Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Los Angeles Court Hands Down Final Judgment in Anti-Defamation League Illegal Surveillance Case

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Los Angeles Court Hands Down Final Judgment in Anti-Defamation League Illegal Surveillance Case

Article excerpt

Los Angeles Court Hands Down Final Judgment in Anti-Defamation League Illegal Surveillance Case

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) versus the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) litigation resulting from the 1993 ADL spy scandal was settled in a California federal court on Monday, Sept. 27, following nearly six years of legal wrangling.

"The ADL was running a major espionage organization against progressive groups in the United States," said Hussein Ibish, media director for the ADC, the Arab-American organization that provided leadership in the class action suit representing over 800 groups and individuals targeted by the ADL.

The settlement is an important victory in the effort to curtail espionage activity by the ADL, which, with an annual budget of some $45 million, is still the best funded American Jewish group and one that, prior to the 1993 domestic spying scandal, had sought recognition as a national civil rights monitoring organization.

"Under the permanent injunction issued by Federal Judge Richard Paez, the ADL is permanently enjoined from engaging in any further illegal spying against Arab-American and other civil rights groups," said Ibish. The ADL is also required to provide an annual statement to the court and ADC's legal counsel in years to come explaining the measures it is taking to remain in compliance with the court order.

A court-appointed Special Master will supervise the removal of illegally obtained information from the ADL's files. Those documents will be held by the Special Master for a maximum period of 10 years, time to allow the adjudication of other, related civil suits still pending against the ADL. The ADL also will contribute $25,000 to a jointly administered community relations fund. More significant was the judge's order to ADL to pay $175,000 for the plaintiffs' legal fees.

The Arab-American group's lead counsel, Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, characterized the ADL's sharing of illegally obtained confidential law enforcement information with Israeli, apartheid South African and other foreign and domestic intelligence organizations as antagonistic to positive social change. "The work the ADL was doing was not civil rights work," said Schey, "it was anti-civil rights work."

After COINTELPRO, a still-controversial FBI operation to destabilize black nationalist and other groups in the '60s and '70s, the FBI, state and local law enforcement authorities were ordered out of the business of gathering information about legitimate political activity by American citizens. But in some major American cities, law enforcement files relating to legitimate and Constitutionally protected political activities that had been ordered destroyed instead found their way to the offices of the ADL, which quickly became a clearinghouse for such illegally obtained and illegally retained information.

The absence of the FBI, state, and local police investigators in the field therefore created a void the ADL rushed to fill, with remarkable success, by increasing its in-house "fact-finding" assets and capabilities and developing enhanced working relationships with "official friends" -- government officials, investigators, and intelligence officers. Some of these were the officials who had not destroyed files of illegally obtained materials, or had made private copies of the official files before they were destroyed in compliance with the court order.


The ADL favored many of its "official friends" with expense-paid trips to Israel, where they met with and were entertained by friendly officers of Israel's espionage and counter-intelligence organizations, Mossad and Shin Bet, thus creating a major conduit for the flow of sensitive and useful U.S. domestic political intelligence to Israel's spymasters in Tel Aviv.

Knowledgeable observers have characterized the San Francisco district attorney's 1993 investigation of the ADL as a continuation by proxy of an investigation begun more than two years earlier by FBI counterintelligence officials. …

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