A Bay Area historian on Friday reported the theft of three boxes of confidential FBI documents, some detailing government surveillance of presidential hopeful John F. Kerry when he was a spokesman for a 1970s veterans group protesting the Vietnam War.
Gerald Nicosia told police that the theft occurred sometime Thursday from his home in Corte Madera, a Marin County suburb of San Francisco, said Sgt. Chuck Lovenguth of the Twin Cities Police Department.
“I don’t know who could have done this,” Nicosia said Friday. “It could be somebody who saw the boxes via news reports and wanted a piece of the presidential candidate for posterity, like a piece of the Berlin Wall.”
Kerry, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, will almost certainly receive his party’s nomination this summer and challenge George W. Bush for the presidency this fall.
Nicosia had received 20,000 pages of internal FBI surveillance files in 1999 through a Freedom of Information Act request. At the time, he was researching “Home to War,” a chronicle of the Vietnam protest years. But the release came too late for use in the book, which was largely about Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Kerry was among the leaders of the group, which was founded in 1967 and drew 10,000 members nationwide.
Nicosia said he suspected that the thieves were specifically in pursuit of the files because a camera and other expensive items in the home were left untouched. He added that he did not know exactly what material was taken because it was not cataloged or marked. Three of 14 boxes of files that had been stacked in his kitchen are missing. He said he was moving the remaining documents to a secure location Friday afternoon.
Nicosia has not yet looked at all the files. Last week he allowed The Times to photocopy 50 pages concerning the FBI’s monitoring of Kerry in the fall of 1971. The author also supplied the same 50 photocopied pages to Kerry. The Times published a story about the files Monday.
The files he allowed The Times to review showed that Kerry, who served in Vietnam as a Navy officer, was closely monitored by FBI agents for more than a year between 1971 and 1972 as he traveled the country protesting the war.
The FBI eavesdropped on meetings of the veterans group, recorded the content of Kerry’s speeches and took photographs of him and fellow activists. The dispatches were sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Nixon, the files show.
Kerry told The Times that while he was aware that the FBI had monitored his activities in the early ‘70s, he was surprised and angry at the scope of the surveillance.
He said that in 1987, two years after becoming a senator, he requested the FBI dossier on him, which he received. He later told aides it was “boring” and mostly included news clippings. The senator said he was unaware that a much larger file existed that included reports on his activities as a VVAW leader.
“If I was the subject of individual surveillance and individual tape recordings, I’d have thought it would have been released to me,” he said.
Nicosia said he left home Thursday and returned to find several doors inside his house ajar. He said he did not realize until Friday morning that there had been a theft.
“The police told me that burglars very easily could have come in through a sliding door without signs of a forced entry,” he said.
He added that he had no idea why the thieves didn’t take all 14 of the boxes. “My guess is that they were surprised during the act and didn’t have time to take everything -- maybe the dog next door barked,” Nicosia said.
He said that while the boxes had been tightly packed when released by the FBI, he saw signs that ones not previously opened had been riffled.
Lovenguth said police were investigating the case as a burglary. “Our investigating is ongoing,” he said. “We’re waiting for the victim to tell us exactly what was missing so we know what we’re looking for.”
“Whoever did this wanted to know something about John Kerry,” Nicosia said.
The author said that he promised at one point to deliver the files to Kerry so the senator could more fully review the information gathered about him.
“But in the meantime, somebody got there first,” Nicosia said.