FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The FBI’s Dirty Secrets

It seems that the FBI is likely to be rewarded for the missed warnings, fumbled intelligence, and bureaucratic foul-ups that preceded September 11. Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced that the FBI is changing its rules so that it can spy on domestic organizations, even where there is no evidence of specific criminal activity.

It is doubtful that the Administration could get away with these changes if the real functioning of the FBI as a political police force were better known. The press has referred to the agency’s COINTELPRO (from counterintelligence program) operation of the 1960s and 70s as though it were ancient history, a minor aberration of the FBI’s quirky and fanatical director J. Edgar Hoover.

In fact COINTELPRO was a massive operation to infiltrate, disrupt, harass, and otherwise interfere with the lawful activities of civil rights advocates, peace activists, religious organizations, and others. One of the FBI’s most famous and hated targets was the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In a covert operation that now reads like a B-grade movie script, the FBI actually made a serious effort to blackmail Dr. King into committing suicide.

Less well known is that FBI operations against law-abiding citizens did not end when these abuses were exposed in the 1970s. We know that they continued well into the 1980s, when the Reagan and then Bush (the elder) administrations faced mounting domestic opposition to their wars in Central America. Death squads in El Salvador were murdering religious workers and clergy, the Guatemalan military was carrying out what is now acknowledged as genocide against its indigenous population, and an army of terrorists was trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

The US government was supporting and sponsoring all of these crimes with billions of dollars, and that did not sit well with many Americans. I was one of them, and joined a student group called the Latin American Solidarity Committee at the University of Michigan. Unbeknownst to us, the watchful eyes of the FBI were closely monitoring our actions.

So closely, in fact, that one of our members wrote a history of the group’s activities with the help of documents obtained from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. We enjoyed seeing all of our names in print, and pored over the documents with a mixture of awe and laughter, amazed that the federal government could have taken our little student group so seriously as to keep track of everything we did and who attended our meetings.

As it turned out, this was part of a nationwide spying operation involving all 59 FBI field offices. The whole thing might be secret to this day, if not for fact that one of the Bureau’s informants had a change of heart. He had infiltrated a community of religious activists in Texas, and later said that he had second thoughts when his supervisor suggested that he sleep with a nun in order to discredit them.

The Dallas Morning News broke the story, and the FBI was forced to conduct an internal investigation. FBI director William S. Sessions (1987-93) told Congress that the investigation had left “no stone unturned” and that his G-men had stopped their “counter- terrorism” — yes, they actually called it that — operations by June of 1985.

Sessions was lying: documents released to our local group showed that their spying in Ann Arbor continued well beyond that date. But the press accepted that the FBI had changed its ways, and today the whole story of their illicit activities in the 1980s has disappeared into the memory hole.

That is a shame, because there is no evidence that the FBI ever reformed itself, and now we have two new reasons to worry about it. One is the blank check that Ashcroft has handed to the FBI, which threatens our civil liberties. The second is that after decades of crying “wolf” to justify its functioning as an American KGB, the FBI is now charged with protecting us from real terrorist threats.

There has never been an accounting of how much of the FBI’s resources have been devoted to policing the constitutionally protected activities of our citizens. Congress should demand this accounting as it examines the massive intelligence failure that preceded September 11.

Historians like to say that we ignore the past at our own peril; in the case of the FBI, it may be literally true.

Mark Weisbrot is co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is co-author (with Dean Baker) of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press).

 

 

More articles by:

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rothstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail