Break-Ins, Death Threats, and the FBI: The Covert War against the Central America Movement

By Ross Gelbspan | Go to book overview

16
Completing the Cover-Up

Beginning at the end of 1984, the press carried a few, isolated stories about the break-ins and death threats. But they did little to arouse public opinion. Some members of the public even seemed willing to accept the FBI's assertion that many of the break-ins were most likely "self-inflicted" attempts by activists to gain publicity for their cause.

Nor did Varelli's aborted testimony before Congress in 1987 attract much public attention. When he attempted to detail his knowledge of FBI misdeeds before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Varelli testified that during his years in the FBI he never actually saw CISPES members commit any illegal acts. But that testimony was sabotaged when Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a conservative Republican member of the committee, produced a document attributed to Varelli which indicated that CISPES may have been planning to assassinate President Reagan in 1984. Varelli denied making the charge, claiming the document had been altered by a right-wing activist who changed Varelli's assertion that CISPES was planning to "disrupt" the convention rather than "assassinate" the President. But his denial, which seems to be substantiated by a tape recording of his interview with Secret Service officials in Dallas shortly before the 1984 convention, 1 was of no help. The damage had already been done. His credibility, at least in Congress, was in shambles.

It was not until January of 1988, when attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights won release of some 3,500 pages of the FBI's files on CISPES, that the scope and extent of the FBI's assault on political activists became known.

Again, however, the public response was minimal and the press essentially treated the revelation as a two-day story, culminating in the selection by ABC News of Margaret Ratner, a lead attorney on the CISPES case, as that news program's "person of the week."

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