The “Snow White” Program and the Church of Scientology: The True Story

The Snow White1 Program refers to the program written by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1973 for the purpose of legally correcting and expunging the plethora of false governmental reports about the Church of Scientology, its leaders and members, through strictly legal means.

The term “Snow White” was adopted as the name of the program because the government officials responsible for circulating the false reports were spreading a “fairy tale” without factual basis.

The Snow White Program was written by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1973 for the purpose of legally correcting and expunging the plethora of false governmental reports about the Church of Scientology, its leaders and members, through strictly legal means.

Mr. Hubbard wrote the Snow White Program because several countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea had denied entry to their ports to the ship Apollo, which at that time housed Church of Scientology senior ecclesiastical management bodies. The port denials were based on false reports concerning the Church that were primarily being distributed by certain governmental officials in England, the United States and Germany. Mr. Hubbard wanted to correct the record and to ensure that accurate and unbiased information on the Church of Scientology was maintained and disseminated by government agencies. Accordingly, Mr. Hubbard summarized the program as follows:

To engage in various litigation in all countries affected so as to expose to view all such derogatory and false reports, to engage in further litigation in the countries originating such reports, to exhaust recourse in these countries and then finally to take the matter to the United Nations (that now being possible for an individual and a group) and to the European Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile uprooting and canceling all such files and reports wherever found.

Contrary to the statements of those who have mislabeled the program as “Operation Snow White” and mischaracterized the Snow White Program to suit their own ends, this program created by Mr. Hubbard did not remotely contemplate anything illegal (see endnote). In fact, Mr. Hubbard expressly stated the “Ideal Scene” he intended to achieve: “All false and secret files of the nations of operating areas brought to view and legally expunged.”

In furtherance of the Snow White Program, the Church of Scientology availed itself of records access laws to pursue its records, creating substantial legal precedent that has benefited the entire public. Although the Snow White Program is no longer executed, the Church continues to heed Mr. Hubbard’s prescient call for use of access laws to uncover secret government programs violating civil and human rights. The rich legacy of the Snow White Program has led the Church of Scientology to become a champion of freedom of information laws and other citizen records access statutes to ensure transparency in government.

Portugal “Rock Festival”

An example illustrating the use of the Snow White Program, why it was necessary and its results, concerns the country of Portugal. From 1969 to the first half of 1974, the Apollo frequently docked at ports in Portugal, experiencing good relations with the people and local governments. In July 1973, a rumor was first heard in the port of Oporto that the Apollo was a “CIA ship.” This same rumor had first surfaced at ports in Spain in 1972 and, as a result of this and other false reports, the ship had been denied entry into some Spanish ports. Although the rumor continued to surface in 1973 and 1974 in Portugal, the Apollo nonetheless continued to be welcome in Portuguese ports.

On October 3, 1974, when the Apollo was docked at the port of Funchal on the island of Madeira, Portugal, the ship and its crew and passengers were attacked by a large crowd throwing rocks and shouting, “CIA ship.” The local police and army stood by and watched, doing nothing to hold the crowd back. As a result, some Church staff aboard the ship were injured and property was damaged or destroyed. Cars and motorcycles belonging to the Church and Church staff were thrown off the dock into the bay. The ship crew had to fight off the attackers with fire hoses while the ship made an emergency departure to escape the violence.

Documents obtained from the U.S. State Department through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) pursuant to the Snow White Program traced the “CIA ship” rumor to a State Department telex in April of 1972 sent to various European countries that contained numerous false reports. Following the Snow White Program procedure of locating and expunging false reports and seeking redress for religious persecution, the company that owned the Apollo, Operation Transport Corporation (“OTC”), filed suit in Lisbon against the government of Portugal seeking damages as a result of this riot. In June of 1985, the Administrative Court of Lisbon awarded damages to OTC, finding that the riot in October of 1974 had been sparked by the CIA ship rumor and that this rumor was false. These damages were upheld on appeal in 1987.

Based on these decisions, and the Church’s efforts to correct the false information in government files originally generated by the U.S. government, the Minister of Justice in Portugal officially authorized the registration of the Church of Scientology as a religious organization in Portugal in 1988, accomplishing the Snow White Program’s objective for that country. (In 2007, the Church of Scientology in Portugal was again recognized as a religion following a change in that country’s religion law. And in 2011, at the very port of Funchal where the misguided riot happened some 36 years ago, today stands a plaque embedded in the Fort Saint Jose wall overlooking the bay commemorating L. Ron Hubbard’s centennial birthday and the Apollo’s history of visiting the Island of Madeira between 1969 and 1974.)

Church of Scientology: Champion of Freedom of Information

The principal activities in the United States under the Snow White Program have consisted of filing Freedom of Information Act requests with all federal governmental agencies and public record requests at the state and local level, pursuing litigation to compel disclosure of records being withheld, and the filing and prosecution of a large lawsuit in 1978 against a number of federal government agencies for the purpose of expunging all false reports on the Church and Mr. Hubbard contained in their files.

As a result of these FOIA requests, the Church of Scientology obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of records from the files of government agencies concerning the Scientology religion, the Church of Scientology, Mr. Hubbard and Scientology leaders and members. These records, which were rife with false information and revealed a clear religious animus on the part of certain government officials against the Scientology religion, contain overwhelming and unequivocal evidence that the concerns that led Mr. Hubbard to write the Snow White Program were completely valid.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the Church of Scientology obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of records from the files of government agencies concerning the Scientology religion, the Church of Scientology, Mr. Hubbard and Scientology leaders and members. These records, which were rife with false information… contain overwhelming and unequivocal evidence that the concerns that led Mr. Hubbard to write the Snow White Program were completely valid.

Indeed, subsequent Congressional Oversight Hearings in the United States confirmed that Mr. Hubbard, the Church of Scientology and Scientology leaders were targeted for discriminatory treatment, and for illegal and politically motivated information gathering designed to stigmatize and set a group apart as somehow inherently suspect under the law.

Under the aegis of Snow White in the 1970s, the Church of Scientology established itself as a leader in the promotion and utilization of the Freedom of Information Act to protect not just the rights of Scientologists, but those of all citizens. The Church of Scientology engaged in an extensive public education campaign to ensure that citizens knew how to use the FOIA to expose wrongdoing and ensure transparency in government. The Church of Scientology also litigated numerous FOIA cases in the early years of the Act, establishing fundamental precedents that include shifting the burden to the government to prove documents are exempt from the FOIA and establishing that a government agency has an obligation to specify what documents are being withheld and on what grounds.2

Although the Snow White Program is not being executed today, inspired by Mr. Hubbard’s promotion of transparency in government through record access laws, the Church of Scientology and individual Scientologists have been relentless advocates of freedom of information and have played a key role in helping to enact public access legislation in many parts of the world. Holding governments accountable, the Church of Scientology has used Freedom of Information laws throughout the world to expose official wrongdoing that injure the rights of everyone. These efforts continue to this day.

In May 1991, in a case against the Internal Revenue Service, a United States Federal Court credited the Church with helping bring about significant reform. “Furthermore,” the Court stated, “communications between the IRS and the Church indicate that this litigation contributed to the IRS’ decision to review its procedures and that resulting improvements in these procedures will enable better handling of over 1,000 cases involving identical legal issues.” Church of Scientology Western United States v. Internal Revenue Service, May 24, 1991, CV-89-6370-RSWL

These precedents have safeguarded and ensured the rights of countless groups and individuals.

The Church has also used the FOIA to expose covert government programs that targeted unwitting citizens and communities for harmful biological and chemical testing. As reported in the Washington Post on March 11, 1980: “Using documents made public under the Freedom of Information Act, primarily CIA financial records, the Scientologists said receipts for repairs and replacement parts indicated… [a] machine was steadily used for 13 years and may have produced hundreds of pounds of various biological agents and microorganisms…. Citing one invoice from the early 1960s, the Scientologists said there was evidence that at least two disease-causing agents, one that could touch off undulant fever and another that could bring on tularemia, were mass-produced.”

Another Church FOIA request, in 1984, resulted in records revealing that the U.S. Army had secretly sprayed potentially harmful bacteria in open-air tests in the Washington, D.C., National Airport and in bus terminals in Washington, Chicago and San Francisco in 1964 and 1965. According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, these covert government actions were undertaken as part of a biological warfare experiment. The germ used to spray hundreds of unsuspecting American citizens has been found to cause symptoms of respiratory infections, blood poisoning and food poisoning.

In acknowledgement of these efforts, Quinlan J. Shea Jr., Director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Privacy and Information Appeals under Presidents Ford and Carter, credited the Church of Scientology, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Society of Professional Journalists, with having “endeavored to shine more light on government. They—and others—have issued publications on how to use the FOIA, have litigated in the courts and have testified before numerous congressional hearings calling for more openness.”

The Osler Decision

Although certain individuals opposed to the religion have mislabeled the program as “Operation Snow White” and have mischaracterized the Snow White Program as illegal and as embracing criminal activities, these false allegations have been carefully examined and dismissed as untrue by the courts.

Justice Osler of the Supreme Court of Ontario, Canada, reviewed the Snow White Program in 1985 to determine whether an Ontario Provincial Police officer should be cross-examined on an affidavit he had sworn in support of a search warrant against a Church of Scientology in Canada. The officer had mischaracterized the Snow White Program as calling for illegal actions.

In an opinion dated January 23, 1985, after reviewing the Snow White Program document and other related evidence, Justice Osler noted that:

It is not without significance that the affidavit of Fletcher Prouty, appearing in Volume 8A of the record at tab KK, makes it appear that he formed the conclusion, as a highly placed official of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, that since 1950 there has been a definite campaign of harassment against this organization [Church of Scientology] for nearly thirty years, primarily by means of the dissemination of false and derogatory information around the world to create a climate in which adverse action would be taken against the Church and its members. Defense against this type of activity was, of course, the stated objective of the Snow White Program. Decision of Supreme Court of Ontario, Osler, J., pp. 34-35

Concluding that the document on its face called for actions to “legally expunge” files and that the word legally appeared to have been purposely left out of the officer’s affidavit, Justice Osler ordered that the cross-examination of the officer go forward.

Following the cross-examination, on February 7, 1985, Justice Osler issued a second opinion stating that while he did not believe that the officer’s mischaracterization of the Snow White Program rose to the level of a fraudulent misrepresentation, he did find that the officer had made “errors in judgment” in characterizing the program as calling for illegal actions.

Justice Osler’s learned decision makes it unequivocally clear that the Snow White Program served important legal goals to ensure that false information on Scientology was expunged from government files and replaced by accurate and complete information.

Current Snow White Activities

The Snow White Program is not being implemented today. It was a very specific program tailored to a particular state of affairs at the time it was written. However, over the years the term Snow White became synonymous with the activity of legally locating and correcting false reports on the Church. So the term may be heard in connection with this activity from time to time. The Church’s legal bureau, working with Church counsel, utilizes the Freedom of Information Act and similar statutes around the world to locate false reports on Churches and to request documents of public interest that impact on all citizens.

Conclusion

Mr. Hubbard’s concerns when he created the Snow White Program proved prescient. Once the Church implemented the Snow White Program and used the FOIA in the United States and record access laws in other countries to request records and, if necessary, to press for withheld records in litigation, it uncovered hundreds of thousands of records over the next decade, many containing false and derogatory information relied upon by others to take adverse action against the Church and its founder and its leaders. These records also revealed government “dirty tricks” and discriminatory programs designed to target and suppress the religion—actions that were later exposed in Congressional hearings on civil rights abuses.

Since Mr. Hubbard created the Snow White Program, the Church of Scientology has become a pioneer in the use of freedom of information and other citizen records access laws and in educating others on their importance. The Church has used these laws to shine light into the dark recesses of government secrecy and expose many covert government programs that violated the rights of all citizens and undermined open, transparent government—a lynchpin of a democratic government.

The Church of Scientology will continue to be a champion of freedom of information. This is the proud legacy of Mr. Hubbard’s Snow White Program.

Endnote:

The illegal activities of certain members of the Guardian’s Office, a former autonomous unit within the Church in the 1970s that was disbanded in 1983, represented a distortion of the Snow White Program, mislabeled as “Operation Snow White” by certain critics.

  1. The term “Snow White” was adopted because the government officials responsible for circulating the false reports were spreading a “fairy tale” without factual basis.
  2. Church of Scientology and Freedom of Information (FOIA) Laws

Sign Up for Updates