My name is Terry Neist and I'm a retired FBI agent having served over 30 years. My role in the Camden 28 case was as a contact agent to Robert William Hardy, who came to the FBI and volunteered to bring us information about the Camden 28. I was one of two agents who contacted him daily as the group prepared to break into the draft board and I reported on this information.
Why did you join the FBI?
Well, I think looking back on it, I thought it would be ... one, it's a great organization, has a lot of pride, organization does a lot of important things for the country. I thought it would be an opportunity to do something exciting, to do things that were interesting. And to work with a great bunch of people. And I was not disappointed in any of these. All of these I found to be true beyond my expectations, especially the kind of people you work with in the FBI. And I'd do it all over again if I had the chance.
What did it mean to work for the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover?
Mr. Hoover had a great deal of independence. Under Mr. Hoover, although the FBI was always under the Department of Justice and Mr. Hoover really worked for the Attorney General, in reality he had direct contact with the White House. He would go to the Attorney General for something, and very often whatever he asked for he received.
I think the FBI does not have the same independence. It was a very proud organization under Hoover, as it is today. I think he created this. He was very concerned with image, with the public impression of the FBI. There were some things we thought we were either whimsical, but looking back they had a purpose. For instance, he would take the air conditioners out of bureau cars in the sixties and seventies, because everybody didn't have an air conditioner. A lot of things we thought were small and insignificant, but yet was all part of building an image. There was maybe a higher degree of discipline to some degree. You heard stories of the guys getting transferred to Butte, Montana, over some infraction. But there was a great deal of discipline. And I think we lived more in an era of fear.
What were your feelings about the anti-war movement?
Well, I think there were some very good people in the antiwar movement. Honorable people, people who did what they thought was right. However, I think that many of these people were naive. Some of them maybe just didn't see anything wrong with the Communists taking over Southeast Asia. But I do think they hurt our military effort, I think they caused casualties.
The whole purpose of the Selective Service System was to bring recruits, bring replacements into the military. Guys were killed over in Vietnam, guys were injured. And soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen did their time in Vietnam and rotated back to the United States. They had to be replaced. Now, if the avowed objective of these groups was to dismantle the Selective Service, was to slow down the process, it took longer to get recruits over there. I think people were harmed, people were hurt because of this.
How did you meet Bob Hardy and what were the conditions under which he worked for the FBI?
On June 25, 1971, Bob Hardy came to the Camden residence agency. It was in the same building where the Camden 28 would break into the selective service office. And it was interesting, because often you opened the door and people started talking right away, you know, what their problem is, what they want to get the FBI involved in. Hardy was somewhat like "what am I going to do? You know, I'm here and what am I going to do?"
But that's kind of how he prefaced it. He said: "I have some friends, some people I know, and they want me to get involved in something. And I don't think it's right and I don't know what to do about it." That was the tenor of the conversation. I said, "Well, what is it?" and he continued that they were talking about breaking into a draft board.
And I said, "What we'd like you to do is tell them you're going to join the group, and then I will meet with you regularly, myself and someone else, so we can keep track of what they're doing. This way we can either stop them before they do it or if they do it we can arrest them at that time." In other words, I told him that he would work with us and that I was just an agent, and I couldn't guarantee what was going to happen. He would report to me and I would report the information to my superiors and we would see what happened. He agreed to that. And he mentioned a few people in the good. I think he might have mentioned Father Doyle, who was his parish priest. He might have mentioned Mike Giocondo, a friend of his. He didn't know a lot of others involved. And I said "Well, who's the leader of the group?" And he said he didn't know but could find out. He said that he would be working later that night at a carnival and if I came by he'd get that information for me.
So later that night I went to the carnival and Bob Hardy was there at this booth. And he just kind of nodded to me like he saw I was there, and he was talking to people, doing whatever this booth concerned. And then when people walked away he kind of motioned for me. I went over. And he handed me a piece of paper and walked away. I looked at the paper, and the paper said: "The group's leader is John Peter Grady." Well, when we heard this, I mean Mr. Grady was someone who I can't say he's a suspect, but he was somebody who the FBI was aware of and thought might be involved in some of these draft board break-ins, or at least they were looking at him.
So with this we realized that maybe this group will lead us to the individuals who broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. We thought that perhaps the same kind of people who might be involved in breaking in draft boards would also break into FBI offices.
Talk about the burglary of the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania.
Media was a town in Pennsylvania where we had what we called a FBI resident agency. That's a small FBI office, anywhere from two men up to about 30 or 40 men. At any rate, this office didn't have anyone on duty around the clock it was just when people went home at night, they locked it up and that was it. We didn't even have the resident agencies alarmed in those days. That changed as soon as this happened. I was not aware of any FBI office ever being broken in before that.
In March of 1971, somebody broke into the Media resident agency and took a large number of files. And information from these files started showing up in newspapers and they showed some of the FBI's techniques, some of our tactics, how we did some of these things. Although I don't recall specifically, I'm sure some of those papers were documents from the FBI's COINTELPRO program. There were groups, anti-war groups, anti-government groups, who were possibly violating the law, who were being investigated. The COINTELPRO program dealt with investigating these groups and seeing how they could be stopped or how they could become ineffectual.
Well, the break-in was disastrous because these groups now knew what some of the FBI's plans were. They could then guard against them. And these would be ways FBI could develop information to actually bring these cases to prosecution. Or if not that, enough information where you could go to people in the groups, maybe interview them, and maybe neutralize the group.
Now, Mr. Hoover was quite upset by this. It was, you know: "this is the FBI, you have penetrated us." It became almost a personal thing. And it became, for that reason a very important case. And hence the FBI thought that some of these people from the Camden 28 might have been some of the same people involved in Media.
How should the FBI's role in this case be remembered?
My final thoughts would be, when there are allegations that people are going to violate the law, the FBI investigates this. The FBI catches them doing what they said they were gonna do, and they're found not guilty. Well, you know, it's a shame. The FBI did their job. The FBI can't be faulted. The FBI should be faulted if they did anything less than what we did. Did Hardy have too much leadership? He was cautioned against that. People make decisions, you know, and I think the timing of things ... people were tired of Vietnam. By the time the thing actually came to trial, the Camden 28 were not viewed as hardened criminals. They were viewed as basically Americans who lived a lawful life up until that point. Some people viewed the draft law, the selective service law, maybe as something a little different than some other law. The trial kind of reflected the bi-polarization of the country at that time, those for the war, those against the war. It's kind of like those two forces met up in this trial.
But the FBI did its job. We did our job I think very efficiently. We basically uncovered a plot through an informant, who came to us because he had a certain opinion of the FBI, which I think he had a right to believe. We were good people out there, trying to defend this country in the areas where we have the responsibility. I don't see anything wrong in what the FBI did. You might ... some of the tactics ... people might second-guess to do it over again. Maybe it would have been done differently. Maybe someone said it's unrealistic to expect that Hardy could not have shown leadership, but maybe somebody might have made the decision to make the arrests earlier. But you know, that's the way it was done.
I'm proud of my role in the FBI. There were groups who were trying keep recruits from going overseas to replace our military men in Vietnam. There was a war and selective service was a law. Sometimes the FBI does jobs that aren't popular, because of people's political thoughts, but they're still stuck with doing their job, which they do very well.
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