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Covert Meaning

May 22, 1988

It is difficult for me to understand how and why a jury determined that former reserve Police Officer Douglas Seymour's civil rights were violated when he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan on the behalf of the Intelligence Division of the San Diego Police Department ("Klan Infiltrator Is Awarded $531,000 in Suit Against Police," May 10).

It is quite obvious that whoever selected Seymour for this assignment was not sufficiently careful when screening his background and qualifications.

Contrary to what juror Audrey Klein opined, being married and divorced "four or five times" is relevant in the screening of a prospective undercover operator because it indicates emotional instability; and this is what caused Seymour to mentally collapse under the stress of this assignment.

Stress is endemic to undercover operators who know that one slip and it can be fatal to them and to their family. Moreover, he must live two lives. He must be a Dr. Jekyll but seem to be a Mr. Hyde. He must maintain an inner conviction that what he is doing is right; yet, at the same time, he must convince his associates, whom he despises, that he is one of them. Very few people can play this role.

Once an undercover operator has successfully infiltrated a target organization, there is no pulling out, "coming in from the cold." He must fully understand that he is "deniable," that he will be disavowed by his recruiter and controller and, most certainly, by the higher-ups--in this case, Chief Bill Kolender.

Somewhere or other, despite a plethora of "spy" books and articles, the American people cannot seem to reconcile themselves to the fact that covert operations are necessary to the keeping of law and order and to the survival of our country. Undercover operators are absolutely necessary to any covert operation, but they must be good, and they must know what they are getting into.

Douglas Seymour evidently did not, nor did the jury that awarded him a cash settlement for a violation of his civil rights.

EDWIN O. LEARNARD

San Diego

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