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Spy Furor Forces ADL to Defend Image : Prejudice: Jewish rights group tries to allay concerns after allegations that it kept extensive files on individuals and groups, even its allies.

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TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For 80 years, the Anti-Defamation League has fought anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice perpetrated by such hatemongers as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

But now, as a result of an ongoing investigation by the San Francisco district attorney’s office, the Jewish civil rights organization finds that it must defend itself against allegations that it has abused the civil rights of others.

Faced with a stream of disclosures that its longtime San Francisco-based investigator infiltrated Arab- American groups and other organizations and compiled computer files on nearly 10,000 individuals and 950 organizations--including fellow civil rights groups--the ADL’s top brass has embarked on a national damage-control effort with Jewish community organizations.

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The informational blitz appears to have allayed the concerns of many Jewish organization leaders and fund-raisers.

“Their record over the years has been a most impressive one of good work,” said Terry Bell, president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. “(And) most of us remain comfortable in giving them support because of the feeling they have done nothing illegal.”

In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council voiced support last month for the ADL.

Nevertheless, some worry that the image of the ADL, which receives 84% of its $30-million annual budget from donations, could suffer lasting harm if ADL leaders are charged in the case. Moreover, the controversy has caused fissures in the ADL’s relationship with some other civil rights organizations.

In San Francisco, a staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus withdrew last month from an ADL forum on hate crime laws after court documents revealed that the ADL’s investigator, Roy Bullock, had kept a computer file on the caucus under the heading of “pinko” organizations.

“We hope we can continue working with the ADL,” said Paul Igasaki, executive director of the caucus, which files litigation in immigrant rights cases. “It’s just at this stage we want to hear more information on what’s going on. . . . We’re looking to the ADL to show that our trust in working with them has not been misplaced.”

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Former Rep. Pete McCloskey, a longtime critic of Israeli policies, has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 19 clients, including Yigal Arens, the son of former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who charge that their right to privacy was violated by the ADL and its operatives.

“It’s like the kid abused as a child abusing his own child later,” said McCloskey, who has been accused by ADL leaders of having a long history of making anti-Jewish remarks. “Victims of the Holocaust are now stereotyping people into categories based on their ethnic or political views.”

Still, officials of several leading mainstream organizations listed in Bullock’s files appear to merely be curious about getting to the bottom of the reports.

“I’ve seen the ADL tackle difficult social issues and generally attempt to protect people’s rights, so I’m surprised,” Mills College President Janet McKay said. “But I’d like to know more about the relationship between the ADL and the operatives that have been exposed before I make any judgment.”

James Williams, national spokesman for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said, “Certainly we want to look into the allegations, but at this point we just haven’t gotten to it.”

In sessions with Jewish community leaders, ADL regional and national officials have termed Bullock--who continues to receive $550 a week from the ADL--an independent contractor and have vehemently denied knowing that he also supplied information, for a fee, to the government of South Africa.

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In addition, ADL officials have denied ever targeting investigations of such organizations as the NAACP, Greenpeace, Mills College, the Asian Law Caucus or the United Farm Workers--all groups on which Bullock or former San Francisco Police Officer Tom Gerard, with whom Bullock worked closely, maintained computer files at their homes.

Bullock said that he compiled most of the computer files on his own and that ADL officials only wanted reports on about 2% of the people and groups he kept tabs on. But in interviews with the FBI and San Francisco police, Bullock said ADL officials directed him to infiltrate about 30 Arab-American, right-wing or left-wing groups. He was introduced to Gerard by his supervisor in the San Francisco ADL office, Bullock said.

Bullock said he filed his reports to Richard Hirschhaut, the ADL’s executive director in San Francisco, and used a desk in the office. One of his duties was to maintain intelligence files by adding new documents and shredding old files, Bullock said.

San Francisco prosecutors contend that documents and computer data seized at Bullock’s home are ADL files and that some of them were obtained illegally from law enforcement sources. San Francisco police with search warrants seized boxes of documents from ADL offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles in April, but have not publicly disclosed what they found.

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith’s office said it will decide whether to file criminal charges against Hirschhaut after further investigation. Prosecutors are looking into whether the ADL received confidential law enforcement files or authorized Bullock to illegally tap into a phone message system run by white supremacists.

Hirschhaut did not return phone calls from The Times, but ADL attorney Barbara S. Wahl said “there was no knowing participation in illegal acts by the ADL.”

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Bullock--whose code name was Cal--has been paid secretly through a Beverly Hills attorney since 1960 to gather information for the ADL. In a case of particular interest to authorities, Bullock said that top ADL intelligence officials approved $300 in payments to an informant--code-named Scumbag--who infiltrated the White Aryan Resistance.

Scumbag gave the ADL the codes needed to eavesdrop on the white supremacist group’s phone messages, Bullock said, adding that reports he wrote went to Hirschhaut and ADL headquarters in New York. Operation Eavesdrop, as it was called in files found in the San Francisco ADL office, enjoyed the cooperation of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, according to police documents.

The ADL, which has 30 regional offices nationwide, has not hidden its information-gathering prowess concerning extremist groups. In lengthy reports made available to the media, police and public, the organization has taken detailed looks at the emergence of neo-Nazi skinheads, Holocaust revisionists and Muslim terrorist organizations.

Its recent study of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, gleaned mainly from American and Middle Eastern newspaper clippings, was prepared in the wake of the World Trade Center bombing after a flurry of inquiries from news reporters, ADL leaders say.

“We make no secret about whom we’re keeping track of,” Wahl said. “That’s our business . . . to monitor and expose extremists, anti-Semites, violence-prone groups.”

ADL leaders have sought to keep their distance from some of Bullock’s activities, while continuing to pay him because he is, in Wahl’s words, a “damn good” investigator.

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“ADL does not maintain a computerized database,” Wahl said. “All this stuff floating around about Mills College, Greenpeace, those are (Bullock’s) files. Those are not ADL’s files.”

According to ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, the group keeps files on some organizations with which it maintains friendly relations. But there is nothing sinister about those files, he added.

“We have a file on the NAACP--it starts with our brief in support of Brown vs. Board of Education,” Foxman said, referring to the ADL’s assistance in the landmark 1954 legal case that struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine in the schools.

Melvin Salberg, the ADL’s national chairman, said he is concerned that the controversy has dimmed the spotlight on programs such as cult awareness training seminars, drafting of a model hate-crime statute and the filing of briefs in notable civil rights lawsuits.

“If I were dropped into San Francisco from outer space,” said Salberg, “I would conclude that ADL is nothing more than a spy organization abusing the rights of individuals.

“We would like to be judged by the media and by American citizens by our record and by what we do.”

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Indeed, life appears to be moving ahead as usual for the ADL, which was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Jewish prejudice in business, politics, movies and, at the time, vaudeville stage humor.

At the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Regional headquarters in West Los Angeles last month, more than 100 Southern California public school teachers turned out for free “World of Difference” human relations clinics.

And at a fund-raising luncheon at the Century Plaza, about 300 donors watched former U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney accept the group’s Distinguished Public Service Award.

“Over the years I’ve had an excellent relationship and a great admiration for the work of your organization,” Cheney told the audience. “The controversy that from time to time swirls around an organization, that’s usually a sign that something significant is happening and that you are making a difference.”

Fund-raising activists do not expect the organization’s donations to dry up unless startling new revelations show a clear pattern of abuses by the organization’s leaders.

“Certainly any time a story gets in the newspaper and people file lawsuits it hurts your image,” said attorney Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who with ADL help won a $12.5-million damage award against white supremacist Tom Metzger. “(But) The intentions of the ADL are noble.”

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Still, some Jewish community leaders wonder whether the ADL may have set itself up for a fall by overextending its definition of anti-Semitism.

Douglas Mirell, an executive board member of the American Jewish Congress in Los Angeles, said that he has no problem with the ADL attempting to infiltrate terrorist groups but that he would take issue with the organization targeting more moderate political organizations.

“I probably disagree with the basic proposition that any critic of Israel is fair game,” said Mirell, a veteran civil rights lawyer.

Foxman counters that the ADL is concerned about groups and individuals sympathetic to the Palestine Liberation Organization because it is “out against the Jewish people.”

Michael A. Jacobs, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, said the ADL’s goals seem to have expanded since the mid-1970s, when it published a book titled “The New Anti-Semitism,” which railed against black nationalists, the radical left, pro-Arab groups and even the composers of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“My personal view is that the label anti-Semitic ought not to be thrown around loosely,” Jacobs said. “It devalues it and is unfair.”

At the same time, Jacobs said the key issue in the San Francisco controversy remains whether the ADL approved the use of improper means to obtain information.

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“We ought to give the ADL the benefit of the doubt because of their reputation and not rush to judge the organization,” he continued. “But the mere fact they have to focus so much attention on this and be diverted from their prime mission is cause for alarm.”

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