Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Central American solidarity work—spied on by the FBI

By Steve Otto

“Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means.” - Herbert Marcuse[1]

For most of the 1980 decade peace groups were involved in Central American solidarity work. Most of that work focused on defending the revolution in Nicaragua and the armed struggles in El Salvador and Guatemala. Activists were able to get large crowds together from around the country to oppose President Ronald Reagan’s repressive policies in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
So it was really not surprising when political activists discovered that the FBI had spied on the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). CISPES did solidarity work supporting the  Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador. The FMLN was a coalition of five Marxist guerrilla organizations, the Fuerzas Populares de Liberación Farabundo Martí (FPL), Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), the Resistencia Nacional (RN), the Partido Comunista Salvadoreño (PCS) and the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos (PRTC).

By the mid 1980s I was the president of the Wichita State University chapter of CISPES. By the time I was elected president, the group had shrunk to about five people. We wrote articles in the campus newspaper, put up leaflets about US intervention in Central America and we occasionally showed films on that issue.  
After I graduated from WSU, I went to work for some newspapers in Western Missouri. I was working for the Clinton Daily Democrat for almost two years when the newspaper decided they weren’t making enough money from my department, “small county towns,” so I was laid off. I decided to move back to Wichita, along with my wife Cam Gentry. We had been there a short time when I got a call from a reporter from The Wichita Eagle telling me there was a nation-wide FBI national surveillance of campus CISPES groups during the fall of 1983. I had been named the target of an FBI investigation. I was shocked.
“We just couldn’t imagine that the FBI would really take our little group so seriously,” I told a reporter from The Clinton Daily Democrat.[2]
I made similar statements to a reporter from The Wichita Eagle:[3]
“It is kind of funny they would send agents down to spy on people who were really not doing very much.” 
The Center for Constitutional Rights was the group that had discovered the spying. They used the Freedom of Information Act and found that the FBI’s harassment of CISPES included surveillance from 1981 through 1984 of CISPES chapters on college campuses across the country.
At the time the news broke there were actually members of congress who complained that the spying was nothing more than harassment of legal political groups who simply disagreed with Reagan’s foreign policies.
US Representative Dan Glickman said: “I think that this is the kind of thing that the FBI shouldn’t do, because it absolutely destroys their credibility to do important things…It’s an outrage, and reminds me both of the McCarthy-era activities, as well as what used to happen in the ‘60s.”[4]
 Glickman was a representative from the Wichita area at the time. Since then he has been replaced by Mike Pompeo who is extremely positive about government surveillance of political groups in the name of “national security.”
Pompeo has shown contempt for anyone who opposes surveillance of US citizens and has condemned Edward Snowden for trying to expose government spying on innocent citizens:
“The overwhelming majority of the materials stolen had nothing to do with the privacy of U.S. persons.
Only a tiny sliver of the materials stolen by Mr. Snowden had anything to do with United States telecommunications or the privacy rights of Americans. Rather, the majority of the material taken, now in the hands of other countries, provides detailed information about America’s intelligence sources and methods. By divulging this information, Mr. Snowden has put the lives of our soldiers, sailors and airmen at risk.”[5]
Pompeo is typical of today’s politicians who show no interest in protecting the privacy of US citizens from government abuse and that includes our present President Barack Obama.
The FBI used several tactics to harass us including taking a leaflet down of a bulletin board that gave notice for a meeting Jan. 17 1984. According to FBI records, the leaflet was copied and sent to other offices for further investigation.
One document said an agent noticed a Jan. 17 1984 announcement of a CISPES meeting, took the leaflet down off of the bulletin board and tracked down my home address through the WSU and Wichita telephone directories, said Marylou Grahamm a spokesperson for the Center of Constitutional Rights. 
The FBI then visited our apartment complex and talked to neighbors to try and determine whether CISPES meetings were taking place there.
There were probably a dozen ways to find out where our meetings were, including calling us on the phone and asking us outright. We would have told them since we were doing nothing illegal. Also talking to our neighbors left the impression we were some kind of terrorist and our neighbors treated us very strange at a few of the apartment get-togethers. They gave us strange looks. That was probably the most harassing thing the FBI did to us. 
The FBI also sent informants to our meetings. I remember two young men, neither one taller than me, one with dark black hair and the other with short sandy colored hair, who claimed to be students. One kept asking us to “lend him” our pamphlets and informational materials. The other actually asked us if we send guns to the guerrillas in El Salvador. I thought that was strange. Today I just think it was really stupid.
“Most of us had known each other a year or more,” I said to The Wichita Eagle. “We had no way of Knowing if any of us were spies.”
When I finally got the copy of my FBI file through Freedom of Information, about half of it was blacked out. The FBI claimed they blacked out information that was sensitive to national security, but it looked clear to me that they had blacked out things there were embarrassing to them. One thing they were probably not proud of was their spying on us in our bedroom. They had actually taken pictures of us in that room late at night and other times. I’m sure they didn’t want people to know what perverts they were. The file was probably about a hundred pages long and looked like a small book.
In one publication, The Wichita State University Sunflower, I was proud to tell a reporter: “My beliefs haven’t changed much since. I think it says something about our government when it spies on its own people. I really wonder if the loss of individual privacy in this country might not be worse than a few random acts of terrorism. It also makes me believe that probably a large number of people in America have been spied on who don’t even know it.”[6]

DEVO-Secret Agent Man




[2] Brian Hanney, “Former Clintonian investigated by FBI,” The Clinton Daily Democrat, February 1, 1988, pp. 1, 12.
[3] Gardner Selby and John Jenks, Angelia Herrin, “WSU Couple investigated,” The Wichita Eagle, January 28, 1989, pp. 1A, 6A.

[4] Ibid.
[5] Mike Pompeo’s home page, http://pompeo.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=372133
[6] Tim Pouncey, “Alumnus recalls year under surveillance,” The Wichita State University Sunflower, January 29, 1988.

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