My favorite infiltrator

Some years ago it was reported that two Oakland cops infiltrated an antiwar action on May 12, 2003. This should come as no surprise, as it's been going on for a long time now. For decades. Back in the Vietnam era I was in an antiwar veterans' group that was infiltrated by an "intelligence agent" of the SFPD. That was in 1972, in San Francisco. He testified against us in court, and later attempted to mug me. I call him my favorite infiltrator.

It was shortly after noon on April 4th, back in 1972. A friend and I were walking down 29th Street towards Mission when a little red car slid into a parking space beside us. “Hey! In that car,” said my friend, “That’s Tom Griffin!”

Thomas Griffin was an undercover cop who had testified against me and twelve others at a trial in San Francisco. The thirteen of us defendants were ex-GIs--soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen--who'd occupied the Consulate of the US supported puppet government of South Vietnam the previous December (1971) to protest the war of that era. Before surfacing to testify against us, Griffin had dropped by my apartment two or three times. So he should at least have known my name--but he did not.

On the witness stand, after pretentiously presenting himself as a police "intelligence agent," he pointed me out and identified me as "Donald." (My name is Daniel.) Griffin misidentified others as well. During the cross-examination our lawyer asked Officer Griffin, "You don't even know the names of any of these defendants?"

Griffin couldn't name a single one of us. So our lawyer pursued, "You told the court that you're an 'officer of the law.' You also said that you're an 'intelligence agent.' But I wonder, wouldn't it be more appropriate to just call you a 'fink'?"

During the trial we learned that Thomas Griffin had graduated the police academy and was a full-fledged police officer. He'd joined and spied on several organizations including a gay activist group. He was also a narc. At our trial he was the prosecution's star witness, but he had nothing to tell the court beyond what was in the news media.

Of course the facts of the case were totally beyond question. The thirteen of us had occupied the Viet Consulate for several hours, during which time we'd been on TV, and also issued a press statement saying exactly what we were doing and why. I forget what the charges against us were, but we pleaded "innocent" on the grounds that this was an act of conscience. The trial lasted four weeks and the jury acquitted us.

We figured that Griffin's lackluster testimony had actually worked in our favor. However, jury members told us after the trial that it hadn't influenced them one way or the other. One member of the jury dismissed Griffin as “a waste of the taxpayers’ money.”

By this time Griffin seemed to be so well-known that we thought his undercover days would be over--but there he was, a month after the trial, still sneaking around in an unmarked car. He was sitting beside the driver, resting his arm on the open window. But was it really Griffin? I couldn't quite believe that he'd be attempting to operate undercover only a few blocks from my apartment. I called out, “Tom Griffin!”

He jumped as though startled, stuck his head out the window and gaped at us But who was the driver? Probably another undercover cop--a potential infiltrator--or, maybe some innocent person Griffin was spying on. So my friend and I both took a good look to see if we might recognize him. “What’re you doing?” he demanded.

"Just looking to see if I know you," I said. "In case you don't know it, the guy with you is an undercover cop--his name's Tom Griffin."

The driver didn't thank us for the warning. He just sat there scowling at us. So my friend and I just continued on our way, but we’d gone only a few steps when the driver jumped out of the car and snarled, “Get in my car!”

I just kept on walking.

“Get in my car!” the driver barked again and ran up to me and grabbed my arm. I thought he was going to arrest me; instead he began screaming, “Wanna LOOK at me, do you?” he screamed repeatedly, like a vampire caught in the sunlight, and, started pounding on me. The poor man seemed terribly upset. Griffin was also hitting me and trying to grab me.

"Run!" I yelled at them at the top of my lungs, "Run!" and tried to shove them away--I'd heard that was an effective thing to do if you ever encounter a mugger in some back alley. Of course this was a busy street in broad daylight. My friend was also shouting "Run! Run! Run!" and pushing them away from me.

Griffin scampered off, and the driver quickly followed him. They jumped back into their car and sped off, tires squealing.

I don't know what they intended to do to me. Although the driver told me to get in their car, he didn't show a badge or tell me I was under arrest. My guess is that he intended to drag me off to somewhere and beat me up. Had my friend not been there to jump in and help me, I fear that would've happened. So I survived the incident with minor bruises.

Among the numerous people who were able identify Officer Griffin was my neighbor, who'd seen him at the trial. A couple days after the encounter, this neighbor happened to be walking down 29th, the street on which he as well as I lived. He passed the scene of the attack, and there at the corner of Mission Street, he saw Tom Griffin, loitering about. Presumably, Griffin was on stakeout, who knows what for. Now my neighbor was a large, muscular fellow, a former paratrooper who never shied away from a confrontation. So he went home, got a camera, came back to the corner, walked up to Griffin, put the camera in his face, and said, "Smile."

Griffin didn't smile sweetly; he didn’t smile at all. Instead, he scowled, snarled and waved his finger threateningly while my neighbor snapped a picture. That evening my neighbor gave me the film which I developed; it was a photojournalist's dream. I gave it to an underground newspaper which published it on the front page.

That was the last I ever saw of Officer Griffin and I've always wondered if he eventually went on to become the head of an "intelligence" unit, or perhaps achieved something of even greater magnitude. By now he may be a high ranking official in Homeland Security, protecting us from terrorists and preventing the next 9/11.

Daniel Borgström
August 2006