of Ober's operation at work.

Ferrera's first assignment was to infiltrate a group of antiwar activists who were setting out to publish a tabloid newspaper in Washington, D.C. Their leader was Terrence "Terry" Becker Jr., a former college newspaper editor and former Newhouse News Service reporter. Becker was struggling to assemble the first issue of Quicksilver Times when Ferrera walked up the stairs of a recently rented white clapboard house that was to serve the group as both home and office. With Ferrera was a friend, William Blum, who introduced Ferrera to Becker. Blum was an old hand in Washington's dissident circles. He had recently resigned from the State Department and in 1967 helped found the Washington Free Press. Becker welcomed Ferrera as Blum's buddy, and Ferrera offered to help Becker with the task at hand: building frames for light tables. Once finished, they inserted the bulbs and got down to the business of pasting together the first issue of Quicksilver Times.

Ober was kept well informed about Quicksilver and hundreds of newspapers like it. According to CIA officer Louis Dube, Ober soon learned that Quicksilver was "just making it financially" and that the newspaper "was not receiving outside financial help, foreign or domestic." Again, however, despite the lack of any evidence of foreign funding, Ober kept investigating. At Quicksilver, Ferrera made himself indispensable as a writer and photographer. His articles and photographs appeared in nearly every issue, in more than thirty issues altogether. After writing one piece under his own name -- on June 16,1969, in the first issue of the paper -- he assumed a pseudonym, Sal Torey.

Ferrera made an ideal domestic CIA operative: young and hip-looking, with a working vocabulary of the Left. . . One of Ferrera's early targets was Karl Hess. An influential conservative Republican, Hess had headed the party's platform committee in 1960 and 1964 for Barry Goldwater, but by the late 1960s he had strayed from his party into the ranks of antiwar radicalism. He was editing a libertarian-anarchist newsletter, The Libertarian, and was about to launch a new publication, Repress, intended to document the growing repression of liberty in the United States. Hess was especially interested in uncovering police espionage and surveillance. Repress was never published, but Ferrera spent quite a lot of time working on it, all the while reporting back to Ober about Hess's activities.

Ferrera also sent Ober reports on the Youth International Party, better known as the Yippies. When the U.S. Justice Department indicted Yippie leaders Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and other antiwar activists for conspiring to cross state lines to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Quicksilver staff got parade permits for a protest march in front of the Justice Department. The subsequent "Chicago Eight" trial turned into a major courtroom confrontation between the Nixon administration and the antiwar movement. (The case became known as the "Chicago Seven" after defendant Bobby Seale was removed and tried separately.) Ferrera befriended the defendants and interviewed their lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Wingless, providing the CIA with inside intelligence about the most important political trial of the era. Ferrera's pose as a newsman allowed him to ask questions, take notes, and photograph his targets, and his pose as a friend of the movement let him insinuate himself into meetings where antiwar actions and legal strategies were planned.

Ober and FBI counterintelligence chief William Sullivan employed one special agent, Samuel Popish, just to carry thousands of daily reports by hand between FBI and CIA headquarters, and at least seven FBI informants were deployed around Becker, Ferrera, and Blum at Quicksilver. New volunteers at Quicksilver's staff meetings sowed opposition to the paper's founders, which led to a shutdown of the newspaper at a critical moment. Several of the super-militant newcomers took control of the Quicksilver office and literally hurled Becker's allies out the door and down the stairs. A white female supporter of Becker was called a white racist by the black leader among the newcomers, who threw her to the floor and hit her in the face. Becker's allies did manage to get some of their production equipment out of the building, including their homemade light tables, and moved everything to another apartment building, but publication had to be suspended just as Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia. The answering protests were a high-water mark of the antiwar movement. College students conducted a nationwide strike at more than three hundred campuses, but Quicksilver was unable to print one word on the action.

In an FBI report about Quicksilver, since declassified, the FBI special agent in charge assured headquarters that he was continuing to use his agents to create dissension within protest groups. In his words, he was "continuing attempts to develop plans to utilize sources to promote political differences in New Left organizations." He also reported that he was planning to produce a newsletter to counter Quicksilver.

On May 8, 1970, Quicksilver Times resumed publishing and Salvatore Ferrera sent Ober several reports on the reconstituted newspaper commune. Terry Becker had been shaken by the earlier influx of disruptive volunteers. Because of the democratic form of Quicksilver meetings, meetings, the newcomers had each been accorded one vote and so were able to overthrow him. But now Becker was beginning to suspect this had been a government-directed coup, and he took steps to tighten his control of the paper and keep out dissenters. Becker would no longer accept people who simply showed up on his doorstep, posing as helpers. As it turned out, Ferrera also was eased out, even though Becker had no inkling that Ferrera was a CIA agent. "We collectivized at that point," Becker says. "If you worked on the paper, you had to live in the house. No outside income. If you had outside income, you pooled it. No outside jobs. The paper paid everybody's bills. We were criticized for being too closed, but it was the only way to avoid a repetition of what had happened."

Ferrera wrote that the collective was so tense and introspective he found it difficult to tolerate: "No male or female chauvinism is tolerated. Both sexes at the Quicksilver collective assist in all aspects of the commune. There is . . . plenty of sex and this causes problems." Ferrera reported that one woman was spending less time with the father of her child and more with another man. Ferrera told Ober that he could not imagine living so close to the people he was spying on, day in and day out. "He wouldn't even consider staying there," a CIA agent later reported.

ORDER THE CIA'S WAR AT HOME

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