The following letter, originally published Aug. 29 in the The San Francisco Chronicle, is Seth Rosenfeld’s response to a commentary by Diane Fujino (“Where’s the Evidence Aoki Was FBI Informant?”) that was published in The Chronicle on Aug. 23 and The Rafu Shimpo on Aug. 25. Rosenfeld is the author of “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power”; Fujino is the author of “Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance and a Paradoxical Life.”
Reporting on intelligence activities is notoriously difficult and often relies on off-the-record sources. I used only on-the-record sources such as: a detailed interview with the retired FBI agent who was Aoki’s handler, interviews with Aoki, FBI records concerning Aoki obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, consultation with another former FBI agent to interpret the records and research in other records on Aoki and other informants.
Fujino claims that “the entirety of Rosenfeld’s evidence relies on FBI sources” and asks if we are simply to trust authority figures. She surely knows that former FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen, who concluded in a sworn declaration that Aoki had been an informant, helped vacate the murder conviction of Black Panther Geronimo Pratt on the grounds that the FBI and Los Angeles police failed to reveal that a key witness was an FBI informant.
Fujino complains I unduly “magnify” Aoki. I devoted some 10 pages to him in a 734-page book. My book examines FBI activities concerning the University of California during the Cold War and is based on decades of research, including more than 300,000 pages of FBI records released as a result of five successful lawsuits under the FOIA. As a result of my research, seven federal judges ordered the FBI information released. One judge ruled, “Plaintiff has persuasively demonstrated in his affidavit that his research requires meticulous examination of records that may not on their face indicate much to an untrained observer.”
Fujino has acknowledged she had obtained the same “T-2” FBI document about Aoki as I had but consulted no experts. She asks, “How did (Aoki) help the FBI disrupt political movements?” I never said he did. Likewise, Fujino suggests I am putting a “snitch jacket” on Aoki — framing him as an informant — yet she offers no evidence for this false charge.
Fujino presents herself as an objective scholar, but she is a competing author with a vested interest. She has done a disservice to the pursuit of truth.