Re: FBI Cointelpro Program
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COINTELPRO is an acronym ('COunter INTELligence PROgram') for a program of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States. Although covert operations have been employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO operations of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against organizations that were (at the time) considered to have politically radical elements, ranging from those whose stated goal was the violent overthrow of the US government (such as the Weathermen) to Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and racist and segregationist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. The document that launched the COINTELPRO operations against Black groups directed FBI agents to "track, expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities" of these dissident movements and their leaders.
COINTELPRO began in 1956 and was designed to "increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections" inside the Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA). Supporters of the program argue that the project was rooted in the Bureau's knowledge that some domestic leftwing and radical organizations were manipulated by hostile foreign intelligence agencies. For example, the FBI had access to the Venona decrypts that showed the Soviet Union and its KGB manipulated and worked under the cover of the CPUSA for espionage purposes and to incite domestic unrest in the United States.
However, the program was soon enlarged to include disruption of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), Black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam (1967), and the entire New Left, including antiwar, community, and religious groups (1968). Opponents of COINTELPRO point out that many of these groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had no links to communism or foreign powers. A later investigation by the Senate's Church Committee (see below) stated that "COINTELPRO began in 1956, in part because of frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the Government's power to proceed overtly against dissident groups..." Congress and several court cases later concluded that even the COINTELPRO operations against communist and socialist groups exceeded statutory limits on FBI activity and violated Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and association.
Some of the largest COINTELPRO campaigns targeted the Socialist Worker's Party, the "New Left" (including several anti-war groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Black Liberation groups (such as the Black Panthers and the Republic of New Africa), Puerto Rican independence groups, the American Indian Movement and the Weather Underground.
The program was secret until 1971, when an FBI field office was burglarized by a group of left-wing radicals calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI. Several dossiers of files were taken and the information passed to news agencies. Within the year, Director Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis. He did not promise that the FBI would stop using COINTELPRO-style tactics.
Further documents were revealed in the course of separate lawsuits filed against the FBI by NBC correspondent Carl Stern, the SWP, and a number of other groups. A major investigation was launched in 1976 by the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee" for its chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho. However, millions of pages of documents remain unreleased, and many released documents are entirely censored.
In the Final Report of the Select Committee COINTELPRO was castigated in no uncertain terms:
"Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that...the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propogation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence."
The Church Committee documented a history of the FBI being used for purposes of political repression as far back as World War I, through the 1920s, when they were charged with rounding up "anarchists and revolutionaries" for deportation, and then building from 1936 through 1976.
The FBI claims that it no longer undertakes COINTELPRO or COINTELPRO-like operations. However, critics claim that agency programs in the spirit of COINTELPRO target groups like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, Earth First! and the Anti-Globalization Movement.
COINTELPRO used a broad array of methods, including:
Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.
Psychological warfare from the outside: The FBI and police used myriad other "dirty tricks" to undermine these movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists.
Harassment through the legal system: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, "investigative" interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.
Break-ins: The FBI conducted "black bag" jobs against the targeted groups and their members.
Extralegal force and violence: The FBI instigated violence, and its paid informants carried out assaults, beatings, and, in one case, a murder.
Supporters of the FBI argue that the Bureau was convinced that there was such a threat of domestic subversion posed by radical groups that extraordinary efforts were required to forestall violence and revolutionary insurgency. Critics counter that this perception was flawed, and, in the words of Glick, in the case of "radical Black and Puerto Rican activists (and later Native Americans), these attacks-including political assassinations-were so extensive, vicious, and calculated that they can accurately be termed a form of official "terrorism." (Glick, War at Home). Hoover was willing to use false claims to attack his political enemies. In one memo he wrote: "Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt [the Black Panther Party] and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge."
In 1969 the FBI special agent in San Francisco wrote Hoover that his investigation of the Black Panther Party revealed that in his city, at least, the Black nationalists were primarily feeding breakfast to children. Hoover fired back a memo implying the career ambitions of the agent were directly related to his supplying evidence to support Hoover's view that the BPP was "a violence prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means".
“...I realized I had to gain more knowledge to protect against evil and to protect myself from not becoming evil myself. This is our major goal in life...\" Terry Lee