FBI Domestic Intelligence Activities

COINTELPRO Revisited - Spying & Disruption

                             Refuse and Resist!
                            Cointelpro Revisited -
                              Spying & Disruption
   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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