Counterintelligence Program [Cointelpro]: The United States government program that destroyed the social and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s
Table of Contents
- Counterintelligence Program [Cointelpro] operations in general
- Specific covert actions against La Raza
III. Domestic covert action remains a serious threat today
- Domestic covert action did not end in the 1970’s
- “Bags of dirty tricks”
- Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) Operations in General
How the Cointelpro program destroyed the progressive social and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States
Since Cointelpro was used mainly against the progressive movements of the 1960s and 1970s its impact can be grasped only in the context of the momentous social upheaval which shook the country during those years. Chicano and black communities throughout the United States [US] came alive with renewed political struggle. Most major cities experienced sustained disciplined Chicano and black protests and massive barrio and ghetto uprisings. Chicano and black activists galvanised multi-racial rebellion among welfare mothers, students, and prisoners. College campuses and high schools erupted in militant protest against the war in Vietnam. A predominantly white New Left inspired by Chicano and black movements fought for an end to US intervention abroad and a more humane and co-operative way of life at home. By the late 1960s deep-rooted resistance had revived among Puerto Ricans and Native Americans. Millions of people began to reject the dominant ideology and culture plus thousands challenged basic US political and economic institutions. For a brief moment “the crucial mixture of people’s confidence in the government and lack of confidence in them which allows the government and the ruling class to rule threatened to break down.” By the mid-1970s the upheaval had largely subsided. Important progressive activity persisted, mainly on a local level and much continued to be learned and won, but the massive, militant Chicano, black and new left movements were gone. The sense of infinite possibility and of our collective power to shape the future had been lost.
Progressive momentum dissipated and radicals found themselves on the defensive as right-wing extremists gained major government positions and defined the contours of accepted political debate. Many factors besides Cointelpro contributed to this change. Important progress was made toward achieving movement goals to the war in Viet Nam and university reform. The mass media owned or controlled mainly by Jews and their big business and cowed by government and right-wing attacks helped to bury radical activism by ceasing to cover it. Television, popular magazines, and daily papers stereotyped activists as hardened criminals and welfare chiselers or as the supposedly affluent beneficiaries of “reverse discrimination;” white radical and leftist youth were portrayed first as hedonistic hippies and mindless terrorists, later as an apolitical, self-indulgent “me generation” and both were scapegoat as threats to “decent and hard-working middle America.”
During the severe economic recession of the early to mid 1970s former student activists began entering the job market some by taking on responsibility for children. Many were scared by brutal government and right-wing attacks culminating in the murder of rank-and-file activists as well as prominent leaders. Some were strung out on hard drugs that had become increasingly available in black and Latino communities and among white youth. Others were disillusioned by mistreatment in movements ravaged by the very social sicknesses they sought to eradicate such as racism and class bias. Limited by their upbringing, social position, and isolation from older radical traditions, 1960s activists were unable to make the connections and changes required to build movements strong enough to survive and eventually win structural change in the US. Middle-class students did not sufficiently ally with working and poor people and too few white activists accepted third world leadership of multi-racial alliances. Originally motivated by goals of quick reforms, 1960s activists were ill prepared for the long-term struggles in which they found themselves. Overly dependent on media-oriented “superstars” and one-shot dramatic actions, they failed to develop stable organisations, responsible leadership, and strategic perspective. Creatures of the culture they so despised, they often lacked the patience to sustain tedious grassroots work and painstaking analysis of actual social conditions. They found it hard to accept the slow uneven pace of personal and political change. This combination of circumstances, however, did not by itself guarantee political collapse.
The achievements of the 1960s movements inspired optimism and provided a sense of the power to win other important struggles. The rightward shift of the major media could have enabled alternative newspapers, magazines, theatre, film, and video to attract a broader audience and stable funding. The economic downturn of the early 1970s could have united Chicano and black militants, new leftists, and workers in common struggle. Police brutality and government collusion in drug trafficking could have been exposed in ways that undermined support for the authorities and broadened the movement’s backing. While the problems of the 1960s movements were enormous, their strengths might have enabled them to overcome their weaknesses had the upsurge not been stifled before activists could learn from their mistakes. Much of the movement’s inability to transcend their initial limitations and overcome adversity can be traced to Cointelpro. It was through Cointelpro that the public image of Chicanos, blacks and new leftists was distorted to legitimise their arrest and imprisonment and scapegoat them as the cause of working people’s problems. The FBI and police instigated violence and fabricated movement horrors; dissidents were deliberately criminalized through false charges, frame-ups, and offensive bogus leaflets and other materials published in their name. This is why and how Ramsey Muñiz of La Raza Unida Party was framed! [See part V “bag of dirty tricks.”] Cointelpro enabled the FBI and police to exacerbate the movement’s internal stresses until beleaguered activists turned on one another. Whites were pitted against blacks, blacks against Chicanos and Puerto Ricans, students against workers, workers against people on welfare, men against women, religious activists against atheists, Christians against jews, jews against Muslims, while “anonymous” accusations of infidelity ripped couples apart. Backers of women’s and gay movements were attacked as “dykes” and “faggots.” Money was repeatedly stolen and precious equipment sabotaged to intensify pressure and sow suspicion and mistrust. Otherwise manageable disagreements were inflamed by Cointelpro until they erupted into hostile splits that shattered alliances, tore groups apart, and drove dedicated activists out of the movement. Government documents implicate the FBI and police in the bitter break-up of such pivotal groups as the La Raza Unida Party, the Brown Berets, Black Panther Party, Students for Democratic Society (SDS), the Liberation News Service, and in the collapse of repeated efforts to form long-term coalitions across racial, class, and regional lines. While genuine political issues were often involved in these disputes, the outcome could have been different if government agencies had not covertly intervened to subvert compromise and fuel hostility and competition. Finally, it was Cointepro that enabled the FBI and police to eliminate mass movement leaders without undermining the image of the US as a “democracy” complete with free speech and the rule of law. Charismatic orators and dynamic organisers were covertly attacked and neutralised before their skills could be transferred to others and stable structures established to carry on their work.
Corky Gonzalez and Ramsey Muñiz were imprisoned and Malcolm X was murdered in a “factional dispute” which the FBI took credit for having developed in the Nation of Islam. Martin Luther King was the target of an elaborate plot to drive him to suicide and replace him “in his role of the leadership of the negro people” with conservative black lawyer Samuel Pierce [later named to Reagan’s cabinet]. Many have come to view King and Malcolm’s assassinations as in itself a domestic covert operation. Other prominent radicals faced similar attack when they began to develop broad followings and express anti-capitalist ideas. Some were portrayed as crooks, thugs, philanderers, or government agents, while others like David Sanchez of the Brown Berets were physically threatened or assaulted until they abandoned their work. Still others were murdered under phoney pretexts such as “shootouts” in which the only shots were fired by the police. To help bring down a major target, the FBI often combined these approaches in strategic sequence. Take the case of the underground press, a network of some 400 radical weeklies and several national news services, which once boasted a combined readership of close to 30 million. In the late 1960s, government agents raided the offices of alternative newspapers across the country in purported pursuit of drugs and fugitives. In the process, they destroyed typewriters, cameras, printing presses, layout equipment, business records, and research files, and roughed up and jailed staffers on bogus charges. Meanwhile, the FBI was persuading record companies to withdraw lucrative advertising and arranging for printers, suppliers, and distributors to drop underground press accounts. With their already shaky operations in disarray, the papers and news services were easy targets for a final phase of Cointelpro disruption. Forged correspondence, anonymous accusations, and infiltrator manipulation provoked a flurry of wild charges and countercharges that played a major role in bringing many of these promising endeavours to a premature end. A similar pattern can be discerned from the history of the La Raza Unida and Black Panthers. Brutal government attacks initially elicited broad support for these new militant and highly visible national organisations and their popular programs for self-determination. But the repressive onslaught severely weakened these Parties making them vulnerable to sophisticated psychological warfare which so discredited and shattered them to such an extend, that only a few people today have any notion of the power and potential that these organisations once represented. What proved most devastating in all of this was the effective manipulation of the victims of Cointelpro into blaming themselves. Since the FBI and police operated covertly, the horrors they engineered appeared to emanate from within the movements. Activists trust in one another and their collective power was subverted and the hopes of a generation died, leaving a legacy of cynicism and despair which continues to haunt us today.
Specific operations against La Raza
La Raza Unida Party of Texas was plagued with repeated unsolved Cointelpro-style political break-ins. Former government operative Eustacio “Frank” Martinez admitted that after the close of Cointelpro the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) paid him to help destroy “La Casa del Carnalismo” [The House of Brotherhood] a Chicano community anti-drug program in Los Angeles. Martinez, who had previously infiltrated the Brown Berets and the Chicano Moratorium, stated that the ATF directed him to provoke bombings and plant a drug pusher inside of “La Casa del Carnalismo.”
In 1973, Chicano activist and Lawyer Francisco “Kiko” Martinez was indicted in Colorado on trumped-up bombing charges and suspended from the bar. He was forced to leave the country for fear of assassination by police directed to shoot him “on sight.” When Martinez was eventually brought to trial in the 1980s, many of the charges against him were dropped for insufficient evidence and local juries acquitted him of others. One case ended in a mistrial when it was found that the judge had met secretly with prosecutors, police, and government witnesses to plan perjured testimony, and had conspired with the FBI to conceal video cameras in the courtroom. A serious and damaging Cointelpro action against La Raza has been the framing of Ramsey Muñiz. Ramsey Muñiz was an effective leader of La Raza Unida Party in Texas and was its candidate for governor in 1974. Falling victim to trump up charges, Ramsey is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Leavenworth federal penitentiary. There is a strong movement underway to obtain his freedom and to release him from long term “solitary confinement” within the prison. Starting in 1976 the FBI manipulated the grand jury process to assault both the Chicano and Puerto Rican movements. Under the guise of investigating the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña [FALN] and other Puerto Rican urban guerrillas, the bureau harassed and disrupted a cultural centre, an alternative high school, and other promising community organising efforts in Chicago and Puerto Rican barrios and in the Chicano communities of Denver and Northern New Mexico. It subpoenaed radical Puerto Rican trade union leader Federico Cintrón Fiallo, a key staff of the National Commission on Hispanic Affairs of the US Episcopal Church, to appear before federal grand juries and jailed him for refusing to cooperate. The independent labour movement in Puerto Rico and the Commission’s important work in support of Puerto Rican and Chicano organising were effectively discredited.
On July 25, 1978 an undercover agent lured two young Puerto Rican independence activists, Carlos Soto and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, to their deaths in a police ambush at Cerro Maravilla, Puerto Rico. The agent, Alexander Gonzalez Malave, worked under the direct supervision of the FBI trained intelligence chief of the island’s police force. The FBI refused to investigate when the police claimed they were merely returning gunfire initiated by the activists. Later it was proved that Soto and Dario had surrendered and were then beaten and shot dead while on their knees. Though a number of officers were found guilty of perjury in the cover-up and one was sentenced for the murder the officials who set up the operation remain free. Gonzalez was even promoted. On November 11, 1979 Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, a popular socialist leader of the movement to stop the US navy bombing practice on the inhabited Puerto Rican island of Vieques, was murdered in the penitentiary at Tallahassee, Florida. Although prison authorities claimed “suicide,” Rodriguez Cristobal in the second month of a six-month term for civil disobedience had been in good spirits when seen by his lawyer only hours before his death. He had been subjected to continuous threats and harassment including forced drugging and isolation during his confinement. Though he was said to have been found hanging by a bed sheet there was a large gash on his forehead and blood on the floor of his cell. Another front line organisation victim of Cointelpro type operations was the Brown Beret National Organisation. David Sanchez, its leader, was the victim of a Cointelpro “psychological war” against him. His home was fired bomb during the early 1970’s and this almost resulted in the death of his little sister. He had to disband the Berets during the upheavals of the National Chicano Moratorium Committee marches in East Los Angeles in order to stop the shedding of blood between some of the units. The disunity and division was caused by the infiltration of Cointelpro agents.
III. Domestic covert action remains a serious threat today
The public exposure of Cointelpro and other government abuses elicited a flurry of apparent reform in the 1970s. President Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment. His Attorney General, other top aides, and many of the “plumbers” were prosecuted and imprisoned for brief periods. The CIA director and counter-intelligence chief were ousted and the agency was directed to cease covert operations against domestic targets.
The FBI had formally shut down Cointelpro a few weeks after it was uncovered. As part of the general face-lift the bureau publicly apologised for Cointelpro and municipal governments began to disband the local police “red squads” that had served as the FBI main accomplices. A new attorney general notified several hundred activists that they had been victims of Cointelpro and issued guidelines limiting future operations. Top FBI officials were indicted for ordering the burglary of activists’ offices and homes, two were convicted, and several others retired or resigned. The bureau’s egomaniacal crudely racist, closet homosexual and sexist founder Edgar J. Hoover died in 1972. After two interim directors failed to stem the tide of criticism, a prestigious federal judge, William Webster, was appointed by President Carter to clean house and build a “new” FBI. Behind this public hoopla, however, the bureau’s war at home continued unabated. Domestic covert action did not end when it was exposed in the 1970s. It has persisted throughout the 1980s and become a permanent feature of the US government domestic policy.
Domestic covert action did not end in the 1970s
Director Webster’s highly touted reforms did not create a “new” FBI. They served mainly to modernise the existing bureau and to make it even more dangerous. In place of the backbiting competition with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which had previously impeded coordination of domestic counter-insurgency, Webster promoted inter-agency co-operation. Adopting the mantle of an “equal opportunity employer,” his FBI hired women and people of colour to more effectively penetrate a broader range of political targets. By cultivating a low-visibility image and discreetly avoiding public attack on prominent liberals, Webster gradually restored the bureau’s respectability and won over a number of its former critics. State and local police similarly upgraded their repressive capabilities in the 1970s while learning to present a more friendly public face. The “red squads” that had harassed 1960s activists were quietly resurrected under other names. Paramilitary police [swat] teams and tactical squads were formed, along with highly politicised “community relations” and “beat rep” programs featuring conspicuous Black, Chicano, and female officers. Generous federal funding and sophisticated technology became available through the law enforcement assistance administration, while FBI-led “joint anti-terrorist task forces” introduced a new level of inter-agency co-ordination. Meanwhile, the CIA continued to use university professors, journalists, labour leaders, publishing houses, cultural organisations, and philanthropic fronts to mold public opinion. At the same time, army Special Forces and other elite military units began to train local police for counter-insurgency and to intensify their own preparations, following the guidelines of the secret pentagon contingency plans called “garden plot” and “cable splicer.” They drew increasingly on manuals based on the British colonial experience in Kenya and Northern Ireland, which teach the essential methodology of Cointelpro under the rubric of “low-intensity warfare” and stress early intervention to neutralise potential opposition before it can take hold. While domestic covert operations were scaled down once the 1960s upsurge had subsided they did not stop. In its April 27, 1971 directives disbanding Cointelpro the FBI provided for future covert action to continue “with tight procedures to ensure absolute security.” The results are apparent in the record of 1970s covert operations, which have so far come to light.
The Native American Movement
The 1970s FBI attacks on resurgent Native American resistance have been well documented. In 1973, the bureau led a paramilitary invasion of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as American Indian Movement [AIM] activists gathered there for symbolic protests at Wounded Knee, the site of an earlier massacre of Native Americans by whites. The FBI directed the entire 71-day siege deploying federal marshals, US army personnel, Bureau of Indian Affairs police, local Goons [Guardians of the Oglala Nation, an armed tribal vigilante force] and a vast array of heavy weaponry.
In the following years, the FBI and its allies waged all-out war on AIM and the Natives. From 1973-76 they killed 69 residents on the tiny Pine Ridge reservation, a rate of political murder comparable to the first years of the Pinochet regime in Chile. To justify such a reign of terror and undercut public protest against it, the bureau launched a complementary program of psychological warfare. Central to this effort was a carefully orchestrated campaign to reinforce the already deeply ingrained myth of the “indian savage.” In one operation the FBI fabricated reports that AIM “dog soldiers” planned widespread “sniping at tourists” and “burning of farmers” in South Dakota. The son of liberal Senator [and Arab-American activist] James Abourezk was named as a “gunrunner” and the bureau issued a nationwide alert picked up by media across the country. To the same end, undercover operatives framed AIM members Paul “Skyhorse” Durant and Richard “Mohawk” Billings for the brutal murder of a Los Ángeles taxi driver. A bogus AIM note taking credit for the killing was found pinned to a signpost near the murder site, along with a bundle of hair said to be the victim’s “scalp.” Newspaper headlines screamed of “ritual murder” by “radical indians.” By the time the defendants were finally cleared of the spurious charges, many of AIM’s main financial backers had been scared away and its work among a major urban concentration of native people was in ruin. In March of 1975, a central perpetrator of this hoax, AIM’s national security Chief Doug Durham, was unmasked as an undercover operative for the FBI. As AIM’s liaison with the Wounded Knee Legal Defence Committee during the trials of Dennis Banks and other Native American leaders, Durham had routinely participated in confidential strategy sessions. He confessed to stealing organisational funds during his two years with AIM and to setting up the arrest of AIM militants for actions he had organised. It was Durham who authored the AIM documents that the FBI consistently cited to demonstrate the group’s supposed violent tendencies. Prompted by Durham’s revelations, the senate intelligence committee announced on June 23, 1975 that it would hold public hearings on FBI operations against AIM. Three days later, armed agents assaulted an AIM house on the Pine Ridge reservation. When the smoke cleared, AIM activist Joe Stuntz Killsright and two FBI agents lay dead. The media, barred from the scene “to preserve the evidence,” broadcast the bureau’s false accounts of a bloody “indian ambush” and the congressional hearings were quietly cancelled.
The FBI was then free to crush AIM and clear out the last pockets of resistance at Pine Ridge. It launched what the Chairman of the “civil rights” commission described as “a full-scale military-type invasion on the reservation” complete with M-16 rifles, huey helicopters, tracking dogs, and armoured personnel carriers. Eventually AIM leader Leonard Peltier was tried for the agent’s deaths before a right-wing judge who met secretly with the FBI. AIM member Anna Mae Aquash was found murdered after agents threatened to kill her unless she helped them to frame Peltier. Peltier’s conviction based on perjured testimony and falsified ballistics evidence was upheld on appeal. The panel of federal judges included William Webster until the very day of his official appointment as director of the FBI. Despite mounting evidence of impropriety in Peltier’s trial, and Amnesty International calls for a review of his case, the Native American leader remains in maximum security prison.
The black movement
Government covert action against black activists also continued in the 1970s. Targets ranged from community-based groups to the provisional government of the republic of new Africa and the surviving remnants of the Black Panther Party. In Mississippi, federal and state agents attempted to discredit and disrupt the united league of Marshall County, a broad-based grassroots “civil rights” group struggling to stop racist violence. In California, a notorious paid operative for the FBI Darthard Perry, code-named “Othello,” infiltrated and disrupted local black groups and took personal credit for the fire that razed the Watts writers workshop, a multi-million dollar cultural centre in Los Angeles in 1973. The Los Angeles police department later admitted infiltrating at least seven 1970s community groups including the coalition against police abuse.
In the mid-1970s, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms [BATF] conspired with the Wilmington, North Carolina police to frame nine local “civil rights” workers and the Rev. Ben Chavis, field organiser for the commission for racial justice of the United Church of Christ. Chavis had been sent to North Carolina to help black communities respond to escalating racist violence against school desegregation. Instead of arresting racist Klansmen, the BATF and local police coerced three young black prisoners into falsely accusing Chavis and the others of burning white-owned property. Although all three prisoners later admitted they had lied in response to official threats and bribes, the FBI found no impropriety. The courts repeatedly refused to reopen the case and the Wilmington ten served many years in prison before pressure from international religious and human rights groups won their release.
As the republic of new Africa began to build autonomous, economic, and political institutions in the Deep South, the bureau repeatedly disrupted its meetings and blocked its attempts to buy land. On August 18, 1971, four months after the supposed end of Cointelpro the FBI and police launched an armed pre-dawn assault on its national office in Jackson, Mississippi. Carrying a warrant for a fugitive who had been brought to its headquarters by FBI informer Thomas Spells, the attackers concentrated their fire where the informer’s floor plan indicated where President Imari Obadele slept. Though Obadele was away at the time of the raid, the bureau had him arrested and imprisoned on charges of conspiracy to assault a government agent.
The Cointelpro triggered the collapse of the Black Panther Party and support in the winter of 1971 left them defenceless as the government moved to prevent them from regrouping. On August 21, 1971 national party officer George Jackson, author of the political autobiography “soledad brother” was murdered by San Quentin prison authorities on the pretext of an attempted jailbreak. In July 1972, Southern California panther leader Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt was successfully framed for a senseless $70.00 robbery-murder committed while he was hundreds of miles away in Oakland, California while attending a panther meetings for which the FBI managed to “lose” all of its surveillance records. Documents obtained through the freedom of information act later revealed that at least two agents had infiltrated Pratt’s defence committee. They also indicated that the State’s main witness, Julio Butler, was a paid informer who had worked in the party under the direction of the FBI and the Los Angeles police department. For many years, director Webster publicly denied that Pratt had ever been a Cointelpro target despite the documentary proof in his own agency’s records. Also targeted well into the 1970s were former panthers assigned to form an underground to defend against armed government attacks on the party. It was they who had regrouped as the Black Liberation Army [BLA] when the party was destroyed. Files show that within a month of Cointelpro closing, further bureau operations against the BLA were mapped out in secret meetings convened by presidential aide John Ehrlichman and attended by President Nixon and Attorney General Mitchell. In the following years, many former panther leaders were murdered by the police in supposed “shoot-outs” with the BLA.
A recent covert domestic operation by the CIA has come to light. Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News and US representative Maxine Waters has uncovered a “CIA crack cocaine connection” that has shocked the nation. The operation consisted of allowing the importation of tons of cocaine from Colombia in order to fund the right wing “contras” that were operating in Nicaragua. The plot in the early days of the “crack cocaine epidemic” consisted of the manufacture and distribution of crack cocaine in Latino barrios and in black communities through the utilisation of gangs such as the “bloods,” the “crips,” and Chicano gang members. The operation had a double benefit for the CIA. Not only did it provide covert funds but it also assured the addiction to cocaine of potential young leaders in our community.
“Bags of dirty tricks”
Harassment through psychological warfare
While boring from within, the FBI and police also attack dissident movements from the outside. They openly mount propaganda campaigns through public addresses, news releases, books, pamphlets, magazine articles, radio, and television. They also use covert deception and manipulation. Documented tactics of this kind included the following:
False mass media stories
Many Cointelpro documents expose frequent collusion between news media personnel and the FBI to publish false and distorted material at the bureau’s behest. The FBI routinely leaked derogatory information to its collaborators in the news media. It also created newspaper and magazine articles and television “documentaries” which the media knowingly or unknowingly carried as their own. Copies were sent anonymously or under bogus letterhead to activist’s financial backers, employers, business associates, families, neighbours, church officials, school administrators, landlords, and whoever else might cause them trouble. One media fabrication claimed that Jean Seberg, a white film star active in anti-racist causes, was pregnant by a prominent black leader. The bureau leaked the story anonymously to columnist Joyce Haber and also had it passed to her by a “friendly” source in the Los Angeles Times editorial staff. The item appeared without attribution in Haber’s nationally syndicated column of May 19, 1970. Seberg’s husband sued the FBI as responsible for her resulting stillbirth, nervous breakdown and suicide.
Bogus leaflets, pamphlets, and other publications
The Cointelpro documents show that the FBI routinely put out phoney leaflets, posters, pamphlets, newspapers, and other publications in the name of movement groups. The purpose was to discredit the groups and turn them against one another. Cartoon leaflets were used to divide and disrupt the main national antiwar coalition of the late 1960s. Similar fliers were circulated in 1968 and 1969 in the name of the Black Panthers and the “United Slaves” [US] which were a rival black group based in Southern California. The phoney panther leaflets together with other covert operations were credited with subverting a fragile truce between the two groups and igniting an explosion of internecine violence that left four panthers dead and many more wounded in a once-flourishing regional movement decimated. Another major Cointelpro operation involved children’s colouring book which the Black Panther Party had rejected as gratuitously violent. The FBI revised the colouring book to make it even more offensive. Its field offices then distributed thousands of copies anonymously or under phoney organisational letterheads. Many backers of the party’s program of free breakfasts for children withdrew their support after the FBI conned them into believing that the bogus colouring book was being used in the program.
Former employees have confirmed that the FBI has the capacity to produce state-of-the-art forgery. This capacity was used under Cointelpro to create snitch jackets and bogus communications that exacerbated differences among activists and disrupted their work. One such forgery intimidated civil rights worker was Muhammad Kenyatta [Donald Jackson] causing him to abandon promising projects in Jackson, Mississippi. Kenyatta had foundation grants to form black economic co-operatives and open a “black and proud” school for dropouts. He was also a student organiser at nearby Tougaloo College. In the winter of 1969 after an extended campaign of FBI and police harassment, Kenyatta received a letter purportedly from the Tougaloo College Defence Committee which “directed” that he cease his political activities immediately. If he did not “heed our diplomatic and well-thought-out warning” the committee would consider taking measures “which would have a more direct effect and would not be as cordial as this note.” Kenyatta and his wife left. Only years later did they learn that it was not Tougaloo students but FBI covert operators who had driven them out. Later in 1969, FBI agents fabricated a letter to the mainly white organisers of a proposed Washington, D.C. anti-war rally demanding that they pay the local Negro community a $20.000 “security bond.” This attempted extortion was composed in the name of the local black united front and signed with the forged signature of its leader. Informers inside the front then tried to get the group to back such a demand and bureau contacts in the media made sure the story received wide publicity. The senate intelligence committee uncovered a series of FBI letters sent to top panther leaders throughout 1970 in the name of Connie Matthew, an intermediary between the Black Panther Party national office and leader Eldridge Cleaver. These exquisite forgeries were prepared on pilfered stationery in panther vernacular expertly simulated by the FBI in their Washington, D.C. laboratory. Each was forwarded to legal attaché at a US Embassy in a foreign country that Matthew was due to travel through and then posted at just the right time “in such a manner that it cannot be traced to the bureau.” The FBI enhanced the eerie authenticity of these fabrications by lacing them with esoteric personal tidbits culled from electronic surveillance of panther homes and offices. Combined with other forgeries, anonymous letters, phone calls, and the covert intervention of FBI and police infiltrators, the Matthew’s correspondence succeeded in inflaming intra-party mistrust and rivalry until it erupted into the bitter public split that shattered the organisation in the winter of 1971.
Anonymous letters and telephone calls
During the 1960s, activists received a steady flow of anonymous letters and phone calls, which turn out to have been from the FBI. Some were unsigned while others bore bogus names or purported to come from unidentified activists in phoney or actual organisations. Many of these bogus communications promoted racial divisions and fears often by exploiting and exacerbating tensions between Jewish and black activists. One such FBI concocted letter went to Students for Democratic Society [SDS] members who had joined black students protesting the New York University’s discharge of a teacher in 1969. The supposed author an unnamed SDS “member” urged whites to break ranks and abandon black students because of alleged anti-Semitic slurs by the fired teacher and his supporters.
Other anonymous letters and phone calls falsely accused movement leaders of collaboration with the authorities, corruption, or sexual affairs with other activist’s. The letters were used to provoke “a lasting distrust” between a black “civil rights” leader and his wife. The FBI authors hoped that his “concern over what to do about it” would “detract from his time spent in the plots and plans of his organisation.” As in the Seberg incident inter-racial sex was a persistent theme. The husband of one white woman active in “civil rights” and anti-war work filed for divorce soon after receiving the FBI-authored letter. Still other anonymous FBI communications were designed to intimidate dissidents, disrupt coalitions, and provoke violence. Calls to Stokely Carmichael’s mother warning of a fictitious panther murder plot drove him to leave the country in September 1968. Similar anonymous telephone threats to leader James Forman were instrumental in thwarting efforts to bring the two groups together. The Chicago FBI office made effective use of anonymous letters to sabotage the panther’s efforts to build alliances with previously apolitical black street gangs. The most extensive of these operations involved the “black stone nation” or “blackstone rangers,” a confederation of several thousand local black youth. Early in 1969 as FBI and police infiltrators in the rangers spread rumours of an impending panther attack, the bureau sent ranger chief Jeff Fort an incendiary note signed by “a black brother you don’t know.”
Fort’s supposed friend warned that “the brothers that run the panthers blame you for blocking their thing and there’s supposed to be a hit out for you.” Another FBI-concocted anonymous “black man” then informed Chicago panther leader Fred Hampton of a Ranger plot “to get you out of the way.” These fabrications squelched promising talks between the two groups and enabled Chicago panther security Chief William O’Neal, an FBI-paid provocateur, to instigate a series of armed confrontations from which panthers barely managed to escape without serious casualties.
Pressure through employers, landlords, and others
Large number of records reveals repeated manoeuvres to generate pressure on dissidents from their parents, children, spouses, landlords, employers, college administrators, church superiors, welfare agencies, credit bureaus, and the like. Anonymous letters and telephone calls were often used to this end. Confidential official communications were effective in bringing to bear the bureau’s immense power. Reports indicate that such FBI interventions denied Martin Luther King and other 1960s activist’s foundation grants and public speaking engagements. It also deprived alternative newspapers of their printers, suppliers, and distributors and cost them crucial advertising revenues when major record companies were persuaded to take their business elsewhere. Similar government manipulation may underlie steps recently taken by some insurance companies to cancel policies held by churches giving sanctuary to refugees from Central America.
Tampering with mail and telephone service
The FBI and CIA routinely used mail covers (the recording of names and addresses) and electronic surveillance in order to spy on 1960s social and political activists. The CIA alone admitted to photographing the outside of 2.7 million pieces of first-class mail during the 1960s and to opening almost 315.000 letters. Government agencies also tampered with mail, altering, delaying, or “disappearing” it. Activists were quick to blame one another and infiltrators easily exploited the situation to exacerbate tensions. Dissident’s telephone communications often were similarly obstructed. The SDS regional office in Washington, D.C., for instance, mysteriously lost its phone service the week preceding virtually every national anti-war demonstration in the late 1960s.
Misinformation to prevent or disrupt meetings and activities
A favourite Cointelpro tactic uncovered by senate investigators was to advertise a non-existent political event, or to misinform people of the time and place of an actual one. They reported a variety of disruptive “dirty tricks” designed to cast blame on the organisers of movement events. In one “misinformation” case, the FBI Chicago office duplicated blank forms prepared by the National Mobilisation Committee to End the War in Vietnam [NMC] soliciting housing for demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention. The FBI filled out 217 of these forms with fictitious names and addresses and sent them to the NMC which provided them to demonstrators who made “long and useless journeys to locate these addresses.” The NMC then decided to discard all replies received on the housing forms rather than have out-of-town demonstrators tried to locate non-existent addresses. The same program was carried out when the Washington Mobilisation Committee distributed housing forms for demonstrators coming to Washington for the 1969 presidential inaugural ceremonies.
In another case, a FBI Midwest field office disrupted arrangements for State University students to attend the 1969 inaugural demonstrations by making a series of anonymous telephone calls to the Transportation Company. The calls were designed to confuse both the Transportation Company and the SDS leaders as to the cost of transportation and the time and place for leaving and returning. This office also placed confusing leaflets around the campus to show different times and places for demonstration-planning meetings, as well as conflicting times and dates for travelling to Washington.
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