Published on Sunday, June 9, 2002 by the Associated Press
Feds Worked to Quash College Protests, Boost Reagan's Political Career
SAN FRANCISCO - The FBI, working covertly with the CIA and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, spent years unlawfully trying to quash the voices and careers of students and faculty deemed subversive at the University of California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
For years the FBI denied engaging in such activities at the university. But a 17-year legal challenge brought by a Chronicle reporter under the Freedom of Information Act forced the agency to release more than 200,000 pages of confidential records covering the 1940s to the 1970s, the newspaper reported in a special section for its Sunday editions.
Only after federal judges repeatedly ruled that the FBI had drifted unlawfully from intelligence gathering into politics and the case was about to be heard by the Supreme Court did the FBI settle, removing much of the blacked-out material in the files.
In its unsuccessful battle to keep them secret, the agency had said its actions had been proper that it had merely tried to protect civil order and national security during a time when the nation feared Communism and waged war in Vietnam.
"Things are done a lot differently today," FBI spokesman Bill Carter told the Chronicle. "The files speak for themselves."
The broad outlines of the illegal FBI campaigns became public in the 1970s as Congress held hearings that showed the FBI and CIA had disrupted the lives of law-abiding citizens and organizations engaging in legitimate dissent.
The documents obtained by the Chronicle show just how extensive these activities were in California, how Kerr and others were targeted, and how eagerly Reagan worked to quash protests.
Gov. Reagan intended to mount a "psychological warfare campaign" against subversives, file tax evasion and other charges against them, and do anything else it could to restore moral order, Herbert Ellingwood, Reagan's legal affairs secretary, told the FBI in a request for confidential information about people on campus.
The records show FBI director J. Edgar Hoover agreed to provide such information from the agency's files.
"This has been done in the past," the director said, "and has worked quite successfully."
The Office of Ronald Reagan referred the Chronicle's questions to Edwin Meese III, Reagan's chief of staff as governor. Meese said the FBI, as far as he knew, gave Reagan no special political help, and that he did not remember planning any activities against "subversives."
"There was never any concentrated strategy to do these things," he said.
The documents also show that the FBI tried to protect Reagan from being implicated for lying about his own past as a member of several groups officially deemed subversive by altering his security clearance.
Reports that Reagan informed on his fellow actors at a time when the FBI was trying to root out suspected subversives have surfaced before, but were downplayed. In 1985, when the FBI released some documents about Reagan, a Reagan spokesman said he had only a "very minor" involvement with the bureau at a time when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild.
The records obtained by the Chronicle reveal who it was that Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman, named during a 1947 meeting with FBI agents: Larry Parks ("The Jolson Story"), Howard Da Silva ("The Lost Weekend") and Alexander Knox ("Wilson"). Each was later called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and blacklisted in Hollywood.
The new documents also show Reagan's contacts with the bureau were more extensive than he acknowledged or has been reported: Files show he repeatedly gave the FBI names of people he suspected of being communist over the years.
Hoover, meanwhile, ordered agents to investigate the 6,000 UC faculty members and top administrators. The resulting report in 1960 listed professors' political activities, and said many had engaged in "illicit love affairs, homosexuality, sexual perversion, excessive drinking or other instances of conduct reflecting mental instability."
CIA Director John McCone also was involved, meeting with Hoover in January 1965 after the Free Speech Movement held its first sit-ins. Records show they decided to leak information to conservative UC Regent Edwin Pauley, who would "use his influence to curtail, harass and at times eliminate" liberal faculty members. Pauley had hoped to fire Kerr.
The FBI blamed the liberal Kerr for allowing the campus protests to grow, and Hoover himself wanted a crackdown at Berkeley before student protests grew nationwide.
When, to Hoover's dismay, President Lyndon Johnson picked Kerr to become his secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, the FBI background check included damaging information the agency knew to be false, and Johnson withdrew the nomination, the documents show.
Reagan was elected California's governor in 1966 after repeatedly consulting with the FBI while campaigning against "campus malcontents and filthy speech advocates" at Berkeley. One of his first moves was to fire Kerr, who never received another White House appointment.
Kerr, whose own FOIA request was denied by the FBI, said he was unaware of the plots against him. "Maybe I was too naive, but I never assumed they were taking efforts to get rid of me," he told The Chronicle.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press