A former Ku Klux Klan leader may have had an informant inside the FBI feeding him information during the civil rights movement, documents suggest. But agents who worked the case dismiss the statements.
In fall 1964, an informant told the FBI that Sam Bowers, imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, talked of having an FBI agent leaking him the names of Klansmen who talked with the agency.
Upon hearing the claim, former FBI agent Jay Cochran, who was involved in that investigation, laughed. "That's a new one on me," he said. "I don't think there's even a remote possibility of that."
But the Klan may have gotten help from some state troopers. According to a Jan. 5, 1965, FBI memo, a highway patrolman told a Klansman there was an FBI informant in Lincoln County getting paid $500 a month.
The statements are included in 40,000 pages of FBI documents related to the investigation of the Klan's June 21, 1964, killings of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
By 1964, local law enforcement officials were in the Klan, and Klansmen enlisted as auxiliary law enforcement officers.
Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen bragged that virtually all of those in Neshoba County belonged to the Klan, according to FBI documents. Some highway patrolmen also were Klansmen, according to documents.
After FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover revealed the identities of two troopers who joined the Klan, then-Gov. Paul Johnson Jr. fired them.
There have been moles inside the FBI in the past.
The most infamous was Robert Phillip Hanssen, who got more than a $1 million in diamonds and cash for passing on secrets to the Soviets between 1979 and 2001. He is now serving a life sentence.
More often there have been rogue FBI informants.
James "Whitey" Bulger, a mob figure wanted in connection with 19 killings in the 1970s and 1980s, was recently arrested. He had been an FBI informant before landing on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.
The FBI reportedly used mobster Gregory Scarpa to beat a confession out of Lawrence Byrd in the Klan's 1966 killing of Vernon Dahmer Sr.
Former District Attorney Chet Dillard said he went to the hospital, where he visited Byrd and heard him describe his abduction and beating.
The former prosecutor and judge discounted the imperial wizard's claim. "Sam Bowers was halfway crazy," he said. "He wanted to play the man behind the curtain, directing the play."
Back in New York, Scarpa continued to be an informant, and the FBI reportedly paid him $158,000 over the decades.
Deke DeLoach, former deputy director for the FBI in Washington, said claims of the Klan getting inside information from an agent is "absolutely false."
He pointed out that the Klan was "totally anti-FBI. They did everything they could to tear us down."
For instance, the Klan put a rattlesnake under the driver's seat of one agent's car, he said. Fortunately, "the agent heard the rattling and got out of there," he said.
On another occasion, several Klansmen delivered a pine box painted black where an FBI agent lived, telling the woman who answered the door that her husband was in the box, DeLoach said.
After one Klansman threatened to kill an agent, he and another agent showed up at the Klansman's house, he said. One agent held a shotgun, and the other held a submachine gun.
The Klansman "sunk to his knees and started crying," he said.
While it is true the Klan warred with the FBI, Bowers praised Hoover's fight against communism.
There is always a possibility of leaks, but they more often came in the form of an agent accidentally revealing something in an interrogation that's supposed to be kept confidential, Cochran said. "Of course, that's human nature, not fraud."
If the Klan had really had a mole inside the FBI, word of that "would have gone around like wildlife and would have been taken care of," he said.
The FBI was closing in on the White Knights, and Bowers knew he was in trouble, he said. "What else could he do but try and kill the messenger?"