Paper trail of
is the first of a two-part series on the hidden
workings of the Anti-Defamation League and how three
Bay Area activists were able to uncover a spy
operation that reached into the San Francisco Police
By Dan Evans
of The Examiner Staff
LOCKED in a nondescript computer database, a shadowy
operative named Roy Bullock kept file upon file on
liberal San Francisco Jews who disagreed with Israeli
The files included Social Security numbers, driver's
license numbers, addresses, phone numbers and group
memberships. Some of the information was sold to foreign
governments, including Israeli and South African
Shockingly, Bullock was in the employ of a civil
rights group whose motto is "fighting anti-Semitism,
bigotry and extremism": the Anti-Defamation
League of B'nai B'rith. Numerous targets of the ADL
-- who drew parallels to
COINTELPRO, the FBI's tainted
domestic surveillance program -- say the profiling and
covert activities continue to this day.
"They are continuing to gather facts," said Abdeen
Jabara, a Manhattan attorney and former president of
the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "That,
of course, is a euphemism for what we say is private
Not only were liberal Jews a target, but information
also was kept on labor unions, pro-Palestinian
organizations, anti-apartheid groups, American Arabs and
anti-Semites. After the Federal Bureau of Investigation
broke the case in 1993, a number of these targets filed
suit against the ADL. The last lawsuit was recently
The settlement in February marked the first time any
of the organization's victims were allowed to speak out.
Usually, the ADL demands plaintiffs
keep quiet as a condition of any settlement.
Without those constraints, victims Jeffrey
Blankfort, Steve Zeltzer and Anne Poirier are
revealing the underbelly of an organization that
previously had successfully shielded itself from
condemnation. They are using the ADL's own spy as a
Bullock's relationship with
Blankfort and Zeltzer began when he infiltrated a
pro-Palestinian group started by the two, both of whom
are Jewish. Once inside, Bullock collected and sold
information about the two men to the ADL and, possibly
the foreign arm of Israeli intelligence.
Although Bullock never met Poirier, he may have sold
information on her organization to the South African
government. The woman, who lives in Berkeley, ran a
scholarship program for South African exiles in the early
1990s. During the course of her lawsuit against the ADL,
she discovered the ADL's operative had sold confidential
information to a South African agent in San Francisco for
Poirier had never done any work relating to the Middle
East, and she was astounded when she found out that the
ADL had kept tabs on her. During her nine-year court
fight with the group, she found out more than she needed
to know about its operation, and now nothing much
"They gathered information on anti-apartheid
activities," she said, "anyone the organization felt, by
definition, would be against Israel because they were too
left-wing."A few files, so
The fact the ADL has a file on a group doesn't imply
clandestine activities, said San Francisco regional
director Jonathan Bernstein. He resents the
implication of the word spying, saying it implies people
were being followed around and trailed. That simply
wasn't the case, he said, though he acknowledged he never
"We have files on the NAACP because we've done
collaborative projects with them," he said. "They
probably have files on the ADL, too."
In Bernstein's eyes, the group's fact-finding
operations are one of its most important missions.
Much of the time, the "missions" are nothing more than
gleaning information from media reports, he said.
People employed by the ADL do
attend public meetings to keep an eye on people, just as
other journalists do.
The area's top boss, however, repeatedly sidestepped
questions on whether fact-finders employed subterfuge to
get information. The fact that some of the people being
watched by the ADL were Jewish was immaterial, Bernstein
Other civil rights
groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, do
similar things on a limited scale, he said.
A representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center,
which is headquartered in Birmingham [Alabama],
could not be reached for comment.
Because the ADL has 30 regional offices, the
organization is much better equipped to ferret out
anti-Semitism and other racist behavior.
"It can help us to respond to hate activity before
someone gets hurt," Bernstein said. "That's the ultimate
But are there times when fact-finding becomes a civil
The San Francisco office of the American Civil
Liberties Union, a group one might expect to have a dim
view on the tactics employed by the ADL,
refused to comment on the
group's fact-finding activities. Nor would spokeswoman
Rachel Swain give a reason for the silence.Ongoing
Groups have been saying for years that the ADL isn't
the civil rights organization it claims to be, but no one
has been listening. Mostly, it's because those groups
have been thinly-veiled anti-Semites, such as the Liberty
Lobby, or hate groups such as White Aryan Resistance and
But, as vile as some of these groups are, there is a
significant amount of evidence that their vitriol is not
unfounded. For at least four decades, the ADL
continuously has tracked and spied on groups it considers
not only a threat to the Jewish community, but to the
state of Israel.
Hussein Ibish certainly thinks so. Ibish is the
spokesman for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee -- an organization that is, in many ways, the
Arab counterpart to the ADL. Though certainly at odds
with many Israeli policies, the ADC is not anti-Semitic,
and plays a rather moderate role.
"Was the ADL spying on people?" asked Ibish, quickly
answering his own question. "Certainly in San Francisco
they were. We know they were engaging in illegal
activities to gain information. They, and their
operatives, were working hand-in-glove with South African
intelligence and Israeli intelligence."Meet Mr. Spy
By his own admission, Bullock had been working off the
books as a fact-finder for the ADL since the mid-1960s.
He would infiltrate not only openly anti-Semitic groups,
but also pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid
organizations, usually under false pretenses. Bullock,
who is not Jewish, would then pass that information along
to the ADL.
He received information about his targets from former
San Francisco Police Inspector Tom Gerard, who
fled to the Philippines after being indicted in 1994 for
illegal use of a police computer. Gerard's current
whereabouts are unknown.
Bullock, who no longer does undercover work for the
organization, declined to be
interviewed for this article.
Nobody could have known about the extent of Bullock's
surveillance, if police had not seized his computer
database in April 1993. It contained thousands of files
on liberal Jewish San Franciscans, Arab-Americans,
anti-apartheid activists, anti-Semitic groups, and plain
ol' white racists.
On April 8, 1993, armed with this information, police
in San Francisco and Los Angeles searched the ADL offices
in those two cities. In San Francisco, roughly 10
banker's boxes of information -- 75 percent of which
officers said was illegally obtained -- were seized.
A majority of data in those boxes confirmed police
suspicions that it had come from Bullock's computer. On
that computer was information on 9,876 people, including
1,394 driver's licenses. The files were divided into five
categories: "Pinko," "Right," Arabs," "Skins," and "ANC,"
the last standing for African National Congress.
Bullock also told the FBI that he had information on
various labor groups. These groups included: the San
Francisco Labor Council, the Oakland Educators
Association, the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People, Irish Northern Aid, the International
Indian Treaty Council and the Asian Law Caucus.Lawsuits
After the SFPD raid on the ADL offices, then-District
Attorney Arlo Smith filed a lawsuit against the
organization to stop the spying. The suit was settled
that November. Though the ADL acknowledged no wrongdoing,
the group agreed to stop using police to get confidential
information. The league also agreed
to pay $75,000 to a fund used to help stop hate
On April 18, 1993, 19 people who Bullock kept files on
sued the ADL in San Francisco Superior Court. Pete
McCloskey, a former Republican congressman from San
Mateo County, was the group's attorney. His wife,
Helen, was one of the original plaintiffs.
A few months later, in October, the ADC slapped its
Jewish counterpart with a similar lawsuit in Los Angeles
federal court. The ADC claimed the ADL passed along
information on the group to the Israeli government. The
ADC's suit was settled in October 1996.
The ADL agreed to pay $175,000 toward the Arab group's
legal costs. The ADL also agreed to contribute $25,000 to
a foundation, administered by the ADL and the ADC,
dedicated to improving relations between Jews and Arabs.
The ADL was able to deny all wrongdoing.Journalistic
The McCloskey case, however, would drag on. The main
point of contention in that case was whether the ADL
could be considered a journalistic enterprise, a point
won in court by the ADL.
The ADL publishes hundreds of newsletters, papers and
books on a wide range of subjects, attorney David
Goldstein said. As with any other journalistic
enterprise, it contended it was not required to release
its confidential information or sources.
After a 1998 ruling by the 1st District Court of
Appeal, giving the ADL journalistic protection, 14 of the
remaining 17 plaintiffs -- two had died in the interim --
dropped their cases against the ADL.
On Feb. 22, 2002, the ADL settled with Blankfort,
Zeltzer and Poirier.
What held up the process, said McCloskey, was his
clients' refusal to sign a confidentially agreement. The
three felt they had been viciously wronged, he said, and
wanted to publicize that fact.
With the settlement, each of the three plaintiffs
received about $50,000. None of the three, or McCloskey,
believes the ADL will stop their spying ways.
"It was settled partially out of fatigue," said the
attorney. "Everyone figured it might be best if we all
just moved on."
Even if the case had continued, said Goldstein, there
is a debate over how much the three plaintiffs could
prove they had been injured. Most of the contested
information consisted of Social Security and driver's
license numbers, which are hardly difficult items to
Nine years later, McCloskey is still angry about the
case and wants the federal government to revoke the
group's tax-exempt status.
Since they obviously are working
in conjunction with the Israeli government, he
said, they should register as such. Referring to
themselves as an education group, said the attorney, is
simply a sham.
E-mail Dan Evans at email@example.comPart II: Winning