Norman Bailey recalls that soon after he joined the National Security Council, he received a call from NSC officials asking him to talk to a group of followers of right-wing presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. who were offering intelligence information to the agency.
Bailey, then NSC's senior director of international economic affairs, said he found the visitors' intelligence on economics and foreign affairs surprisingly on target.
He said he met with LaRouche's followers numerous times in 1982 and 1983 in his Executive Office Building office, and three times with LaRouche himself -- including once for dinner at LaRouche's rented Loudoun County estate. Bailey said he circulated within NSC a well-researched position paper that two LaRouche followers wrote about fusion energy.
"Some of them are quite good," Bailey said of LaRouche's associates. He said that he found them to be "useful" because of their "excellent" international contacts.
"They can operate more freely and openly than official agencies" such as the CIA, Bailey said. "They do know a lot of people around the world. They do get to talk to prime ministers and presidents." Bailey also has described LaRouche's organization as "one of the best private intelligence services in the world."
It's a view shared by others in powerful places in Washington.
Through dogged work, the LaRouche organization has assembled a worldwide network of contacts in governments and in military agencies who meet regularly and swap information with them, officials and former members said.
In Washington, the LaRouche group has spent the last several years currying favor with officials of the NSC, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, the military and numerous other agencies, as well as with defense scientists doing classified research, according to federal officials and ex-members of the LaRouche group.
"They've made a very concerted effort to influence the government," said Richard Morris, counselor to Interior Secretary William Clark and formerly Clark's assistant when he was NSC chief. "Their influence never went beyond the mid-level. There's no way they could influence the president."
"They obviously want to impress, with their knowledge, people who are in the know in Washington," said Ray S. Cline, a former top State Department and CIA intelligence official who said he was approached by LaRouche associates in 1980 and has spoken with them a number of times since. "They're terribly eager to find somebody" in government to talk to.
The LaRouche group stepped up its presence in Washington about 1981, when President Reagan took office, and it has publicly promoted many of his initiatives in its publications and on Capitol Hill.
An NBC documentary in March disclosed the LaRouche group's contacts with NSC and CIA officials, and in November The New Republic magazine published an article by reporters Dennis King and Ronald Radosh that detailed LaRouche's Washington connections. King has reported on LaRouche's group for six years and has broken many stories about it.
In Reagan's first term, Executive Intelligence Review, a LaRouche-tied magazine, ran interviews with such officials as Agriculture Secretary John Block, Defense Undersecretary Richard DeLauer, Associate Attorney General Lowell Jensen, Commerce Undersecretary Lionel Olmer and then-Sen. John Tower (R-Texas), at the time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, The New Republic reported.
High-level Reagan administration officials "have found LaRouche as useful in supplying information and promoting their policies as LaRouche has found them in legitimizing his cause," The New Republic said.
LaRouche associates also have been active for years in West Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, India, Thailand and many other countries, according to LaRouche-tied publications, ex-LaRouche associates and former government officials. The group has had dealings with a number of foreign government and military officials, according to these sources.
LaRouche himself has had private meetings with Jose Lopez Portillo when he was Mexico's president, Argentine President Raul Alfonsin and the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. LaRouche also met with Iraqi officials during a visit to the Middle East in 1975.
Most of the 22 active and retired government and military officials interviewed said that they have been wary of speaking with the LaRouche associates.
It may seem far-fetched that a group that says that Walter F. Mondale is a Soviet secret police "agent of influence" and that the queen of England is involved in international dope-dealing could be "useful" to top federal government officials.
But a number of government officials say much of the group's intelligence is accurate. The LaRouche outfit has had more than 100 intelligence operatives working for it at times, and copies the government in its information-gathering operation, ex-members and other knowledgeable sources said.
Sometimes the group's intelligence reports reflect the organization's offbeat and speculative allegations, but much of the time they do not, according to ex-members and a reading of some of the reports. Its reports on such subjects as the international debt and the industrialization of Thailand often read like government memoranda.
John Bosma, editor of Military Space magazine, recalled that in 1981, while he worked for a congressman on the House Armed Services Committee, he was approached by a representative of a magazine tied to LaRouche. The visitor asked about the odometer range of the cruise missile and other classified information, Bosma said.
"The guy knew what he was talking about," Bosma said. "It's a very sensitive subject. I was very surprised the guy was asking me questions at that level of detail. I said it was none of his damn business."
Gathering intelligence for corporations and individuals is one of the ways the LaRouche organization supports itself financially, according to LaRouche and former members. In a hypothetical example, a West German company might hire the group to investigate the Mexican oil industry for, say, $5,000, said ex-members and persons familiar with the group's operation.
The organization's dealings with federal agencies have been made easier by LaRouche's move to Loudoun County last year. The group plans to move the bulk of its national headquarters there, according to sources and a Loudoun County official.
"LaRouche wants to wreak big changes on a world scale," a former LaRouche associate said. "They're trying to get access to the administration. They're trying to get inside the system through the old-boy network so they can manipulate it."
The depth of LaRouche's entree in official Washington has caused anger in some quarters.
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, whom LaRouche associates have accused of being a murderer and homosexual, said in an interview that "there's no excuse" for top CIA and other intelligence officials to meet with what he considers an unsavory group. "It's a revolting episode . . . . What can they possibly know we can't find out ourselves?"
Bosma, the military specialist, said he, too, is angry about reports of dealings between LaRouche and the administration. "If this is true, it's almost unforgivable . . . . I'm a Reaganite, but I'm flabbergasted and appalled."
The conservative Heritage Foundation, a longtime LaRouche critic, expressed worry about possible security leaks in a report issued last July.
"A major concern regarding the LaRouche network arises from its apparent ability to penetrate high government circles -- especially within the intelligence and police communities," the foundation said. "While some [of the LaRouche group's] claims may be overstated, and some of the contacts may have been low-level or self-generated, the potential for security breaches and other problems arising from such relationships remains very real."
After the NBC broadcast, Democratic National Committee Chairman Charles Manatt called on President Reagan "to end the shocking White House involvement with the bizarre, extremist cult of Lyndon H. LaRouche . . . . It is absolutely incredible that a ranking NSC staff member . . . would have anything to do with the LaRouche people."
When asked about NSC contact with LaRouche, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said in March that "from time to time we talk to various people who may have information that might prove helpful to us."
Marlin Fitzwater, another White House spokesman, said last month that "there's no official or unofficial [Reagan administration] policy or line in regard to dealing with the LaRouche organization. Any contacts are made at the discretion of the individuals involved."
For his part, Bailey, now a private economics consultant, said he felt he should listen to LaRouche.
"It was part of my job [at NSC], gathering information from any source I could," Bailey said. "You use whatever is at hand," he said, even if the source is "smelly."
Bailey said that he is "not a supporter" of LaRouche, and disagrees with him on some things, although he found his group to be "very supportive of the administration."
LaRouche, in a deposition, said that in the dinner conversation at the Woodburn Estate in March, Bailey asked his opinion on certain matters. LaRouche declined to discuss the conversation at length because he said it was a matter of "confidential national security."
While Bailey recently may have found LaRouche helpful, his dealings with the LaRouche group have not always been pleasant. In 1975, while he was a professor at Queens College, Bailey filed a libel suit against a group tied to LaRouche after it described him as a CIA agent and a "fascist," Bailey said.
The suit dragged on for years, until after the LaRouche supporters approached him at NSC, he said. In 1983, the two sides settled the suit after a newspaper affiliated with LaRouche agreed to publish a correction, and the group paid him a "monetary settlement," Bailey said. He declined to specify the amount.
Bailey said he continues to receive periodic telephone calls from a LaRouche aide asking his opinion on economic matters.
The LaRouche organization has dealt with other NSC personnel as well, council officials said.
One was Morris, William Clark's top aide. In an interview, Morris said he met four times with LaRouche while at NSC in 1982 and 1983, and had other meetings with his associates.
"We discussed matters of national security concern," Morris said in October testimony in a U.S. District Court trial in Alexandria. (A federal court jury found that NBC had not defamed LaRouche, but ordered him to pay NBC $3 million, after finding that his group had sabotaged a network interview with a U.S. senator.)
Among the topics he discussed with LaRouche were international economics and "strategic defenses," Morris testified. "He had an intelligence operation that gathered information that he thought was important to the national security."
"When they spoke in terms of technology or economics, they made good sense," Morris said in an interview. "They seemed to be qualified in their areas."
LaRouche said that he has had "continuing off-and-on contacts" with Morris even now that he's at Interior, and said the two are "old friends."
Morris said that the relationship is much more distant, and that he does not support LaRouche's positions.
Morris testified that he distributed among NSC officials some of the information provided by LaRouche and his associates.
In a letter to New Republic editors last month, LaRouche said that after the NBC broadcast critical of government officials for dealing with LaRouche, the Reagan administration "distanced itself sharply from me." After the broadcast, some administration officials made statements "suddenly totally out of agreement" with earlier friendly statements, LaRouche wrote.
LaRouche associates also have tried to gain the confidence of top CIA officials.
LaRouche supporters telephone CIA officials "a lot" to offer information and try to get more, one knowledgeable official said. "They could consider that a two-way exchange. To my knowledge it is not a two-way exchange."
LaRouche said in an interview that he has visited the CIA's Langley headquarters a few times, and that his associates have visited many times.
A CIA spokesman said LaRouche, his wife and an aide visited the agency in January, 1983, and met with aides to Deputy Director John McMahon to talk about a recent LaRouche trip overseas. The CIA spokesman said LaRouche also visited earlier with Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, who was the agency's deputy director in 1981 and 1982.
In an interview, Inman recalled the visit at his CIA office by LaRouche and his wife, Helga Zepp-LaRouche, who had just returned from Europe. He said that she gave enticing information about the West German Green Party, an antinuclear group. "At the time, nobody in intelligence was covering them at all," Inman said of the Greens.
Inman, now head of a Texas-based computer research organization, said the meeting was not extraordinary, because, as a CIA official, he sometimes met with people returning from overseas trips. He said he did not give information, but listened.
Inman and other intelligence officials said they doubt the stories, widely circulated inside the LaRouche group, that the organization has informants inside the CIA who provide it with intelligence.
Former associates said the organization dealt with several "cutouts," or intermediaries, who claimed they received confidential reports from the CIA. The code name for one supposed CIA contact was "Mr. Ed," said ex-associates, who added they know of no confirmation that the contact existed.
The group has worked closely with a former CIA operative who has helped provide security and given information about the international narcotics trade, ex-members said.
The organization also had close ties for years with a former Office of Strategic Services guerrilla operative, Mitchell WerBell III, who introduced members to many intelligence and military figures, sources said.
The LaRouche-affiliated Schiller Institute -- an international group named for 18th century poet Friedrich Schiller that says it is committed to the ideals of the American Revolution -- lists on its advisory board several high-ranking retired and active-duty military officers.
The LaRouche group also tried for years to gain favor in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon's intelligence arm. When DIA officials first met with LaRouche associates in the early 1970s, they were impressed with the group's intelligence material, said former DIA director Daniel Graham.
Graham recalled that LaRouche associates came up with what he called good intelligence about the situation in Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere. Graham said that in the mid-1970s, he and DIA colleagues concluded that some of the information was so sensitive that they suspected the LaRouche group was getting some of it from the Soviets or another government. Graham added that he couldn't prove the contention.
Graham, a strong anticommunist, said that in the mid-1970s he ordered the DIA to stop dealing with the LaRouche group.
LaRouche associates strongly deny the assertion that the group is a stalking horse of any foreign government. "It's a weak disinformation slander put out by the KGB itself," said LaRouche aide Paul Goldstein.
The Heritage Foundation said in its July report that LaRouche takes positions "which in the end advance Soviet foreign policy goals . . . . In the worst case, his group may well be the strangest asset for the KGB's disinformation effort." The charge that the LaRouche-affiliated National Caucus of Labor Committees has ties to Soviet officials was first raised in 1979 by the National Review magazine in an article by a former associate of LaRouche. (It also has been raised in subsequent publications, such as The New Republic article, and in the NBC libel suit.) Some former intelligence officials say they back the ex-member's contention that in the 1970s the LaRouche group maintained contact with the Soviets through Gennady Serebreyakov, an official at the Soviets' United Nations mission.
LaRouche, in his letter to The New Republic, confirmed that Serebreyakov approached him sometime in the mid-1970s, and that the two met twice to try to end the feuding between the LaRouche organization and East Bloc nations. LaRouche said the effort was unsuccessful.
Jeffrey Steinberg, a top aide to LaRouche, said group members never passed any information to Serebreyakov. Steinberg also said the National Review article was largely incorrect.
Steinberg said LaRouche associates frequently invite Soviet officials to their seminars. "We want them there" to know the group's thinking, he said. He said that LaRouche associates have visited the Soviet Union repeatedly. "They run into Soviet officials all the time," Steinberg said.
For his part, one retired senior military official, retired Army major general John K. Singlaub, has expressed concern about the group's contacts with him.
Singlaub recalled in an interview that in the late 1970s, when he was stationed at Fort McPherson, Ga., after a publicized clash with President Carter over U.S. policy in Korea, he was approached by LaRouche associates, who said they liked his hard-line style.
After Singlaub's 1978 retirement, they attended Singlaub's lectures all over the country, he said. They showed him their intelligence reports about Iran, Western Europe and other topics, and Singlaub said some of it was surprisingly good.
"Initially I was convinced they were trying to build up credibility that they had a good intelligence network that I could rely on," Singlaub said.
In 1979, he continued, the LaRouche supporters began telling him that the U.S. military deserved a "major break" and that Carter had done a disservice to the military.
"They said, 'You military people are going to be the savior of the country . . . . We want to work closely with you. We have intelligence that can help you,'" Singlaub recalled.
He said he grew suspicious of the LaRouche supporters' goals and cut off relations with them.
Just as Singlaub said the LaRouche supporters used pro-military rhetoric with him, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official said they expressed strong opposition to narcotics traffickers when talking with him.
"They took a basic law enforcement narcotics control position," said John Cusack, the DEA's former international operations chief, who added that around 1976 he started receiving telephone calls from LaRouche associates researching the narcotics trade, and had numerous discussions with them.
LaRouche associates asked "intelligent" questions, said Cusack, now a staff member at the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. "They always seemed to know what the law enforcement agencies were doing. They were well-informed . . . . Sometimes they told me things I didn't know, but it turned out it was true." Cusack added that they had "very good contacts" with local police departments.
The group has cultivated these contacts for about 10 years, and many law enforcement officials subscribe to its publications.
In spring of 1977, LaRouche associates gave New Hampshire law enforcement officials detailed but speculative reports that the Clamshell Alliance, an antinuclear group then planning a protest at a nuclear plant, was a terrorist group financed by the Rockefellers. The May 1977 protest was not violent, although 1,400 people were arrested.
The group also has sold intelligence reports to a number of foreign governments, according to LaRouche and current and former associates. Steinberg said in a deposition that several years ago, LaRouche associates investigated terrorism for Italian officials. LaRouche said in an interview that his associates were hired to provide intelligence to the South African government. Ex-members said the intelligence reports dealt with the antiapartheid movement.
Some current and former U.S. officials who do not want to be identified, as well as ex-members, expressed concern that LaRouche's overseas activities may lead foreign leaders to think that he somehow represents the U.S. government, and take his statements as a "trial balloon" of U.S. policy.
At times LaRouche associates, identifying themselves as representatives of the LaRouche-affiliated National Democratic Policy Committee, arranged meetings with foreign leaders, who sometimes mistakenly thought they represented a faction of the Democratic Party, former associates of LaRouche and other sources said.
LaRouche said in an interview that he represents a "back channel," or confidential intermediary, for foreign officials who tire of dealing with the "idiots" in the State Department. "I'll telephone somebody in the White House and say, 'Look, a dear friend of ours in Mexico wants to have the president know something.'
But foreign leaders sometimes express confusion about LaRouche's messages because of their often rambling nature, former associates said.
The LaRouche group has developed "incredible intelligence files" on foreign government, business and labor union officials, as well as their counterparts in this country, said one ex-member.
Some of the LaRouche associates who work on intelligence have university training in their areas. They keep up by reading dozens of newspapers from around the world and interviewing experts, former members said.
"Many, many times I'd find I knew more about what was going on than the academics," said one former member who worked on intelligence. "People on the outside would be saying I was insane for being with LaRouche , but here I was talking to a European head of state's security man."
Graham, the former DIA director, said LaRouche's intelligence operation is no joke, and has developed contacts in the intelligence community.
"In my time in the intelligence community, I found too many gullible folk," Graham said. "I kept warning my people.