Will the War on Terrorism
Follow the Path of the
Cold War? by
Initial version posted on www.Counterpunch.com,
June 24, 2002
Expanded version posted on Sixties-l and SNCC listservs on July 28, 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."
. 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?
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
remotely sounded like something a Communist might favor. Everyone "liberal" --
and a lot who weren't -- were potential targets for the anti-Communist
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 places.
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
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.
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 campus."
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
Kerr, to be the "contact man" for his campus.
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 campus."
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
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."
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).
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 trip."
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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, 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
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.
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 extensive files.
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
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 bait."
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.