The Guardians of Scientology called their scheme to "restrain Orsini" Operation Bunny Bust.
It is worthy of full description, now that its dimensions have been laid out in Scientology documents made public by a federal court in Washington. For it demonstrates the callous disregard of the Church of Scientology's Guardian Office for the innocent when it embarks on an operation against someone it has decided is an enemy.
St. Petersburg Times reporter Bette Orsini had dug deeply into the background of Scientology and its founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, in the early weeks of 1976. She was writing a great deal about them. In their new offices in the old Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, the Guardians placed her near the top of their enemies list.
They were aware of the scope of her investigations. "Silver," their secret agent in the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service in Washington who spent his weekends copying IRS documents and passing them along to the Guardian Office, came across the tracks of Mrs. Orsini's investigation.
He supplied them, for example, with a copy of a February 1976 letter from reporter Orsini to Richard Arter, public affairs officer of the Philadelphia Service Center, requesting copies of the applications submitted by 14 churches of Scientology for tax exempt status.
On Jan. 26, 1976, two days before the Church of Scientology acknowledged that it was the new owner of the Fort Harrison Hotel, the assistant guardian for information at Flag -- the church headquarters occupying the hotel -- outlined in a letter to the deputy guardian for information U.S. a program "to get Bette Orsini removed from a position of power and attack at The St. Petersburg Times.
Scientologist Joe Lisa suggested to Dick Weigand that an agent posing as an aide to some local Mafia figure go to the Times office and leave $100 for Mrs. Orsini with an editor, hinting that it was a payoff to her for supplying the Mafia with information from Times files. There is no indication that "Operation Information" was ever attempted.
On Feb. 4, the church did threaten Mrs. Orsini and The Times with a libel suit. The Times retaliated eight days later by filing suit to enjoin the church from harassing Mrs. Orsini and other Times' reporters.
The suit never came to trial. Early in 1977, Editor and President Eugene Patterson announced The Times was withdrawing the lawsuit.
"We made no deals with the Scientologists whatsoever," Patterson said. "There was no settlement. We simply instructed our attorneys to file a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice, rather than risk bringing harm to a completely innocent organization that might have lacked the means to defend itself against the Scientologists."
It can now be told that the organization was the Easter Seal Society for Crippled Children and Adults of Pinellas County Inc.
On July 15, 1976, Dick Weigand informed Morris (Mo) Budlong, deputy guardian for information worldwide, that information had been collected on Mrs. Orsini.
"Preliminary investigation into her husband Andrew Orsini who is the head of Easter Seal of Pinellas County uncovered that the group had their corporation dissolved by the Florida Secretary of State in 1972-1973 for not filing an annual report. A project has been drawn up and is now being implemented to show Easter Seal Society that Orsini (the executive secretary) has been operating as a fraud and has broken laws. This data is intended for a PR (public relations) attack."
The operation began that November when an anonymous letter was mailed to various newspapers in Florida and to the St. Petersburg Consumer Affairs Department, the St. Petersburg Charitable Solicitations Board and the state attorney's office. The letter purported to be from a wealthy businessman.
It began: "I have, for many years, supported worthwhile charitable causes which benefit the handicapped, mentally retarded and the needy. Not just for personal reasons guaranteed me under law for tax purposes but because I always cared about the less fortunate than myself, both financially and physically. I have in the past donated large amounts of money to one such organization which, until recently, I thought was a worthwhile group."
Recently, this "businessman" said, he had been informed by his attorney that his contributions to the Easter Seal Society might not be tax deductible. He said he had begun "an exhaustive independent probe" that found criminal misconduct in the financial and administrative affairs of the Easter Seal Society. The letter called for the issuance of an arrest warrant for Executive Director Orsini and his prosecution. It was accompanied by copies of documents from the Florida secretary of state's office.
The Times assigned reporter Chris Cubbison to investigate the allegations. He found them false. The charges were constructed around an administrative mistake. The state had sent the Easter Seal Society's franchise tax form to the wrong address, the tax was not paid, the corporate charter was revoked as forfeited, and the society was dissolved by proclamation. The error had been remedied by payment of the fee long before the Scientologists moved into Clearwater.
Bette Orsini was assigned to trace the source of the letter. She found that someone had purchased copies of the secretary of state's complete file on the Easter Seal Society on July 12-13, 1976. She traced the money order used for payment to Ben A. Shaw, and found that he had represented himself to the Division of Licensing in Miami as a reporter for a University of Florida newspaper. Shaw was, in fact, administrative assistant to the president of the Church of Scientology of Florida.
He was subpoenaed and a deposition was taken. Shaw denied he had written the anonymous letter and claimed he knew nothing about it. He gave as his reason for spending $52 of Scientology funds to copy the entire Easter Seal Society file that it somehow pertained to an investigation of Pinellas County State Attorney James Russell's connection with the society. However, he could not explain anything he had done or planned to do with the information. He said he had given copies to one other person who he refused to name.
In a file memorandum, John M. Bray, a Washington attorney representing The Times, related the attack on the Easter Seal Society to Scientology policies of founder L. Ron Hubbard. He said:
"The technique of using anonymous or covert methods to destroy an enemy's reputation is a Hubbard tactic called 'Black Propaganda.' Instruction in the use of this technique is contained in a set of books used by all Scientology organizations ... This policy directive states that 'the most involved employment of PR (public relations) is its covert use in destroying the repute of individuals and groups. More correctly, this is technically called BLACK PROPAGANDA. Basically, it is an intelligence technique.' He cautions that 'it can be a serious error to cross intelligence and PR.' 'Noisy Investigations' are described as follows ...: "When we investigate we do so noisily always. And usually mere investigation damps out the trouble even when we discover no really pertinent facts ... Remember, intelligence we get with a whisper. Investigation we do with a yell. Always ...'
"Finally, there is the following blunt description of the technique: 'The technique is: A hidden source injects lies and derogatory data into public view.'"
Reporter Orsini traced other documents obtained in Tallahassee to R. Wanda Martin who lived in an apartment at 704 1/2 Oak Avenue in Clearwater. A divorcee, she was a former Navy Department employee who had moved to Clearwater in late '75 or early '76 and taken a job with the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce. She gave as a reference Hubbert Alan of Hollywood, Calif., who was found to be a "minister" of Scientology.
Her roommate in Clearwater was June Phillips (also known as June Byrne) from England, who was employed by the Clearwater Sun.
In April 1977, Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of Scientology's founder and commodore staff guardian, wrote Weigand: "Please explain what the scene is -- was the same person used in the Easter Seal scene used at the CW Sun and also used in the AMA (American Medical Association)? What are the liabilities here?"
On May 12, Weigand replied: "Basically the scene is that we had two agents one in the CW Sun and one in the CW Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce agent was used in the Easter Seal operation, not the CW Sun agent but the clincher is that both of these agents were in the AMA and had previously been blown." He said the liabilities of the situation were that agents Martin and Phillips could be traced back to Mike Meisner in Washington.
Meisner, the supervisor of "Silver" and other church agents who had infiltrated government agencies in Washington, was then being sought by the FBI on a fugitive warrant.
Weigand explained to Mrs. Hubbard that June Phillips had been placed at the American Medical Association offices in Washington in 1974, where she stole AMA documents relating to Scientology, but was pulled out in 1975 when her connection with the church became known. She was sent to Clearwater where she worked as a church agent at the Sun. Wanda Martin, or Jodie, was also placed at AMA but transferred to Clearwater after her connection with the church became known.
Weigand said the situation was alarming. "The chain does lead to Orsini uncovering a Church operative network that could be used as a handle for a Grand Jury investigation of the Church activities which would include the Meisner/Silver scene."
Before Bette Orsini could connect the Bunny Bust operatives to a church espionage network, however, Meisner surrendered to the FBI. Information he supplied led to raids on "church" offices in which documents were seized that led to indictment of 11 Scientologists, including Mary Sue Hubbard.