Will the War on Terrorism Follow the Path of the Cold War?
by Jo Freeman,
Expanded from version posted on www.Counterpunch.com, June 24, 2002
On June 9 the San Francisco Chronicle published an 8-page
special section on the FBI's "wide-ranging and unlawful
intelligence operations at the University of California."
<http://www.sfgate.com/campus. The FBI's activities, and those of
other governmental and non-governmental organizations "to harass
liberal students, faculty and regents" over several decades were
justified by the Cold War. Not until that War was over was some of
the collateral damage revealed. Most of the destruction done to
ordinary Americans who were simply living their lives and
exercising their Constitutional rights may never come to light.
Since September 11 our government has mobilized for another
undeclared war of uncertain duration against an unseen enemy --
this time on terrorism. Like its predecessor, the War on Terrorism
aims at a powerful and pernicious enemy who could wreak enormous
havoc at any minute. Like the Cold War, the War on Terrorism is
being used to justify a variety of security measures which can
potentially cause more harm to Americans than anything the enemy
can do. Unlike the Cold War, we don't even think we know who the
enemy is; it's bigger than al-Queda, but beyond that, who is it?
In the Cold War we identified members of the Communist Party
as the enemy -- even when they were law-abiding American citizens -
- and looked for them under every bed. But that definition quickly
spread to include almost anyone who did, said or even knew some one
who proposed an idea that even remotely sounded like something a
Communist might favor. Everyone "liberal" -- and a lot who weren't
-- were potential targets for the anti-Communist brush.
To wage a war without causing more damage to ourselves than
our adversaries we need to know what we did wrong in the Cold War.
Let's start by looking at some of the casualties.
The Chronicle stories were based on thousands of pages of FBI
files finally released by the FBI after years of litigation. These
stories highlighted the FBI's efforts to fire Clark Kerr from his
position as President of the University from 1958 to 1966. I was
a student at Berkeley from 1961 to 1965; very much engaged in the
social protests of those years. Upon graduation I went South to
work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, for a year
of voter registration in South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.
My work in the civil rights movement gave me my own small niche in
the FBI's archives.
In 1975 I obtained my personal FBI file from Headquarters,
without much delay. In 1993 I requested files on the University of
California and various student groups for a memoir, as well as more
pages on myself from the FBI's regional offices. It was seven
years before I got anything, and what I finally paid for was a
small fraction of what the Chronicle got after 17 years of
litigation. Obviously the FBI didn't think that the court rulings
applied to other requesters; over time it has become very adept at
thwarting the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act. In the
meantime I did research in the University archives and other
What I learned from all this is that Clark Kerr was not a
victim of the FBI. He was a victim of the anti-Communist culture
created by the Cold War. The War on Terrorism threatens to repeat
this history and with it the wanton destruction of the rights which
make us proud to be Americans.
Indeed the FBI was only a minor player in the downfall of
Clark Kerr. It was a cop, one enforcer, of the culture of anti-
Communism. That culture was created by our government and
reinforced by the actions of private individuals. It created a
climate of fear that was used to compel conformity not only to
political ideas but to social and cultural ones. It used
government agencies -- taxpayer money -- to punish those who did
not do so. University policies that were inimical to the
educational purpose of the University were written with an eye to
accommodating that culture and placating its enforcers.
A key player, probably the key player, in the harassment and
downfall of Clark Kerr was an official committee of the California
legislature -- the Senate Fact-Finding Subcommittee on UnAmerican
Activities (SUAC). Created in 1940 as one of seven state
committees modeled on the House Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC) of the U.S. Congress, it waged a thirty year war on the
University of California to purge it of people who might be deemed
subversive. As it did so, its conception of subversive expanded
way beyond a concern with membership in the Communist Party.
SUAC's chairman from 1949 to 1970 was Hugh Burns. Between
1957 and 1969 he was also President pro Tempore of the California
Senate, with a great deal of influence over the University's
budget. In oral history interviews done in 1977-78, Burns admitted
that he wanted to discredit Kerr because he "was unimpressed with
his diligence in ferreting out subversive activities on the
Working behind the scenes, so far behind that few knew he
existed, was Richard Ellis Combs, counsel to SUAC from its
beginning. He maintained a file of 20,000 names of "subversives"
on 5 x 8 cards at his home in rural Tulare County. Once Burns
became Chairman, SUAC ceased to hold hearings; instead it met with
officials to urge actions that it wanted, published reports and
issued press releases excoriating whoever failed to comply. These
reports were written by Combs, based on extensive reading of
material provided by his network of informants throughout the
state, as well as publications of organizations deemed subversive.
His reports are replete with names, from all over the country, of
people who went to meetings, signed lists, or merely appeared on
membership rosters. Few of the people named are directly accused
of any subversive association, but they are often linked to the
names of people who are. His main source at Berkeley was William
Wadman, who was promoted from head of the campus police to
University-wide "security officer" in 1952.
Twice in 1952 Burns and Combs met with the Presidents of
California colleges to request that they appoint campus liaisons to
provide SUAC with the names of faculty and staff who were
candidates for hiring or promotion so they could be checked by
Combs against his files. Robert Gordon Sproul, then President of
UC, asked each campus Chancellor, including Berkeley's Clark Kerr,
to be the "contact man" for his campus.
Although Kerr did not provide SUAC with any names, this was
not an impediment to SUAC. Unknown to Kerr, Combs was getting his
information from Wadman, who reported to Vice President James H.
Corley. Under Corley's supervision, Wadman also furnished the FBI
"information contained in personnel files of students and employees
as well as information relating to subversive activities on the
Corley had been the University's lobbyist for many years. His
strategy for influence with the legislature was one of anticipatory
appeasement. Sharing SUAC's passion for anti-Communism, in 1949 he
persuaded President Sproul to require that all faculty sign a
loyalty oath disclaiming membership in the Communist Party or any
other organization which advocated the overthrow of the Government
by force or violence. The faculty rebelled; twenty percent refused
to sign. The controversy did not end until 1952 -- after 31
professors had been dismissed -- when the California Supreme Court
declared that a state loyalty oath passed in the interim pre-empted
a special one for University personnel.
In October of 1958, soon after Kerr was inaugurated as
President, Combs held a confidential meeting at his home to discuss
how to remove him as head of the University. Present were Wadman
and Bay Area police offers who were heads of their respective Red
Squads. Combs had compiled a dossier on Kerr and wanted help from
those present in getting even more information that could be used
to undermine him. Everyone at that meeting was on the public
payroll; all pledged their assistance.
Once Kerr became President, Corley could no longer cover for
Wadman. Kerr reduced Corley's job and influence and had Wadman
reassigned. As SUAC stated in its 1965 Report, Wadman was assigned
"so much insurance work that his counter-subversive operation was
smothered" and Kerr "again disclosed his aversion to loyalty
investigations in general."
SUAC went ballistic at the loss of its campus source. Its
1961 report contained a lengthy attack on student groups at the
Berkeley campus. "Reds on campus" blared headlines all over the
state of California. SUAC succeeded in getting one Berkeley
student organization kicked off campus that wasn't Communist, but
was something of a campus gadfly (the official reason was that it
called itself a campus political party when campus political
parties weren't permitted).
On September 14, 1961 and again on January 17, 1962 Burns and
Combs met with Kerr and select Regents to urge the discharge of two
Berkeley faculty members they thought were subversives and to
protest Wadman's reassignment. When Kerr did nothing, Burns tried
to get the Regents to remove him by revealing a "rumor" that Kerr
had been observed by the Central Intelligence Agency to engage in
"undesirable contact and associations during a South American
Those who bemoan "political correctness" today either do not
remember or do not appreciate the ramifications of real political
correctness. During the Cold War the limits of discourse were set
by government agencies. Dissent was seen as disloyalty. Just
listening to dissent was suspicious behavior. Subscribing to a
"suspect" publication or a few misspoken words could mean loss of
a job. A possible subpoena to a HUAC hearing was the kiss of
death. A refusal to answer questions meant going to jail.
In 1959 HUAC announced that it would hold hearings in San
Francisco. It sent files of over 90 teachers to local school
boards. It never held these hearings (and didn't come to the Bay
Area for another year). In the meantime, Cong. James Roosevelt (R.
CA) told the House on April 25, 1960, four teachers were fired and
"More than 100 teachers have been in emotional turmoil for 10
months. Their teaching effectiveness has been impaired, and their
sense of insecurity has communicated itself to their
colleagues...[Most were] on probationary status.... These may be
quietly eased out of the teaching profession by the simple
expedient of not renewing their contracts."
Until 1963 the University of California had a "speaker ban."
Another product of the anti-Communist culture, formalized after the
1934 San Francisco general strike, it prohibited from speaking on
a University campus anyone "who would use it as a platform for
propaganda." That meant all known Communists and anyone else
deemed controversial by a campus administration. Malcolm X, Nobel
laureate Linus Pauling, and Harold Laski, a professor at the
University of London and Labour Member of Parliament, were among
the many non-Communists whose invitations from student or faculty
groups were canceled. No one running for public office, including
the Governor running for re-election, could speak on a University
campus (though they could speak at the state colleges).
Of course the speaker ban didn't apply to registered students.
Bettina Aptheker, a student at Cal the same years I was there,
could speak her mind, but when the Berkeley History Department
invited her father, a Ph.D. in history and an editor of the
Communist Party journal Political Affairs, to participate in a
symposium in the area of his scholarly expertise, the entire event
had to be moved off campus.
Polls showed that the California voters supported the speaker
ban. They thought it proper to protect vulnerable, young minds
from deceptive ideas. This preference for security over freedom,
or more accurately the appearance of security over the student's
freedom to hear unpopular ideas inside the campus gates,
demonstrates how thoroughly the culture of anti-Communism had
saturated the public mind. When a student group successfully
sponsored a campus talk by someone accused -- but not proven -- of
being a Communist organizer, three dozen carloads of Bay Area
citizens went to Sacramento to complain directly to Governor Brown.
The scope of the Speaker Ban was an issue in the 1962 gubernatorial
campaign; challenger Richard Nixon wanted to broaden it.
After Brown won, he and Kerr lobbied the Regents of the
University to abolish the speaker ban; this was accomplished in
June of 1963. It didn't go quietly. The Regents were inundated
with letters objecting to the idea that students should be free to
listen to just any one, especially on a state campus.
One Regent added a long letter to the official record which
argued that "to allow an agent of the Communist Party to peddle his
wares to students of an impressionable age is just as wrong, in my
estimation as it would be to allow Satan himself to use the pulpit
of one of our best cathedrals for the purpose of trying to
proselyte new members."
Needless to say, SUAC saw the freedom of students and faculty
to invite anyone to speak on campus as a security threat. Both
privately and publicly SUAC continued to attack the University.
Its golden opportunity came in the fall of 1964 when students at
Berkeley formed the Free Speech Movement (FSM) to challenge a new
application of an existing rule that prohibited student groups who
engaged in any kind of off campus political activity from meeting
on campus, passing out literature, collecting money, or even
advertising their off campus membership meetings on the campus
proper. Like the speaker ban, this rule was a product of the anti-
Communist culture. Because the administration feared
recriminations if a student group met on campus which could be
accused of Communist influence or a few Communist members, it
prohibited all student groups with any interest in off campus
politics (including the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans)
from doing pretty much anything on campus.
I was the official representative of the University Young
Democrats to the FSM Executive Committee. Our concern wasn't
Communism but civil rights. Inspired by the Southern Civil Rights
Movement, we had recruited students to participate in civil rights
demonstrations in San Francisco the Spring before. We saw the new
application of the old rule as a threat to our ability to raise
money and bodies for the civil rights movement. The Berkeley
students and faculty strongly agreed with us. By the time the dust
settled (if it ever did), 773 persons had been arrested for
occupying the administration building, the campus administration
had been removed, and the Regents had agreed to let the First and
Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution apply to the
University campus. Since then student groups of all political
persuasions have been able to meet on campus, as well as pass out
literature, collect money and proselyte.
SUAC was ecstatic, but not about the new student freedoms.
Its 1965 report almost gleefully raked Kerr over the coals for
shirking his responsibility to discipline errant students. Kerr
was soft on Communism, it implied, and that was why he was so
easily taken advantage of by the Communist-led FSM. For this
official attack on the state University and its President the
California taxpayers (including my mother) paid about $80,000.
After Kerr released a 42-page critique of the Report's
inaccuracies and distortions, Burns and Combs retaliated with an
unprecedented 162-page Supplement, at a cost of $36,000. This
attack was so vehement that the Regents stepped in and negotiated
a truce. Only then did SUAC's public attacks cease. But SUAC's
accusations were already being used as political ammunition. What
happened at Berkeley was a campaign issue in the 1966 gubernatorial
race, helping to defeat Governor Brown. At Governor Ronald
Reagan's first Regents meeting Clark Kerr was fired. He was
finally felled by the culture of anti-Communism.
The impact of the Burns report didn't stop at the California
borders and it wasn't confined to the prominent and the powerful.
It followed me throughout the South. I got four honorable mentions
in the 1965 Report, all innocuous, three of which were true.
Someone pasted those four paragraphs onto a page with other
excerpts on "Communists in the Rebellion." Titled "MISS JO
FREEMAN, WHITE FEMALE PROFESSIONAL COMMUNIST AGITATOR," it was
circulated in some of the small Alabama towns in which I worked.
That particular piece of paper didn't surface in SCLC's voter
registration project in Grenada Mississippi in the summer of 1966.
Instead, on August 18, 1966, the Jackson Daily News,
<http://www.jofreeman.com/sixtiesprotest/clipping.htm> which called
itself "Mississippi's Greatest Newspaper," exposed me in an
editorial headlined "Professional Agitator Hits All Major Trouble
Spots." It cited the Burns report as its major source of
information, even for things it did not say. It implied that I was
a Communist, though it didn't specifically say so (which would have
been libel per se). The editorial was accompanied by five
photographs, including one taken on December 3, 1964 of my speaking
from the second floor balcony of the administration building. As
soon as my boss, Hosea Williams, saw that editorial he put me on a
bus back to Atlanta. "That thing makes you Klan bait," he said. "We
don't need more martyrs right now."
For years I assumed the FBI was behind this story. It had all
the earmarks of an FBI plant, requiring connections between
California and Mississippi. My belief was reinforced when the
FBI's Cointelpro actions against the Civil Rights Movement in
general and its persecution of Dr. Martin Luther King in particular
were revealed. Not until 1997 did I discover that the actual
source of the editorial and photos was the Mississippi Sovereignty
Commission (MSC), an official state agency of which I was
completely unaware in 1966. And only after reading many pages in
the MSC files at the Mississippi Department of Archives did I
realize that I and others like me were not just foot soldiers in
the civil rights movement, but cannon fodder in the Cold War.
After years of litigation by the ACLU, in 1994 a federal court
ordered Mississippi to open the MSC files and notify "victims"
through public advertisements that we could obtain copies. When I
got the pages on which my name appeared I discovered that the MSC
had its own spy on the Berkeley campus. Edgar Downing, a welder
from Long Beach who grew up in Mississippi, took photos of me and
many others and sold them to the state of Mississippi for its own
Mississippi's interest in California was sparked by the couple
dozen Berkeley students who had participated in Freedom Summer a
couple months before the FSM. Our chief spokesperson, Mario Savio,
had worked in McComb, Downing's home town, for a few weeks. SCLC's
summer 1966 Grenada project brought Downing back to Mississippi,
where he took more photos and sold them to Erle Johnston, Jr.,
Director of the MSC. Johnston, who had been a professional
publicist before joining the MSC, arranged for the Jackson Daily
News to publish the editorial and the photos which made me "Klan
Although full of falsehoods and innuendos, the newspaper
published the editorial as true, even though HUAC's Chairman
responded to a query from a Mississippi Congressman that there was
no record of my having an "association with officially cited
Communist or Communist-front organizations." Why did it do so?
Because the culture of anti-Communism permeated the South.
Implying that civil rights workers were Communists associated two
evils with each other and reinforced Southern beliefs that "outside
agitators" were a foreign as well as a domestic threat.
The Jackson office of the FBI clipped the page from the
newspaper and sent it to Headquarters. This began a feedback loop.
Reports from the Jackson FBI office state that (name blacked out)
contacted them, and identified JO FREEMAN as a demonstrator in
Grenada, Miss. "(__) who has furnished reliable information in the
past, advised that FREEMAN is .... also listed by the Un-American
Activities Committee of California as a subversive." The charge
that California thought I was a subversive shows up on several
pages in my personal FBI file, even though the San Francisco FBI
office repeatedly says that "No subversive activity is known." The
Burns report didn't say I was a subversive. I realize that to the
State of Mississippi all civil rights workers were subversives, but
it is California that is credited with my designation as such.
Mere mention in the Burns Committee report was enough.
I will probably never know all the "subversive" files my name
appears in. After Burns left the California Senate and Combs
retired, the new President Pro Tempore discovered himself and "more
than a score" of legislators in Combs' card files. He promptly
abolished SUAC, sealed its five hundred cubic feet of material and
consigned it to permanent storage in the State Archives. It's not
open to the public, or to those listed on its cards, and may not be
in my lifetime.
I will also never know the personal consequences of having an
FBI file or a listing in the 1965 Burns report. But based on what
I do know, I'm reasonably sure there were some consequences, none
of them salutary. The work of official, taxpayer supported, state
committees, in many more states than California and Mississippi,
harmed thousands and thousands of good American citizens.
It did not matter if you were a powerful President of a major
University, or a foot soldier doing voter registration, once you
were labeled by the anti-Communist culture as a subversive, or a
possible subversive, or someone who might participate in activities
which other possible subversives also participated in, you were
labeled forever, without even knowing it.
For all this money spent on investigation and time spent
exposing ordinary Americans with dissenting views, did these
agencies discover any threats to our national security? From the
files I've seen, they knew less about what was going on at the
Berkeley campus than the students and faculty. The FBI files and
the SUAC reports are full of errors. They identify as possible
nefarious influences people we did not know, or know of, and don't
identify the ones we did know. The SUAC reports give the
impression that Combs was living in a fantasy world; he interpreted
and reinterpreted every smidgen of information and misinformation
to support his world view about the imminent Communist menace and
discounted anything that didn't fit.
While some of the FBI agents in the San Francisco office
appear to be grounded in reality, their Director, J. Edgar Hoover,
was not. The local agents correctly reported that the FSM was not
started or controlled by Communists, but when Hoover testified
before the House Appropriations subcommittee on March 14, 1965, he
implied otherwise. He said there were 43 persons with "subversive
backgrounds" in the FSM, including five faculty members. In fact,
there was ONE member of the Communist Party who was a central
player in the FSM and a few others who were peripheral. Their
affiliation was an open secret. They weren't the radicals in the
FSM and were often a restraining influence on those who were.
What does this portend for the future? Nothing good. Will
our fear of terrorism take us down the same path as our fear of
Communism? If we are to fight this war without shooting ourselves
in the foot -- and the knees, and the abdomen, and the chest -- our
security agencies need to be very open about everything they do and
everything they find. Secrecy creates corruption of purpose. Real
protection requires accountability, oversight, and transparency.
If we ask the fox to guard the henhouse, we have to keep a steely
eye and a heavy hand on the fox.
Jo Freeman is an attorney, political scientist, and author of
several books. For more information go to www.JoFreeman.com,
or reach her at email@example.com or 718/693-3384.^Z
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