The FBI Investigated Robert Parry

The bureau’s file on Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, was released last month, Joe Lauria reports.

Report Says Parry Would Not ‘Advocate Overthrow of US Government by Force’

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated journalist Robert Parry in 1973, two years after he graduated from Colby College in Maine, according to a file published by the FBI last month. 

Parry was one of three members on Colby’s campus of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, which was founded in 1960 and folded a year later in 1974. The SDS promoted a non-hierarchal society and participatory democracy. It established chapters on 300 U.S. college campuses with about 30,000 members and became one of the leading student organizations to oppose the U.S. war in Vietnam.

An SDS pamphlet.

Three FBI sources reported on Parry. One source established that Parry graduated Colby in June 1971 and that his “grades were about average.” A second source reviewed Parry’s student file and told the FBI that it “failed to reflect any unfavorable or derogatory information concerning him.”

This source, the report said, “recalled the subject as being a quiet student who caused no trouble to her knowledge on the campus.” The report named an English professor, David G. Stratman, as having been a “strong promoter for the founding of an SDS chapter” at Colby. 

But one of the FBI’s sources said that “even with STRATMAN’s backing, SDS was only able to obtain three members at that college,” including Parry.  “It was source’s observation that none of the three members were particularly enthused about the organization.” 

The FBI report said that it was the source’s “recollection that the subject [Parry] was not the type of individual who would engage in any rebellious or violent activity or one who would advocate the overthrow of the US government by force or violence.”

The report concluded: “This case is being closed as the subject’s activities do not warrant investigation.”

Swept Up in Largest Mass Arrest

The report does not mention Parry’s enthusiasm in helping to organize a student strike against the war at Colby in May 1970, after Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the murder of student demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University.

Bob Parry in 1971

Parry was instrumental in getting the faculty to pass a resolution in support of the strike. He also helped draft a telegram to Maine Senators Edmund Muskie and Margaret Chase Smith, which got the lawmakers to come to Colby to be confronted by anti-war students.

Nor does the FBI report say that on May Day in 1971, while still an undergraduate at Colby, Parry drove to Washington with eight other Colby students, to take part in a major anti-war demonstration that attempted to shut down the capital by blocking bridges and intersections.

Parry was swept up with thousands of other protestors in the largest mass arrest in U.S. history.  As editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Colby Echo, Parry wrote about what happened that day in D.C. In 1972, Parry traveled to Miami to take part in anti-war demonstrations at the Republican National Convention.

Back to Washington

A year after the FBI report, Parry joined the Associated Press in 1974 and in 1977 was transferred from its Providence, RI bureau to Washington.  In 1980 Parry joined AP’s investigative unit, where he broke some of the biggest stories about the Iran-Contra scandal, including revealing the role of Col. Oliver North in 1985. 

Parry’s editors attempted to spike the story and it ran only after AP’s Spanish-language wire inadvertently published it. Later that year Parry helped break a major story on the CIA and Contra cocaine trafficking.

Parry left the AP after he learned that an AP editor had been conferring with North.  He joined Newsweek in 1987 but left in 1990 after Newsweek editors attempted to suppress some of his stories.

After a time at PBS Frontline making documentaries about the October Surprise, Parry left to create Consortium News in 1995 in the manner of his role models I.F. Stone and George Seldes. Parry passed away at the age of 68 in January 2018.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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17 comments for “The FBI Investigated Robert Parry

  1. May 2, 2020 at 19:25

    I was introduced to Consortium News, via osmosis and contact with Ray McGovern when Ray included my state in his travels to the boonies post 9/11, to offer his fix on what had happened. I had a few email exchanges with Bob Parry who was always gracious. I later quibbled with his having rightly excoriated Bush II over torture and more, as I recall, and voiced concern that Bob did not scold Obama for his not prosecuting but looking forward regarding Bush’s torture regime, nor was he laying into Obama for Obama’s own torture, bombing and death by drone terror. I was disappointed: my take: Bob felt Obama was the horse the Dems rode in on, patience was due. IMO jaundiced opinion Obama too was a war criminal and Biden was complicit in Obama’s crimes. I’ve never belonged to either party and can’t vote for either Biden or Trump. Sometimes regimes the perpetrate terror/evil must crumble before progress can occur. Bernie not stopped I could easily vote for him.

      May 2, 2020 at 22:34

      Bob certainly became critical of the Obama administration, especially in Ukraine and Syria,

  2. John Drake
    May 1, 2020 at 11:14

    Edward Snowden termed the phrase, and name of his book, “Permanent Record” for the fact that the NSA is keeping all its ill begotten signals data on us all forever. Apparently the FBI was into this back when spying on citizens exercising their 1st amendment rights was paper work, “patriotic” rats, and an occasional bug or phone tap.
    Aside from the inappropriate spying on a peaceful opponent of government policy, it seems astonishing that they would keep this information for forty seven years, and two years after the subject died-go figure.
    I did get a laugh out of how little of Robert’s dedicated history they picked up.

  3. Observer
    May 1, 2020 at 07:12

    The membership numbers for SDS are somewhat misleading. The typical situation in smaller colleges was a handful of dues-paying members of the national organization, and several times as many more-or-less formal members of the local chapter — plus any number of sympathizers with the actions. And there were groups in community colleges, and even high schools.

    So it was not only “one of the leading student organizations to oppose the U.S. war in Vietnam”, but the leading organization of any kind in active opposition, with hundreds of thousands of people joining its actions.

    “and folded a year later in 1974” — This is not quite right, either. It was a rancorous split into three factions, due to typical left-wing sectarianism, the big-frog-in-little-pond egotism of would-be political leaders, AND incitement of this by agents of the government and ruling class (Rockefellers…). It is true that none of these factions played any important role outside their circles afterwards.

    By the way, SDS was not the only group of that kind to suffer the same fate. For example, its West German New Left counterpart — coincidentally also called SDS (for Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund) — which played a very similar vanguard role in opposing the Vietnam War (though on a considerably smaller scale, because there were far fewer college students there) also broke up in the same way at about the same time.

    • John Drake
      May 2, 2020 at 13:14

      More on SDS, I was involved at Ohio State and the group was quite large; we would mostly fill up a medium sized lecture hall. It was a rational group that did education, occasional demonstrations and travelled to the big DC march.

      It fell apart Winter 1970 due to the invasion of what we called “ego trippers” who would disrupt the meetings by yelling at everyone that they weren’t being revolutionary enough. They were very disruptive and ruined any productive action. I know for certain that one was a police provocateur.

      The organization fell apart and reformed into the Moratorium Committee which along with the Black Student Union and a women’s group orchestrated the huge student strike of the Spring 1970. Some of the leaders were Vietnam combat vets, including a former lieutenant.

      Some of the crazies went on to become the Weathermen who distinguished themselves by blowing themselves up in NYC while trying to make a bomb.

  4. AC Arthur
    April 29, 2020 at 12:33

    To learn of Robert Parry’s past is valuable to my understanding of who and why I like Consortium News. Thank you.

  5. April 29, 2020 at 10:09

    I knew nothing about Parry until I read this. That he was investigated inclines me to respect Consortium and I’ll consider donating in the hope of promoting independent journalism at a time when we’re losing one of Democracy’s most important assets, a free press.

  6. April 29, 2020 at 09:30

    “officially”; unofficially, it is already worse. Much worse!

  7. April 29, 2020 at 07:52

    The FBI has a long and terrible history of abuse, including J Edgar Hoovers years of quietly intimidating politicians in Washington with secrets from their private lives. He was even involved in intimidating Martin Luther King.

    It is an institution which has no place in a truly democratic state, but then people who read and think know the United States is not really a democratic state.

    It runs a world empire by force of a gigantic military-security establishment for the benefit of its oligarchs and giant corporations. It is a slightly-disguised plutocracy. And neither of its money-endowed political parties opposes any aspect of that reality.

    Just as they don’t oppose the godawful FBI. Some of the top Democrats even worked with people in the FBI to try nullifying Trump’s election. Horrible as Trump is, truly horrible, that is not the way things should be done. The FBI was murkily involved in many aspects of the effort.

    The past work of the FBI in many ways resembles the work of the infamous Stasi in East Germany.

    You’ll note despite decades of abuse of every description, J Edgar Hoover’s name is still up in big letters at the FBI Headquarters in Washington.

    If you want a fuller idea of the FBI’s real record, see THE DREADFUL RECORD OF THE FBI on another site of mine: CHUCKMAN’S WORDS ON WORDPRESS: POLITICAL ESSAYS.

  8. Realist
    April 29, 2020 at 06:11

    I remember those days of the late 60’s and early 70’s, in Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, when most of us who marched in the streets were under the illusion that the whole world was becoming as enlightened as we, and that our little perceived “victories” would be permanent and greatly expanded upon over time. We all know how that turned out.

  9. Anonymous
    April 28, 2020 at 16:16

    The more the government distrusts a journalist, the more that journalist can be trusted by the people. Mr. Parry sounds like he was a truly upstanding individual and people like him must be remembered by history and used as examples to future journalists before this country officially becomes worse than Orwell’s Oceania.

  10. Marc Dorel
    April 28, 2020 at 13:41

    Merci de nous rappeler tous ces souvenirs.

  11. April 28, 2020 at 13:29

    Robert Parry was a great example of journalistic courage and integrity, qualities mostly lacking in our media today.

  12. Hide Behind
    April 28, 2020 at 12:53

    There are few journalist today of the type that arose during the 1960 to mid 1970 period, those who chose to talk truth not only to power but against it.
    Their decline in numbers came about not so much by a lack of freedom of speech but through lack of freedom to be heard.
    Lots of self hype about pressures of anti-war- anti gov-corruption and rise of environmentalism changes to American society but the reality was journalism and journalist had little lasting effect on course US as national leadership was headed upon.
    Success led many to become a part of establishment, and the ages old and proven, “Change to established thoughts of social structures and their government, religious and financial institutions cannot come from within, it has to come from outside those institutions” , was proven true once again.
    That does not imply by any means that change is always good and beneficial, as long before 1960’s changes to society by governmental in partnership with financials had been changing government towards own needs, and any and all who joined them became as them.
    The best chose to leave , the rest chose to remain.

  13. April 28, 2020 at 12:23

    I value highly my friendship with Robert.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    April 28, 2020 at 12:05

    Parry was an absolute fount of knowledge and clear-headed reporting during much of the Russiagate nonsense.

    • Fred
      April 28, 2020 at 13:19

      Almost from the moment Russiagate started, CN was on top, and out in front of that story. If you weren’t reading CN, chances are you were ignorant and thus vulnerable to falling for the garbage being endlessly echoed around the mainstream press.

      Very grateful for CN and its courageous authors.

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