Monday, 5 November 2012

COINTELPRO Then & Now

Introduction:
 
COINTELPRO was originally initiated against the Communist Party (CP) in 1956 the program expanded to include civil rights groups and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) by the time Kennedy became president in 1961. In fact Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March in Washington, before Kennedy's assassination won him the FBI designation as “the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation.” President Johnson, while expanding the war in Vietnam and rhetorically battling the war on poverty at home, used the Black inner-city rebellions of the mid-sixties from Watts to Detroit as a pretext to issue. In August 1967, the FBI directed the covert action program code name “COINTELPRO” towards organizations which the Bureau characterized as "Black Nationalist Hate Groups in order to disrupt and neutralize the alleged threat. The FBI memorandum expanding the program stated that its main goals were to:
 
(1)   Prevent a coalition of militant Black Nationalist groups and prevent the rise of an individual who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement.  (It is said that Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammad all fit this description.)
(2)   Prevent violence on the part of Black Nationalist groups.
(3)   Prevent militant Black Nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them.
(4)   Prevent the long-range growth of militant Black Nationalist organizations, especially among youth.
 
COINTELPRO was the brainchild of J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and director of the FBI from 1924 until his death in 1972. Shaped by the anticommunist hysteria in the aftermath of the successful Russian Revolution of 1917, Hoover took part in the Palmer Raids against radicals and spent the rest of his life in the service of espionage and undermining suspected subversives of every sort. Contemporary histories tend to focus on Hoover's maniacal egotism and closeted homosexuality to explain his lifelong fixation on repressing minorities who fought discrimination. Hoover's agenda was embraced by every president he served, including Democrats Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
 
Among the many targets of COINTELPRO, the most serious attention was paid to those movements that most threatened state interests. The most violent repression under COINTELPRO was used against the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the American Indian Movement, and the Puerto Rican independence movement. It was fueled by the state's need to preserve the near total political and economic disenfranchisement of people of color in the face of the first serious threats to the racial status quo since post-Civil War Reconstruction. The need of the American empire to keep Puerto Rico in its colonial orbit, while it was losing the war in Southeast Asia, drove the violent repression there and against Puerto Rican immigrants in the United States.
 
Despite the small size of the CP and the American SWP by the late 1950s and early 1960s, their members' implantation in industrial workplaces, independent electoral campaigns, desegregation, and antiwar activities as well as the bureau's fanatical obsession with communism made them targets.
New Left activists who were not only hampering the ability of the U.S. to fight in Vietnam, but also challenging ideological assumptions about women's roles, sexuality and segregation garnered attention and harassment by the state as well.
But the most disruptive and violent COINTELPRO operations in the period from the late 1960s into the mid-1970s were directed against the Black and Native American struggles. The FBI, in close collaboration with local police units (sometimes called Red Squads) used a number of techniques in its efforts to disrupt and destroy leftist groups, the most important of which are enumerated here. It was a general rule throughout the 1960s, that local police departments would devote at least 1 percent of their resources to surveillance and infiltration. These local agents partnered with their federal counter-parts, read the left-wing press and became familiar with the fact that organized leftists were involved in liberal and pacifist groups and that individuals were often radicalized by these ideas as well as by their own experiences of struggle.  The targets of this nationwide program to disrupt militant Black Nationalist organizations included groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and the Nation of Islam (NOI).
It was expressly directed against such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Maxwell Stanford, and Elijah Muhammad.
 
The Black Panther Party (BPP) was not among the original "Black Nationalist" targets. In September 1968, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Panthers as "The greatest threat to the internal security of the country”.  He also went on to say that they were "Schooled in the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the teaching of Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung, its members have perpetrated numerous assaults on police officers and have engaged in violent confrontations with police throughout the country. Leaders and representatives of the Black Panther Party travel extensively all over the United States preaching their gospel of hate and violence not only to ghetto residents, but to students in colleges, universities and high schools as well." By July 1969, the Black Panthers had become the primary focus of the program, and was ultimately the target of numerous authorized COINTELPRO actions.
 
Although the claimed purpose of the Bureau's COINTELPRO tactics was to prevent violence, some of the FBI's tactics against the BPP were clearly intended to foster violence, and many others could reasonably have been expected to cause violence. For example: the FBI's efforts to intensify the animosity between the BPP and the Blackstone Rangers. Tactics included, sending an anonymous letter to the gang's leader falsely informing him that the Chicago Panthers had a hit out on him. They stated that the intent of the letter was to induce the Ranger’s leader to take actions against the Panther leadership.
 
In Southern California, the FBI launched a similar covert effort to create further tension in the ranks of the BPP. This effort included mailing anonymous letters and illustrations to BPP members ridiculing the local and national BPP leadership for the express purpose of exacerbating an existing gang war between the BPP and an organization called the United Slaves (US). This gang war resulted in the killing of four BPP members by members of the United Slaves (US) in numerous beatings and shootings. Although individual incidents during this dispute cannot be directly traced to efforts by the FBI, FBI officials were aware of the violent nature of the dispute which they hoped would prolong and intensify the dispute. They proudly claimed credit for violent clashes between the rival factions which in the words of one FBI official resulted in shootings, beatings, and a high degree of unrest in the area of southeast San Diego.
 
Surveillance & violation of civil rights:
 
Numerous newspapers, black and white have written about the government's eavesdropping and infiltration of the American Communist Party. Far less is known of their COINTELPRO operations against the largest anti-Stalinist socialist organization mobilizing in the 1960s, the American Socialist Workers Party. The case of the SWP is of particular importance not only because surveillance and infiltration took place over decades, almost from its founding in 1938, but because they turned the tables on the FBI and put the Bureau on trial-and won.
 
In 1973 the SWP and its youth group the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) filed a lawsuit against the federal government (Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General) demanding compensation for years of disruption, harassment, and surveillance of the organization. Throughout the course of the discovery, trial, and other proceedings which took place over thirteen years. Detailed information about how and why the government violated the rights of lawful individuals exercising their free speech and right to organize unfolded. In a historic rebuke to the federal government's trampling on constitutionally protected dissent, Judge Griesa awarded the SWP $264,000 in damages in 1986.
 
COINTELPRO operations began against the SWP in 1961 when court records show they had around 600 members, 10 percent were FBI informants who were paid in excess of $1.6 million over the years for their efforts. Infiltration began in response to the SWP's electoral campaigns and desegregation and other legal activities. Over the years, member informants supplied the government with membership lists, financial records, budgets, minutes of meetings, mailing lists, and correspondence. From 1961-1976 fifty-five informants held offices or committee positions and fifty-one served on executive committees of the party.
 
The FBI played an active role in attempting to discredit SWP candidates for public office. An example of this was when John Franklin ran for Manhattan borough president in 1961 and when Clifton DeBerry ran for president in 1964. The two Black candidates were smeared in the press when FBI operatives sent out anonymous letters detailing minor legal transgressions from their pasts. To create friction between Black and white members, the FBI would write nasty anonymous letters containing slurs like this one supposedly written by white members to their Black vice presidential candidate in 1968 “ You and the rest of your fellow party monkeys hook up with the Black Panthers where you'd feel at home.”
 
Disruption operations were often designed to split alliances between the SWP and its antiwar and racial justice allies in movements. During a campaign to defend framed Blacks in North Carolina, the FBI sent coalition leaders phony information claiming that the SWP was stealing funds collected for the defense campaign. An FBI memorandum in 1966 explained the need to create disruption within the ranks of the SWP and to hamper the party's antiwar actions and objectives. When leading members Fred Halstead and Barry Sheppard traveled to visit troops in Vietnam, the FBI planted incendiary reports of their visit in newspapers read by GIs to encourage violence against them by troops. After the explosive protests outside the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968, an anonymous letter was mailed to sixty-eight antiwar and New Left groups attacking the SWP and YSA for their cowardice in not fighting the police and warned the socialists to get out of the antiwar movement. The letter did cause a stir inside the party and made some members anxious about their involvement with New Left forces.
 
Assassinations:
 
On December 3rd 1969 the FBI launched its deadliest assault on the BPP yet. An informant who was a bodyguard of Chicago Panther leader Fred Hampton provided officials with a detailed floor plan of his home. Police raided his place and murdered Hampton in his bed and in the hail of ninety-eight rounds of bullets, Mark Clark of the Peoria Panthers was also killed. Police rounded up and beat Hampton's fiancé who was eight months' pregnant along with several others sleeping there. These victims were all charged with aggressive assault or attempted murder and held on $100,000 bail-though there were no signs of any retaliatory shots fired.
Police ransacked Panther offices from San Francisco to Indianapolis, destroyed typewriters, stole files, and ruined bulk foods stored for ghetto children's programs. Arrests and frame-ups of dozens of members cost the organization $200,000 in bail money alone. Some remain behind bars to this day, while others have spent decades harassed by law enforcement officials. It's worth noting that despite the charges of violence against the Panthers years of surveillance and infiltration never turned up hard evidence of criminal activities.
COINTELPRO Tactics included:
 
(1)   Eavesdropping: This involved not only electronic surveillance but also putting tails on people and breaking into offices and homes as well as tampering with mail. The FBI's intention was not simply to gather intelligence but making their presence known in various ways to create paranoia among activists.
(2)   Bogus mail: FBI agents would fabricate letters, ostensibly written by movement activists who spread lies and disinformation. The Bureau sent many fake letters to American Indian Movement (AIM) and Black Panther Party (BPP) leaders and activists that were designed to sow confusion and division in the ranks. The Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver wings of the BPP for example, were split after the FBI sent a number of manufactured letters from disgruntled party members to Cleaver. After he was exiled to Algeria, he would spend much of his time criticizing Huey Newton's leadership.
(3)   Black propaganda: The distribution of fabricated articles and leaflets that misrepresented the politics and objectives of an organization or leader in order to discredit the group or individual and to pit people and organizations against each other. 
(4)   Disinformation: The FBI often released false or misleading information to the press to discredit groups or individuals and to foster tension.
(5)   Harassment arrests: The police or FBI often arrested leaders and activists on trumped up charges in order to tie up activists in legal and court proceedings to drain their financial resources and heighten their sense of fear and paranoia.
(6)   Infiltrators or agent provocateurs: The infiltration of organizations by police agents served two purposes. One was to gather intelligence on the group. Provocateurs were used to try and encourage individuals to engage in illegal activity that could then be attributed to the group as a whole to disrupt the internal functioning of organizations and to assist in spreading of disinformation inside and outside the group.
(7)   Assassinations: There is ample evidence that FBI and related agencies played a direct role in the assassination of a number of key radical leaders.
(8)   Bad-jacketing: This refers to the practice of creating suspicion-through the spread of rumors and the manufacture of evidence on bonafide organizational members. Usually it was persons’ in key positions that were FBI/police informers.  This technique was used often against the American Indian Movement. Talented AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash for example, who was murdered on Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in February 1976, was first subject to a successful whispering campaign initiated against her by FBI informant Doug Durham. Doug Durham, who had joined the AIM chapter in Des Moines, Iowa. Durham's role in AIM also seems to have been to encourage AIM members to engage in rash and inflammatory acts according to- author Peter Mathiessen. Durham, for example released several unauthorized memos- disseminated on organizational letterhead, indicating that AIM was preparing to launch a campaign of 'systematic violence.
(9)   Fabrication of evidence: FBI agents, police and prosecutors routinely fabricated evidence in order to obtain convictions in criminal cases against activists. A number of AIM and BPP activists including BPP leader Geronimo Pratt and AIM leader Leonard Peltier, who have been in prison for three decades for a crime he did not commit were convicted on such trumped-up evidence.
Cointelpro Today:
 
Since the attacks of Sept. 11 2001, the New York Police Department has become one of the country’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies.  The NYPD has been gathering vast domestic intelligence with help from the CIA. The department’s intelligence unit currently dispatches undercover officers to keep tabs on ethnic neighborhoods, sometimes in areas far outside their jurisdiction.  After the 9/11/2001 attacks a month-long investigation initiated by The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government and it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.

The CIA inspector general opened its own investigation after a series of articles written by the Associated Press revealed how the NYPD, working in close collaboration with the CIA set up spying operations that put Muslim communities under scrutiny. Plainclothes officers known as "rakers" eavesdropped on businesses and Muslims not suspected of any wrongdoing were put in intelligence databases. In its investigation, the CIA's inspector general faulted the agency for sending an officer to New York with little oversight after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks and then leaving him there too long according to officials who have read or been briefed on the inquiry. After the investigation, the CIA inspector general cleared the agency of any wrongdoing.
 
The CIA officer, Lawrence Sanchez how was the architect of the spying programs that helped make the NYPD one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies was cited by the inspector general for operating without sufficient supervision. Sanchez is a CIA veteran who according to his biography spent 15 years overseas in the former Soviet Union, South Asia and the Middle East. Sanchez was sent to New York to help with information sharing following the 9/11 attacks. While on the CIA payroll from 2002 to 2004 he also helped create and direct police intelligence programs.
 
 
He then formally joined the NYPD while on a leave of absence from the CIA. The loosely defined assignment strained relations with the FBI and two consecutive CIA station chiefs in New York who complained that Sanchez's presence undermined their authority. U.S. officials have acknowledged that the rules were murky but they attributed that to the desperate push for better intelligence after the attacks. Sanchez left the NYPD in 2010 and then last July the CIA sent one of its most senior clandestine operatives to work out of the NYPD.  While other internal investigation found problems with the oversight of Sanchez's assignment, officials said the rules of the current arrangement were more than clearly defined. The naturally the programs have also drawn criticism from Muslims as well as New York and Washington lawmakers.
 
 
Muslim activists even urged Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to resign and invoked the legacy of the 1960s FBI program COINTELPRO, which spied on political and activist groups. Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, the spokesperson for the Islamic Leadership Council of New York stated "We the people find ourselves facing the specter of a 21st century COINTELPRO once again in the name of safety and security"
 
Even now the confusion remains; Police Commissioner Kelly said the new officer was working at the NYPD to help share foreign intelligence. Federal officials have said he was there on a management sabbatical and was not sharing intelligence. Kelly and the federal government also are at odds explaining the legal basis for a relationship between a local police department and the CIA which is not allowed to spy domestically. This fall, Kelly told the city council that the collaboration was authorized under a presidential order. But under those rules, the assignment would have had to have been approved by the CIA's top lawyer. The AP reported last week there was no such approval. A CIA spokeswoman, Jennifer Youngblood said Sanchez was sent to New York at the direction of then CIA Director George Tenet who had the authority to move his officers around the world to make sure intelligence was being shared. That arrangement did not require the lawyer's approval she stated: "Context matters here, the CIA stepped up cooperation with law enforcement on counterterrorism after 9/11. It's hard to imagine that anyone is suggesting this was inappropriate or unexpected."
 
The current officer, whose name remains classified, operates under a more formal arrangement that is specified in writing, states that he works directly for the NYPD. Nevertheless, some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concerns about the assignment. Even the federal government's most senior intelligence official James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence has said the arrangement looks bad and will be addressed. The CIA officer is working as a special assistant to David Cohen the NYPD's top intelligence officer. It’s unclear exactly when the CIA officer will leave the police department and what his next job will be. A former station chief in Pakistan and Jordan, he is one of the CIA's most experienced spies. His assignment in New York was expected to last a year.  The NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly has defended his department and it’s Demographics Unit which monitors conversations in cafes and wrote reports on Muslim businesses. Kelly has said that his officers only follow leads, however internal police documents obtained by the AP show that even the most generic lead was used to justify surveillance of entire neighborhoods.
 
Officials involved in the effort also told the AP that the Demographics Unit actually avoided locations where criminal investigations were under way for fear of disrupting them. Relations between the NYPD and the Muslim community were further strained when police acknowledged that it showed nearly 1,500 officers a training video featuring Kelly. The video portrayed Muslims wanting to infiltrate and dominate the United States.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
References:
 
COINTELPRO: What the (Deleted) Was It?
 
SUPPLEMENTARY DETAILED STAFF REPORTS ON INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES AND THE RIGHTS OF AMERICANS
 
COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program)
 
The lessons of COINTELPRO
 
Post-9/11, NYPD targets ethnic communities, partners with CIA
 
CIA helped NYPD launch spying network post-9/11 without getting proper legal approval
 
CIA report: No issue with spy agency's partnership with N.Y. police
 
NYPD Confirms CIA Employee Partnership
 
CIA To Pull Officer from NYPD after Internal Probe
 
 

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