Wednesday, 12 November 2003 11:56

Barnes vs. Casey and ABC

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Jim DiEugenio writes about Barnes vs. Casey as a complicated spinoff from the equally complicated Rewald affair.

CIA Murder?

Although most of the matters in the accompanying article have not been investigated by the "news" media or by government bodies, they have been noted elsewhere. A lawsuit, Scott Barnes vs. William Casey, alleges financial misdeeds by William Casey and by Capital Cities Communications.

Scott Barnes is the man who claimed the CIA asked him to murder Ronald Ray Rewald in the Oahu Community Correctional Center in Honolulu. ABC investigated Barnes' allegations and aired them on September 19 and 20, 1984, and said that the network believed them. This caused the CIA to ask the FCC to strip ABC of the licenses to its "owned and operated" stations (TV and radio). After much formal and informal heat from the CIA, on November21, 1984, ABC retracted the story in a manner Barnes felt w3as libelous and otherwise injurious. Barnes filed suit on July 29, 1985, with pro bono assistance from the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) Foundation and its member-attorney, Ralph D. Fertig of West L.A. Unless otherwise noted, what follows comes out of the actual lawsuit documents or from an interview I had with Fertig on February 11, 1987.

The Participants

Scott Barnes, age 33 --- Barnes claims to have been a free-lance professional intelligence specialist --- or "contract agent" --- for the CIA and others, as well as a former police officer and corrections official and counselor. In a December 13, 1984 L.A. Times article by David Crook, CIA officials were cited as denying ever dealing with Barnes and, on another occasion, having admitted to working with him. A Freedom of Information Act file convinced Fertig that Barnes had in fact worked for the CIA.

According to both Fertig and Crook, Barnes was a source for ABC even before the Rewald affair. Barnes claimed to have been on a secret 1982 mission in Laos led by retired Green Beret Lt. Col. James (Bo) Gritz to locate American MIAs. The movie Rambo was based on this mission, but inaccuracies and exaggerations in the movie angered Barnes. He told ABC News about this. To check out his story, ABC had him tested by a polygraph expert, Christopher Gugas, who had formerly plied the lie-detection trade for the CIA. Gugas pronounced that Barnes was telling the truth about the Gritz mission and about two CIA-ordered murders in Laos. ABC felt that a genuine psychopath could fool a lie detector, so it had Barnes examined by Beverly Hills psychoanalyst Frederick Hacker, who, Fertig says, was formerly Patty Hearst's therapist. Fertig says Hacker told him he was convinced Barnes was not a psychopath.

The Defendants --- besides Casey, Barnes also included as defendants Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, Capital Cities Communications, ABC Chairman Leonard Goldenson, Peter Jennings and five other ABC News employees, and four alleged CIA agents. Casey, Weinberger and Lehman were sued as government agents and private citizens.

The Judge --- Federal Judge Richard Gadbois, a Reagan appointee. Fertig calls him "very Republican but fair-minded."

The Suit

Barnes vs. Casey is a complicated spinoff from the equally complicated Rewald affair. The labyrinthine financial and CIA-affiliated affairs of Ronald Ray Rewald would require an article of their own for adequate explanation. All the CIA-related material brought up and then sealed by the judge in Rewald's fraud trial would make for a book. Suffice it to say that while awaiting trial in an Oahu slammer, Rewald was uttering stories that showed the CIA in a very bad light.

Barnes' story is as follows: In September 1983 in Torrance, Barnes claims to have been approached by CIA operatives who hired him to snoop on Rewald. When barnes arrived in Honolulu, he was given false IDs by the spooks and was promptly hired as a chaplain at the prison. This gave him only limited exposure to Rewald, so his CIA contacts told him to apply for a guard job. It was granted immediately. For four weeks, Barnes left reports on Rewald at a CIA "drop" in Honolulu. In mid-November 1983, Barnes met with his CIA contact and two men claiming to be from U.S. Naval Intelligence. They told him to kill Rewald. According to Fertig, Barnes, despite his other assassination work, refused because he would not "kill an American on American soil."

The next day, Barnes says, he was told to visit the Oahu County DA to answer unspecified charges. He decided instead to leave for the mainland. While driving to the airport, he heard a radio news report that the CIA had claimed that Barnes had broken the law in getting his jobs in Hawaii.

A year later, when ABC issued its retraction of Barnes' story, it questioned his credibility and reported that he had refused to take a polygraph test. Barnes insists he had frequently offered to take the test. Along with libel, his suit charged ABC with infringement of free speech, defamation of character, mental anguish (from fear of being killed himself) and other causes of action. The suit attributed all this to pressure brought on ABC by Casey in his dual role as CIA director and Capital Cities stockholder. He asked for more than $75 million in damages.

He didn't get it. What he got was harassment in the form of CIA-linked badmouthing to prospective employers. He also got his phone tapped, he says. Fertig alleges that his own phone was also tapped, as was that of an MGM lawyer, Harris Tolchin, who helped Fertig on the case.

The substance of the complaint and its factuality were never ruled on. The defendants never replied to the substance of the charges. Judge Gadbois threw out the suit on several procedural grounds. As private citizens, he ruled, the government officials could only be sued in Washington. As agents of the Reagan administration, they had "governmental immunity." Gadbois said it was conceivable that they acted in the security interests of the nation.

As for the other defendants, Gadbois ruled that all complaints against them centered around the libel charge. Under a California law, which the judge applied in his federal court, plaintiffs suing for libel must seek a retraction within 20 days of learning about the slander. Barnes didn't meet the 20-day deadline. Thus the judge said, it was a moot charge.

For his efforts, Fertig was sued by the Meese Justice Department, and the government threatened to ask the state bar to disbar him. These vengeful steps, reminiscent of Casey's action at the FCC against ABC, centered around the Justice Department's assertion that Fertig had filed a frivolous suit devoid of merit. Gadbois threw out the countersuit, and apparently this discouraged the government from complaining to the state bar.

Last modified on Saturday, 08 October 2016 15:21
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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