Witch Hunt Still Haunts Victim


He has written nearly every president for three decades, his fingers pecking at the keys of his old Royal typewriter: Dear President Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, perhaps you can help me. . . .

Paul McCarty was a middle-aged man when he began writing those letters. Now he is 85 and a widower. His wife’s picture--Polly McCarty lying in her casket--is one of the first things he might show you if you visit his house in this southern Utah town.

The FBI killed Polly, McCarty will tell you.

He has written presidents and senators and mayors and spent $10,000 on legal fees, and once, 15 years ago, he was featured on national television. But still McCarty has not gotten what he wants. So in September he wrote a letter to the federal court.

“Your honor,” it began. “How do I get the FBI to explain and apologize for its 45-year-long persecution of me and my family?”

Paul McCarty remembers how it started on a January day in 1953 in Paducah, Ky. He was working as a wireman on a construction project for the Atomic Energy Commission when he was called into the security office.


His bosses showed him a letter, a letter that nearly 45 years later he keeps in a special notebook. “The Fatal Letter,” he has typewritten at the top.

It outlines three charges against him: that in 1943 he was a member of the Communist Party, a fact he did not admit when he applied for the AEC job; that in 1949 he was a member of the International Workers Order; that in 1941 he subscribed to the Daily People’s World, a West Coast communist newspaper.

McCarty was fired from the AEC job. After that he had trouble for years getting jobs in his special field--testing and control electrician--with companies that got federal contracts and therefore required government clearance.

Instead, for years he could only get sporadic, poorly paying work, he says, and a lot of it was out of state. The family lost three houses because of his financial problems, he says.

Polly suffered a nervous breakdown and lost a baby girl in childbirth. She suffered another nervous breakdown when their oldest son was 6. In 1993, when she was 77, she died from complications of a stroke.

When he buried Polly, McCarty had this engraved on her headstone: “40-year victim of FBI harassment.”

From the ideological comfort of 1997 it is perhaps hard to remember what being labeled a communist meant in 1953. It was the height of what became known as the McCarthy Era--a time so intense that, even though it only lasted four years, it has been classified as an entire time period.

Government employees were required to sign loyalty oaths. In 1950, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) began holding hearings to root out communists and “communist sympathizers.” Government workers, professors, Hollywood actors, writers and directors were questioned, then blacklisted.

But not everyone was called to testify before McCarthy and the TV cameras. It is estimated that 10,000 industrial workers, also on J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI list, lost their jobs. Many were as baffled as Paul McCarty.

It took 24 years for McCarty to finally discover a few specifics about the charges against him. Through the Freedom of Information Act in 1977, he was shown the FBI’s “confidential” information.

It included the results of interviews with two informants, “Los Angeles T-1" and “Los Angeles T-2.” T-1 told the FBI that McCarty said he was a member of the Communist Party in 1943 and that he asked T-1 to attend party meetings with him. T-2, “a confidential informant of known reliability” who “was not personally acquainted with McCarty,” said that McCarty was a member of the International Workers Order in 1949.

None of this was true, McCarty says.

He doesn’t know who his informants were; their names have been blacked out, as have references to their sex.

But he has his suspicions.

The first possibility was a date he had in 1942, before he met Polly, with a woman who worked the night shift at a San Francisco restaurant. She told him she also worked for the FBI. McCarty, who assumed she was kidding, joked that he was a communist.

The second possibility is that his Aunt Ann confused his membership in an electricians’ union in 1941 with membership in the Communist Party. Aunt Ann didn’t like unions, McCarty says.

The third possibility was his connection to a man named Smith, who owned a grocery store in Los Angeles and rented a room above the store to McCarty in 1941. Along with groceries, Smith sold newspapers, including Communist Party newspapers. Smith also sold McCarty an insurance policy that may, McCarty realizes now, have been connected to the International Workers Organization.

And there is a fourth possibility. This is the one that troubles him the most. He didn’t know about this one until 1991, when Polly finally divulged a secret that had been troubling her for four decades.

Polly told McCarty that before they married, she had been co-owner, with a man named Ken, of a flower shop in San Francisco. Ken was probably a communist, Polly told her husband. He may have had communist meetings at their store. And McCarty had written letters to Polly during the war, using the store address.

Maybe worrying about this was one reason Polly had those nervous breakdowns, McCarty says.

He thinks about how much she suffered over it. He thinks about all those years when he couldn’t get a good-paying job. He can’t stop thinking about how unfair it all is. He wakes up at night and mulls it over again and again.

In 1980, after many letters from McCarty and his lawyer, Ross Anderson, the FBI finally agreed to destroy his files. But that isn’t good enough for McCarty. He wants to know what the real proof was, and he wants an apology. In 1990, he contacted Anderson again.

Obviously chagrined by McCarty’s persistence, Anderson wrote him a letter declining to do more to help him.

“You are a good man,” Anderson wrote. “I wish you would put your energies into more fruitful endeavors.”

Polly wanted him to give up the battle too, McCarty says. But he just can’t.

“It’s buried so deep now,” he says.

He has received no apology from the FBI, and it’s unlikely he ever will. Do you ever apologize, a reporter asks a spokeswoman for the FBI in Washington.

“No,” says Angela Bell. “It’s not appropriate now for someone to make a comment about something that happened so long ago.”