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The Return of COINTELPRO?


“Democracies die behind closed doors” – Judge Damon J. Keith

For 15 years (1956-1971) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ran a broad and highly coordinated domestic intelligence / counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgrams). What was originally deemed as a justifiable effort to protect the US during the Cold War from Soviet and Communist threats and infiltration, soon devolved into a program for suppressing domestic dissent and spying on American citizens. Approximately 20,000 people were investigated by the FBI based only on their political views and beliefs. Most were never suspected of having committed any crime.

The reasoning behind the program, as detailed in a 1976 Senate report, was that the FBI had “the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.” The fact that the “perceived threats” were usually American citizens engaging in constitutionally protected behaviour was apparently overlooked. The stated goal of COINTELPRO was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” any individual or group deemed to be subversive or a threat to the established power structure.

The FBI’s techniques were often extreme, with the agency being complicit in the murder and assassination of political dissidents, or having people sent away to prison for life. Some of the more “moderate” actions that were used were blackmail, spreading false rumors, intimidation and harassment. It has been argued that the US is unique in that it is the only Western industrialized democracy to have engaged in such a wide spread and well organized domestic surveillance program. It finally came to an end in 1971 when it was threatened with public exposure.

Or did it?

In a stunning revelation from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), it appears that COINTELPRO is alive and well. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, PCJF was able to obtain documents showing how the FBI was treating the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, from its inception, as a potential criminal and domestic terrorist threat. This despite the FBI’s own acknowledgement that the OWS organizers themselves planned on engaging in peaceful and popular protest and did not “condone the use of violence.”

The documents, while heavily redacted, give a clear picture of how the FBI was using its offices and agents across the country as early as August 2011 to engage in a massive surveillance scheme against OWS. This was almost a month before any actual protests took place or encampments were set up (the most famous being the one in New York City’s Zuccotti Park).

The FBI’s documents show a government agency at its most paranoid. It considered all planned protests, and the individuals involved, as potential threats. Most disturbing of all, there is talk (p. 61) of the government being ready to “engage in sniper attacks against protesters in Houston, Texas, if deemed necessary” and perhaps needing to formulate a plan “to kill the leadership [of the protest groups] via suppressed sniper rifles.”

Furthermore, the documents reveal a close and intricate partnership between the federal government on one side and banks and private businesses on the other.

On August 19, 2011, the FBI met with representatives of the New York Stock Exchange in order to discuss OWS protests that wouldn’t happen for another four weeks. In September of that year, even before OWS got into full swing, the FBI was notifying local businesses that they might be affected by protests. It is not clear if, while on Wall Street, the FBI investigated the criminal and irresponsible behavior engaged in by some of the largest banks on the planet, behavior which led directly to the financial crisis of 2008.

We are also introduced to a creature named the “Domestic Security Alliance Council” which, according to the federal government, is “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector.” A DSAC report tells us that any information shared between US intelligence agencies and their corporate partners should not be released to “the media, the general public or other personnel.”

In a curious coincidence, nine days after the PCJF’s embarrassing release of FBI documents, the New York Post ran a story about how a 27 year old woman and her “Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street” boyfriend, Aaron Greene, were arrested by officers from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) after an alleged cache of weapons and bomb making explosives were found in their Greenwich Village apartment.

And what exactly led the police to this apartment? Was it credible actionable intelligence gathered from the FBI’s massive domestic surveillance program? Did some agent acquire this information by bravely infiltrating the potential domestic terrorist group known as OWS? Hardly. The NYPD was simply executing a routine search warrant related to a credit card-theft case.

But in a story about the exact same event that appeared in the New York Times, it was reported that “police said they did not believe that Mr. Greene was active in any political movements” and that no “evidence of a planned terrorist attack” had been found . Furthermore, police hadn’t “made a connection to any known plot or any connection to any known terrorists.” No mention was made of the suspect’s alleged ties to the OWS movement, an item that had been prominently reported in the New York Post’s version of events.

Oddly, a more recent New York Post story stated that Mr. Greene was now a “Nazi-loving Harvard grad” and a reported “Adolf Hitler-wannabe.” No mention was made of his suspected ties to OWS. This author made several attempts to contact the New York Post, and the writers of the 2 articles, in an effort to find out how they knew that Mr. Greene was an OWS member and activist. Attempts were also made to try to find out if the New York Post still believed that Mr. Greene was an active OWS member, or if they now simply thought that he was just an “Adolf Hitler-wannabe.”

As of the writing of this article, no response has been received from the New York Post.

The FBI’s stated mission regarding America’s security is to “develop a comprehensive understanding of the threats and penetrate national and transnational networks that have a desire and capability to harm us.”

The American people would be far better served by their government if, instead of wasting millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours harassing peaceful protesters, it spent a fraction of that time and money investigating, and bringing to justice, the people responsible for the engineered destruction of the American economy, and by extension, American society.

You know. The real terrorists.

Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.


“COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Covert Action Programs Against American Citizens” Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book III, Final report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, April 23, 1976. Accessed at:

“COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story”, by Paul Wolf with contributions from Robert Boyle, Bob Brown, Tom Burghardt, Noam Chomsky, Ward Churchill, Kathleen Cleaver, Bruce Ellison, Cynthia McKinney, Nkechi Taifa, Laura Whitehorn, Nicholas Wilson, and Howard Zinn. Presented to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa by the members of the Congressional Black Caucus attending the conference: Donna Christianson, John Conyers, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, Cynthia McKinney, and Diane Watson, September 1, 2001. Accessed at:

“FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring” The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), December 22, 2012. Accessed at:

“Greenwich Village couple busted with cache of weapons, bombmaking explosives: sources” by Jamie Schram, Antonio Antenucci and Matt McNulty, December 31, 2012, The New York Post.   Accessed at:

“Manhattan Couple Stored Bomb-Making Items, Police Say” by Wendy Ruderman, December 31, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:

“More About FBI Spying” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), June 25, 2010. Accessed at:

“NYC couple arrested after explosive substance find” December 31, 2012, CBS/AP. Accessed at:

“Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy” by Naomi Wolf, December 29, 2012, The Guardian. Accessed at:

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation – Mission” The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed at:

“Village ‘bomber’ planned to blow up Washington Sq. Arch with high-grade explosives: cops” by Jamie Schram and Jessica Simeone, January 10, 2013, The New York Post. Accessed at:

Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a former Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.

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