Fired Agent Seeks Reinstatement
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A veteran FBI agent who was fired for refusing to investigate a peace group felt he had to stand up for his beliefs and doubted it would cost him his job, witnesses testified Monday.
James Swinford, since retired as the senior resident agent of the FBI’s Peoria, Ill., office, said during a hearing before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board that former agent John C. Ryan refused on principle to investigate the peace group.
The panel is reviewing Ryan’s dismissal and his request to be reinstated. In addition, an explanation of the FBI investigation of peace groups has been requested by Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary civil and constitutional rights subcommittee.
In the hearing Monday, Swinford said he had urged Ryan to reconsider his refusal to handle the case and told him the investigation could have been conducted by somebody else in the five-man Peoria office.
″But he said he felt he had to make a stance,″ said Swinford.
Swinford, who said he was responsible for administrative duties in the Peoria office, added that Ryan knew he would face disciplinary measures but didn’t think he would be fired.
″I pointed out to him that he should not bet his career on that assumption,″ Swinford said.
The hearing is expected to last through Tuesday.
Ryan, 49, had planned to retire June 19, 1988, when he would be eligible for full benefits, having logged more than 21 years of service with the FBI.
He was fired Sept. 11 when his opposition to U.S. foreign policy in Central America conflicted with an order to investigate Silo Plowshares, an anti- nuclear group opposed to the U.S. support of Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The group was suspected of vandalizing military recruiting offices in the Chicago area, and Ryan was asked to investigate whether there had been similar activities in his territory.
Ryan is trying to reclaim his job and his pension. A settlement had appeared close earlier this month, but the FBI decided against it.
A devout Roman Catholic who once studied for the priesthood, Ryan started taking religious study courses about 10 years ago. He has said that by the time he had earned his master’s degree in 1985, he was a committed pacifist.
Earlier this month, Ryan began teaching a class on violence and non- violence at Bradley University in Peoria.
Thomas F. Jones, who at the time of Ryan’s dismissal was the special agent in charge of the Springfield division of the FBI and was responsible for the field offices such as Peoria, said Monday at the hearing that Ryan had refused to follow through with the Plowshares investigation because of his ″personal, religious and human beliefs.″
Jones said he would characterize Ryan’s objections as political. He said Ryan objected to the investigation being classified as domestic security and said he was acquainted with one of the suspects and held views closely aligned with the group.
Jones said that after giving Ryan several chances to reconsider and to complete the investigation, he recommended a minimum 14-day suspension for Ryan’s insubordination.
He also testified that it was the first time he’d heard of an agent with extensive experience being dismissed for a one-time instance of insubordination.