As a high-profile advocate who crossed the United States criticizing the Nixon administration's role in the Vietnam War, John Kerry was closely monitored by FBI agents for more than a year, according to intelligence documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
In 1971, in the months after the Navy veteran and decorated war hero argued before Congress against continued U.S. involvement in the conflict, the FBI stepped up its infiltration of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the protest group Kerry helped direct, the files show.
The FBI documents indicate that wherever Kerry went, agents and informants were following -- including appearances at VVAW-sponsored anti-war events in Washington, D.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Springfield, Ohio; and Urbana, Ill. The files never report that Kerry broke any laws. Still, the FBI recorded the content of his speeches and took photographs of him and fellow activists, and the dispatches were filed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Nixon.
Kerry, now the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, has long known he was a target of FBI surveillance, but only last week learned the extent of the scrutiny, he told the Times. The information was provided late last week by Gerald Nicosia, a San Francisco Bay-area author who obtained thousands of pages of FBI intelligence files and who gave copies of some documents to the Times.
The FBI files shed new light on an early chapter in Kerry's public life and paint a detailed portrait of the anxiety that pervaded the U.S. intelligence apparatus during the Vietnam War era, especially within the Hoover-run FBI. The documents also show the lengths the government went to investigate not only Kerry, but the VVAW and other anti-war groups.
Intelligence officials referred to the VVAW in their reports as the "New Left." "Due to abundant indications of subversive influence, we are actively investigating VVAW," read one FBI report from 1971.
The documents could become an important resource for historians because they show the extent of U.S. government surveillance directed against an individual who, three decades later, may become president.
They also suggest that Kerry's memories of some of his anti-war activities, including the date he left his position on the VVAW national steering committee, were inaccurate. Kerry has stated that he left the group in summer 1971, but the files show that he did not quit until late fall that year.
Kerry said he was troubled by the scope of the monitoring documented in the papers.
"I'm surprised by extent of it," he said in an interview. "I'm offended by the intrusiveness of it. And I'm disturbed that it was all conducted absent of some showing of any legitimate probable cause. It's an offense to the Constitution. It's out of order."
The FBI's harassment and surveillance of activists and leaders in the anti-war and civil-rights movements -- including Martin Luther King Jr. -- were exposed after Hoover's death in 1972, and reforms were mandated in the bureau to prevent such abuses and restore public confidence.