Freelance writer Paulette Cooper is a finely honed, long-haired accumulation of nervous energy. She was dressed with a New York flair that seemed out of context in the small windowless room in the grey dignity of the U.S. District Court building in Washington.
She sat beside me at a long table covered with cartons packed with some of the 33,000 documents seized from "Church" of Scientology files in 1977 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"If you see anything about Operation Freakout, please let me know," she said. More than once. Intensely.
Her obsession could be excused.
She had been living with it since the publication in 1971 of her book, The Scandal of Scientology, subtitled "A chilling examination of the nature, beliefs and practices of the 'now religion.'"
And from hearings in which the documents helped implicate U.S. cult leaders in criminal conspiracies, she had learned Operation Freakout was the code name for one of the Scientologists' obsessions -- her.
Around the table and squatting on the floor in the cramped stuffy room that day were nine other journalists, all from U.S. newspapers. A copying machine was rarely out of use.
Two young Scientologists from the cult publication Freedom were also examining the documents, which told a bizarre story of spying, theft and electronic bugging by the cult, and of blackmail, poison-pen letters, scandal-mongering and other kinds of harassment to silence critics.
A U.S. marshal posted in an anteroom kept looking through the door, and he checked all papers any of us took from the room.
Miss Cooper thought she was ready for anything she would find.
There were many documents about her. She could even joke about some. There was one giving the purpose of Operation Freakout -- "to get P.C. incarcerated in a mental institution or jail, or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks."
She'd had years to get ready for this day -- and the many more days she worked with the Scientologists' most secret files.
They had been nightmare years of borrowing money to defend herself against 14 lawsuits filed against her by the litigious cult, and to file counter- suits.
She told of finding evidence that her telephone was tapped. She received anonymous threats that she would be killed. Neighbors received disgusting hate letters about her, such as one saying: "Her tongue is noticeably swollen from an attack of venereal disease."
There were times when she considered suicide.
She lost the love of a male friend of six years, who said she had changed under the stress and was no longer fun to be with. His employers had received smear letters about him.
Other friends of Miss Cooper also were harassed. Some received phone calls saying they could be involved in legal action because of her.
And then came the topper. In May, 1973, she was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of making bomb threats against the "Church" of Scientology and of committing perjury by denying the accusations. There were threatening letters on her stationery and with her fingerprints on them.
Even her own lawyer urged her to confess. She refused. She passed a lie- detector test. She and a cousin told about the visit of a woman soliciting donations for a union fund, during which the woman never took off her gloves. A box of Miss Cooper's stationery was in the room. The bomb threat was reported the next day.
The charges were finally dropped; but she did not feel her name was cleared, she said, until the fall of 1977. That was when she learned from an FBI contact that evidence found in the July, 1977, raids on the Scientology offices showed it had all been a frameup.
I found one of the references to it in the files released by the Washington court that convicted nine U.S. Scientologists on charges related to theft of government documents and obstructing justice.
In one file was a letter dated June, 1974, from Dick Weigand to Henning Heldt, two of the leaders sentenced last month to four years in prison. Included in a review of an operative's past activities for the cult was the observation: "Conspired to entrap Mrs. Lovely (code name for Miss Cooper) into being arrested for a felony which she did not commit. She was arraigned for the crime."
The Mrs. Lovely name came up again and again. This time it was found by Miss Cooper as she sat beside me. "Oh, this is it," I heard her sigh.
She had in front of her pages of detailed reports from another cult operative. She had expected they might exist, but she hadn't been sure. He had, for a short while, been very close to her, and pretended to be in love with her.
She began to read them, but found that she could not brave the attempt there. Grim-faced, she duplicated them.
"I need to read these with friends beside me," she said. She did that evening at dinner with myself and Nan McLean, a close friend from Sutton, Ont., who's a former Scientologist.
In a log entry for a few days after her indictment for the bomb threat, the agent wrote: "We have Mrs. Lovely in a very perplexing position."
She read it aloud to us. But it was tough going. Much of it she read in silence.
In the words of the man to whom she had confided her most intimate memories, to whom she had given full trust, she read a description to his "church" leaders of how she had told him about her first youthful sexual awakening.
Another page referred to a time when, depressed about her problems, she had spoken one dark night about suicide.
The secret agent told his superiors that on the outside he was
sympathetic but inside he was laughing: "Wouldn't this be a
great thing for Scientology?"