INT: Yes, clearly. Now you went off and became involved in what were called 'bag jobs'. Would you be able to explain to me what 'bag jobs' were and, you know, how it worked and so on?
WS: Well, we called them 'black bag jobs' and that title came from the fact that during World War Two, the only real bag that was available was a doctor's black leather bag. And we carried out lock-picking tools and cameras and letter-opening equipment in the black bags. So that's how it got the name of the 'black bag job'. Then we just called it 'bag job' later, because we were developing new bags, like briefcases and different coloured bags, so it wasn't quite so obvious. You'd have someone who looked like a workman carrying in a shiny black leather bag into someone's house, the neighbours could wonder well, he's not a doctor, so what's he doing carrying this shiny black bag.
INT: Would you be able to talk me through one, you know, not a particular case, but you know, a sort of supposed case, you know, of what would happen, how you would identify somebody who, you know, were interested in doing a 'bag job' on, you know, what it involved, so on and so forth?
WS: Well, through the use of these top level informants that we did have, one of 'em I can speak about, was Maurice Childs in Chicago and he knew the top leadership and so when we were doing 'bag jobs', we were targeting the top level people, thinking that they would have financial records or the information that might show that they were planning some over-throw of the government or what their just general philosophy was. So we targeted those people and if they didn't have anything in their apartments or houses after we searched, then we would go on to someone else. And there were two people that had a lot of material, Leon Katsin was the Treasurer and his records were just a dream, because he had records of all the contributions that people had made and all the members who, you know, were paying their membership fees. And then Molly West, who was the Secretary, she had all the Minutes of these secret meetings, sometimes we knew about, sometimes we didn't. And because they were at a higher level, we didn't necessarily have informants in there. Most of our informants were down on the low level, except for Maurice Childs. And he didn't attend those, because he was oddly enough telling the FBI how to run their case and the FBI put up with it, because he knew so much about the Communist Party. And I remember when I was in Chicago and we were following Doris Fein and Lillian Green - this was in '52 - if we got word that there was going to be a meeting of say Claude Lightfoot or someone else downtown, they might take us off that surveillance and at the last minute, we would find out that Maurice Childs is going to meet with Claude Lightfoot, we would have to discontinue the surveillance, because Maurice Childs didn't want any FBI agents following his around town. So he was running... He was telling the FBI what to do.
INT: That's an extraordinary sort of perverted way of doing it. Now when you were going to do one of these sort of illegal break-ins, how did it work? Did you have to follow, you know, this person's dependants and so on and so forth to school, check out the neighbours? You know, what exactly was the process?
WS: Well, if the person is single, it made it very easy, like Leon Kats...
WS: Yeah, if we were following someone, say like Bill Sennet, who was married and had two children, then we would have to follow him to work and we'd have to follow his wife to work and then we would have to follow the two kids to work. So, we would need, say, four agents on Bill Sennet and four agents on his wife, that's eight. The kids weren't that much of a problem, he had a little boy that was probably seven or eight and one agent on foot could usually follow him to school without a problem. It'd be kind of silly to have a bureau car going down the street about one mile an hour, following a little seven or eight year old boy, you know. How long it would take for the police to get out there, if somebody looked out the windows - 'There are two men in a black car following this little kid'. So we had to be very careful following a little kid to school. Then after everybody's in school and everyone is at work, we would telephone the next door neighbours, 'cos we had canvassed the neighbourhood. I remember on Bill Sennet, there was a woman who used to sit at the front window, eight hours a day. She had nothing else to do, I guess she was retired and she would just sit there and look out the window. Well, we had to make sure that she wasn't looking out the window when two agents walked up to the front door, because she just might call the police. So, in that particular instance, and I think there were two neighbours like that, we would have someone back in the office call these people just seconds before the agents were dropped around the corner to walk up to the house, so that instead of looking out the window, they were on the telephone, answering the call from the FBI, which they thought maybe was some carpet salesman or vacuum salesman or something. But it gave us enough time to unlock the door and get inside, then the woman could go back to looking out the window and we'd do the same thing when they were ready to leave. We were in radio contact, we'd say, OK now, we're ready to leave, and we'd have those people call on the phone again so that we could walk back out without being seen. So we had all these precautions to go through.
INT: How long would you spend inside? What would you be looking for?
WS: depending upon the information, if there were say oh fifty documents that we wanted photographed, it might take an hour or so. Then, once we photographed those and we usually sent the same agents back in, so that if they ran across the same information, they would know not to take it again, so that say if I'm going in Bill Sennet's apartment, and I've been in there half a dozen times, I know what I've taken before, so I look around for new documents and sometimes it's only five or ten minutes, you know, just about enough time to set up the camera and get the... we used a speed graphic lots of times, you'd take the film pack out and focus on the ground glass and put the film pack back in and one person would operate the camera and someone else would put the documents in place and the photograph would need... they'd take the documents back to where they'd found them and they could be out of there in five or ten minutes.
INT: And you knew what you were looking for when you went in?
WS: Membership records, financial information that we didn't get possibly from Leon Katsin, maybe Minutes of a meeting that we didn't find in Molly West's apartment, but anything that would show a connection with anyone else, whether at a Labour Union, could be anyone in industry. If someone were contacting someone who was employed in an industry that had government contracts, we wanted to know that, because that would have been a potential saboteur in case of a national emergency. And if we... if the Communists knew somebody working in a plant that had classification, have, you know, top secret material, if we got into a war and didn't know that that person was there, then we would have all kinds of problems with sabotage and this is why we created such a large number of people for the security index.
INT: Didn't you feel bad? I mean, you were following kids to school, breaking into people's apartments.
WS: [Laughs] I felt badly at first, when I found out about it,, when found out the fact that we didn't have any higher authority than J. Edgar Hoover, but when I first began I thought that certainly either the President or the Attorney General, or someone in Congress was saying, OK, we'll give you clearance, we're just not going to say anything about it, we're not going to tell the public. And we were told never to get caught, but I didn't realise that that meant, at that time, when I started out, that if we got caught, we would have been fired, because Hoover would have said, well, those are just rogue agents out of control. And so when I realised that, hey, we're out there putting our jobs on the line and everybody above us is insulated, they'd say, well, we didn't give them permission to do that, so if we got caught, we're out looking for a job. That's when I began to feel badly, because then I knew that it was such a violation, that they were not willing to discuss it with the Attorney General of the United States to get, you know, higher authority. We had authority for some of the wire taps and I just assumed that we had the authority for 'black bag jobs'. And when I found out that we didn't, then it was a whole different story.
INT: It was a sort of violation of constitutional and civil rights.
WS: Oh, it's a violation of illegal search and seizure under the Constitution, but it's also a violation of city law in Chicago. I mean, it's breaking and entering, and if we got caught, I think there were police officers in Chicago that would have loved to prosecute an FBI agent for breaking and entering. And it was a violation of the county laws and of the state laws.
INT: Did you see people sort of crack up under this?
WS: I knew two agents who became such bad alcoholics that they had to quit the squad and then eventually both of them quit the FBI.
INT: And the people you were following?
WS: What's that?
INT: And the people you were following, did any of them?
WS: Not at the time, not in the fifties that I know of. Some of them did eventually leave the Communist Party and they became very successful. In fact, I said to agents one time, we were on surveillance and I said, you know, if Bill Sennet worked as hard at a legitimate job as he does working for the Communist Party, he'd be a millionaire and that's exactly what happened. He quit the Communist Party and he went to work with a large trucking firm and the last time I knew of, he was in the San Francisco area in a very wealthy neighbourhood, very successful.