A newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation memo shows that the exposure of Scientology’s “Operation Snow White” and the resulting 1979 convictions didn’t end government concerns about Scientology infiltrators.
The memo was obtained as part of the ongoing lawsuit against the FBI for materials on Scientology, represented pro bono by Dan Novack, shows the FBI receiving a tip about Scientologist Drug Enforcement Administration contractors who hadn’t been subject to proper background checks. While the memo provides only a snapshot view of the allegations and concerns, it does show that the DEA took the tip seriously enough to alter their hiring practices to ensure proper and timely background checks.
According to the memo, the tip came from “an elderly individual” who had worked as a translator for the State Department, as well as in the computer section of Health, Education and Welfare. The individual also had a White House Press Card, and had covered a meeting between President Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy for one of “several Jewish newspapers” on the same day he contacted the FBI about the alleged Scientology infiltrators. Most relevantly to the FBI and DEA, he worked part time for the Program Research Corporation doing consulting work.
In turn, PRC was a contractor with “various government agencies.” While the informant had been doing “some computer work at DEA Headquarters,” he apparently became aware of “several PRC employees currently doing work at DEA” who were Scientologists, though he was unaware of other PRC Scientologists doing contracting work at other government agencies. Believing the FBI had “responsibility to investigate subversive groups,” he contacted the Bureau and advised them that he was planning to contact the DEA.
The DEA confirmed that they did employ PRC contractors to do low level computer work at DEA Headquarters. The PRC employees had “a low pay scale” which the FBI memo notes resulted in a high employee turnover rate and many of the employees being “students working on advanced degrees who prefer part-time night work such as that required at DEA.”
It was PRC’s high rate of turnover that apparently led to the vulnerability that Scientologists may have taken advantage of. As a result of the turnover rate, PRC had reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that allowed their employees “to begin contract work with government agencies prior to the completion of their background investigations.” This meant that PRC employees would “often” be employed “for a month or more before these investigations are even started.” The employee specifically identified by the tipster was one of the employees who had been at the DEA “for over a month” without a background investigation. A DEA Security Officer reported that they would expedite their background investigation, and make the results available to the FBI.
According to the memo, the PRC contractors worked with DEA 6’s, which according to the FBI “are used to prepare reports.” DEA Form 6’s are titled “Report of Investigation” and can be rather lengthy, going into detail about investigations. While the Bureau compares them to their own FD 302 forms (FBI interviews), DEA 6’s aren’t limited to interviews. One example released by the National Security Archive goes into considerable detail about a high profile arrest and seizure of weapons. While the FBI correctly notes that the DEA 6’s aren’t classified, they are marked as being “sensitive.”
In addition to expediting the background check of the named individual and alleged Scientologist, the DEA noted that they were “taking steps … to insure [sic] background investigations are obtained prior to [PRC contract employees] having access to DEA documents.”
It’s unclear what happened as a result of the investigation, whether the contractors were actually Scientologists, or were even working on behalf of the Church of Scientology as opposed to merely earning a living. The DEA and FBI however, in light of the still recent Operation Snow White, took the matter seriously enough to expedite an investigation and to alter DEA procedure.
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Image via The Glassborian Photojournal