Celebrating our Freedoms on the Fourth of July

July, 2013

Berlin -- Yesterday, on the Fourth of July in Berlin, a hardy band of Americans gathered to celebrate our freedoms, including the Fourth Amendment freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and the First Amendment freedoms of assembly and speech. I was among the celebrants.

Dare I say who gathered and where? These days it's hard to know who might be under surveillance, even by one's own country.

Ridiculous as it may seem, I'll not name the people or where we met. Because it would not be the first time that some of the participants -- American educators, shopkeepers, and professionals living in Berlin -- were wiretapped and their group infiltrated by the U.S. government.

In 1973 and 1974, a group of Americans called "Concerned Americans in Berlin" came under U.S. Army surveillance. Wiretaps were arranged through the compliant host government and American spies were assigned to join the group. Dossiers were built on the individual members; reports were compiled and sent up the Army chain of command.

What did the wiretaps and the spies discover? That this group had supported George McGovern* in the 1972 elections and in the wake of Watergate, had discussed and favored the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In other words, CAIB members were like millions of their fellow citizens back home.

The surveillance was uncovered through the actions of a whistleblower within the U.S. Army. He thought the surveillance was wrong and reported it to Republican Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut. A member of the Senate Watergate Committee, Weicker attacked the White House. CAIB sued, and eventually the individual members settled with awards of about $4,500 each. The settlement contained a promise that the Army would not spy on them again.

Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina quickly introduced the "Freedom from Military Surveillance Act" of 1974. (It subsequently died quietly in committee.)

Yesterday, one of the Americans brought along evidence from forty years ago. It was chilling; one document showed a crude sociogram constructed by the Army; with lines and circles, it linked the CAIB to the KPD, the SEW, and other communist groups in Berlin. It was a total fabrication.

So who was the Army whistleblower and what happened to him? Did the Army retaliate for his leaking? Is he a traitor or a hero? Is he still alive? Anyone who knows more about this matter is invited to contact me at joberg@aol.com, as I would like to see if this episode could be written up as a case study for future generations to analyze and remember. To say the least, it's topical.

* The many layers of irony here are too thick to cut. McGovern himself was an Army man; as a WWII pilot in the Army Air Corps, he flew many missions over Germany to defeat the Nazis. After the war, he earned a doctorate in political science. A college professor at Dakota Wesleyan before he became a senator, he attracted considerable support for his presidential bid from faculties everywhere, including Americans affiliated with the Free University of Berlin and members of CAIB. This university was founded after WWII as an intellectual outpost of freedom in a city surrounded by Soviet oppression. Another American intelligence organization -- the CIA -- had a covert hand in its founding, it is now known. So ironically thirty years after WWII, U.S. Army intelligence wound up spying on Americans affiliated with a university established to preserve freedom, because of their choice to support an Army veteran for president.