Panel Scores FBI Probe of Protest Group
The Senate Intelligence Committee charged Friday that a serious failure in FBI management led to an unwarranted anti-terrorism investigation of a domestic protest group, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.
The panel criticized the FBI for investigating American groups opposed to U.S. policies in Central America and said the agency should purge its files.
The panel said in a 150-page report that the FBI’s 1983-85 probe of CISPES and other groups was based on “allegations that should not have been considered credible.”
“The CISPES case was a serious failure in FBI management, resulting in the investigation of domestic political activities that should not have come under any governmental scrutiny,” the panel said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David L. Boren (D-Okla.) and Vice Chairman William S. Cohen (R-Me.) said the information from the investigation “must be removed from FBI records so it cannot be used to damage the reputation of innocent persons.”
A class-action lawsuit seeking the removal of the files is pending in federal court in the District of Columbia.
Boren and Cohen said there was no evidence that the White House tried to influence the probe, which eventually involved all 59 FBI offices and included spinoff investigations of 2,370 people and 1,330 groups in the United States.
The report deemed the case an “aberration,” saying the FBI has a “definite pattern of adherence to established safeguards for constitutional rights.”
Hugh Byrne, political director of CISPES, called the investigation politically motivated.
“The Reagan Administration wanted to stifle domestic opposition to its policies in Central America, particularly the unjust wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua,” he said.
Byrne, however, applauded the Senate call for the FBI to remove the case records from its files.
FBI Director William S. Sessions told the committee on Sept. 19 that his internal probe of the agency revealed “a lack of managerial controls” in the case.
FBI officials had no immediate comment, but the report said Sessions had disciplined six employees. The report, which did not say what disciplinary action was taken, said Sessions had identified most of the problems that contributed to the mistakes made in the case.
CIA Director William H. Webster was head of the FBI when the investigation began in June, 1981, when Salvadoran expatriate Frank Varelli infiltrated the Dallas office of the solidarity committee.
The report labeled Varelli, son of a former Salvadoran interior minister and national police chief, as an unreliable source.