Operation Snow White: How scientology infiltrated the IRS

Operation Snow White: How scientology infiltrated the IRS

It's fair to say that, over the years, the Church of Scientology has made itself a number of enemies and hasn't always endeared itself to the public at large. Ironically enough, Scientology's persecution complex, as well as its frantic attempts to exercise total control over its own image, has indirectly done L Ron Hubbard's religion more harm than good. Since its inception, Scientology has come under some pretty heavy scrutiny, and a number of conspiracy theories have circulated regarding its perceived tactics of brainwashing, abuse and indoctrination.

Whether these disparaging claims are actually credible is up for debate, but what's alarming is that a major conspiracy regarding the Church of Scientology, and their attempted infiltration and intimidation of some of the highest echelons of the federal government, has already been proven true. Allow me to take you back to the year 1973 -  an age of hippie burnouts, glam rock, flared jeans and new-age supremacy, and introduce you to Operation Snow White.

Back in those days, the Church's position was insecure, and the FBI was already keeping a close eye on them, suspicious that they might be a criminal front, a money laundering scheme, or a cabal of secret communists. The Inland Revenue Service claimed that the Church owed millions of dollars in unpaid taxes, and were eagerly seeking payment in full. The problem is that Hubbard himself actively promoted an extremely aggressive PR style when dealing with outspoken criticism or interference, and one of the central tenets of Scientology is that followers are expected to pursue and silence so-called suppressive persons whenever they make themselves known. The entire IRS had just become one gigantic suppressive person - poised to eliminate the followers of dialectics forever.

Swift action was necessary to preserve the movement to ensure a prosperous future. Several years earlier, Hubbard had formed an internal initiative named the Guardian's Office to promote and protect the interests of Scientology. The Guardian's office determined that the best way to preserve the Church was by infiltrating Interpol to find out whether they were classified as a terrorist organisation or not, and, to remove "erroneous" documents that might argue that Scientology was a fraudulent venture.
The IRS wasn't the only institution that was a victim of this: the DEA, the U.S. Coast Guard intelligence service, and the National Institute of Mental Health were all secretly infiltrated by spies from the Church, who destroyed incriminating evidence and planted misinformation. The object of these missions was to provoke chaos and hysteria within various agencies and to make the American public lose faith in government bureaucracy.

Operation Snow White began in 1974, when Gerald Bennett Wolfe and Michael Meisner were selected for the intel job. The two men gained employment in the IRS headquarters and as low-level clerk-typists, were charged with the job of monitoring files on organisations that were exempt from paying tax. Their ultimate goal in this was to forge and ultimately replicate documents which would grant Scientology the same status. Over the next year, the men carried out a devious campaign of espionage that was so rigorous and damaging that it would incur a full-scale FBI investigation.

In October, the Guardian Office were elated to discover that the IRS was planning a meeting regarding Scientology's tax status. In response, the Church sent a spy to bug the room. On November 1, the day before the meeting, a listening device was planted in the conference room which transmitted a signal on an FM frequency. This signal would be recorded by Scientologists sitting in a car outside the IRS office. The plan went off without a hitch, and a tape of the meeting was sent to the Sea Org in the Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles.

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By December, Wolfe and Meisner had routed a portfolio of purloined documents (some 20 inches thick) to fellow-Scientologist Duke Snider, including a number of memos from the IRS Chief Counsel office. By the end of the month, Wolfe had broken into the office of Barbara Bird, an attorney with the IRS's Refund Litigation Service, where he made several photocopies of relevant paperwork that were also sent to the Sea Org. The Church was now armed with knowledge of the innermost workings of its greatest enemy. 

The way the agents covered their tracks was incrediblty inventive. Meisner was asked to "provide a cover for PR and legal for the way they obtained IRS docs" in case anything exposed the Church's criminal conspiracy. They needed a way to make their insider knowledge look untraceable. Meisner stole key documents regarding the tax exemption status of numerous other organisations and forged a letter from a fictional IRS employee, supposedly responsible for the leak. These files (including the documents relevant to Scientology) would then be sent out to their intended recipients along with the fake letter. Thus, the IRS would assume that an upset IRS agent had himself sent the files indiscriminately.

Operations continued long into 1976, after Wolfe and Meisner were able to make print IRS ID cards. These cards allowed them access to the federal courthouse in Washington, where the mother load of all data would be stored. On April 14 Meisner and Wolfe attempted a break-in of the Office of International Operations. When they attempted to enter one locked office, a passing cleaner became suspicious of the pair and notified security. The guard was fooled by the fabricated ID cards, and let the pair inside. When unattended, they soon proceeded to escape bearing a large pile of critical files.

In May, Wolfe stole a set of keys belonging to Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Dodell. He had this set duplicated and then he and Meisner broke into Dodell's office to forge more paperwork. Dodell had been targeted because he had apparently agreed to discuss a potential deposition of L Ron Hubbard with the Department of Justice.

Eventually, however, the two men were caught. During another attempted break-in of a district of Columbia courthouse, a night librarian became suspicious and contacted the FBI. Two federal agents questioned them and later released them in order to perform background checks. At the end of June, Wolfe was arrested and charged with "the use and possession of a forged official pass of the United States".

The presiding judge determined that Wolfe's case warranted grand jury investigation, and issued an arrest warrant for Meisner. The FBI quickly determined that he was a Scientologist, and a full-scale investigation was launched. The Bureau raided a number of Scientology bases in New York, Los Angeles and DC, which involved the largest number of FBI agents ever deployed in a single raid. During this time, the Bureau uncovered a number of plots, including plans to illegally blackmail, intimidate, harass and stalk enemies of Scientology. Once all the relevant evidence was gathered, Mary Sue Hubbard, L Ron's wife, was arrested, along with 1o other high-ranking members of the Guardian Office. Mary Sue was sentenced to five years in prison.

It is interesting to note that these crimes are not in any way classified, and the details are publicly available. Yet few people have heard much about these incidents - so tight is the church's grip on its public image. Today, the church is tax-exempt, and the IRS appears to have backed off for the most part. America's newest religion has cemented itself in modern society and, for now at least, it's here to stay.