WASHINGTON – The FBI, closely tracking the anti-war movement in the 1970s, concluded John Kerry (search) was a glib, moderate figure in a Vietnam veterans group that took a radical turn around the time he left it, documents show.
The FBI file on Vietnam Veterans Against the War (search) says the organization swung toward "militant and revolutionary-type activities" but accuses Kerry, now the Democratic presidential candidate, of little more than charisma.
The bureau's more than four-year investigation of the organization — everything from its plots to pot luck suppers — is detailed in more than 9,000 pages released Wednesday under a Freedom of Information Act (search) request from The Associated Press.
An FBI summary of the anti-war protests Kerry helped organize in April 1971 says the decorated war hero "overshadowed" many of the organization's other leaders and was "a more popular and eloquent figure" than the rest.
"Kerry was glib, cool, and displayed just what the moderate elements wanted to reflect," the summary says.
Although the FBI was watching Kerry and the other protesters earlier in 1971, it placed the group under active investigation in August of that year following reports from many field offices that members were "engaging in illegal and subversive activities," an FBI memo says. Kerry left the group before the end of 1971 and was not implicated in violent activities or conspiracies attributed to other members in the file.
That memo, which does not mention Kerry, says that in 1972, the group "moved toward increased militant and revolutionary-type activities in addition to continued cooperation with communist-dominated groups and foreign elements hostile to the U.S."
By then, Kerry had moved on to an ill-fated run for a seat in Congress. A newspaper clipping in the FBI file notes his move to politics.
The FBI memo — the names of the sender and recipient are blacked out — asserts that the investigation of the group was never directed or influenced by the Nixon White House. This, despite known efforts by Nixon's aides to discredit Kerry.
Campaigning Wednesday in Los Angeles, Kerry welcomed the release of the records.
"I think it's great," he said. "I'm very proud of my efforts to end the war. I welcome anybody's perusal of them. I'm proud that I stood up to Richard Nixon. And you know, I personally have also requested those documents. So I'm happy to have them out there. It's terrific."
Kerry is mentioned only sporadically in the file, most of which covers the group's activities from 1972 to 1975. During that time, the FBI told field offices to recruit informants among the organization's members.
In one document, the FBI field office in Pittsburgh notes that Kerry spoke at the University of Pittsburgh on Nov. 3, 1971. "The essence of Kerry's speech was to condemn those who did not get involved in social change," the FBI memo says. "He urged those present to make a conscientious commitment to end the war."
An April 12, 1971, FBI memo from Baltimore quotes a confidential source as saying that Kerry had been telling members of the group that "Congress is prepared to listen" to their anti-war agenda but cautioned that it was critical that the coming demonstrations remain nonviolent. Kerry was on the group's national steering committee at the time.
Another FBI memo describes in detail the medals Kerry won as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam and noted he was a Yale graduate who was named class orator in 1966.
In contrast, others members of the group were accused of conspiracy to riot during the 1972 Republican National Convention, of passing classified information to a Japanese communist leader, and various acts of violence. A Connecticut member was arrested with an explosive device en route to a speech given by Vice President Spiro Agnew.
More benign activities were tracked, too.
One "confidential" memo reports that the St. Louis chapter has begun meeting every other week, "with the business meeting first followed by pot luck dinner which is then followed by a political education rap session."