FBI Tracked Kerry in Vietnam Vets Group
By Laura Blumenfeld and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A07
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) was subjected to extensive surveillance by the FBI for more than a year as he led protests by an anti-Vietnam War organization for veterans against the Nixon administration's war policies, according to FBI documents.
The FBI closely tracked the activities of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and Kerry's participation in the organization from 1971 until mid-1972, when officials recommended terminating the surveillance because Kerry was running for the House and agents concluded "there is nothing to associate him with any violence or any violent-prone group or organization."
The Los Angeles Times first reported on the documents yesterday. The documents were in the custody of California author Gerald Nicosia, who had received them five years ago as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. Copies of some were subsequently made available to The Washington Post.
FBI surveillance of antiwar activities in the late 1960s and early 1970s was common, but until now Kerry, a decorated combat veteran in Vietnam, said he had no idea how much he had been tracked as he moved around the country.
Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, described as "surreal" the extent to which the FBI traced his movements and said he was proud of what VVAW had achieved in opposing the war. He said that while "today's FBI isn't the FBI of J. Edgar Hoover," the knowledge of having been spied on for peaceful protest activity "makes you respect civil rights and the Constitution even more."
Douglas Brinkley, author of a new book about Kerry's time in Vietnam and as a VVAW leader, said, "In '71, VVAW was a major priority for the FBI, and Kerry was their spokesman."
Brinkley said Kerry was known inside the Nixon White House as "the young demagogue" who they feared could affect attitudes in Middle America toward the war.
The documents shed new light on some of Kerry's activities and contradict some statements his campaign previously made, including the timing of his resignation from the group and whether he participated in a controversial VVAW meeting in Kansas City, Mo., in November 1971. Campaign spokesman David Wade said Kerry had confused the Kansas City meeting with an earlier meeting in St. Louis.
One memo in the files notes that at that meeting, Kerry "announced to those present he was resigning from the executive committee for personal reasons; however, he would be available to speak for VVAW." That document also reports that Kerry clashed at the meeting with another VVAW leader, Al Hubbard. Kerry questioned whether Hubbard had falsified his service record.
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