Document:COINTELPRO Revisited - Spying & Disruption
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COINTELPRO Revisited - Spying & Disruption
COINTELPRO Revisited - Spying & Disruption
Refuse and Resist!
By Brian Glick author of War at Home, South End Press
A History To Learn From-
What Was Cointelpro?
"COINTELPRO" was the FBI's secret program to undermine the popular upsurge which swept the country during the 1960s. Though the name stands for "Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not enemy spies. The FBI set out to eliminate "radical" political opposition inside the US. When traditional modes of repression (exposure, blatant harassment, and prosecution for political crimes) failed to counter the growing insurgency, and even helped to fuel it, the Bureau took the law into its own hands and secretly used fraud and force to sabotage constitutionally-protected political activity. Its methods ranged far beyond surveillance, and amounted to a domestic version of the covert action for which the CIA has become infamous throughout the world.
How Do We Know About It?
COINTELPRO was discovered in March, 1971, when secret files were removed from an FBI office and released to news media. Freedom of Information requests, lawsuits, and former agents' public confessions deepened the exposure until a major scandal loomed. To control the damage and re-establish government legitimacy in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, Congress and the courts compelled the FBI to reveal part of what it had done and to promise it would not do it again . . .
How Did It Work?
The FBI secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes to "misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize "specific individuals and groups. Close coordination with local police and prosecutors was encouraged. Final authority rested with top FBI officials in Washington, who demanded assurance that "there is no possibility of embarrassment to the Bureau." More than 2000 individual actions were officially approved. The documents reveal three types of methods: 1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main function was to discredit and disrupt. Various means to this end are analyzed below. 2. Other forms of deception: The FBI and police also waged psychological warfare from the outside -- through bogus publications, forged correspondence, anonymous letters and telephone calls, and similar forms of deceit. 3. Harassment, intimidation and violence: Eviction, job loss, break-ins, vandalism, grand jury subpoenas, false arrests, frame-ups, and physical violence were threatened, instigated or directly employed, in an effort to frighten activists and disrupt their movements. Government agents either concealed their involvement or fabricated a legal pretext. In the case of the Black and Native American movements, these assaults -- including outright political assassinations -- were so extensive and vicious that they amounted to terrorism on the part of the government.
Who Were The Main Targets?
The most intense operations were directed against the Black movement, particularly the Black Panther Party. This resulted from FBI and police racism, the Black community's lack of material resources for fighting back, and the tendency of the media -- and whites in general -- to ignore or tolerate attacks on Black groups. It also reflected government and corporate fear of the Black movement because of its militance, its broad domestic base and international support, and its historic role in galvanizing the entire Sixties' upsurge. Many other activists who organized against US intervention abroad or for racial, gender or class justice at home also came under covert attack. The targets were in no way limited to those who used physical force or took up arms. Martin Luther King, David Dellinger, Phillip Berrigan and other leading pacifists were high on the list, as were projects directly protected by the Bill of Rights, such as alternative newspapers. The Black Panthers came under attack at a time when their work featured free food and health care and community control of schools and police, and when they carried guns only for deterrent and symbolic purposes. It was the terrorism of the FBI and police that eventually provoked the Panthers to retaliate with the armed actions that later were cited to justify their repression. Ultimately the FBI disclosed six official counterintelligence programs: Communist Party-USA (1956-71); "Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto Rico" (1960-71); Socialist Workers Party (1961-71); "White Hate Groups" (1964-71); "Black Nationalist Hate Groups" (1967-71); and "New Left" (1968- 71). The latter operations hit anti-war, student, and feminist groups. The "Black Nationalist" caption actually encompassed Martin Luther King and most of the civil rights and Black Power movements. The "white hate" program functioned mainly as a cover for covert aid to the KKK and similar right-wing vigilantes, who were given funds and information, so long as they confined their attacks to COINTELPRO targets. FBI documents also reveal covert action against Native American, Chicano, Phillipine, Arab-American, and other activists, apparently without formal Counterintelligence programs.
What Effect Did It Have?
COINTELPRO's impact is difficult to fully assess since we do not know the entire scope of what was done (especially against such pivotal targets as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, SNCC and SDS), and we have no generally accepted analysis of the Sixties. It is clear, however, that: - COINTELPRO distorted the public's view of radical groups in a way that helped to isolate them and to legitimize open political repression. - It reinforced and exacerbated the weaknesses of these groups, making it very difficult for the inexperienced activists of the Sixties to learn from their mistakes and build solid, durable organizations. - Its violent assaults and covert manipulation eventually helped to push some of the most committed and experienced groups to withdraw from grass-roots organizing and to substitute armed actions which isolated them and deprived the movement of much of its leadership. - COINTELPRO often convinced its victims to blame themselves and each other for the problems it created, leaving a legacy of cynicism and despair that persists today. - By operating covertly, the FBI and police were able to severely weaken domestic political opposition without shaking the conviction of most US people that they live in a democracy, with free speech and the rule of law. _________________
For more information on FBI COINTELPRO operations, see: Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, 1990, South End Press, Boston Eds. Jim Fletcher, Tanaquil Jones, & Sylvere Lotringer, Still Black, Still Strong: Survivors of the War Against Black Revolutionaries, 1993, Semiotext(e), New York Brian Glick, War At Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It, 1989, South End Press, Boston _________________
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