Mar
06
    
CORPORATE AND GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE OF THE CLAMSHELL by Robin Read

CORPORATE AND GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE OF THE CLAMSHELL

 CIVIL LIBERTIES VIOLATED

 YELLOW JOURNALISM, 1970s STYLE

by Robin Read

Corporate and government surveillance of the Clamshell Alliance began with the inception of the organization in 1976, intensified in the weeks before the April 1977 occupation, and continued for the next several years. Fear mongering by right wing organizations and media, fed by the surveillance and infiltration, were among the factors that led Seabrook area residents to urge the Clamshell to call off its planned massive 1978 occupation and instead hold a three day legal rally on the plant site. The surveillance and infiltration contributed to internal divisions before and after the 1978 demonstration.

 Days before the April 30, 1977, demonstration, a banner headline in the ultra-conservative Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s only statewide daily newspaper, read  “Leftist Groups Hope for Violence.” In the article Governor Meldrim Thomson said the occupation “was nothing but a cover for terrorist activity.”  Shortly after the entirely peaceful occupation, we received New Hampshire state police documents disclosing the source of the “intelligence” used by the state police, the governor and the Union Leader:  it came from the right wing U.S. Labor Party. The USLP is led by Lyndon LaRouche who was convicted in l988 on federal charges related to his presidential campaign financing schemes and served six years in federal prison. Many of us were familiar with LaRouche and his organization from their activities promoting nuclear fusion power at the same seacoast street fairs where we had a booth and from his New Hampshire presidential primary campaigns.

Fueled by USLP disinformation, front page editorials before the 1977 and 1978 demonstrations by Union Leader publisher William Loeb described Seabrook demonstrators as “stormtroopers.” William Tallman, president of Public Service Company, the plant’s prime owner, warned of communists in the Clamshell, and the county prosecutor for the Seabrook area threatened to use fire hoses, tear gas and bullets on Seabrook demonstrators. These fear tactics did have a chilling effect on some people I knew. They were afraid of violence, their personal information ending up in government files or in the media, or of losing their jobs.

The State of New Hampshire and the project owners were completely unprepared for the size, organization, and impact of the April 1977 demonstration. The anti-nuclear movement had suddenly grown, in their eyes, from an easily contained movement of politically isolated environmentalists to a powerful mass movement using tactics learned and refined from the labor, civil rights, and anti-Vietnam war movements. Their reaction approached panic.

 Predictably, surveillance  of the Clamshell by the government and the nuclear industry increased. We responded by forming a civil liberties committee to monitor and research their activities.  We contacted the National Lawyers Guild and attorneys and organizations around the country, including those involved in the Karen Silkwood case, who were working on civil liberties issues  related to the growing opposition to nuclear power.

Within weeks after the 1977 occupation, state officials, including then attorney general and future Supreme Court Justice David Souter, met with former high-ranking  officials in the Nixon-Ford era Law Enforcement Assistance Administration who had formed a private security firm named Operational Systems Inc. to advise utilities around the country on security matters. According to Clamshell friends in state government and later confirmed in media reports, the firm presented  a detailed plan to the state, which included electronic surveillance of the Clamshell, to assist it in preparing for the 1978 demonstration. Although Governor Thomson was reportedly interested in the plan, the firm ultimately contracted with the Public Service Company, so we don’t know the extent of their subsequent activities.

 At our request, a month before the June 1978 demonstration, a staff member of the Government Operations Committee of the U.S. House came to New Hampshire to investigate our reports of surveillance., including possible wiretapping of of the telephones of me and other Clamshell members. The committee was also investigating reports of surveillance of other anti-nuclear groups and activists around the country and was looking into circumstances surrounding the death of Karen Silkwood,the   Oklahoma nuclear fuel fabrication facility worker who died in an automobile accident in 1974 while on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter about radiation safety problems in her plant.

While the Congressional investigator was in the state, the office of the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives was broken into and ransacked. Files related to Seabrook financing and utility legislation were removed, examined and returned out of place. The burglary was never solved.

Days later, amid the continuing reports of wiretapping and surveillance, the Clamshell held a crucial coordinating committee  s meeting  to discuss the state’s offer of the plant’s construction site for a 1978 legal rally rather than the planned civil disobedience action. During the very long meeting, needing a break but thinking I might be being a little overly paranoid, I decided to walk through and around our downtown Portsmouth office building to check for any suspicious characters or activity. Sure enough, parked directly across the street was a dark green unmarked van with only a curtained porthole for a back side window. I peeked inside and saw a man with a camera on a tripod. I then recruited a few people from the meeting to watch the van while I walked to the nearby Portsmouth police station to report the incident. The police checked the van, which was locked with the man still inside, and determined no laws were being broken and left. The van sped away shortly thereafter. The next day I learned from a friend close to the local police that the van was owned by the New Hampshire State Police, which the Portsmouth police presumably knew when they responded to the scene. The State police subsequently admitted to the media that they were conducting surveillance of our building but claimed they were there to watch whomever might be watching us! 

 The last known major incident of surveillance of the Clamshell was revealed in a 1980 court proceeding. A New Hampshire State Police informant had infiltrated the Newburyport (Mass.) Clamshell group that staged a civil disobedience action at the Manchester, NH, headquarters of the Public Serviced Company. . The informant was arrested with the group and had even participated in meetings of those arrested and their attorneys prior to their trials. The company subsequently lost a civil suit for violating the group’s civil liberties and paid monetary damages to the Newburyport Clamshell. The organization donated the money to charity.

 Large electricity generating facilities using an inherently dangerous fuel source like nuclear energy require more security than plants powered by, for instance, oil, coal, water, or wind. Nuclear plants are prime targets for terrorists. Government and plant owners can use the need for security to monitor, sometimes legally, sometimes illegally, the activities of legitimate opponents of a facility, particularly in the post 9/11 world. Continued and increased use of nuclear technology to generate electricity poses a serious threat to the civil liberties and right to dissent of all Americans.

Post a comment
Name: 
Email: 
URL: 
Comments: