The Maldon Institute

By Chip Berlet
    Political Research Associates
    9/8/2000 (Revision 2)

The Maldon Institute is a right wing think tank that studies national security and terrorism from a countersubversive and often conspiracist perspective. Maldon's director, John Rees, infiltrated the political left in the 1970s, and passed the information to groups ranging from the John Birch Society to the FBI.

In 1993 Maldon Institute board members included three notable conspiracists:

  • Dr. D. James Kennedy, a leading Christian right activist and a co-founder of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Kennedy endorsed a book that alleged the Illuminati Freemasons and certain Jewish bankers were behind US liberalism's attack on morality.
  • Raymond Wannall, past president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and a former assistant director of the FBI. Wannall led a campaign to justify the acts of government agents charged with illegally spying on the left based on the FBI's conspiracist view of countersubversion.
  • Robert Moss, a journalist who gained fame suggesting that Soviet agents secretly controlled a network of left and liberal groups in the US.
John Rees
The overlap with the Christian Right is not surprising. The Free Congress Foundation, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and other Christian Right groups have long maintained cordial ties with military and intelligence officials, a relationship which flourished during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

The Maldon Institute in 1993 claimed financial support from "public–spirited foundations including the Allegheny Foundation, The Carthage Foundation, the Anti–Defamation League of B'nai B'rith...." Both Allegheny and Carthage are controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife, who later funded several anti-Clinton investigations claiming vast conspiracies; and which were carried in conservative and hard right media.

Starting in the late 1960's, John Rees and his long-time partner S. Louise Rees conducted political monitoring and surveillance operations on leftists for over thirty years, first circulating their reports in their Information Digest newsletter to a wide range of public and private groups. The Reeses supplied information to such private sector conservative groups as the Old Right John Birch Society, the Christian Right Church League of America, the New Right Heritage Foundation, and the Neo-conservative Anti- Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The Reeses also provided information to government law enforcement and investigative agencies such as the FBI, congressional committees, and local police intelligence units. In addition, the Reeses supplied data to private sector industrial and corporate security departements.

John Rees, who once edited a newsletter for the Church League of America, first published Information Digest and then took on the task of editing a newsletter for the ultraconservative Western Goals Foundation, then helped create Mid-Atlantic Research Associates, and then the Maldon Foundation.

Rees spent the early years of the Reagan administration as the spymaster for the right-wing Western Goals Foundation. Western Goals was the brainchild of Democratic congressman Larry McDonald of Georgia, a urologist and a John Birch Society honcho who specializes in placing anti-progressive diatribes and reports on the left-wing activities in the Congressional Record. Broken Seals, the outfit's first book, charged that groups including the Campaign for Political Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Center for National Security Studies were part of a Soviet-backed attempt "to destroy the foreign and domestic intelligence capabilities of the United States." The book featured an introduction by right-wing congressman John Ashbrook and an afterword by Lieutenant General Daniel O. Graham, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Western Goals published several small books warning of the growing domestic red menace,

Western Goals solicited funds to create a computer database on American subversives, but was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when it was caught attempting to computerize references to "subversive" files pilfered from the disbanded Los Angeles Police Department "Red Squad."

Western Goals essentially collapsed after the death of Larry McDonald in September of 1983. John Rees left shortly after McDonald's death. Western Goals discontinued its domestic dossier and intelligence operation shortly after the departure of Rees. A contentious battle over control of Western Goals and the alienation of key funders left the foundation essentially a shell which was taken over by a conservative fundraiser Carl Russell "Spitz" Channell who turned it into a conduit for contra fundraising efforts linked to North and Iran-Contragate. Rees returned to his freelance spy-master status while former Western Goals director Linda Guell went to Singlaub's Freedom Foundation. Rees later turned up at the Maldon Institute.

For many years John Rees was a frequent contributor to American Opinion and Review of the News, John Birch Society periodicals. Rees network material is frequently cited in right-wing newsletters and monographs. For instance in 1988 Phyllis Schlafly's newsletter cited the Rees newsletter Information Digest on an FBI probe of CISPES. A second Rees newsletter, published through his Mid-Atlantic Research Associates (MARA) with Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss, and titled Early Warning, was cited in an essay by retired Lt. General Gordon Sumner, former chairman of the Council on Inter- American Security and a national security adviser to President Reagan. The Sumner essay offered "Some Strategic Thoughts on Central America," including the following paragraph:

"Mid-Atlantic Research Associates, Inc., issued a special report on August 15, 1984 entitled "Central American Support Networks," which gives a detailed and documented description of the proliferation of Communist-supported organizations, both in the United States and abroad, that are supporting the Cubans' and Sandinistas', efforts."The Sumner monograph was published by the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, a think-tank with close ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Sumner is credited in the publication as having served on the "Committee of Santa Fe which developed the Republican Party platform on Latin America in the 1980 campaign."

Allegations by the Reeses and other right-wing spies have been used by the FBI as a justification for launching massive investigative probes. These intrusive FBI investigations harassed, smeared, and disrupted groups that were not engaged in any criminal activity, but simply exercising their constitutional rights to dissent from official government policies.

Smearing CISPES

An example of this was the first FBI investigation of the anti-interventionist group CISPES, which was launched in September of 1981 to determine if CISPES should be forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Among the documents used by the FBI to justify this CISPES probe, according to Congressional testimony by FBI official Oliver "Buck" Revell, was a 1981 article by a former FBI informant and ongoing right-wing private spy—John Rees. The Rees article appeared in Review of the News a magazine published by the paranoid ultra-right John Birch Society. This FBI investigation was terminated without indictments in December of 1981.

A second FBI investigation of CISPES began in March of 1983. It was premised on the right-wing conspiracy theory that CISPES was a cover for "terrorist" activity. To justify this view, the FBI relied not only on reports from its informant Varelli, but also in part on a conspiratorial analysis contained in a report written by Michael Boos, a staffer at the right-wing Young Americas Foundation. This FBI "counter-terrorism" investigation was terminated without indictments in 1985.

Red-baiting the Nuclear Freeze Movement

Information from John Rees and Western Goals led to embarrassment when President Ronald Reagan charged the nuclear freeze campaign was, "inspired by not the sincere, honest people who want peace, but by some people who want the weakening of America and so are manipulating honest and sincere people." Reagan saw freeze activists as dupes or traitors. When asked for proof, reporters were told much of the information was secret, but that one public source was a "Reader's Digest" article by John Barron. Barron had based the allegation in part on an article by right- wing spy John Rees. Rees had based his article on unsubstantiated red-baiting allegations made during McCarthy period hearings. Reagan later openly criticized those who brought down Joseph McCarthy. A State Department charge that the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom was a "communist front" was retracted when traced to a Rees report published by Western Goals Foundation.

To prove the nuclear freeze is a Soviet plot, Rees in "Information Digest" noted that public remarks on disarmament by a member of the Soviet Central Committee of the Communist Party bear a "striking similarity" to materials produced by the Mobilization for Survival, Coalition for a New Foreign and Military Policy, and U.S. Peace Council. Furthermore, Rees noted that several of the organizations involved in the nuclear freeze campaign were identified by witnesses during the McCarthy era as communist fronts. This is the type of material that appears in his book, The War Called Peace: The Soviet Peace Offensive, which was the Bible of the anti-Freeze movement.

Rees gained considerable credibility in Washington, D.C. during the Reagan years as an expert on national security issues. He was quoted as "authoritative" by Sam Francis, a key aide on the Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, which held hearings during the early part of the Reagan Administration into alleged subversive conspiracies by leftists.

"What is truly frightening," explained Rachel Rosen DeGolia of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, "is that Sam Francis also wrote a report for the Heritage Foundation where he suggested the U.S. intelligence agencies utilize information from private security and intelligence groups which are not hampered by constitutional and regulatory safeguards that protect citizens from governmental invasions of privacy." She points out that information-collecting techniques that cannot legally be employed by governmental investigators are sometimes permitted private security forces.

In fact, the private political spy network was re-plugged directly into governmental intelligence units by the Clinton Administration so they could to supply information not otherwise obtainable legally by the government investigators.

Red-baiting Antiwar Activists

Another example of the work of the Rees network was prompted by the January 26, 1991 Washington, D.C. demonstration against the Gulf War. Covering the event for the newspaper Human Events, reporter Cliff Kincaid contacted and quoted Sheila Louise Rees, who claimed the group coordinating the antiwar demonstration, the Campaign for Peace in the Middle East, was established "by the traditional hard-line peace activist organizations that have always worked with the Communist Party U.S.A...." including, according to Rees, the War Resisters League, American Friends Service Committee, Mobilization for Survival, and SANE/Freeze. The phrasing of the quote implied that the peace groups were really fronts for the Communist Party, U.S.A. The headline for Kincaid's February 9, 1991 article read, "Far Left Sparks Anti-War Protests: Effectively Supports Iraq," implying that in time of war, the peace activists in effect were guilty of being criminal traitors.

The rhetoric, source, and outlet for the story are all familiar components of an institutionalized domestic counter-subversion network. One arm of this network is comprised of private right- wing groups that spy on progressive dissidents and then publicize claims that the dissidents are engaged in potentially-illegal activity. These biased claims are then used by the other arm of the network, counter-subversive units within government intelligence agencies, as a rationale to launch investigative probes which frequently interfere with legitimate protest activities of dissidents who are not engaged in criminal activity, but merely exercising their First Amendment rights.

Human Events, is an ultra-conservative weekly newspaper that periodically carries articles claiming to have uncovered subversive plots. And, as Human Events reporter Cliff Kincaid pointed out in his story on the Gulf War protest, Louise Rees is "publisher of Information Digest, the publication that monitors extremist groups."

Unreliable Source

Lack of accuracy is no barrier to success for private spy publications. Information Digest sold its biased but highly detailed reports on the activities of left, liberal, and radical groups for over a decade. Its subscribers were mainly corporate security agents and law enforcement officials.

Information Digest collected its information not only by voraciously reading leftist periodicals, but also by physically infiltrating various groups, including several in Chicago. Information Digest repeatedly turned up in the files of the Chicago Red Squad and other local and federal intelligence agencies being sued for illegal surveillance and disruption. Its specialty is tracing alleged "Communist" infiltration of movements for social change.

John Rees is known to have supplied the Information Digest and information to the Chicago Police Department, the FBI, and several other law enforcement agencies.

He also worked for a time with the Church League of America in Wheaton, Illinois. Information from the Church League and a similar group called the American Security Council, has turned up in the Chicago Red Squad files.

There is ample evidence that the Red Squad was plugged into a private political intelligence network. For instance, George Elliott was not the only civilian spy utilized by the Red Squad. There was a string of paid and unpaid civilian spies including Sheli Lulkin, a Chicago school teacher, who was linked to spying on no fewer than 80 Chicago organizations.

Lulkin continued to keep in touch with some of the more right-wing former Red Squad agents, and shortly after being revealed as a civilian Red Squad spy, she received an award for her work from the Council Against Communist Aggression. Lulkin maintains she infiltrated community and labor groups in order to ferret out Communist influence and the "terrorist infrastructure." While in Washington to receive her award, Lulkin met with John and Sheila Louise Rees.

John Rees first turned up in Chicago on the occasion of the 1968 Democratic Convention. He promptly went undercover to ferret out subversives. The process of how information from Rees ended up as an item in Robert Wiedrich's Chicago Tribune Tower Ticker column is illustrative both of how private spies feed information to the police (who then pass it to scoop-hunting journalists) and of how the information is distorted with each little step it takes.

Documents released to Jerry Rubin in a FOIA request concerning the 1968 convention protests provide the details of how Wiedrich was buffaloed by the private political spy network's information-laundering game. To begin with, we will let the FBI documents speak for themselves. What follows is taken from the memo prepared by the FBI agent assigned to investigate the Wiedrich article:

'Chicago Tribune reporter Robert Wiedrich wrote a column "Tower Ticker' on September 4, 1968, that the Chicago Police Department, Chicago, Illinois, had a secret tape recording made by an undercover man indicating that the Yippie leaders intended to tear Chicago apart. The article quoted part of the tape recording as 'These Chicago cops are soft. If that had been New York cops, they'd have busted our heads. It's gonna be easy to take these coppers and this town apart.'

"Mr. Wiedrich advised he obtained his information used in his article from Thomas McInerny, Mayor's Office, Commission of Investigation, Chicago, Illinois.

"Mr. McInerny advised that the information he gave to Mr. Wiedrich was obtained from one John Rees....Mr. Rees did undercover work during the Democratic National Convention and reportedly made a tape recording of a meeting of dissidents in which the quote referred to above supposedly was made. Mr. McInerny does not have the tape recording in his possession nor has he heard it.

The FBI agent went on to report that the tape recording was originally given to Thomas Lyons of the Chicago Police Intelligence Unit by John Rees. Unfortunately, the forgetful Mr. Lyons could not locate the tape and reported that "no transcript was made of the recording inasmuch as it is practically inaudible in its entirety." In fact, Lyons told the agent that the quote about the Chicago Police Department being soft was not on the tape recording at all. The quote was actually a statement by Rees, who mentioned in the course of a conversation with Lyons that the persons "gathered at the Quaker House generally felt the Chicago Police had been easy to deal with at the time the demonstrators were forced out of Lincoln Park." So much for accurate quotes. So much for Wiedrich's highly touted sources. The right-wing political spy network strikes again.

As for Rees, the FBI concluded his information left something to be desired. One FBI memo puts it succinctly: "Rees is an unscrupulous unethical individual and an opportunist who operates with a self-serving interest. Information he has provided has been exaggerated and in generalities. Information from him cannot be considered reliable. We should not initiate any interview with this unscrupulous unethical individual concerning his knowledge of the disturbances in Chicago as to do so would be a waste of time."

Despite this rather tawdry assessment, the FBI did accept information from Rees in the form of his newsletter Information Digest which several activists found in their FBI files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Rees is famous for one other aspect of his career. He received nationwide attention in 1964 when Peyton Place author Grace Metalious died leaving him her quarter-million-dollar estate on the basis of a death-bed will that ignored her estranged husband and their three children. Rees had known Metalious only a few months. Rees later renounced his claim to the estate once it was discovered liabilities exceeded assets.

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