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A Line Never to Be Crossed

April 14, 1993

To defame is to injure a person's reputation or honor through false and malicious statements, to bring infamy or disgrace on that person. Since its founding in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League's worthy mission has been to stop defamation of Jews and to secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens. Yet recent news stories by Times staff writer Richard C. Paddock raise the question of whether the ADL might have crossed the clear line that separates gathering information on defamers and gathering information that possibly could be used to embarrass or even defame others.

Police last week served search warrants on ADL offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, seizing evidence of a nationwide intelligence operation that allegedly kept files on more than 950 political groups, newspapers, labor unions and as many as 12,000 people. No charges have been filed, and so far the case has raised more questions than it has answered.

It is no surprise that the ADL has kept close tabs on individuals and groups of all stripes that trade in hate or violence, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Aryan Resistance. But why has the ADL collected information on the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Greenpeace, Mills College in Oakland, the board of directors of San Francisco public television station KQED, the United Farm Workers, Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent Scott Kraft and several members of Congress?

What threat did these groups or individuals pose? Did the ADL act within the law in collecting this information? If it did, why did it employ a clandestine operative who was paid through an intermediary?

Authorities say that at least some of the material collected was confidential information obtained illegally from law enforcement agencies, a felony. In addition, ADL members could face felony counts of eavesdropping and conspiracy, among other charges.

Some information gathered by the organization may have been sold to the South African government, authorities say.

The ADL vigorously denies breaking any laws. It also promises to cooperate with investigations by the FBI, the San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco prosecutors. The Los Angeles Police Department, which has so far refused to cooperate in these investigations, should do the same.

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