Among the defendants were Honeywell, Inc., a principal supplier of anti-personnel weapons to the Defense Department as well as to foreign governments and the FBI. The charges were that from 1968 to 1974, the private corporation and the federal agency had engaged in a conspiracy to deprive various anti-Vietnam War protesters of their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly, along with other benefits of being an American.
The primary target of this alleged conspiracy was the Honeywell Project, a nonviolent group opposed to such Honeywell products as fragmentation bombs, cluster bombs and other omnivorous weapons. By demonstrations, petitions and leaflets, members of the Honeywell Project had kept trying to persuade the management, workers and stockholders of the arms manufacturer to get out of the killing business.
Meanwhile, the FBI had infiltrated the project with informants, and, at the request of Honeywell, was presenting the information gathered by these undercover hirelings to a confidential liaison in the management of Honeywell, Inc. The idea was to warn the producer of cluster bombs of the plans of its opponents continually. That way, as a 1976 Senate Intelligence Committee memorandum noted, Honeywell officials would be saved from embarrassment, the demonstrators would be prevented from getting publicity, and the other designs of the anti-war protesters would be bent if not entirely foiled.
In their lawsuit claiming that the FBI and Honeywell had conspired against them, the plaintiffs said that the bureau, as part of its COINTEL-PRO operations at the time, widely disseminated disinformation about them; had intruded on their privacy through warrantless electronic surveillance, let alone the presence among them of live snitches; and had otherwise treated them as if they had been summarily excluded from the protection of the Bill of Rights.
During the court action, first a magistrate and then a U.S. District Judge, Donald Alsop of Minnesota, ordered the FBI to turn over some of the names of the informants who had burrowed into the Honeywell Project. The magistrate and the judge had seen the relevant documents in camera and had decided that a number of them, including the names and addresses of certain informants, had to be provided by the FBI in the interest of justice.
The bureau, as is its custom in such matters, declined to obey the court order on the ground that if a secret informant were publicly identified by the FBI, future undercover operatives would be hard to recruit. A further question, however, is whether, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in another case said in 1977, there should be "a shield of anonymity for those who conspire with the police to violate the constitutional . . . rights of others." There is also the question of whether only the FBI is exempt from court orders.
In this case, a confrontation between FBI director William Webster and the federal judiciary did not take place because the U.S. government and Honeywell decided to settle this first case in which the FBI and a major corporation had been jointly accused of a conspiracy against the Bill of Rights.
The settlement cost the federal government and Honeywell $35,000 each. (The plaintiffs had originally asked for $150,000 in damages). Honeywell agreed to pay its $35,000 it owes to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, which in turn will give the money to the American Friends Service Committee for a highly relevant project in Laos. The AFSC is sending shovels to that land where American antipersonnel bombs from the war in Indochina still lie in the fields, killing and maiming unsuspecting farmers. The specially selected shovels, now being paid for by Honeywell, are used to remove the small bombs safely.
The rest of the money will go to various individual plaintiffs and to the Honeywell Project, which is still demonstrating against the arms manufacturer. Marv Davidov, a long- term member of the project, says that Honeywell's range of weaponry has come to include guidance systems for the MX, the Pershing II and the Trident. Is the project still infiltrated by the FBI? Davidov says he wouldn't be surprised.
Honeywell is also meeting spirited opposition, the Minnesota Statewatch reports, as it moves toward establishing a second arms-testing site in the state. Among those leading the counterattack are the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minn. They charge that "oppressive governments" around the world will be the customers for the new Honeywell arms being tested.
At least the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls need not worry about the FBI seeding informants among them. But then again, it is never wise to underestimate the Bureau.