In 1976, Judy Clavir and Stew Albert, long-time political activists, filed a federal civil rights action against the FBI charging that they were being illegally surveilled. The FBl admitted using various kind s of surveillance against them,including mail covers, bumper beepers, physical surveillance and wiretapping. About two months later, as a result of a federal grand jury investigation into illegal FBI conduct, the FBI admitted carrying out a series of ” black bag jobs” or burglaries against the two and acknowledged the placement of a bug at their home.
For the last three years, plaintiffs have been involved in extensive litigation to recoverda mages for thi government misconduct. Discovery has taken place, and document reveal that the FBI gave agents broad authorization for burglaries and illegal bugging. Shortly after the burglaries at the Clavir and Albert home were discovered, the government conducted its own investigation and took statements from the FBI agents allegedly involved in the burglaries and bugging.
When the government agreed to turn these statements over to plaintiffs, the agents themselves went to court to try to prevent our receiving them. Setting an important legal precedent, the court ruled that we were entitled to the documents.
In addition to detailing the manner in which burglaries were carried out, these documents reveal some of the euphemisms used by the FBI to hide its illegal break-ins. The terms “confidential in formant” can be used when the source of the information is a burglary and no informant really exists.
The information obtained in this case has been important in helping people to understand the dangers posed by the proposed FBI Charter and Reagan’s proposed Executive Order. Many of the abuses revealed in the litigation would be permitted by both of these proposals .
In the waning months of the Carter Administration, the plaintiffs accepted an award of $20, 000 plus the costs of litigation. Later, Reagan pardoned FBI agents Felt and Miller for engaging in the same conduct for which plaintifli won damages. Because of the pardon and the attitude it represents, we expect more “Clavir-Albert” type cases in the year ahead.
Michael Ratner, Doris Peterson and Randolph Scott-McLaughlin with Paul Chevigny