The scandal has not yet received the national media attention it deserves, but West Coast activists are up in arms about revelations that the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith secretly employed a self-styled art dealer named Roy Bullock to collect information on a wide range of individuals and organizations deemed anti-Jewish or hostile to Israel, including Rep. Ron Dellums, the ACLU, New Jewish Agenda, MERIP and many Arab-American, Palestine solidarity and anti-apartheid activists and groups. Bullock, who was employed by the CIA in El Salvador in the 1980s and also served as an FBI informant, worked for the ADL for more than three decades, amassing a database that included files on some 12,000 individuals and 950 organizations.

Particularly ominous is evidence that some of the material in Bullock’s files was obtained from Thomas Gerard, an inspector in the San Francisco Police Department’s intelligence unit, which seems to have perpetuated the old “Red Squad” tradition of monitoring perfectly legal political activism. Gerard is believed to have given Bullock information from confidential police records, in apparent violation of the law. Gerard and Bullock also shared data with the FBI and sold information on anti-apartheid activism to South African intelligence agents.

Strangely, both Bullock and Gerard are known to Bay Area activists. During the 1980s, Arab-American organizations often called on one or both of the men to coordinate security for public events they were sponsoring, and Bullock had (under various names) sought to infiltrate West Coast activist organizations as a spy for the ADL. Though Bullock’s original mission in the 1960s was to infiltrate and gather information on white supremacist and other far-right groups for the ADL, the scope of his activities later expanded considerably to include perceived “left” organizations.

When the ADL-funded spy ring was exposed and the FBI launched an investigation, Gerard quit his SFPD job and fled to the Philippines. He returned to the US in early May, claiming that he was a CIA agent and that the agency had a contract out on his life; he was immediately arrested on charges of stealing government documents, computer theft, burglary and conspiracy. For his part, Bullock has insisted that he did nothing wrong, since most of the information in his database came from public sources or his own spying. The ADL has also denied any wrongdoing and downplayed its connections with Bullock and Gerard. Unconvinced, police and FBI agents raided the ADL’s offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles in early April seeking evidence that the organization had participated with Bullock and Gerard in a criminal conspiracy to obtain confidential information.

After the raids, ADL officials stepped up damage control efforts, insisting that the organization had done nothing out of line with its mission of exposing and fighting bigotry and racism. In recent years, however, the ADL has devoted an increasing proportion of its energy to combating critics of Israeli policy. That the organization has compiled what amounts to a black list of academics and others who have spoken out against Israeli actions has long been taken for granted. The scope of the ADL’s espionage activities and the extent of its links with US, Israeli and South African government agencies may come as a surprise, but the ADL’s active monitoring of critics of Israel should not.

Seized ADL files suggest that the organization knew what Bullock was up to and had complete access to his database. As a result, the ADL has been named, along with Gerard and Bullock, in a class action lawsuit filed in mid-April on behalf of all those individuals and organizations targeted by the spy ring. (Anyone interested in finding out whether Bullock, Gerard and/or the ADL had information on them should contact the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee at 202-244-2990 to obtain the necessary forms.) SFPD and FBI investigations are continuing, and Rep. Don Edwards of California has announced that he will investigate whether the FBI was improperly using Bullock as a surrogate to collect information that the agency is barred by law from collecting directly. The East Coast media have largely ignored the story. The first (and, as of early May, only substantial) article on the scandal to appear in the New York Times was an April 25 story so mild and restrained that it seemed almost a puff piece for Bullock. One can only imagine the extensive coverage and thundering editorials the Times would have devoted to revelations that for decades an Arab-American organization, intimately linked with an Arab government, had run an intelligence operation which used paid agents to gather information on the constitutionally protected political activities and speech of Jews and Jewish organizations in the US, obtained data from confidential police records and maintained close relations with the FBI (and perhaps the CIA as well).

While the ADL was preoccupied with damage control, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) was taking the offensive in the campaign to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria as the basis for a renewed and reinvigorated US-Israeli “special relationship.” The AJC recently released a report entitled Hamas: Terror in the Service of God, written by Michael Oren, director of its Israel office.

The report demonstrates mainly the author’s profound ignorance and is of little interest, but Oren’s remarks at an AJC meeting in New York are worth noting. Islamic fundamentalists, he declared, “present a threat not just to Israel, but to the United States and to the West as a whole…. These organizations want to destroy Israel, a US ally, and ultimately Western civilization as well.” Oren went on to say that “the principles and norms Americans hold as sacred may be as inapplicable and inappropriate in an Islamic setting as an Islamic fundamentalist government would be in Washington, DC.” Oren concluded with a call to arms: “If the twentieth century’s battle was with communism then I believe that the twenty-first century’s battle between the West and Islam will be far more dangerous. Unlike the communists, with whom we could sit and talk at the same table and speak the same language, we do not share the same lexicon with these Islamic fundamentalists.”

Israeli officials and pro-Israeli lobbyists have been pushing this line for months now, and the campaign will likely escalate. Oren made his agenda exceedingly clear when he declared that US officials should be aware that US allies in the Middle East (read: Saudi Arabia) are funding Islamists.

How to cite this article:

Al Miskin "ADL’s Spy Ring," Middle East Report 183 (July/August 1993).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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