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

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
  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
  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
  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,
  - COINTELPRO distorted the public's view of radical groups in a way
  that helped to isolate them and to legitimize open political
  - 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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