Our trouble with the Senate Subcommittee began on October 10, 1962. Dick Elman called my office and said he wanted me to meet someone. Dick was a powerful novelist and acerbic critic of his more pretentious fellow Jews, which brought down a rain of criticism on his books. He had a broad, open face that was frequently contorted into a grin when he made one of his brilliant and brutal comments on the foibles of the world. Richard had a receding hairline and would some day go almost bald. He was a liberal who put his money where his mouth was, passionately devoted to absolute free speech with a gut distrust for anyone in a position of power.
October 10th was a hectic afternoon and I was half distracted as Dick introduced me to a tall, clean-cut young man, “Special Agent Jack Levine, Federal Bureau of Investigation.” That caught my attention, but Levine smiled and said in a hesitant and high pitched voice, “No, no. Former Special Agent.”
Jack Levine had a story to tell. He had joined the FBI and found the agency was racist, obsessive and almost disfunctional. In 1962, the FBI was sacrosanct. Before the Freedom of Information Act revealed its darker secrets, no one criticized the FBI.
Levine had left the agency and taken his story to the New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Look, Newsweek … you name it. No one would touch it. Finally, Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation Magazine, agreed to publish Levine’s assertion that one out of every seven members of the United States Communist Party was an FBI agent or informant. McWilliams suggested to Levine that he come to WBAI to tell the rest of his story.
Dick and I did a three-hour interview with Levine and edited it down to an hour and half. We called Pacifica’s new executive director, Jerry Shore, and told him what we had. Jerry had been with the foundation for only six months, but he was already a hero to the staff. Shore was not a KPFA regular. I don’t know where the foundation found him, but the need for an executive officer with proven management and organizing skills was recognized by all sides in our constant disputes with management. With three Pacifica stations now operating there was enough money to hire one.
Shore was good-looking, very smart, and charmed people with a quiet charisma. Trevor respected him and the staffs were utterly seduced. Jerry brought a reassuring air of calm and optimism. He loved and supported our programming, brought fund-raising skills to our attempts to raise money and began to coordinate the three stations to maximize our efficiency. Jerry believed the foundation was poised for rapid growth in all three cities. He excited us with his vision of the future, where Pacifica would play an important role in an America that was beginning to change.
Jerry reminded me a lot of Clint Jencks, but seemed much less ideological and I did not peg him as part of the old left. Elsa knew better. She got hold of his resume and saw that he’d worked in the left-wing of the labor movement and had been a state organizer for the 1948 Progressive Party. If Jerry wasn’t a communist himself, he’d certainly known and worked with them. It could mean trouble in the future, Elsa predicted.
Jerry responded to my excited announcement of our interview with Jack Levine, “We need this program like a hole in the head.” But neither Jerry nor anyone else at Pacifica ever expressed a moment’s doubt about whether or not to broadcast Jack Levine’s attack on Hoover and the FBI.
We played the edited interview for Ephraim London, a New York civil liberties attorney who advised us that it was in no way libelous or slanderous. In his opinion Levine made a more credible witness than 90 per cent of the people he had seen testify under oath. We prepared transcripts of the tape and mailed them to the FBI and Justice Department for comment. They refused to make any public statement for broadcast, but in a series of telephone conversations they did everything possible to cast aspersions on Levine’s character and integrity. None of their charges, however, could be substantiated.
Pressure mounted during the week before broadcast. The Justice Department continued to advise us that the broadcast would not be in the public interest. A reporter we had never met from the Associated Press took Dick and me out for drinks and urged us to cancel the program because “they’ll close you down.” Our Folio editor received a call from a labor leader in Washington, D.C., who had “inside information” that everyone at the station would be arrested within minutes of air-time. FBI agents interviewed our neighbors in our apartment houses, and we began to get suspicious looks on the elevator. We received bomb threats. Even I.F. Stone, who first called to congratulate me on the broadcast, called back an hour before air-time to “disassociate” himself from the broadcast and inform me that a better case against the FBI could be made by a careful reading of the congressional record.
Richard Elman: would you say in general that most of the investigations that you were aware of were taken against or were being made against what might be described as liberal or left wing organizations rather than right wing or conservative organizations.
Jack Levine: Yeah well this is my impression that most of the investigations being conducted by the bureau were into the so called liberal or left wing groups.
Richard Elman: you mentioned NAACP, you mentioned CORE, of course the communist party.
Jack Levine: yes.
Richard Elman; would you mention any others.
Jack Levine: yeah, the American civil liberties union, individuals there have been, have been investigated for suspected communist affiliations.
Richard Elman: this is public knowledge or is
Jack Levine: oh no, no I wouldn’t’ say this was public knowledge.
Richard Elman: What I’d like to know though is how would the FBI define questions such as loyalty or communist sympathy. What would be considered communist sympathies.
Jack Levine: Some of these standards that are used. Through their informants in the communist party they, they know who these active communist party members are. But in addition to these there is a number of things which people do.
Richard Elman: They get mail for example, they use the telephone and so the FBI attach telephones and make mail covers for example on people who they are investigating.
Jack Levine; Yes, they, they do, if they suspected a person as a communist or has some connection with a communist front group they would certainly tap their telephone and watch their mail. To develop further information
Elsa did her part to support our broadcast by tracking down another former agent, William Turner, later an editor of Ramparts Magazine. Turner confirmed Levine’s charges. We also scheduled a panel discussion with well-known lawyers to talk about the implications of Levine’s charges.
Once we broke the story, newspapers across the country carried it. The New York Times editorialized about it. Fred Cook opened his 1964 book, The FBI Nobody Knows, with lengthy excerpts from the Levine program.
The price to pay was an investigation by a Senate subcommittee. The Anti-Communist Crusade still had claws in 1963.