Nation: Infiltrating the Underground

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After years of burrowing, FBI moles get their radicals

Ralph and Dick knew their stuff. Avid readers of Marx and Mao, Lenin and Trotsky, they impressed Clayton Van Lydegraf with their grasp of revolutionary ideology. Lydegraf, 62, a Communist Party member since the 1930s, had founded the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee in San Francisco. Its aim: to serve as a recruiter and support organization for the Weather Underground, the supersecret group that was formed from,the most extreme elements of the '60s antiwar movement and is bent on fomenting violent revolution in the U.S. Though the Weather Underground is estimated to have only a few dozen hard-core members, it is widely believed to have been behind the bombings of the U.S. Capitol in 1971 and the Gulf Oil headquarters in Pittsburgh in 1974, among other criminal acts.

Dick joined the radicals in 1970; three years later Ralph went underground too. Last April, Van Lydegraf asked his two faithful followers if they wanted to work with the clandestine Revolutionary Committee, a Los Angeles-based feminist faction of the Weather Underground that was looking for new members, especially people who knew about firearms. Ralph's purported experience in the military and Dick's in armed crime made them perfect candidates.

The Revolutionary Committee had a problem: the two men were the first FBI agents ever to penetrate the dark and harsh world of the Weather Underground. Ralph, actually Agent Richard J. Gianotti, and Dick, Agent William D. Reagan, lost their cover in November when federal judges needed their testimony to issue warrants for the arrest of Van Lydegraf and four Weather people, the biggest roundup of the group ever made. The Government contends that the five aimed to bomb the office of California State Senator John V. Briggs, a conservative Republican who hopes to run for Governor on a strong stand against homosexual rights.

Besides Van Lydegraf, the arrested radicals were:

Judith ("Josie") Bissell, 33, whose husband Silas is a descendant of the carpet-cleaner family. She graduated with a degree in fine arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967 and was arrested with Silas in 1970 on charges of planting a Molotov cocktail at the University of Washington Air Force ROTC building. Silas' whereabouts are still unknown.

Leslie Ann ("Esther") Mullin, 33, daughter of a retired Air Force colonel. She was a Peace Corps member in Africa after attending the University of Washington, where she was a member of the Students for a Democratic Society.

Michael Justesen, 27, also in S.D.S. at the University of Washington. He was arrested on charges of conspiring to destroy government property during a Seattle demonstration in 1970 but had skipped before the trial.

Marc Perry, 29, formerly a top prelaw student at the University of Washington. He was arrested for aggravated assault at a Weatherman rally in Chicago in 1969 and has been on the lam ever since.

Reagan and Gianotti met with the group a couple of times a week at local restaurants for discussions of how the works of Communist thinkers could be applied to their own goals. Often the group would take 50 pages of Mao's On Protracted War and explicate it line by line.

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