This is the story of how a woman named Mary Lou Sapone infiltrated the gun control movement on behalf of her employer, the National Rifle Association. This story should set off alarm bells in advocacy groups all throughout this country--there might be moles all around you, informing on what your organization does and sabotaging the work that you do.
Mary McFate is an advocate of environmental causes and a prominent activist within the gun control movement. For more than a decade, she volunteered for various gun violence prevention organizations, serving on the boards of anti-gun outfits, helping state groups coordinate their activities, lobbying in Washington for gun control legislation, and regularly attending strategy and organizing meetings.
Mary Lou Sapone, by contrast, is a self-described "research consultant," who for decades has covertly infiltrated citizens groups for private security firms hired by corporations that are targeted by activist campaigns. For some time, Sapone also worked for the National Rifle Association.
But these two Marys share a lot in common—a Mother Jones investigation has found that McFate and Sapone are, in fact, the same person. And this discovery has caused the leaders of gun violence prevention organizations to conclude that for years they have been penetrated—at the highest levels—by the NRA or other pro-gun parties. "It raises the question," says Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, "of what did she find out and what did they want her to find out."
Sapone got within shouting distance of being inside of the inner circle of the most prominent gun control organizations in the country. Her status as an informant for the National Rifle Association sends the veritable shot across the bow--they mean business, they're going to do whatever they can to get an advantage, and they don't respect any boundaries.
How did they discover Sapone and how extensive was this infiltration?
Outside the gun control world, Mary Lou Sapone was, as Mother Jones has previously reported, a for-hire operative who spied on citizens' groups for corporate clients. Property and phone records indicate that the two names belong to the same person. Last week, a reporter for Mother Jones called the Sarasota phone number that McFate had given her gun control allies and asked the woman who answered if she was Mary Lou Sapone. "Yes," she responded. But Sapone then refused to answer any questions about Mary McFate or her work for gun control. She quickly hung up—and did not respond to subsequent calls and emails.
During Sapone's ascent through the ranks of the gun control movement, she worked for the NRA, according to a business associate. In a 2003 deposition, Tim Ward, who had been president of the Maryland-based security firm Beckett Brown International, said that the NRA had been "a client" of Sapone's. (As a subcontractor for BBI, Sapone had planted an operative within an environmental group in Lake Charles, Louisiana.) According to Ward, at his request Sapone had introduced BBI to the NRA in early 1999. And that introduction quickly paid off. Billing records obtained by Mother Jones indicate that between May 1999 and April 2000, the NRA paid BBI nearly $80,000 for various services.
In another 2003 deposition, Jay Bly, a former Secret Service officer who worked for BBI, was asked what type of work the security firm had done for the NRA, and he responded, "Those are very sensitive issues, and I'm just not comfortable going into it. I'm really not." Later in the deposition, Bly said, "I did a number of different things for the NRA in the area of investigation, the area of personal protection, in the area of event security, in the area of intelligence gathering, okay?"
Sapone's contact at the National Rifle Association? Patrick O'Malley.
In his deposition, Ward identified Sapone's contact at the NRA as Patrick O'Malley. From the late 1990s until 2002, O'Malley was the deputy executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA's political arm. And according to billing records from BBI (which in 2000 changed its name to S2I Corporation), O'Malley was BBI's liaison at the NRA. Recent emails indicate that in 2007 and 2008 Sapone was working with O'Malley, who lobbied for the NRA after leaving the ILA and went on to work for a government relations firm retained by his former employer. In recent years, O'Malley has served as the executive director of the Ballot Issues Coalition, an organization composed of hunting-rights groups, including the NRA.
This is an extensive operation--and the more public "face" of it is Montgomery McFate (Sapone).
In the 1990s—while working within the gun control community as McFate—Sapone formed her own intelligence-gathering business. And she enlisted family members for its operations. "In our business, it's my daughter-in-law, Montgomery Sapone [who] does all the analytic reports, forecasting, and white papers," Sapone wrote to a client in an August 1999 email obtained by Mother Jones. "She produces a very professional product." Sapone continued, "We are warning our clients that activist groups are moving towards ballot initiatives…And it's easy for groups like Greenpeace to emotionally shape a looming crisis in a 10 second TV spot 2 days before a referenda election. My daughter Shelley specializes in that aspect of our business. We are doing a lot of work now to help clients in the 2000 election."
Photo: Montgomery McFate
These days, Sean and Montgomery Sapone are better known as Sean and Montgomery McFate, a successful Washington couple whose current bios make no mention of any past intelligence-gathering or opposition-research work. Sean is currently the program director of the national security initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank boasting an advisory board composed of four former Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. An expert on military affairs, he previously worked for Amnesty International and for military contractor DynCorp. According to an online biography, he helped to organize "the first major legal arms shipment to Liberia in 15 years." Montgomery has made a name for herself as one of the primary architects of the US military's human terrain program, which teams social scientists with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers better understand the local culture. (The controversial program has been sharply criticized by the American Anthropological Association, which fears it may cross an ethical line, and has been described by detractors as "mercenary anthropology.") Now a top Pentagon adviser, Montgomery also contributed to the Army's Counterinsurgency Field Manual drafted under the guidance of General David Petraeus.
Amazing what you find out about people, and their lack of ethics. Anyone who deals with these people is asking for serious trouble--there's no telling who they would sell out to make a dollar. For all we know, Sapone and her family are selling secrets to the highest bidder--and that's not hyperbole when you speculate that they have the capability to do that kind of thing, coupled with a long history of actually doing it. You have to seriously question anyone who acts as a "mercenary" and is willing to spend years--years--duping people for money. Who know what they've been up to, or who they plan to sell out next.
Shabby grifters is all they seem to be.
Enhanced a photo of Sapone that Mother Jones found on her erstwhile blog, which has apparently been scrubbed of "better" photos.