Solidarity from former FBI Agent Jack Ryan
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is publishing two letters we received from anti-war activist and former FBI Special Agent Jack Ryan. The FBI are the political police in U.S. society. The FBI's role is to stifle ideas and repress movements that challenge the government and those who rule over this country. Jack Ryan sacrificed and suffered for taking a principled position at a time when he could have taken the easy road. Jack's story is inspiring. Please take the time to read it and think about social change and our future.
Tom Burke, for the CSFR
Solidarity from Former FBI Agent
To whom it may concern:
I was an FBI Agent from 1966 to 1987, stationed in Phoenix and Yuma, AZ, Utica, NY, Belleville (East St. Louis), and Peoria, IL. In Utica and East St. Louis, (16 years) I specialized in Organized Crime, and in Peoria I was assigned to Counterintelligence and Terrorism. On September 11, 1987, I was fired from the FBI for "insubordination - failure to obey a direct order."
I had received a lead in a case in which non-violent peace activists were being investigated as "terrorists and saboteurs." The group was “Veterans Fast for Life”, four ex-military veterans protesting our government's illegal and not so covert arming of the "Contras" (counter-revolutionaries), to overthrow the legitimate government of Nicaragua. I had read about the fast, it was fairly well publicized. Their protest was in the form of a fast on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. A carload of Chicago peace activists were using glue to jam the front doors of military recruiting offices and pasting posters calling attention to the peace fast in Washington.
I worked during the J. Edgar Hoover era, during a time when we could, almost indiscriminately investigate any individual or group we felt to be a threat to the welfare or morals of our country, according to what we felt that welfare and morality should be. I participated in COINTELPRO, and enjoyed chasing war protesters and draft dodgers. But things changed, and a set of, what we agents at the time thought to be horrendous, guidelines were put in place, and we could only investigate somebody when we had reason to believe that some crime was being committed. In actuality, we not only survived these guidelines, but also actually became the formidable investigating agency Hoover had always pumped the public into believing we were. We actually began prosecuting actual criminals. However, the year or so before I was fired, claims were being made that the FBI was again investigating non-violent peace groups. I did not believe it. I had not seen any evidence of such in my work, however minimal (Peoria, FBI-wise, was in the "back woods). Our Director, William Webster had recently written a letter to the editor of a major newspaper emphatically denouncing these accusations.
Then I received this lead and immediately faced a crisis of conscience. I deplored the atrocities our government was involved in, the U.S. military and CIA in Nicaragua and all over Central America. Now I realized, by carrying out this lead, I too was an integral part of these atrocities by stopping or stifling legitimate dissent. I chose to refuse. I was subsequently fired, ten months before I could have retired. I sued to be re-instated, but lost. In probably the biggest FBI trial in Peoria's history, the then Acting Director, John Glover came out as the FBI's main witness, and he testified that I was "the FBI's first Conscientious Objector."
As a result, the FBI rushed the investigation against Veterans Fast for Life and the Chicago group and declared they were truly non-violent peace groups and did not fit FBI guidelines for investigation. And I'm sure they pulled in their horns because my case did cause them some embarrassment.
But it looks like the horns are out again. Let me know if there is any way I can help. I'm retired and live in Peoria, IL, considering myself mostly a peace activist.
Sincerely, Jack Ryan
Follow Up Letter From Former FBI Agent
Watching what is happening with the FBI raids and Grand Jury repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists, I have to jump into the fray. With uber- U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tearing after non-violent peace activists, thinking he is doing God’s work I’m sure, but he has not a clue. For most of my life I didn’t either.
I was an FBI Agent for 22 years, eight years under J. Edgar Hoover. I was a”brick agent” all that time, working in Arizona, upstate New York, East St. Louis, IL and then my home town, Peoria, IL. Most of those years I specialized working Organized Crime, then my last six years in Peoria I was transferred to the “security” side, i.e., terrorism and foreign counter-intelligence, work not popular with and looked down on by the “criminal” side of the FBI. I went through two waves akin to Fitzgerald’s current repression of activists. The “Watergate” scandal under Nixon, and then the “Iran-Contra” scandal under Reagan. I’m sure, had Judge Gessel had the nerve to sentence Oliver North to prison instead of dismissing three felony convictions, it would have dwarfed the Watergate’s 17 jailed convicts. In the process, North, now a conservative talking head, actually threatened to “take people with me,” if he went to jail. Watergate was about electioneering and perjury, Iran-Contra-Gate was about drugs, assassinations and terrorism targeting the poor in Central America.
I was fired in 1987 for refusing to investigate four individuals who fasted for peace on the U. S. Capitol steps, protesting the U.S. government’s illegal war being waged against Nicaragua. We were calling them “terrorists.” I drew my line, telling the F.B.I. that we had been drawn into this trap before, “stifling legitimate dissent.” I began to have personal problems of conscience with what the U.S. military and the C.I.A. were doing to innocent people in Central America (I was clueless at the time about Iran, Indonesia, Palestine, and so many other places), but, I saw in no way that my own agency, the F.B.I. had anything to do with the atrocities going on. When I actually received a lead to investigate - in Peoria, Illinois of all places, the hotbed or center of nothing that I know of - individuals that I knew were non-violent peace activists, I realized I was part of the overall program. Peoria, my home town, was my resting-place, where I finally managed to get to where I would retire. This is when I realized that I was an integral part of U.S. policy, to “stifle dissent.” I was working in conjunction with the U.S. military and the C.I.A. The Viet Nam war taught us, our nation’s leaders that is, an important lesson. In order to carry on oppressive activities around the world, supposedly in our nation’s interests, they could not count on our own population to automatically go along with it. They could no longer tolerate the resistance that occurred in our own country.
I was in the middle of “COINTELPRO,” where we did everything we could think of to discredit, embarrass or neutralize the “New Left”. That is what we called everybody who had problems with what was happening in, not just Viet Nam, but everywhere we Federal Agents considered to be some sort of threat to the “American way of life.” I did my best to contribute, I was a loyal Catholic F.B.I. Agent, (so many of us were Catholic,) and was anti-communist - “communist,” characterizing almost everybody that opposed our view.
It is time to stand for free speech, the right to organize, and against political repression. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald should publicly call off the Grand Jury and the FBI powers need to be limited.
With regards, Jack Ryan