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Why we need to fight the LEIU in Seattle
For close to 250 local and state police intelligence units, the problem of how to spy on dissidents was solved by membership in the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU). As journalist David Kaplan saw it, the LEIU was a "private fedrally-funded network of computerized files." Who was in the files?
The ACLU Lawsuit Against LEIU and IOCI
Tax Dollars at Work
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The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit
“The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU) is holding its annual conference in Seattle, on June 2,3,4,5 and 6th. (see http://www.leiu2003seattle.org/)”.
For close to 250 local and state police intelligence units, the problem of how to spy on dissidents was solved by membership in the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU). As journalist David Kaplan saw it, the LEIU was a "private, federally-funded network of computerized files." Who was in the files? "Among the subjects catalogued in LEIU files have been minority, labor and community organizers, many with no criminal records," wrote Kaplan.
The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit was formed in 1956 at a San Francisco meeting of representatives of 26 law enforcement agencies from seven western states. LEIU was later expanded to encompass agencies from many other states. The official purpose of the group was "to promote the gathering, recording, and exchange of confidential information not available through normal police channels, concerning organized crime." The unofficial purpose was to establish a national criminal intelligence network independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose agents frequently refused to share information with local law enforcement officers. This section is based in part on research provided by private investigator Sheila O'Donnell.
By 1962, the LEIU had clearly expanded the scope of its interest to include nonciminal activity. That year, a regional meeting in San Francisco included a discussion of "police intelligence units' role in securing information concerning protest groups, demonstrations, and mob violence," according to an FBI summary. Seventy-two persons attended that meeting, and in addition to local and state law enforcement officials, the FBI noted the presence of representatives from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. department of Labor, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and several military investigative units.
The evidence of LEIU's political spying surfaced in the form of hundreds of five-by-eight-inch index cards on so-called "organized crime" figures distributed to member police agencies. LEIU's rather novel definition of "organized crime" was sufficiently broad to include card dossiers reporting the lawful political activities of anti-war, Black, tribal, community, and labor organizers. This discovery flatly contradicted repeated claims by LEIU officers testifying before congressional committees that their files pertained solely to criminal activities.
During politically volatile 1970, LEIU's national and regional conferences held discussions revealing a preoccupation with monitoring dissidents. Among the topics analyzed that year were: "national militant problems," "international influence on current disorders," dissident and militant funding," revolution in the streets -intelligence aspects," "viewpoints on campus disorders," "Students for a Democratic Society," and "permissiveness."
With workshop topics such as these it is hardly surprising that local LEIU members began submitting information on political activists to the group's California clearing house. A 1979 investigation of LEIU by the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners found that scores of LEIU subject cards contained information on persons "not apparently related to criminal activities." This conclusion is documented by the LEIU cards found in the Chicago Red Squad files.
One LEIU card found in the Chicago files reported on California activist Leland Lubinsky. It described him as a "recognized leader in Peace movements has operated Draft Evasion Counseling Peace demonstrations locally." It said that so far as was known, Lubinsky had never been arrested. Lubinsky's card, like other LEIU cards, included a photograph, along with information on his physical description, associates, family, vital statistics, last known address vehicle and license numbers, hangouts, and modus operandi. LEIU cards were cross-indexed by Social Security number, driver's license number, and FBI number.
Professor Michael Lerner was described on an LEIU card as a "Marxist scholar, political activist, and leader with Seattle Liberation Front, present at many demonstrations, in Seattle." Anne Braden, a long-time community and labor organizer with the Southern Conference Educational Fund, was listed as assisting ”in organizing many radical groups and publications in the Southern U.S." Among the "criminal" activities listed for American Indian Movement activists Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt was the damning news that the pair "travels extensively."
Much of the information on California activist Michael Zinzun's LEIU card was simply inaccurate. The card failed to note that several arrests were on charges later dismissed, and had him belonging to the Black Panther Party well after he had left that organization. Zinzun has never heard of the "Triad" real estate group that the LEIU card said he was "believed to be associated with," and repeated attempts to locate or even prove the existence of the "Triad" group have been unsuccessful. Among Zinzun's reputed associates was one Nathan N. Holden, a former California state senator whose only association with Zinzun was to collect rent -Holden was once Zinzun's landlord.
The lack of accuracy and plethora of unverified reports and innuendos in the LEIU files prompted investigations of the LEIU by local, state and federal agencies. The federal General Accounting Office found that only a small percent of the information recorded on the LEIU cards could be completely documented. Responding to the mounting criticisms of the files by the GAO and other investigative groups, LEIU in 1979 removed 145 subject cards. The cards were purged to meet new LEIU guidelines designed to strike a balance between "the civil rights and liberties of American citizens and the need of law enforcement to collect and disseminate criminal intelligence," according to an LEIU memo.
High-sounding words, but as critics have pointed out, the policy could have been re-evaluated and changed by the LEIU board as soon as the controversy died down. Besides, LEIU will not reveal what cards were destroyed and what cards were retained. According to Tom Parsons, a spokesperson for the Seattle Coalition on Government Spying, there were "continuing indications of LEIU willingness to share political information through its bulletins and files under the guise that it is information about 'terrorism.'" Parsons feels the most crucial problem is that the "LEIU continues to operate outside of public control or accountability." Unless public oversight and accountability are established, said Parsons, the "positive steps...taken by LEIU could be reversed –in secret, with no notice to the public."
The LEIU gets away with hiding its activities from public scrutiny because it claims to be a private organization -despite the fact that it is composed of law enforcement agencies that use tax dollars to pay dues and fees. The LEIU is shielded from federal and state laws governing the conduct of intelligence gathering and dissemination, and escapes the probing eye of the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Given the flawed quality of the LEIU's data, it is perhaps surprising the federal government spent close to two million dollars on a scheme to computerize it. The General Accounting Office found that the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, a now-terminated program to supply federal funds to beef up local police forces, awarded eight grants totaling over $1.7 million to research and establish the Interstate Organized Crime Index (IOCI). The Index was a partial computerization of the LEIU cards and public record information that could be used only by LEIU members, who requested searches by calling a toll-free number at a computer facility in Sacramento, California.
The IOCI computer could also keep track of which police units submitted data, so that requesting police agencies could be directed to the source of the information to trade details totally outside the data bank. The General Accounting Office was bothered by the lack of safeguards regarding the verification of the computerized data and the security of the information dissemination. "We believe intelligence-gathering projects, because they are secretive and sensitive, need to be closely scrutinized. IOCI was not," concluded the GAO study. GAO investigators were particularly concerned that "in many cases, contributing member agencies did not provide public record support for entries in the index, although a special condition of the (LEAA) grants required entries to be based on such information."
Some LEIU critics charge that the whole LEIU/IOCI scheme was an intentional attempt to circumvent congressional mandates prohibiting the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration from establishing a federally funded national police network and centralized dossier system. One of these critics is Sheila O'Donnell, a private investigator who specializes in political surveillance cases. O'Donnell points to a 1974 meeting between officials of the FBI and LEAA. On that occasion, according to an FBI memo, LEAA assistant administrator Richard Velde tried to establish a "joint FBI-LEIU operation" to create a "national communication network" for dissemination of information about "terrorists and extremists" during the Bicentennial.
The FBI rejected the plan because it was "questionable from a legal standpoint" and not feasible because of the "political climate." Another FBI memo, written a month later, reports strained relations between the LEAA and the FBI, with the LEAA threatening to withhold funds from FBI related projects.
Within the next few months the LEAA awarded almost half a million dollars in grants to evaluate and implement an on-line computer system for the IOCI. One grant, for $324,000, had to be rewritten so as not to be in violation of pending federal legislation "dealing with privacy and security," according to the General Accounting Office. That same year, Velde co-signed an LEAA grant for $77,000 that in effect transferred some of the support services for the IOCI computer index from a California law-enforcement foundation to a newly incorporated private company called Search Group, Inc. Search Group itself was originally a "consortium of representatives from each state, appointed by their respective governors," the GAO found. SEARCH stood for "System for Electronic Analysis and Retrieval of Criminal Histories."
The $77,000 LEAA grant was administered by Paul K. Wormeli, who three years later, in 1977, was deputy administrator for administration of the LEAA and in that capacity cosigned (along with Richard Velde) a grant for $299,999 to continue and update the manual IOCI system and also fund the "acquisition, installation, and operation of the minicomputer system." As a Detroit Police Board investigator remarked concerning the merry-go-round of funders and fundees involved in the LEIU-IOCI network. "It is difficult to discern where one agency begins and the other one ends."
The maze got thicker. Search Group, Inc. was given over $3 million in LEAA funds during the three-year period ending June 30, 1977. Search Group's revised bylaws of 1977 state that its corporate membership consists of "one representative of each state...appointed by the chief executive thereof and four representatives appointed by the administrator of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration." In 1976 and 1977, LEAA's administrator was Richard Velde.
The report of the Detroit investigation noted that "while registered as a 'private agency,' there are indications that the LEIU interfaces in a unique manner with public agencies....The LEIU appears to operate as a pubic agency, but one which is not subject to governmental oversight or control."
Even the FBI was worried about the LEIU's computerized intelligence network. one FBI memo remarks of an incident involving LEIU's information system, "This is indeed an outstanding example of one of the worst features of any kind of a national clearinghouse as such for criminal information. It would also seem to be an indictment of the LEIU and the high-sounding purposes promoted for this organization...." Of course, one must remember that the FBI and the LEAA were feuding over who should control the electronic spy empire.
Once the LEIU data base was computerized, another LEAA grantee was funded to help speed along the information among LEIU members and beyond. The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) is, according to its corporate charter, a nonprofit corporation established to facilitate the exchange of operational and administrative data among police departments. In June 1973, LEAA approved a grant of $1.2 million to NLETS to improve the speed of the NLETS Teletype system and make it available to more police forces.
"NLETS provides police departments in each state with direct access to a teletype system that can be used to collect and compare information in both the FBI and LEIU computer files," said the O'Donnell. "Agencies at all levels of government can now be tied into a nationwide intelligence network of dossiers on political dissidents." NLETS, following the pattern of Project Search, has incorporated itself as a private firm. "What has happened is that the federal government has spent millions of dollars to fund an old boys network of political spies who want to circumvent the Constitution and federal regulations," charges O'Donnell.
Tax Dollars at Work
The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration funded several other California projects during Ronald Reagan's governorship that fit into the puzzle of the public/private political spy network, including the Western Regional Organized Crime Training Institute (WROTCI) and the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI).
Since 1971, WROTCI has taught over 4,000 police such techniques as electronic surveillance, infiltration and informant development, but organized crime is not the only target. One police official in California admitted the Institute taught his men how to conduct surveillance on unions and anti-nuclear activists as well. WROTCI was operated by the same California state agency that administered the LEAA-funded LEIU/OICI computerized dossier system. Two other training centers similar to WROTCI were established in Florida and Ohio.
The California Specialized Training Institute has graduated thousands of state military, police and national guard personnel; and its Officer Survival and Internal Security Course is taught by a staff which "includes men with a considerable background in the areas of insurgency and counter-insurgency, social factors and urban unrest, political systems, terrorism, internal defense and security, and intelligence systems," bragged the Commandant of the Institute in a letter to LEAA. The letter noted a carbon copy being sent to then-governor Ronald Reagan's Executive Assistant, Edwin Meese III. Much of the LEAA funding of political surveillance networks in California occurred when Reagan was Governor. Meese later became a top Reagan aide and then was appointed Attorney General. He had a reputation as a hard-liner on domestic intelligence issues, and spoke favorably of a Heritage Foundation study calling for increased cooperation between public and private security agencies.
One of the most unique private outfits linked to LEIU is the California-based Anacapa Sciences Incorporated. Anacapa Sciences is a Santa Barbara consulting firm that establishes political intelligence operations. It helped computerize the LEIU files, and designed the urban terrorism course for California's Western Regional Organized Crime Training Institute. The course clearly includes training on how to monitor the lawful political activity of dissenters. San Francisco Bay area reporter Bill Wallace found that Anacapa's founder and corporate director, Douglas Harris, assisted in developing criminal intelligence courses for California, Michigan, Texas, Canada and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Graduates of Anacapa's political intelligence courses have already established an impressive track record of trampling on the constitutional rights of persons challenging the status quo. After Anacapa set up a program for the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Department was accused of amassing files on the Dallas anti-nuclear group Citizens' Association for Safe Energy. California graduates of Anacapa-spawned courses infiltrated and assisted in the arrest of members of the non-violent anti-nuclear Abalone Alliance during a demonstration at California's Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor. The Abalone infiltrators were part of a police unit set up by Anacapa with a $30,000 grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration report, reported Wallace.
"Anacapa Sciences Incorporated appears to be a new and significant variation of the hybrid spy firms," said Wallace, "a company that doesn't engage in spying, but teaches other how to do it." Wallace has identified similar firms around the country, including systems Sciences Associates, Profitect, Inc., Systems Development Corporation, and the now-defunct National Intelligence Academy.
The ACLU Lawsuit Against LEIU and IOCI
Fearing the potential for abuse, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sought copies of the LEIU cards and computer printouts from the IOCI data base under the terms of the California Public Records Act. A lower court ordered the material provided, but the case was appealed.
The California Supreme Court recognized that the California's Public Records Act's "intelligence information" exemption "severely limits the information subject to disclosure," yet it did "not entirely protect the index cards and printouts." The California Supreme Court ruled that while certain information from the IOCI print-outs should be provided to the ACLU, the burden and cost of segmenting out exempt information from the cards was sufficient to bar the release of that information.
In a lengthy dissent, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Bird discussed the issue of maintenance of law enforcement records that has significance to all law regarding those records and how they are maintained: "Simple logic and experience dictate that the public's right to know not be overridden by claims of bureaucratic inconvenience. "The bureaucracy -rather than the Legislature, the courts, or the people will be empowered to determine what records will be revealed. It is the bureaucracy that decides in what form and where to keep its records. By commingling exempt and nonexempt information and spreading out responsibility for the compilation and storage of records, the agency can be assured of a tenable claim of exemption [from being forced to provide records]. "At the very least, already wary agencies are discouraged from creating internal procedures that will assure that disclosable information can be easily separated from what is exempt.