The scope of it was astonishing.
For at least two years, Guardians of the Church of Scientology operated an espionage system that spanned America.
They were heavily involved on the Florida Suncoast in 1976 and early '77: Defaming the mayor of Clearwater, seeking to gag The St. Petersburg Times, the Clearwater Sun, and a stubborn radio talk show host, infiltrating an attorney's office and stealing files, framing schemes to embarrass St. Petersburg police.
But that was just one scene in a panorama.
Church documents released by a federal court in Washington show that the Guardian network linked Clearwater with Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and it was as busy as a beehive in honeysuckle season.
But the end was coming ...
There was no hint of it on Feb. 17, 1976, a routine day for the Guardians. That day they passed the word to the church's legal department to prepare a formal letter to the Clearwater Sun demanding a retraction and threatening a libel suit. That day, too, the deputy guardian for information U.S., Dick Weigand, sent a letter to the deputy guardian U.S., Henning Heldt, "Re: Yorty and Wayne."
"I believe that you had asked that a check be done for Sam Yorty and John Wayne in the 1361 agency's (Internal Revenue Service) files.
"Sam Yorty's file is attached ..."
However, Weigand said, the church's agent hadn't been able to locate the file for actor John Wayne. He said he would keep trying.
The letter was signed "Love, Dick."
Guardians always signed their letters "love."
The letter from Weigand to Heldt was giving the latest developments on Guardian Order 1361-3, which Weigand drafted and Heldt approved on Jan. 4, 1976. It directed a church agent to steal Los Angeles Internal Revenue Service (IRS) intelligence files on "celebrities, politicians and big names" so they could be leaked to the press.
Files on former California Gov. Edmund Brown, Gov. Edmund Brown Jr., Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and his wife, and singer Frank Sinatra were stolen and forwarded to Heldt and Weigand.
Heldt didn't want them around his office, however. He returned them to Weigand, telling him "I don't need such hot stuff in my files."
The documents do not reveal why the Scientologists wanted the IRS documents dealing with the "celebrities, politicians and big names." There also was no indication that the church had anything personal against these people.
In Washington's Rock Creek Park the night of March 14, Mike Meisner was the "victim" in a fake hit-and-run accident staged in an attempt to ruin Clearwater Mayor Gabriel Cazares. A night or two later, Meisner and Gerald Bennett Wolfe -- the agent "Silver" -- entered the IRS building at 1111 Constitution Ave. NW, flashing Wolfe's IRS identification card at the security guard.
Using a small piece of sheet metal, Wolfe forced the latch on the IRS identification room. Inside, Meisner found a booklet giving instructions on the use of the photographing machine. Wolfe took blank identification cards and typed in fictitious names -- two for himself and two for Meisner. They took the necessary photographs and made fake IRS ID cards.
In early April, the Clearwater edition of the church publication FREEDOM accused St. Petersburg Times owner Nelson Poynter of being an agent of the CIA. About that same time, the highest officials of the Guardian Office ordered the implementation of "Operation Devil's Wop." It was directed at Arizona Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who had supported various anti- cult groups. The goal of the operation was to leak to the press a false report linking the senator with organized crime.
And in Washington one evening in mid-April, Wolfe and Meisner showed their false ID cards as they entered the building housing offices of the International Operations Office of IRS. They went to the office of Thomas Crate, an auditor who had tax records of L. Ron and Mary Sue Hubbard, Scientology's founder and his wife. The door was locked. A cleaning woman thought they looked suspicious. She called a security guard.
Meisner and Wolfe showed the guard their fake ID cards, and he was satisfied. The cleaning woman then unlocked the office door for them. They found several thick files on the Hubbards and Scientology, but they couldn't find a photocopying machine.
They took the files to the main IRS building where they copied them, and then returned the originals to Crate's office.
Twice more before the end of May, Meisner and Wolfe returned to Crate's office, and both times the obliging cleaning woman let them in.
April 26, 1976: Sharon Thomas -- the driver of the car in the fake hit- and-run accident set up to discredit Cazares -- entered the office of Justice Department Attorney Paul Figley, who was supervising all Freedom of Information (FOI) cases. She copied all documents relating to a pending FOI lawsuit brought by Scientology against the Energy Research and Development Administration and gave the copies to Meisner. Two months later she managed to get assigned as Figley's secretary.
The Guardian's Office ground out one operation after another. In Washington, Wolfe and Miss Thomas carted off stacks of copies of IRS and Justice Department documents that they passed to Meisner who forwarded them to Guardian executives.
Feb. 3, 1977: Heldt wrote Weigand that the Guardians, in order to "ensure a win on the New York case against Hare Krishna leaders for Mind Control," must have the minutes of the grand jury because they were "vital to Legal's handling in the case and PR's actions." He told Weigand to obtain them "through legal or other means." A reply came the next day that legal means were out, "however, we have had some success (limited) in the past in getting this type of data thru the steno service which transcribes the testimony."
March 25, 1977: An order went out to all Guardians introducing the "red box system." All red box material was to be centrally located in a moveable container, ideally a briefcase, locked and marked and persons deputized to remove it from the premises in case of a raid. "This procedure will be drilled," the directive said. Red box material was defined as:
"(a) Proof that a Scnist is involved in criminal activities.
"(b) Anything that implicates MSH, LRH (the Hubbards).
"(c) Large amounts of non FOI docs.
"(d) Operations against any government group or persons.
"(e) All operations that contain illegal activities.
"(f) Evidence of incriminating activities.
"(g) Names and details of confidential financial accts."
June 24, 1977: A Guardian passed the word to other Guardian officials that he had recruited and placed an FSM -- covert agent -- as a reporter- researcher for Forbes magazine. "My FSM's name will appear on the masthead, starting with the issue of 15 July 1977," he said.
The end actually began -- if an end has a beginning -- on the evening of June 11, 1976.
The story is told in the uncontested evidence offered by the government at the Washington trial of nine Scientologists on conspiracy charges.
Meisner and Wolfe were sitting in the library of the U.S. Courthouse on John Marshall Place -- at the foot of Capitol Hill where Constitution Avenue intersects with Pennsylvania. They were waiting for a cleaning crew to get out of the office of Nathan Dodell -- an old foe of Scientology -- so they could steal Dodell's personal files in order to devise a covert operation to remove him as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
Two FBI agents, summoned by a suspicious night librarian, approached them and asked for identification. Meisner showed his IRS identification card. While agent Dan Hodges went to a telephone to call an assistant U.S. attorney, agent Christine Hansen questioned the two men. Meisner said he and Wolfe had been in the courthouse to do legal research and that they had used the photocopying machine in the U.S. attorney's office to copy legal books and cases.
After 15 minutes, Meisner inquired if they were under arrest. When agent Hansen said they were not, Meisner said they were leaving and he and Wolfe walked out.
The next day, Meisner flew to Los Angeles where he gave a full report of the incident to Guardian officials. "All parties recognized," in the words of U.S. attorneys who later described the moment in a Stipulation of Evidence, "that the highest priority lay in stopping the FBI investigation before it could connect the defendant Wolfe and Mr. Meisner to the Church of Scientology and thereby expose other officials of the Guardian's Office who had been involved in the burglaries, thefts, and buggings ..."
A cover story was devised and Wolfe was briefed. He was arrested in Washington on June 30 and charged with use and possession of a forged official pass of the United States. He later pleaded guilty.
He was called before a grand jury on July 28, where he stuck to his cover story, a story that did not mention Scientology. A few days later a warrant was issued for Meisner.
For the next 11 months, church officials harbored a fugitive. Meisner was moved from one location to another in the Los Angeles area. His appearance was changed. He grew restive and upset with his superiors. When he threatened to return to Washington, they held him prisoner.
On June 20, 1977, while his guards were away, Meisner left his apartment in Glendale, Calif., called the FBI, and surrendered to agents at a bowling alley. At 6 a.m., July 8, 134 FBI agents armed with search warrants and sledgehammers broke into church offices in Los Angeles, Hollywood and Washington. They carted off 48,149 documents -- thousands of them "red box material."
On Aug. 15, 1978, a grand jury in Washington indicted 11 Guardians -- from Mary Sue Hubbard at the top to Sharon Thomas at the lowest, agent level. They were accused of 28 counts of conspiracy, theft and burglary. Eventually, nine of them -- two are still fugitives -- were found guilty of one count each.
With their convictions, much of the documentary evidence seized in the 1977 FBI raid was made public.
That was the end.