A $100 million lawsuit filed against the FBI by Judith Clark for harassment helped the domestic terrorist elude the bureau’s grasp as she participated in a crime wave that resulted in numerous deaths, former FBI agents attached to the New York office contend.
“I think without question it really stymied the real investigative techniques that were needed,” James Kallstrom, then a supervisor in the FBI’s New York office that he later led, tells Breitbart News about the wave of 1970s legal actions against the bureau. He adds, “They put the squash on the methodologies we would use, the techniques we would use.”
Clark goes before a parole board later this winter as a result of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s grant of partial clemency to the convicted murderer that pushes back the mandatory portion of her sentence from expiring in 2056 to ending in 2017.
Clark’s Committee for the Suit Against Government Misconduct identified “potential targets of this FBI program” in a 1978 flyer as including “those who signed petitions, went to teach-ins, walked picket lines, sent telegrams to Congress,” “demonstrated against the war in Vietnam,” and “exposed police brutality.” The front group remained silent about bombings, jailbreaks, bank robberies, and murder—all activities in which Clark’s May 19 group involved itself during the time the lawsuit made its way through the courts—in its flyers as behavior piquing the FBI’s interest.
The same bad faith Clark exhibited in filing a suit in 1978 portraying herself as an innocent hectored by bureau harassment merely for harboring radical political views, agents familiar with her worry, may color the public penitence that preceded the clemency order.
In 1981, in a joint action of the largely white May 19 Communist Organization and largely African American Black Liberation Army, Clark drove coked-up gunmen to a mall in Nanuet, New York, to rob a Brink’s truck. After the robbers killed a guard and made off with $1.6 million, an armed Clark crashed a vehicle carrying several conspirators and $800,000 in nearby Nyack, New York, where two policemen lost their lives in an impromptu ambush as the radical robbers burst out of the back of a UHaul.
After the shootout in Nyack, FBI special agent Donald Wofford entered the apartment of the common-law wife of the Black Liberation Army’s Sekou Odinga to discover the blood of Clark’s May 19 colleague Marilyn Buck, who errantly wounded herself in the shootout, all over the floor—and a cache of documents familiar to him.
“We found five, five-drawer file cabinets,” Wofford tells Breitbart News. “It’s Judy Clark’s information that she was entitled to due to her suit against the government, and it’s five, five-drawer file cabinets she got from the suit. ‘What are we gonna do with this?’ an agent asked me. ‘I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna rent a UHaul truck and get this the hell out of here. She thinks she got it from the FBI. We just got it back.’ It was all the FBI files on the Weather Underground, Judy Clark, Prairie Fire, May 19, Assata Shakur, and all that stuff.”
In effect, the suit enabled Clark to compile better intelligence on the FBI than the FBI had gathered on her. Wofford characterized some of the material extracted from the apartment as “sensitive.”
While one law-enforcement official likened Clark’s behavior once caught to Linda Blair in The Exorcist, Wofford compared her movements as a free woman to Fernando Rey in The French Connection. Wigs, aliases, and evasive maneuvers all became part of the repertoire of Clark, who, like the other women of May 19, exhibited effective countersurveillance, according to their FBI watchers.
The most effective tactic to lose their FBI trailers may have been Clark v. the United States, which stemmed from 1978’s federal indictments against former FBI director L. Patrick Gray, former deputy director Mark Felt of “Deep Throat” fame, and Edward Miller, head of the bureau’s domestic intelligence division. Prosecutors noted three surreptitious entries into Judith Clark’s apartment in the early 1970s by the bureau. Her co-defendants experienced, unbeknownst to them, black-bag jobs aimed at securing information about Weatherman fugitives. The government secured convictions of its former servants Felt and Miller, both subsequently pardoned by President Reagan, as a result of the case, and Jimmy Carter’s administration relieved J. Wallace LaPrade of his duties as chief of the FBI’s New York office.
The Carter Justice Department targeting its own employees followed 1972’s Plamondon case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed warrantless surveillance evidence on members of the White Panther Party despite one of the defendants dynamiting a CIA office in Ann Arbor, and 1975’s Church Committee investigation, which put all intelligence-gathering agencies under a microscope. “The way the legal system was at that point in time was out of balance,” Kallstrom opines. “It was out of balance with common sense.”
A judge deciding various disputed points in Clark’s case opined, “This suit is a residue of the resistance to the Vietnam war.” Launched several years after that conflict’s end, the civil suit more precisely served as a salvo in another war, one, however far-fetched, declared against the United States by Clark and her comrades. Though several of the litigants came to the bureau’s notice not through illegalities but from their blood relations with fugitives, Clark, who later declared herself a prisoner of war when captured after the Brink’s robbery, used the suit to not merely embarrass her FBI watchers but to limit their ability to watch.
The heat, once on the domestic terrorists, reoriented toward law enforcement.
But when news came of Clark’s arrest in connection with the Nanuet Brink’s job, even the New York Times noted the egg-coated faces. “There is an element of vindication in all this for Mr. [Kenneth] Walton and other agents, who remember a time when, as the F.B.I. looked into the increasingly violent activities of some radical groups, it didn’t always have the public’s support,” Myron Farber reported in 1982.
Nevertheless, Clark’s 1978 civil suit resulted in five-figure payments to several of her co-plaintiffs, including one participant in the fatal Nanuet Brink’s robbery who, according to the New York Times, used the money for bail. Clark, facing murder charges behind bars at the time of the settlement, reportedly received no money.
But she received something more valuable from the government—cover—in the years leading up to the fatal robbery in Nanuet. With one participant alleging her participation in an earlier deadly Brink’s robbery in the Bronx and a prison break in New Jersey, and former FBI agents wondering about her possible participation in other unsolved violent crimes, Clark, despite prison volunteerism, public apologies, and senior-citizen status, does not strike her former adversaries in the bureau as an ideal candidate for release. Her dishonest abuse of the legal system, they believe, empowered her to commit crimes as it handicapped the FBI. They fear her latest legal gambit marks another act of bad faith.
“My remembrance is, yeah, it had an impact,” Kallstrom tells Breitbart News about Clark’s and other legal actions from the 1970s. “I think, without question. It was shocking to guys like me out there protecting people from getting killed by these lunatics. It was a time when the morale of the agency took a hit.”