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Robin Hood or Outlaw?; Breaking the Law to Expose FBI Abuses; Imagine a World

Aired January 17, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

And this week marks a significant turn in the U.S. approach to domestic and foreign spying, as President Obama makes a major speech, laying out reforms sparked by the leaks of the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.

And later in the program, we'll look back at another moment when a major disclosure changed U.S. surveillance practices.

But first, three years ago this week, the Tunisian president, strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown. It was the first scalp of the Arab Spring, which then quickly spread to countries like Egypt, where the struggle for democracy, as we know, still continues, voting on a new constitution this week has led to violence, death and hundreds of arrests.

The unity that brought down dictator Hosni Mubarak is far from sight and that is also at the heart of Libya's post-revolution struggle. Ever since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, elected leaders have struggled to bring that country together and perhaps no one illustrates the post-war woes better than 32-year-old Ibrahim al-Jadran.

In 2012, he was entrusted by the government to guard Libya's crucial eastern oil ports.

But last July, he went rogue, seizing the ports and demanding more autonomy and shared revenues for his eastern region, which he calls by its ancient Roman name, Cyrenaica.

The government has issued warrants for his arrest. This week I spoke to him in an exclusive interview about his goals.


AMANPOUR: Ibrahim Jadran, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

IBRAHIM JADRAN, PETROLEUM FACILITIES GUARD (through translator): You're welcome, Madam Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Jadran, the government says that you are wanted on at least two criminal charges. They say that there are the charges of using weapons and arms to blockade economic installations that belong to the state and the theft or the attempted theft because you've been trying to sell these -- what they call illegal shipments of oil.

They say that they will use force if necessary to make sure that this situation ends.

JADRAN (through translator): First of all, I'd like to emphasize that the government is not able to defend itself. We gave them three years to rebuild the institutions but they were not able to do that or to secure the average citizen.

This is a government whose prime minister was kidnapped. How could it secure or start the offensive of anything? This is a government of corruption and a government that's accused of all types of corruption.

This government has allowed Libya to become one of the most corrupted five states in the world and we'd like to emphasize that such a government is not able to use force and, as far as we are concerned, we are able to use force and protect ourselves and protect the food of Libyans.

The real solution here is a fair distribution of wealth and fair distribution of decision-making to activate the federalism, the real federal system, an administrative federal system for all three provinces of Libya and to build a government which takes care of the rebuilding of army and the building of police and the financial aspects.

AMANPOUR: You accuse this government of corruption and you say that it can't defend itself.

Don't you see the irony?

And do you accept responsibility for being one of those who have helped create the chaos, one of those who have refused to enter into a central government, one of those who have decided to have your own militia and do your own thing?

How can that be good for the future of a united and stable country?

JADRAN (through translator): First of all, we used to be part of that government until the corruption became so visible and the government started to sell oil without measuring units.

And after we became certain that such a government is not credible and unable to rebuild the state, that's why we declared independence of our province and we started to seek our fair rights.

AMANPOUR: Meantime, the oil revenue has been plummeting. Your country is losing billions of dollars in oil revenue. And you cannot get this oil out because other countries, other companies won't do business with you. And so far, you haven't managed to export this oil.

The Libyan navy, the Libyan government, such as it stands, has already fired warning shots to get one of the oil tankers that was coming towards your port to move and to not dock and to not take on any oil.

JADRAN (through translator): First of all, there is no Libyan navy because the Libyan navy and the Libyan army are not capable of defending themselves. The incident that you just mentioned, we don't have any information about that.

AMANPOUR: Who will you find to buy the oil that's in the eastern province?

Who are the buyers?

JADRAN (through translator): I cannot disclose details. The details are kept by the executive bureau of the Cyrenaica province. They are the ones who have the details.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Jadran, as you know, there is a lot of concern about the influx of Islamists, of militants, of terrorists into Libya with all the chaos that's going on.

What is your relationship with the Islamists? What position do you take?

JADRAN (through translator): As we said clearly from the beginning, we said that one of the reasons why we stopped the oil export is that oil has become a method to finance those organizations. We will not allow those groups to take safe haven in Libya and allow Libya to become another Iraq, another Syria or Afghanistan.

We are aspiring to a state of institutions and law and order, a state of prosperity and human rights. We will not allow Libya to become a safe haven for international terrorism. We will not allow this to happen at all.

AMANPOUR: Now, Mr. Jadran, you have claimed that you have your own army, something like 17,000 or 20,000 fighters.

Is that really true? There are many people, including the Libyan government and outside experts, who simply can't believe that that's true.

JADRAN (through translator): The truth is this number is true. We have about 23,000 troops. We have navy troops; we have army and as far as paying salaries to them, we are about to start exporting oil so that we could pay the salaries.

AMANPOUR: Can you try to be specific on who is funding you and where you are getting your money from?

JADRAN (through translator): Until now, we don't have any finance coming except for businessmen who believe in our cause.

For the last four or five months, five months actually, our soldiers have not been paid their salaries but because they believe in their cause, they are still committed to it and that's why they are taking and persevering.

And we have no source of finance except the businessmen who share the belief that we have in our cause, which is to secure the rights of the -- of the Libyan citizens in Cyrenaica.

AMANPOUR: So how long can this continue if you have very little finance right now and you'll probably run out?

JADRAN (through translator): We are determined to export oil in order to secure finance for the military, the police and the administration, particularly the troops that protect the oil facilities. But we'll do that in the near future.

AMANPOUR: Ibrahim Jadran, thank you very much for joining me.

JADRAN (through translator): Thank you, ma'am, thank you.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, long before Edward Snowden and the NSA, the FBI was spying on U.S. civil rights activists and opponents of the Vietnam War. In that pre-digital age, all it took was a crowbar and eight ordinary free people to break in and steal the secrets. You'll meet two of the conspirators and hear their amazing story when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to our weekend edition.

President Obama has laid out his reforms for the National Security Agency after a special panel investigating Edward Snowden's leaks called for new limits on the nation's intelligence agencies. This isn't the first time that stolen files have forced a major shakeup.

Back in 1971 a group of anti-Vietnam activists broke into an FBI office in suburban Philadelphia. They were ordinary citizens, college professors, day care workers and taxi drivers.

And one night while most of America was riveted by the historic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, they staged a major heist that would reveal a pattern of FBI spying and dirty tricks against American citizens and activists.

Despite a massive FBI manhunt, the burglars were never caught; the statute of limitations ran out and their identities were never known until now.

Journalist Betty Medsger was the first to report the story, and she's just published her book called "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI."

Betty joined me in the studio earlier this week, along with John and Bonnie Raines, a married couple amongst the burglars, who had kept their story secret for more than 40 years.


AMANPOUR: Welcome, all of you, to the program. Thank you for joining me.

It is really an extraordinary thing that I read that you all did.

John, what was your motivation for actually robbing the FBI office?


JOHN RAINES, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, the motivation really came out of my early participation in the civil rights movement. I was a Freedom Rider.

We were made very much aware, those of us involved in the civil rights movement, that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI did not want that movement to succeed. They wanted -- he wanted the streets to be quiet.

AMANPOUR: What did you think you could do by robbing the office?

JOHN RAINES: J. Edgar Hoover was untouchable. He was either admired or he was feared in Washington. Nobody that we elected to supervise something like the FBI would do their work.

AMANPOUR: And you got all the paperwork and you were one of the first to break this story; now you've written this amazing book.

BETTY MEDSGER, AUTHOR: There was a lot that needed to be confronted.

First of all, we'd learned the basic philosophy of the FBI, how they - - how they operate. There was a statement that was extremely surprising.

AMANPOUR: And I'm going to quote it directly, "It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."

That was one of the documents that you found.

BONNIE RAINES, ANTIWAR ACTIVIST: Yes, that was one of the first ones.

AMANPOUR: So you felt that was sort of like a smoking gun about what they were doing?

BONNIE RAINES: It certainly was.

AMANPOUR: Let's go back to the beginning. It was a meticulously laid plan. I mean, it just reads unbelievably when we look at it today.

How did you think you were going to get away with it? You're not professional burglars.

The night that you decided to commit the robbery, how did you know that you would be able to case this joint, to get into this joint?

What do you have to do to make sure --


AMANPOUR: -- he's pointing at you, Bonnie.

What did you do?


JOHN RAINES: (INAUDIBLE) after the break-in, "Find me that woman," well, there she is.

AMANPOUR: What did that woman do?

BONNIE RAINES: I called the office and posed as a Swarthmore College student and said I was doing research on opportunities for women in the FBI and could I come in and interview the head of the office.

And they gave me an appointment and I tried to disguise my appearance, look like a college student --

AMANPOUR: Yes, we have a drawing of --

BONNIE RAINES: -- I was 29 at the time.

And they never noticed that I never took my gloves off the whole time I was there. I took my notes in my little notebook with gloves on. So it was --



BONNIE RAINES: No suspicions, no suspicion whatsoever.

And that gave us the confidence that we -- there were no security measures and that we would be able to go ahead and attempt to break in.

BETTY MEDSGER, AUTHOR: Yes, I just wanted to -- I want to emphasize that they had no idea whether they would find a single piece of paper of importance.

And I think this is important. They were willing to take this risk that could have led to many years in prison, sacrificing their freedom, without having any certainty that they were going to find anything significant.

And this is quite in contrast with the methods used by Edward Snowden today, when he's an insider. They were an outsider.

AMANPOUR: And additionally, you had young children.


AMANPOUR: How did you prepare yourselves and them for the possibility of being arrested and put away for a long time?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, we committed finally and agreed that both of us would participate, which was another level of jeopardy. We were not reckless in any regard and that it was our responsibility as citizens to take this action, even as parents of young children.

And I had a concern about the kind of society our children were going to grow up in and what would their future be.

JOHN RAINES, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: See, that's crucial. I mean, we're parents; we're also citizens, so that we have a double responsibility, yes, as parents to our children, but also as citizens to the nation those children are going to live in and have children in.

So we had those two responsibilities.

AMANPOUR: Who would have taken care of those children, if their parents had been sent to jail?

JOHN RAINES: My older brother, and we talked -- and we didn't tell him what we were going to do. But we said this is -- this could be a high jeopardy kind of thing.

Would you be willing if we are sent to jail?

AMANPOUR: Did you choose the night specifically?


BONNIE RAINES: That is a key factor. And yes, it was chosen, I think, once again, Bill, who was so strategic and smart, realized that we had an opportunity on the night of a huge championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

And that we -- it was our hope that people living in apartments in that building would be listening to it on their radio and perhaps the police would not be quite as vigilant. They would be listening to the fight as well.

AMANPOUR: And is that what you found?

JOHN RAINES: It worked.


JOHN RAINES: It worked.

AMANPOUR: The night that the actual burglars got in, having jimmied the lock with a crowbar, having collected all these papers, what did they do?

What did they find? What did they do? Where did they take the papers?

JOHN RAINES: Well, they took the papers to our station wagon, which was parked in the Swarthmore College, which was close by Media, where I was waiting, quite anxiously, I should say.


JOHN RAINES: And then we went to a fellowship farm, a Quaker place --



JOHN RAINES: -- about --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a conference center.

JOHN RAINES: -- about an hour west of the city and started sorting it.

I mean, all -- we had tables set up in this -- in the house that was - - that we had rented and all of a sudden, somebody would say, oh, oh, oh, look at this! Look at this! Look at this!

And we'd all run over there and, you know, it was within an hour, we knew we hit the jackpot.

AMANPOUR: For instance, the document that had the huge impact was one, apparently, an internal memo, talking about this thing, COINTELPRO.

What does it mean? What is COINTELPRO?

MEDSGER: An acronym for counterintelligence programs. It was a mere routing slip on top of a -- of an article, actually, about -- it was advice on how university administrators should come down hard on student protesters.

It was really one of the most vicious of Hoover's operations and it would involve dirty tricks, some of them violent, some of them resulted in death.

AMANPOUR: And was that also when Dr. Martin Luther King was under investigation, being blackmailed and all the rest of it?

Was that part of that?

MEDSGER: It was part of that. And the program against Dr. King was a -- went on for years. And one of the elements of that was an effort, a blackmail effort against him, trying to convince him to commit suicide just days before he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

AMANPOUR: It's incredible to think about it.

But what is also incredible is, as you say, it's the first that really got the ball moving in terms of reining in some of these rogue operations. Right?

MEDSGER: The existence -- the existence was absolutely unknown. And they --


AMANPOUR: After these investigations and hearings, it actually did make a difference. We have a -- from the "Church Committee Final Report," quote, "Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies and too much information has been collected."

So did you feel that what you did was a major success?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, we did. We finally felt that we had had the success that we -- that we hoped we would have and so that made us feel like we could turn the page and more or less return to our regular lives.

AMANPOUR: Well, could you talk to anybody about this?

BONNIE RAINES: No, no. We didn't talk to anyone.

AMANPOUR: You never talked to each other?


AMANPOUR: After the operation?

BONNIE RAINES: No, we didn't.

AMANPOUR: And then the statute of limitations ran out several years later.

JOHN RAINES: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And then you were home free.

JOHN RAINES: Well, we were home free; but by then our lives had gone on. I mean, we were -- we returned to what we were, citizens. And I was a teacher. Bonnie was a day care director. And our lives were very full.

AMANPOUR: And you, as we said, had these children.

What did they think their parents were doing when you were planning? I mean, did they -- did you have to educate them on how to keep quiet?

BONNIE RAINES: Just a little bit. But most of what we were doing was after their bedtime and we weren't out every single night doing casing. But we would have a sitter who would stay with them. And then we would always be back at home in time to get them up in the morning and drive car pool, just like a normal mommy.


MEDSGER: I'd like to mention two other burglars had children also, Bill Davidon and plus one who has not come forward.

AMANPOUR: John and Bonnie, Betty, thank you very much. Fascinating story.

JOHN RAINES: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And there's also a documentary coming out later this year made by filmmaker Johanna Hamilton, called "1971," on this very subject.

And after a break, we'll take a closer look at the fight and the outspoken fighter that kept the FBI and the neighbors occupied while the break-in took place.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, that daring break-in at the FBI office back in March of 1971 as we said was timed to coincide with the prize fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which was taking place here at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Ironically, Ali himself had been the target of just this kind of secret surveillance. The burglars were searching for. And he was battling for more than a heavyweight crown.

Imagine a world where a boxer loses the fight of his life and comes out the winner. Back in 1960, as an 18-year-old amateur, a brash young boxer named Cassius Clay won an Olympic gold medal, becoming a national hero.

Four years later, he took on and defeated the unbeatable heavyweight champ Sonny Liston. But soon after Cassius Clay converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali and later he became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.


MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXING CHAMPION: My intention is to box, to win a clean fight, but in war, the intention is to kill, kill, kill, kill and continue killing innocent people.


ALI: That's what --

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In 1967, Ali put his career and convictions on the line, refusing to serve in the military. Convicted of draft evasion, his boxing license and passport were revoked and he couldn't fight for four long years at the peak of his powers.

And then in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction, setting up the so-called "Fight of the Century" between him and Joe Frazier. Ali lost that night, as we said, the night the burglars were raiding the FBI office. He lost in a 15-round decision. But he would go on to reclaim his crown and so much more.

By the time he retired, the fighter who called himself "The Greatest" had indeed become an inspiration to millions of people. And in 1996, with his physical powers so diminished by disease, he triumphantly returned to carry the torch and light the flame at the Atlanta Olympics. He was a champion in every sense of the word.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.