In response to:
A Special Supplement: The Theory and Practice of American Political Intelligence from the April 22, 1971 issue
To the Editors:
Frank Donner’s “The Theory and Practice of American Political Intelligence” [NYR, April 22] is very useful as a kind of dossier on Snoopers in America—1971. But like most intelligence dossiers, a good deal of it remains unevaluated and thus subject to considerable, misinterpretation. In particular, Donner’s piece may lend itself to the creation of those fantasies hoped for by the writer of the FBI’s “New Left Notes—Philadelphia”: “It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”
It is no doubt true that the intelligence apparatus has grown enormously in recent years, that electronic eavesdropping devices have become remarkably sophisticated, and that experienced agencies like the CIA have, despite statutory limitations, entered into domestic surveillance. Nevertheless, the intelligence of this accumulating “intelligence” must be evaluated, as must its real and potential uses. Most important, the movement must develop precise, unparanoid responses to surveillance.
For example, some of our own sources suggest that the bulk of intelligence gathering is still done by local police, of which there are perhaps 3,000-4,000 full-time field agents nationally; that the mass of what is gathered is, as the liberated Media FBI files indicate, the trivial accumulation of who attended what or signed which; that all the compendia and computers have failed to capture most of the Weather-people, Rap Brown, or Mary Moylan, to prevent draft-board raids or the Media FBI raid itself, to solve the Capitol bombing, or seriously to inhibit the major activities of the movement these last few years. The danger is real, but the limits are real, too.
More important, perhaps, our response to increased surveillance must be more than a wish for a “new politics,” whatever we might mean by that. For reasons stated in our NYR ad of January 28, Resist has worked to provide support for the many hundreds of local organizations struggling against the political forces served by the widening intelligence network. For the same reasons, we have actively circulated FBI files made available to us by the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. And we have now prepared, and will shortly publish, a Movement Security kit (containing fourteen articles) which is designed to provide activists, organizers, movement participants, and others with a basic tool for their work. Orders for the kit (and contributions) can be addressed to Resist, Room 4, 763 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Mass. 02139; the cost is at least $2.50 for movement groups, at least $3.50 for those who can afford more (all surplus goes to support local organizing projects), and $5.00 to “law enforcement” agencies.
Frank Donner replies:
Resist is doing valuable work and deserves generous support. But Paul Lauter is certainly overstraining to make his pitch. My article is confined to the “theory and practice” of political intelligence. It doesn’t purport to evaluate the effectiveness of the intelligence system or prescribe techniques of response on a day-to-day basis to particular abuses. And who would dispute that whatever the response—political or tactical—it must be “more than a wish”?
July 1, 1971