Who do you think would win an intelligence-gathering competition
between world governments and the Church of Scientology?
It seems like the smart money would be on government, considering programs like COINTELPRO that they were running at the same time that Scientology was becoming a force.
That is, until the Scientologists tried their own hand at espionage.
In the early 1970s, Scientology was facing harsh criticism from governments around the world. The church had recently lost its US tax-exempt status following an IRS audit.
More than 100 E-Meters, the devices used by Scientologists in diagnosing new members, had been seized by the DEA because of specious claims the church made about their abilities.
At this time the church’s founder, L Ron Hubbard, was acting as the self-appointed Commodore of the Sea Org, a small flotilla carrying elite Scientologists that roamed the seas for almost a decade. Hubbard had been charged with fraud in France and kicked out of Morocco. He went on to make enemies the world over.
Hubbard was very sensitive to criticism of Scientology and his preferred response was to pursue a scorched-earth policy when retaliating. He assigned his third wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, and the ‘Guardian’s Office’ that she commanded within Scientology, to do something about the information being held by our government and others about the church.
The so-called Operation Snow White began in 1973, and would grow to involve 5,000 Scientologists positioned in 136 agencies and organizations in 30 countries around the world.
Government agencies in countries such as Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, and England were all targeted, in covert actions with names like Project Apple, Mirror, Bashful, Dopey, and Witch.
Domestically, the scale of these actions was staggering.
Scientology operatives infiltrated the IRS, the departments of Justice, the Treasury, and Labor, the Federal Trade Commission, the Coast Guard, the DEA, and more.
Because of Hubbard’s pathological distrust of any organization with ties to the field of psychology, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association were targeted as well.
In 1974, two Scientologists secured jobs as IRS clerks in Washington, D.C. They exploited these positions to break into various offices of the US government, and for the next two years they copied and removed files related to Scientology.
While they managed to send thousands of pages to their superiors in the Guardian’s Office, they were careless; ultimately one was arrested, while the other, Michael Meisner, escaped the clutches of the church and turned himself into the FBI, testifying against his former bosses.
On July 8, 1977, in the biggest FBI raid in history, more than 150 FBI agents raided the offices of Scientology, recovering tens of thousands of stolen documents, along with tools of spycraft.
In the ensuing trials, eleven Scientologists, including Mary Sue Hubbard, received five-year prison sentences and petty fines.
About 15 years after Operation Snow White, in 1993, Scientology and the US federal government locked horns again, this time over Scientology’s long-held aspiration to regain the status of a religion in the eyes of the IRS, and therefore be exempt from tax.
While the full details of the ensuing compromise may never be revealed, tax-exempt status was granted to the Church of Scientology and 150 affiliated organizations.
Scientology had initiated many, many lawsuits against the government, sapping its human and financial resources. It’s believed that the IRS, crippled by the suits, ultimately acquiesced, granting Scientology the status of a religion in exchange for a reprieve from litigation.
Who says crime doesn’t pay?