Clavir v. Levi is a case brought against the FBI for illegal surveillance activities, and was instrumental in revealing the extent and the danger of FBI surveillance methods, as well as setting a precedent for plaintiff’s entitlement to receive statements taken by the government in internal investigations.
In 1976, Judy Clavir and Stew Albert, longtime political activists, filed a federal civil rights action against the FBI charging that they were being illegally surveilled. The FBI admitted using various kinds of surveillance against them, including mail covers, bumper beepers, physical surveillance and wiretapping. 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 in their home.
The plaintiffs engaged in extensive litigation to recover damages for this government misconduct. Discovery took place, and documents revealed 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 it. Setting an important legal precedent, the court ruled that plaintiffs were entitled to the documents.
In addition to detailing the manner in which burglaries were carried out, these documents revealed some of the euphemisms used by the FBI to hide its illegal break-ins. The terms “confidential informant” can be used when the source of the information is burglary and no informant really exists.
In the waning months of the Carter administration, the plaintiffs accepted an award of $20,000 plus the costs of litigation. President Ronald Reagan later pardoned FBI agents for engaging in the same conduct for which plaintiffs won damages.