Meeting the FBI

The correspondence published here took place after a meeting between members of the Committee for Public Justice and Clarence Kelley, the director of the FBI. The CPJ is a private group concerned with protecting civil rights and liberties. In 1971 it held a conference on the FBI at Princeton; in Investigating the FBI, the book based on that conference, it criticized the bureau on a number of grounds, including its political intelligence activities, its collection and use of private information about citizens, its lack of accountability to Congress and the public.

After Clarence Kelley became director of the FBI, he agreed to meet with committee members in Washington on May 21, 1974. The CPJ was represented by Charles Goodell, its chairman; Professor Norman Dorsen of the NYU Law School; Stephen Gillers, a New York lawyer; and Leon Friedman, then executive director of the committee.

Mr. Kelley had with him a group of high FBI officials including Edward S. Miller, associate director and chairman of the Domestic Intelligence Division; Robert E. Gebhardt, assistant director and chief of the General Investigating Division; William V. Cleveland, assistant director and chief of the Special Investigative Division (organized crime); Ray Wannall, assistant director; John Mintz, assistant director, Office of Legal Counsel; Jack Herrington, inspector; and Thomas Smith, inspector.

The two main topics discussed were the FBI’s political intelligence activities and its handling of arrest records. Leon Friedman explained that the committee was concerned about FBI infiltration and surveillance of political groups. No one, he said, doubted the bureau’s authority to infiltrate criminal groups such as the SLA, but there is much evidence that FBI agents have infiltrated and kept watch on peaceful political groups not engaged in any kind of criminal behavior.

Mr. Miller, the head of the Domestic Intelligence Division, then explained the FBI’s position as follows, according to the CPJ’s notes of the meeting:

The FBI has a duty to gather intelligence before crimes are committed in order to prevent later violent actions.

The SLA itself was an outgrowth of four other groups. Had the FBI infiltrated the original group out of which the SLA sprung, it might have prevented what has lately occurred.

If a citizen reports that a neighbor is engaged in revolutionary talk, the FBI has a duty to investigate.

As far as the Vietnam antiwar groups are concerned, these groups were a target of communists and revolutionaries. They often infiltrated these groups with a view to taking them over. Thus, the FBI has a duty to get their people in to determine what is happening and prevent it. The communists want to use these groups for their purposes or revolutionaries use them for well-publicized attacks on our government.

The FBI must determine the people behind these groups and get some sense of the numbers involved. That is why the FBI reported on matters such as the Earth Day meeting in April, 1970, where Senator Muskie spoke. The bureau was not concerned with him but rather …

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