Mounting their first detailed defense against allegations of illegal spying, officials of the Anti-Defamation League sought Friday to distance themselves from a controversial longtime investigator but acknowledged they were still paying him because he is "damn good."
Barbara S. Wahl, attorney for the Jewish civil rights group, also said the organization is conducting its own investigation into charges that the San Francisco operative, Roy Bullock, illegally spied on a wide range of political activists and organizations.
"Was somebody asleep at the switch? " Wahl said in an interview. "I don't know, but we're going to look."
The Anti-Defamation League, established 80 years ago to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry, has been racked by allegations that Bullock collected information illegally from law enforcement sources on at least 1,394 people. By monitoring various publications, working under cover and looking through trash cans, Bullock amassed files on nearly 10,000 people and more than 950 political groups.
San Francisco authorities allege that Bullock was part of an intelligence network operated by the Anti-Defamation League in at least seven major cities across the country. No charges have been brought in the case and the investigation is continuing.
Last week, prosecutors released a lengthy police interview with Bullock in which he said he had been an investigator for the ADL for nearly 40 years. His payment--currently $550 a week--was funneled through a Beverly Hills attorney who is honorary vice chairman of the ADL's Southern California region, according to police files.
Until now, Anti-Defamation League officials have not been willing to acknowledge that Bullock worked for them. But Friday, Wahl and National Chairman Melvin Salberg said that Bullock was an independent contractor for the organization.
They said he gathered intelligence on his own with little supervision, and they contended that the files seized by police from Bullock's home were not Anti-Defamation League records.
"He's never been instructed, nor did we condone, his breaking of the law," Wahl said. "We don't know if he did. . . . We had no knowledge of him going through the trash (of target groups) and we certainly wouldn't have encouraged him to do that kind of thing."
The office of San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith, however, maintains that Bullock was an ADL employee who collected the information on behalf of the organization. Prosecutors consider the documents seized from his home to be ADL files and note that many copies of his data were found in ADL offices.
Bullock has long been one of the ADL's best investigators, Wahl said, and was recently dispatched to Germany to investigate the skinhead movement there.
"He was damn good. . . . He continues to do good work," she said. " . . . I liken him to a kind of information junkie who seems to have sucked up everything he found and put reports into computers. And whether they were ever used again, who knows?"
The ADL has a "small number of investigators" based around the United States operating on the same basis as Bullock, Wahl said. She would not discuss any details of the intelligence-gathering operation but said it does not constitute a "nationwide spy network."
Bullock and former San Francisco Police Officer Tom Gerard have been accused of providing intelligence information from Anti-Defamation League files to agents of the South African government, but Wahl said that had nothing to do with the ADL.
She acknowledged that on occasion the organization provides information to Israel but otherwise does not have any dealings with foreign governments. "We have no formal relationship or even informal ongoing relationship with any foreign country," she said.
Wahl questioned why the Anti-Defamation League has become a target of the investigation when others, including police officers who allegedly passed information to Bullock, have not been targeted. "It seems to us that the ADL is really a very bit player in this drama that's unfolding in San Francisco and we have lots of questions as to why we're being targeted," she said.
Salberg, whose offices are in New York, added: "I find it difficult, extremely difficult and painful, to view what is going on in San Francisco without asking: Why is this happening? What's the motivation?"
In San Francisco, Dist. Atty. Smith said Friday the Anti-Defamation League is just one of the targets in the probe.
"From the beginning, Gerard and Bullock have been the central focus of this investigation," he said. "However, you take your investigation where the facts lead you."
Smith said his office may not have the authority to pursue allegations against police officers outside of San Francisco, but evidence of alleged misconduct has been passed on to the appropriate agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Investigators have accused the Anti-Defamation League of withholding documents during a voluntary search last fall. Police said the used search warrants and found the items in a search of ADL offices last week in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Wahl insisted that the organization is cooperating and would provide any documents requested by prosecutors. "It is wrong. It is dead wrong. It is erroneous. It is false," she said. "There is not one thing they asked for that we failed to provide them."