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Scientology spies coming forward to spill their guts, then and now: A key example from the past

[Robert Dardano, at the 1982 Clearwater Hearings]

In our book about Scientology’s harassment of Paulette Cooper, we spent some time talking about a Massachusetts man named Robert Dardano who volunteered for Scientology’s “Guardian’s Office.” Dardano’s testimony was key for understanding how Scientology continued to spy on Paulette in the mid-1970s, even after she had managed to escape the church’s attempt to frame her on federal charges in 1973. Now, historian Chris Owen has written about additional details from the Dardano story, based on Dardano’s sworn testimony and other documents. After Chris’s piece, we have a brief update on the item for you.

 
Robert Louis Dardano, a Boston Scientologist who joined the Guardian’s Office in 1974, lived in a rented house near Boston with several other GO volunteers who called themselves “Eric’s 11” after the code name that one of them used. He initially worked as a volunteer for the Overt Data Collections (ODC) section of the Boston office of the GO, alongside four or five other people. As the name suggests, ODC was responsible for obtaining information overtly – essentially material that was in the public domain. Dardano and his colleagues used public libraries to obtain public records on individuals who were influential in public life in Boston and might become valued allies or troublesome enemies. They included people such as Boston’s Mayor Kevin White, the heads of Boston banks, members of Congress and the Massachusetts Senate, owners of the TV and radio stations in Boston, and local judges and lawyers. The ODC volunteers looked for information on what ties their targets had and what groups they were connected to, such as which Boards of Directors they sat on and whether they had interests in media outlets.

Other volunteers worked for the Boston GO’s operations section to carry out attacks on Scientology’s enemies, such as writing anonymous letters to discredit them. The letters were written using stolen typewriters, which were used for a short time before being destroyed and replaced. The operatives did everything using plastic gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.

A third group of operatives worked for the Boston GO’s Covert Data Collection (CDC) section, to which Dardano was eventually promoted. They obtained information under cover by infiltrating a variety of target organisations who were expected to either have dealings of some sort that involved Scientology, or were targeted for ideological reasons. According to Dardano, they infiltrated the Lindemann Mental Health Center, the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer’s Council, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Consumer Department of the Massachusetts Attorney General, the federal government’s Law Enforcement Assistance Association, and a law firm working for the Boston Globe newspaper. The church provided Dardano’s team with lock-picking tools and electronic equipment for carrying out surveillance operations, along with training materials for their use.

The Boston CDC team’s infiltrations were carried out for a variety of offensive and defensive purposes. The Boston Globe infiltration, carried out through a cleaning company, targeted the law firm of Bingham, Dana and Gould to obtain access to legal files concerning the newspaper. At the time, the Globe was being sued by the Church of Scientology over an article that it objected to and its reporter John Wood was working on a second article. As well as stealing documents from the law firm, the operatives put Wood under surveillance to discover his daily routine and contacts. They considered framing him by planting a weapon in his van following the passage of a strict gun control law in Massachusetts which mandated a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone found to be illegally carrying a firearm. However, as far as Dardano was aware, ultimately they did not take any action against Wood.

Other infiltrations had a more strictly defensive character, intended to provide early warning of complaints, investigations, and other potential legal problems. The GO created a web of espionage across Boston that was intended to detect and deflect anyone complaining about Scientology to the media, the federal and state authorities, or consumer groups. One of the Boston operatives, George Bristol, used his role in the Attorney General’s office to spot possible attacks on Scientology and report them back to the GO for “handling.” As Dardano put it, Bristol was “sitting there and he’s handling all Scientology cases [from the general public]. So, it was just “Fine, ma’am, we’ll take care of it,” and it wouldn’t go anywhere from there. Anything that was even a hint or a mention of Scientology was brought out, as much information as — we would immediately look into that individual that brought up the issue of Scientology and he was completely investigated to find out what he did. We put people under surveillance to find out where they were going and what they would do.”

One attack that Bristol managed to spot and deflect came, ironically enough, from Dardano’s own mother and the mothers of two other Scientologists who were upset about their children’s involvement in Scientology. The three women were seeking to persuade Boston’s WCVB Channel 5 television station to run a critical report on Scientology. Dardano and the other Scientologists were sent to “handle” their mothers and persuaded them to sign releases stating that they would never attack the church. In another operation, Dardano infiltrated the Rhode Island branch of the World Mental Health Association, posing as the distressed brother of a Scientologist in an effort to discover whether the doctors there were intent on attacking Scientology. He found no evidence to suggest that was the case. He also infiltrated the staff of Massachusetts State Senator Jack Backman, working as a volunteer in his office.

The Boston branch of the Better Business Bureau was another major target for its role in dealing with consumer complaints. It had received many complaints about Scientology and was seen by the GO as a potential threat. The GO had as many as four operatives in the Boston BBB in 1974-75. It considered the operation a major success, as the Boston BBB’s head was deterred from moving against the church. While he had enough manpower to consider taking action, he was unable to get enough evidence or wherewithal to bring a case, and according to Dardano his attitude towards the church “mellowed” over time. The GO operatives in the BBB office would intercept complaints from members of the public about Scientology, turn them round and send them back with no resolution. Paradoxically, though, this did not leave the complainants unsatisfied, as they believed that they had managed to reach someone in the Better Business Bureau who would be working on their complaints. They would presumably have been much less happy had they known that their complaints were being smothered by undercover Scientologists.

The GO’s Boston CDC team considered its greatest success to be the infiltration of the office of a psychiatrist who was treating Paulette Cooper, the New York journalist who the church considered its chief enemy at the time. Two operatives burgled the office and stole her patient records in early 1975. The GO was delighted with the results and awarded the Boston team a commendation which was read to them by their commanding officer, Bill Foster. The operatives were supposed to return the stolen file so that the theft would not be detected. However, they forgot to do this and the file was left “kicking around” the house where the operatives lived. It was eventually returned covertly and deliberately misfiled under the wrong patient’s name in an attempt to cover up the theft. (For more about this part of the story, the targeting of Paulette’s records in the burglarizing of the office of psychiatrist Stanley Cath, see Tony’s book.)

The operatives worked initially from their rented house in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, but moved into an office on the top floor of the Boston Scientology org in Beacon Street in February 1975. Every week they would photocopy the intelligence they had obtained or stolen, and compile it into weekly reports, using code names and cover names. These were passed on by Foster to Gerald “Deac” Finn, a more senior GO official who he would meet weekly in the Copley Square area of the city. The two would discuss the past week’s activity and any new programs that had to be implemented. The team’s intelligence reports and collections were passed “uplines” to the GO’s continental office in Los Angeles and its headquarters in England – on occasion, flown there directly via a courier at the airport. The Boston operatives received instructions verbally or in typed or handwritten notes which were destroyed immediately after being received.

The Boston GO’s run of successes came to an abrupt halt in March 1975, when its plant in the Attorney General’s office blew his cover by requesting information on Scientology from the Department of Justice. He was detained and questioned by the authorities. This prompted the GO’s US head office in Los Angeles to order a damage limitation exercise to contain the church’s potential legal exposure. It found serious security violations in the way that the Boston GO was operating. The GO’s protocol called for its volunteers to stay strictly separate, so that if an individual volunteer was exposed and questioned there was less risk of other operations being compromised as a result. The Boston volunteers were violating this basic rule of operational security in the most obvious and gratuitous ways – sharing a house, living together, discussing supposedly compartmentalized operations freely and passing around operational documents. The team was broken up following Bristol’s exposure and its members were ordered to scatter to other locations across the United States.

Bill Foster, as the head of the team, had the most legal exposure, but he became anxious that the church intended to cut him loose and deny any connection with him in order to hide its own role in his activities. He contacted a friend, Scott Mayer, who was a senior officer in the Sea Org, and asked for help. Mayer confirmed with Bob Raimer, the head of the Guardian’s Office in Boston, that Foster had been one of his operatives. Mayer then used his authority as the church’s senior executive authority on the eastern seaboard to get Foster out of the country and into a Scientology mission in Canada. According to Mayer, Foster was still there seven years later, waiting for the statute of limitations to expire. His decision caused a row between the Sea Org and the Guardian’s Office; Mayer recalled that “all hell broke loose” after his intervention. The episode illustrated how the GO and Sea Org operated at this time as two distinct, and occasionally rivalrous, poles of power within Scientology.

Dardano himself left Scientology soon afterwards after being subjected to a series of brutal interrogations when he came under suspicion over the compromising of the Boston GO operation. A few years later, when asked what his justification at the time was for his burglarizing and stealing of files, he replied: “I thought Scientology was going to save the planet and free the world and we were right and everyone else was wrong.”

— Chris Owen

 
Thanks for that look back at “Eric’s 11” and the spying activities in the Boston area, Chris. This week we called up Robert Dardano, who still lives in Massachusetts, and told him we would be very interested in interviewing him about his days in Scientology and what he’s been doing in the years since.

“I don’t believe I can,” he told us, and referred to the settlement of a lawsuit in the 1980s. We told him we appreciated his situation, and thanked him for letting us know that he couldn’t talk.

One more point we want to make about the spying activities by Dardano and his Guardian’s Office colleagues in the 1970s: Our recent story about Cierra Westerman shows that the Church of Scientology is still using the same methods today. They’re still obtaining documents in questionable ways, stalking ex-members, and yes, even planting spies in the homes of people the church considers enemies.

One thing you learn in this business of watching Scientology — it never changes its ways.

— T.O.

 
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Make your plans now!

Head over to our HowdyCon 2018 website to start making your travel plans!

 

 
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Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,017 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,620 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 163 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,226 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,000 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,774 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,120 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,614 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,654 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,366 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 892 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,981 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,121 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,441 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,416 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 772 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,074 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,180 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,583 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,455 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,037 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,542 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,786 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,895 days.

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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on February 6, 2018 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

 

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