The FBI maintained informants in Montgomery County public high schools in the late 1960s, keeping track of the activities of students as young as 14, recently released FBI documents reveal.
The investigation centered on a group called the Montgomery County Student Alliance, which in 1969 was a 1,000-member, nonviolent organization highly critical of county education policies.
The heavily censored documents, obtained by a former student, also show that FBI agents personally attended a meeting that members of the group held in 1969 with activist employes of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
No reason for the FBI's activities is stated in the documents, which deal with a period in which anti-Vietnam War activities were at a height on many campuses. The documents contain no allegation of any unlawful activity and show the student group was being investigated by FBI offices in Washington and Baltimore.
The documents also state that the FBI was passing on its information on the alliance to other government agencies, including the Secret Service and "interested military intelligence agencies."
FBI spokesman William Carter said the investigation of the student group would have been under the agency's COINTELPRO program. The program, which was disclosed in the mid-1970s amid widespread denunciations by Congress and civil liberties groups, was directed at a broad spectrum of antiwar, student and black activist organizations.
Carter said such an investigation of a nonviolent group would not be possible under today's FBI guidelines.
He said he could not say why the Montgomery County investigation was undertaken in the first place. The released documents "will have to speak for themselves," he said.
The documents were obtained from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act by Norman Solomon, who was a student alliance leader in 1969. Solomon, who now lives in Oregon, is a widely published writer who is coauthor of "Killing Our Own," a book on the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear energy.
The alliance was formed in early 1969. The FBI documents quote a newspaper article describing the alliance as an "educational reform" group working for change in a school system the group said "presently inhibits students' individuality, creativity and independent thinking."
Solomon said the alliance in early 1969 published a report criticizing the school system as rigid and authoritarian and one that "didn't encourage free inquiry or discussion." He said the group distributed the report and a newsletter throughout county schools and met with the county's school board to press the case for reform.
"Somehow, the FBI must have felt there was something threatening in all that," Solomon said.
"We were so straight; not only in the way we dressed, but politically," Solomon said. "There was nothing very revolutionary about our activities." The earliest document, on Solomon personally, is from June 1966 -- when he was 14.
Although most names are deleted from the documents, it appears from the size of the deletions that between 15 and 30 students individually were being looked at by the FBI, and that students in at least 12 county high schools were being monitored. Because of the deletions, it is impossible to tell from the documents whether the informants were students, faculty or others.
The documents list six of the schools: Montgomery Blair, Walt Whitman, Winston Churchill, Springbrook, Wheaton and Northwood.
The deletions, the FBI said, were made for reasons ranging from national defense interests to protecting informants. Solomon said he has appealed the FBI's deletions. The "heavy censorship" of the documents, he said, "indicates that the FBI has not yet come to terms with the importance of civil liberties for a free society."