Phone tip triggered manhunt for duo trying to kill Trudeau, Memo in FBI file cites connections to American Nazi party

Robert Russo The Canadian Press Monday, March 10, 2003

A page from a report on files the FBI kept on Pierre Trudeau.

WASHINGTON -- A late-night tip called in from a California phone booth in 1969 convinced legendary FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover that two men were heading to Canada to assassinate then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

In rather breathless encoded messages, Hoover scrambled FBI agents across the United States in an attempt to locate at least two men who might have been part of a plot to kill Trudeau.

A subsequent investigation suggested the alleged conspiracy may have been hatched by the American Nazi party.

The terse Teletyped missives, stamped secret, are part of a file the FBI kept on Trudeau that was obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information law by The Canadian Press. Much of the heavily censored dossier was made available after Trudeau's death in October 2000.

Those documents showed Hoover had spies watching Trudeau as far back as 1951 because the feared former FBI boss believed the rich young Montrealer was a communist.

An appeal was made to the FBI two years ago to release more information, and a version of the file with fewer edits was made available last week that included censored documents on the plot to kill Trudeau.

Exactly why the FBI kept its fear of a conspiracy to kill Trudeau quiet remains a mystery. Spokesmen for the U.S. federal police in Washington and Los Angeles said they had no information on the case. RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Marsh and a spokeswoman for the Ottawa police also said they could provide no information on the alleged plot.

Mitchell Sharp, who was Canada's external affairs minister at the time, said he had no recollection of the events described in the Trudeau file. Nor did Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who was Indian Affairs minister under Trudeau in 1969.

The file suggests the FBI had a spy monitoring communications of the Ottawa police department, according to a memo summarizing the case.

"(Name blacked out), confidential source abroad, advised that the Ottawa, Canada, Police Department had received a telephone call on April 25, 1969, at 11:30 p.m.," the memo said.

Threats to Trudeau in the United States were not unusual and most were handled routinely, the documents suggest.

But one incident clearly provoked real fear of assassination, judging by the 59 pages of cryptic reports on the incident included in Trudeau's 300-page dossier.

The intrigue began on April 25, when someone called Ottawa police from a beachside phone booth in Santa Monica, Calif., to tell them a pair of men had left four days earlier and were making their way northward to kill Trudeau.

Hoover, keenly sensitive to these kinds of threats after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, immediately launched a round-the-clock manhunt.

His concern is evident after being briefed one day later by a CSLA -- FBI-speak for Confidential Source Los Angeles.

"(Name blacked out) stated that two men left Los Angeles, California, on four twenty-one last for Canada to assassinate Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. They are allegedly driving a (blacked out) Oklahoma licence (blacked out)," Hoover wrote in an enciphered teletype message on April 26.

"All offices immediately handle."

"All offices check indices concerning three individuals. Fully identify (blacked out) and attempt to establish current whereabouts and any indication headed towards Canada."

Agents in FBI field offices in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Chicago and Washington began the search by scouring records and questioning potential witnesses.

That same day, Hoover sent another urgent cable to the FBI legal attaché at the old U.S. embassy on Wellington Street facing Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The attaché is presumably keeping Canadian authorities informed of the threat to Trudeau.

"Initial attempt to interview (censored) California, negative," Hoover tells Ottawa.

An Oklahoma City agent let Hoover know later that day that one of the men being sought may have also threatened the life of President Richard Nixon.

"Bureau note that the three phone calls in the above matters were made on the same date within 30 minutes and there is a possibility that phone calls were made by the same individual."

Two days after the initial tip was received, the investigation moved north to Chicago. Agents interviewed a woman who worked at a Chicago hospital with a man being sought.

"Chicago will continue to attempt to locate (censored) through hospital records to determine whereabouts of (censored)."

The investigation makes apparent the extent of Hoover's network of spies. A cable from a Los Angeles agent to Hoover on April 27 makes it clear the FBI had someone watching the mailbox of a potential witness.

"A highly confidential source advised that (censored) at the above address received postcard postmarked (censored), California."

Great swaths of this report to the FBI director are blacked out.

The agents appear to be closing in on those they're seeking on April 27. Detailed descriptions for three different men are included in the files.

Two agents are led to a ramshackle house on the outskirts of L.A. "All windows in front are boarded shut with one-half-inch plywood. All curtains are drawn and dogs were heard inside the house."

They interview someone there who they clearly believe is a suspect.

"(Censored) denied making call but upon (censored) furnished information to (censored) which strongly suggests otherwise," the head of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division wrote.

Just as agents seem to be closing in on those they are seeking, the file quickly skips to an undetermined conclusion of the case.

The hunt ends without explanation. On April 29, four days after a frantic, nationwide manhunt began, Hoover calls off his hounds in a message to field offices. "No further investigation should be conducted at this time. Each recipient promptly submit (a report) setting forth result of investigation conducted."

Much of the rest of the missive is blacked out.

A May 1 memo from the L.A. field office summarizing the case said one of those connected to the plot has attended meetings of the American Nazi party.

"The raising of funds and future activities of the party were discussed at this meeting."

The unidentified male was the suspect in an FBI probe into an extortion attempt that was not pursued after Los Angeles prosecutors determined the threat wasn't specific enough to get a conviction in U.S. Federal Court.

Agents interview him all the same.

"He stated that (censored) advised him (censored) a conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau."

The last page included in the section on the assassination plot quotes a source on the location of the American Nazi Party's headquarters in El Monte, Calif.

© Copyright 2003 Times Colonist (Victoria)