Transcript: Anti-Vietnam Activities Earned Kerry Spot on FBI Watch List

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, May 6, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They told the stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off the ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: That is the voice of John Kerry. John Kerry's anti-war protesting earned him a permanent file with the FBI. And after you heard that testimony, no surprise. The bureau was keeping tabs on Kerry because of his involvement with Vietnam veterans against the war. Those FBI files have been declassified, and a few intrepid journalist have been wading through them. Joining me now to talk about them, Michael Kraft, co-author of "John Kerry: The Complete Biography" by The Boston Globe reporters who know him best. The big question, what did the FBI think of John Kerry?

MICHAEL KRANISH, DC CORRESPONDENT, BOSTON GLOBE: Well, John, you know, this is not the FBI file on Kerry himself. I'll make that very clear. There's more than 10,000 pages here. It's the file on the Vietnam veterans against the war, and he's mentioned here and there throughout these pages. We haven't actually seen the file on John Kerry. Kerry himself would have to release that, as I understand that. And the Kerry campaign has released a couple pages from his own file that says the file was closed in '72 when they determined that he was not violent and was not part of any violent action that the group was planning. In fact, in the file that was released yesterday by the FBI, it did say that Kerry was not considered this violent figure.

There were other people who were planning violent actions. There was talk of kidnapping high officials. There was talk of taking over buildings. There was talk of seizing the statue of liberty, but Kerry had nothing to do with any of those actions. In fact, most of what I saw in the file were references to newspaper articles about John Kerry, stories about John Kerry, second hand hearsay about John Kerry. None of it terribly derogatory. But clearly the FBI in 1971 is very, very interested in this group. They're concerned, does this group have ties to communist organizations? You have to go back and really understand what the FBI is thinking at that time. Their mission is to determine is there infiltration in this group, and that's what they were looking at.

GIBSON: All right, now Michael, this group eventually did — I think Kerry was present at a meeting when another member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (search) suggested a domestic Phoenix Program (search). And the Phoenix Program was the assassination program in Vietnam, which Vietcong leaders or sympathizers were assassinated by American troops. Is it true that John Kerry when he first heard that, when it was first mentioned in one of these meetings, he said, that's it I'm out of here?

KRANISH: John, I have looked into that issue. I think it's an unanswered issue, and John Kerry himself says he was not at that meeting, so let's be very clear about that. It does say in the FBI report there was a reference, again, a second hand hearsay source saying that Kerry was there and wanted to leave. But I've talked to a couple people who were definitely at the meeting and they say they don't recall Kerry being there. This plan was never taken seriously, a plan to assassinate U.S. senators. It was discussed by some people. Basically shouted down or ignored. It's not clear that Kerry was there. Those who I have talked to so far, in fact, say he wasn't there. Kerry himself says basically he doesn't think that he was there.

GIBSON: My understanding of this from other reading is that when things like that happen — you're right, one guy stood up in a meeting and said maybe we ought to have a domestic Phoenix Program, and that was the kind of thing that was going on in Vietnam Veterans Against the War meetings that caused Kerry to say I'm done, I'm out of here.

KRANISH: There were certainly things — I don't know if it was that particular thing, but there were certainly other things, John, that were going on, and he did leave because he felt it was becoming so radical that he wanted to disassociate himself from it. He had already run for Congress once in a very brief way in 1970. He planned to do so again in 1972. Both runs were unsuccessful, by the way. But he didn't want to become associated with a group that was so radical that it would make it impossible for him to be elected to political office. However, it's very important to note that the reason he became well known and is well known today was because of his leadership of the same group. So certainly, he got a lot of benefit out of this. That's why he became a national figure basically overnight, because he did become a leader of this group, which had been formed about four years before he joined it.

GIBSON: All right. Michael Kranish, one of the co-authors of "John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography" by Boston Globe reporters. Mr. Kranish, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

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