FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ashcroft’s Cointelpro

by DAVID LINDORFF

 

Disclosure of a confidential memorandum sent by the FBI to local police disclosing a massive program of infiltration and surveillance of lawful anti-war and anti-WTO protest movements confirms what most progressives and leftists in the U.S. knew already–that the Bush Administration and the Ashcroft “Justice” Department have ushered in a full-fledged return to the Nixon-era practice of employing police-state tactics against opposition movements.

The disclosure also led to a remarkably light-weight and historically shallow and inaccurate report on those Nixon years by the New York Times.

The Times, in an article on Sunday by Eric Licktblau, quite appropriately draws a parallel between the current surveillance efforts of the FBI and the abuses of the national security establishment during the 1960s and ’70s, but it minimizes the abuses of that earlier era, and further implies that the abuses ended in 1971.

In fact, Cointelpro, a campaign designed, in the FBI’s own words, to “neutralize” and “disrupt” such target organizations as the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Black Panther Party, etc., and the individuals within them, began officially in 1956, and never really ended. Indeed, the FBI’s campaign of surveillance, disruption, character assassination and outright murder were expanded well beyond the agency’s own actions to include local police “red squads,” the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, and the National Security Agency, as well as other government agencies.

The Times article describes Cointelpro as a program designed “to harass and discredit Hoover’s political enemies.” This hardly does justice to the scope and scale of the program.

Hoover did, reportedly, attempt to monitor and undermine his personal enemies, who included a number of politicians in Washington, and he seemed to have a personal vendetta going against Martin Luther King and some other civil rights leaders. But Cointelpro was much more than a device to deal with Hoover’s personal foes. It was a broad campaign against organizations that threatened the interests of the state, of presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and it bred countless other extra-legal operations, including Nixon’s notorious legion of White House Plumbers.

The scale of the Cointelpro campaign and its less publicized offspring of later years (most of Cointelpro’s nefarious activities, exposed during Senate hearings in the early ’70s, were made legal by executive orders issued by President Reagan in 1981 during his first year in office), was mind-boggling. I discovered, for example, when I obtained my own FBI file, that in 1969, when I was still 19, I was the subject of an FBI Cointelpro investigation that made use of an agency informant in my school administration at Wesleyan University, simply because of my membership in SDS and the Resistance, an organization that was providing information about resistance to the draft. I also discovered that the Justice Department in Washington was directing the US Attorneys Office in Hartford, CT to have me arrested and jailed for public burning of my draft card in 1969. And I wasn’t a leader of anything–just a footsoldier in the antiwar movement.

The sorry and frightening truth is that Cointelpro was a massive, and probably hugely successful, campaign by the state to use secret police tactics to destroy a popular movement and its leaders, and to intimidate the public from exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest and organize in opposition to the government and its policies. Furthermore, while as a program with a name, Cointelpro ended in 1971, that campaign of disruption and surveillance has continued uninterrupted through to the present.

It is, for example, well known and documented that the FBI, during the Reagan years, was infiltrating and disrupting CISPES, one of the main organizations opposing U.S. intervention in Central America. Similarly, local police red squads, such as the Public Disorder Intelligence Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, with close ties to the FBI, was massively infiltrating and spying on as many as 200 organizations, ranging from the Peace & Freedom Party to the National Organization for Women and the Los Angeles Democratic Party as late as 1979, with much of the information collected being turned over to the FBI or a national data base operated by a shady firm with national security links called Western Goals, Inc. That LAPD spy unit wasn’t disbanded in the ’80s; it just changed its name, and many other local police red squads continued to operate at least into the 1990s. Indeed there is reason to believe that the FBI, barred for many years from infiltrating legal opposition organizations in the domestic U.S., deliberately made use of local police departments to gather information on such organizations.

While the Times report on the FBI’s latest domestic spying activities against anti-war and anti-globalization activists is reasonably good, the self-described newspaper of record does a disservice to history and to it s readers by minimizing the nature and reach of Cointelpro and its successor programs.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html

 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail