Paper trail of deceit
San Francisco, April 1, 2002
This is the first of a two-part series on the hidden workings of the Anti-Defamation League and how three Bay Area activists were able to uncover a spy operation that reached into the San Francisco Police Department.
By Dan Evans
of The Examiner Staff
LOCKED in a nondescript computer database, a shadowy operative named Roy Bullock kept file upon file on liberal San Francisco Jews who disagreed with Israeli policies.
The files included Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, addresses, phone numbers and group memberships. Some of the information was sold to foreign governments, including Israeli and South African intelligence groups.
Shockingly, Bullock was in the employ of a civil rights group whose motto is "fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism": the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Numerous targets of the ADL -- who drew parallels to COINTELPRO, the FBI's tainted domestic surveillance program -- say the profiling and covert activities continue to this day.
"They are continuing to gather facts," said Abdeen Jabara, a Manhattan attorney and former president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "That, of course, is a euphemism for what we say is private spying."
Not only were liberal Jews a target, but information also was kept on labor unions, pro-Palestinian organizations, anti-apartheid groups, American Arabs and anti-Semites. After the Federal Bureau of Investigation broke the case in 1993, a number of these targets filed suit against the ADL. The last lawsuit was recently settled.
The settlement in February marked the first time any of the organization's victims were allowed to speak out. Usually, the ADL demands plaintiffs keep quiet as a condition of any settlement.
Without those constraints, victims Jeffrey Blankfort, Steve Zeltzer and Anne Poirier are revealing the underbelly of an organization that previously had successfully shielded itself from condemnation. They are using the ADL's own spy as a fulcrum.
Bullock's relationship with Blankfort and Zeltzer began when he infiltrated a pro-Palestinian group started by the two, both of whom are Jewish. Once inside, Bullock collected and sold information about the two men to the ADL and, possibly the Mossad, the foreign arm of Israeli intelligence.
Although Bullock never met Poirier, he may have sold information on her organization to the South African government. The woman, who lives in Berkeley, ran a scholarship program for South African exiles in the early 1990s. During the course of her lawsuit against the ADL, she discovered the ADL's operative had sold confidential information to a South African agent in San Francisco for $15,000.
Poirier had never done any work relating to the Middle East, and she was astounded when she found out that the ADL had kept tabs on her. During her nine-year court fight with the group, she found out more than she needed to know about its operation, and now nothing much surprises her.
"They gathered information on anti-apartheid activities," she said, "anyone the organization felt, by definition, would be against Israel because they were too left-wing."
A few files, so what?
The fact the ADL has a file on a group doesn't imply clandestine activities, said San Francisco regional director Jonathan Bernstein. He resents the implication of the word spying, saying it implies people were being followed around and trailed. That simply wasn't the case, he said, though he acknowledged he never met Bullock.
"We have files on the NAACP because we've done collaborative projects with them," he said. "They probably have files on the ADL, too."
In Bernstein's eyes, the group's fact-finding operations are one of its most important missions.
Much of the time, the "missions" are nothing more than gleaning information from media reports, he said. People employed by the ADL do attend public meetings to keep an eye on people, just as other journalists do.
The area's top boss, however, repeatedly sidestepped questions on whether fact-finders employed subterfuge to get information. The fact that some of the people being watched by the ADL were Jewish was immaterial, Bernstein said.
Other civil rights groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, do similar things on a limited scale, he said.
A representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is headquartered in Birmingham [Alabama], could not be reached for comment.
Because the ADL has 30 regional offices, the organization is much better equipped to ferret out anti-Semitism and other racist behavior.
"It can help us to respond to hate activity before someone gets hurt," Bernstein said. "That's the ultimate objective."
But are there times when fact-finding becomes a civil rights violation?
The San Francisco office of the American Civil Liberties Union, a group one might expect to have a dim view on the tactics employed by the ADL, refused to comment on the group's fact-finding activities. Nor would spokeswoman Rachel Swain give a reason for the silence.
Groups have been saying for years that the ADL isn't the civil rights organization it claims to be, but no one has been listening. Mostly, it's because those groups have been thinly-veiled anti-Semites, such as the Liberty Lobby, or hate groups such as White Aryan Resistance and the KKK.
But, as vile as some of these groups are, there is a significant amount of evidence that their vitriol is not unfounded. For at least four decades, the ADL continuously has tracked and spied on groups it considers not only a threat to the Jewish community, but to the state of Israel.
Hussein Ibish certainly thinks so. Ibish is the spokesman for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee -- an organization that is, in many ways, the Arab counterpart to the ADL. Though certainly at odds with many Israeli policies, the ADC is not anti-Semitic, and plays a rather moderate role.
"Was the ADL spying on people?" asked Ibish, quickly answering his own question. "Certainly in San Francisco they were. We know they were engaging in illegal activities to gain information. They, and their operatives, were working hand-in-glove with South African intelligence and Israeli intelligence."
Meet Mr. Spy
By his own admission, Bullock had been working off the books as a fact-finder for the ADL since the mid-1960s. He would infiltrate not only openly anti-Semitic groups, but also pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid organizations, usually under false pretenses. Bullock, who is not Jewish, would then pass that information along to the ADL.
He received information about his targets from former San Francisco Police Inspector Tom Gerard, who fled to the Philippines after being indicted in 1994 for illegal use of a police computer. Gerard's current whereabouts are unknown.
Bullock, who no longer does undercover work for the organization, declined to be interviewed for this article.
Nobody could have known about the extent of Bullock's surveillance, if police had not seized his computer database in April 1993. It contained thousands of files on liberal Jewish San Franciscans, Arab-Americans, anti-apartheid activists, anti-Semitic groups, and plain ol' white racists.
On April 8, 1993, armed with this information, police in San Francisco and Los Angeles searched the ADL offices in those two cities. In San Francisco, roughly 10 banker's boxes of information -- 75 percent of which officers said was illegally obtained -- were seized.
A majority of data in those boxes confirmed police suspicions that it had come from Bullock's computer. On that computer was information on 9,876 people, including 1,394 driver's licenses. The files were divided into five categories: "Pinko," "Right," Arabs," "Skins," and "ANC," the last standing for African National Congress.
Bullock also told the FBI that he had information on various labor groups. These groups included: the San Francisco Labor Council, the Oakland Educators Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Irish Northern Aid, the International Indian Treaty Council and the Asian Law Caucus.
After the SFPD raid on the ADL offices, then-District Attorney Arlo Smith filed a lawsuit against the organization to stop the spying. The suit was settled that November. Though the ADL acknowledged no wrongdoing, the group agreed to stop using police to get confidential information. The league also agreed to pay $75,000 to a fund used to help stop hate crimes.
On April 18, 1993, 19 people who Bullock kept files on sued the ADL in San Francisco Superior Court. Pete McCloskey, a former Republican congressman from San Mateo County, was the group's attorney. His wife, Helen, was one of the original plaintiffs.
A few months later, in October, the ADC slapped its Jewish counterpart with a similar lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court. The ADC claimed the ADL passed along information on the group to the Israeli government. The ADC's suit was settled in October 1996.
The ADL agreed to pay $175,000 toward the Arab group's legal costs. The ADL also agreed to contribute $25,000 to a foundation, administered by the ADL and the ADC, dedicated to improving relations between Jews and Arabs. The ADL was able to deny all wrongdoing.
The McCloskey case, however, would drag on. The main point of contention in that case was whether the ADL could be considered a journalistic enterprise, a point won in court by the ADL.
The ADL publishes hundreds of newsletters, papers and books on a wide range of subjects, attorney David Goldstein said. As with any other journalistic enterprise, it contended it was not required to release its confidential information or sources.
After a 1998 ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal, giving the ADL journalistic protection, 14 of the remaining 17 plaintiffs -- two had died in the interim -- dropped their cases against the ADL.
On Feb. 22, 2002, the ADL settled with Blankfort, Zeltzer and Poirier.
What held up the process, said McCloskey, was his clients' refusal to sign a confidentially agreement. The three felt they had been viciously wronged, he said, and wanted to publicize that fact.
With the settlement, each of the three plaintiffs received about $50,000. None of the three, or McCloskey, believes the ADL will stop their spying ways.
"It was settled partially out of fatigue," said the attorney. "Everyone figured it might be best if we all just moved on."
Even if the case had continued, said Goldstein, there is a debate over how much the three plaintiffs could prove they had been injured. Most of the contested information consisted of Social Security and driver's license numbers, which are hardly difficult items to find.
Nine years later, McCloskey is still angry about the case and wants the federal government to revoke the group's tax-exempt status.
Since they obviously are working in conjunction with the Israeli government, he said, they should register as such. Referring to themselves as an education group, said the attorney, is simply a sham.
E-mail Dan Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org
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