"Poynter is a millionaire: Does he have a butler, maid, cook, shofer (sic), gardener, etc. Put an FSM onto one of these things and get the low down on he and his wife."
That cryptic note, with no addressee or signature, was among the thousands of Church of Scientology documents recently released in connection with the trial of nine Scientologists in a federal court in Washington.
Poynter? Nelson Poynter, late chairman of the board of The St. Petersburg Times. FSM? Church lingo for a secret agent, a spy.
Obviously that note was just one small paragraph in a huge ongoing program of the Guardian Office of the Church of Scientology to "handle" The St. Petersburg Times, the organization it placed at the top of its enemies list in the Clearwater area in the early days of 1976.
Times reporter Bette Orsini discovered that January that the new owner of the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater was the Church of Scientology of California, and that United Churches of Florida, which had moved into the hotel in December, was a Scientology front. The Times was preparing to print her story when, on Jan. 28, Scientology announced it was the new owner.
The Times came quickly to the attention of the guardians of the publicity-shy church because of Mrs. Orsini's stories on Scientology's background and the stories of reporters Susan Denley and Ardith Hilliard on the developing controversy between the church and the citizenry of Clearwater.
But the church already knew a great deal about The Times.
Two months earlier, on Nov. 18, 1975, a "missionaire" names Sandy provided church officials with a six-page rundown on the history of The Times and the backgrounds of its owner, Nelson Poynter, and executives.
The Guardian Office struck quickly with its standard plan for silencing -- or attempting to silence -- newspapers that write about it. On Feb. 4, Clearwater attorney Jack F. White Jr., representing the Church of Scientology of California, sent a letter to The Times and Mrs. Orsini.
"Gentlemen," it began, "This is your notice under Chapter 770.01, Florida Statutes, that our clients intend to institute action against you for libel, including disparagement of title to real property and possibly for invasion of privacy, for the following publication, which we consider libelous." It cited two paragraphs of a story by Mrs. Orsini in which she described the workings of an E-meter, a device used by the church in auditing.
The letter was a threat of suit; no suit was filed.
Documents released by the federal court in Washington show that on Feb. 11 -- one week after that threat was made -- Duke Snider, deputy deputy guardian U.S., wrote Henning Heldt, deputy guardian U.S., that he had come up with an excellent defence should anyone accuse the church of trying to silence The Times.
"There are 3 papers here, the CW Sun, St. Pete Times, Tampa Tribune," he said. "The CW Sun and St. Pete Times printed the most stuff. Tampa ran a lesser amount but still some entheta (translation: unfavorable publicity).
"When we sent out the letters threatening libel we did not have time to get around to the Tribune, they had printed less, but still some entheta and we wanted to go over their articles more carefully."
Just that day, he said, his office was preparing to send a letter to the Tribune threatening a suit, but then his plan came to mind.
"So with the Tribune (Tampa)," Snider said, "we do not threaten any action but just let PR (public relations) handle. As a defence we then point to them and say 'We didn't threaten them or try to shut them up, it's just those who are completely unreasonable or unfair and despite all our best efforts will not stop printing falsehoods that require us to take recourse to legal action'."
On Feb. 12, The St. Petersburg Times and reporters Orsini, Denley and Hilliard filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court charging that the Church of Scientology of California, United Churches of Florida, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, and Sorel Allen, United Churches' membership director, "have conspired ... to harass, intimidate, frighten, prosecute, slander, defame" Times employees. It asked the court to enjoin them from further harassment.
The suit did not faze the Guardian Office. It accelerated its plans for The Times.
In his weekly report of Feb. 19, Joe, the acting guardian for information at Flag -- the church headquarters in the Fort Harrison -- said an agent of the church had applied for employment at The Times. (A month later, a letter to Snider from Dick Weigand showed the priority the church was placing in its operations against The Times. Weigand's letter said that Snider "asked for a chart of enemy lines used up to this point for CW attack after research of the files was done ... from this I see the areas of priority to infiltrate are 1. SPT (translation: St. Petersburg Times), 2. Mayor, 3. Channel 13 TV, 4. Snyder (meaning radio broadcaster Robert Snyder), 5. Florida Attorney General and 6. Florida State Attorney (Russell).")
Joe also said he was trying to get information from the law firm representing The Times.
"We have located a potential FSM (covert agent) who meets the qualifications to be a legal secretary and we will be checking her out for possible placement," he said.
There was fear that Hubbard would be served with a subpoena in The Times' suit, but that had been handled, Joe said. "The defendant of the suit is no longer in the area to get served along with Sorel Allen, who left as well."
The Guardians were successful in getting confidential information from the files of Baynard, McLeod, Lang and Ballard, the law firm representing The Times. It was never established whether the information was obtained by a Scientologist employed by the firm or by burglary.
On March 7, Tom Ritchie, the collections officer for Flag, circulated to other church offices a 13-page "raw data report" on the contents of The Times' file at the law firm.
The report began: "William Ballard of Baynard, McLeod, Lang & Ballard, the attorneys for the St. Pete Times, is working off the following data in their case against us." The report cited articles about Scientology that The Times had collected, memoranda of Times' reporters and editors, memoranda on reporters' interviews, letters from Ballard to John M. Bray of the Washington law firm representing The Times, and so on.
One citation was prophetic. It concerned an Orsini memorandum on an interview with Paulette Cooper who wrote a book about Scientology and was given full enemy treatment by the church. Among the portions of the Orsini memorandum quoted in the "raw data report" was this: "She warned me that the Scientologists send anonymous smear letters."
One day later, Ritchie was reporting on "Bette Orsini Notes to Bill Ballard," a lengthy distillation of a series of memoranda from the reporter to the attorney for use in connection with The Times lawsuit.
In Washington, Scientology agents ransacked The Times' file in the law firm of Arent Fox Kinter Plotkin & Kahn. According to a government document, "At least three burglaries were committed during the early months of 1976" at the law office. "These burglaries and thefts of documents were carried out pursuant to the orders of defendant Mitchell Hermann. In February 1976 two entries were made into the office of Jack Bray and his secretary at the above-mentioned law firm, the first one by Richard Kimmel, the acting assistant guardian for information in the District of Columbia, and the second one by Kimmel and Michael Meisner." On each occasion, according to the document, papers relating to The Times lawsuit against the Scientologists were taken.
The March 11 weekly report of the D.C. information office stated: "Information was obtained from the DC law firm representing the Times Publishing Company. This information included a 60-page timetrack of activities by Bette Orsini, the entheta (translation: giving the church bad publicity) writer with The Times; data indicating that the suit was quickly filed at the behest of Nelson Poynter to 'gain the initiative'; information about Orsini's sources including Paulette Cooper, the Liebermans (connected with the psychological kidnapping scene), AMA, FDA, etc. ..."
The same report said that additional data collection on Nelson Poynter had been carried out in D.C.
From their research, the guardians knew that Times President Gene Patterson was second in command and would likely succeed Poynter as chief executive officer of the firm. Guardian Randy Windment proposed to cause a split in the top management of The Times by discrediting Patterson with Poynter. He called his proposal Operation Fickle.
The complex plan called for a woman, posing as a relative gathering information for a political science student, to call Mrs. Patterson and tape an interview with her. The questions would be cleverly phrased so the answers could be made to appear critical of Poynter's management of The Times. The interview would be leaked to "an enemy paper."
"If the OP went down perfectly as planned," Windment said, "it would cause both Patterson and Poynter to be the laughing stocks of the newspaper world."
But Windment's superior, G.W., refused to approve it. "I'm not at all certain this OP, even if done all the way through without bugs, would have enough of an affect (sic) to make it worth the resources expended," he said. "... Would anyone really be interested in such a story -- and if so I think that media person would check directly with Mrs. Patterson to discuss the 'controversy' at which point Mrs. Patterson would deny that she meant such and such ..."
In the April edition of FREEDOM, the newspaper of Scientology, "A Freedom Special Report" stated that Poynter "was allegedly an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency." There were accompanying photographs of security equipment at The Times and a caption that said "extensive security measures suggest something more high-powered than routine newspaper functions."
The August/September edition of FREEDOM said The Times was included on a list of organizations connected with the CIA by "a West Coast publication, the News Novel."
Patterson sent a copy of the FREEDOM article to George Bush, then director of the CIA. Bush replied that the charge that Poynter worked for his agency was false.
"I would be remiss if I didn't make one additional comment, which is totally unrelated to Mr. Poynter," Bush said. "I think it is a sorry state of affairs when a person can be 'smeared' by an allegation that he worked for the CIA. I recognize the sensitivity between journalists and CIA, and indeed we have taken steps here to make things better; but I still come back to the fact that it is a shame when the climate is such that cooperating with the CIA in some way leaves one open to a 'smear' attack."
During World War II Poynter served as a deputy to Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services. In this capacity he helped to activate the U.S. information agency that founded the Voice of America.
Early in 1977, The Times dropped its suit against the church. The company announced it was doing so rather than present evidence that could have harmed an innocent third party.
Paulette Cooper had been right in her warning to Bette Orsini. The church had used an anonymous smear letter to hit reporter Orsini from the blind side.