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Activists across the country report increasing government harassment
and disruption of their work:
-In the Southwest, paid informers infiltrate the church services, Bible
classes and support networks of clergy and lay workers giving
sanctuary to refugees from El Salvador and Guatamala.
-In Alabama, elderly Black people attempting for the first time
to exercise their right to vote are interrogated by FBI agents and
hauled before federal grand juries hundreds of miles from their
-In New England, a former CIA case officer cites examples from
his own past work to warn college students of efforts by
undercover operatives to misdirect and discredit protests against
South African and US racism.
-In the San Francisco Bay Area, activists planning anti-nuclear
civil disobedience learn that their meetings have been infiltrated by
the US Navy.
-In Detroit, Seattle, and Philadelphia, in Cambridge, MA,
Berkeley,CA., Phoenix, AR., and Washington, DC., churches and
organizations opposing US policies in Central America report
obviously political break-ins in which important papers are stolen
or damaged, while money and valuables are left untouched. License
plates on a car spotted fleeing one such office have been traced
to the US National Security Agency.
-In Puerto Rico, Texas and Massachusetts, labor leaders,
community organizers, writers and editors who advocate Puerto
Rican independence are branded by the FBI as "terrorists,"
brutally rounded-up in the middle of the night, held incommunicado
for days and then jailed under new preventive detention laws.
-The FBI puts the same "terrorist" label on opponents of US
intervention in El Salvador, but refuses to investigate the
possibility of a political conspiracy behind nation-wide bombings
of abortion clinics.
-Throughout the country, people attempting to see Nicaragua for
themselves find their trips disrupted, their private papers
confiscated, and their homes and offices plagued by FBI agents
who demand detailed personal and political information.
These kinds of government tactics violate our fundamental
constitutional rights. They make it enormously difficult to
sustain grass-roots organizing. They create an atmosphere of fear
and distrust which undermines any effort to challenge official
Similar measures were used in the 1960s as part of a secret
FBI program known as "COINTELPRO." COINTELPRO was later exposed
and officially ended. But the evidence shows that it actually
persisted and that clandestine operations to discredit and
disrupt opposition movements have become an institutional feature
of national and local government in the US. This pamphlet is
designed to help current and future activists learn from the
history of COINTELPRO, so that our movements can better withstand
The first section gives a brief overview of what we know the FBI
did in the 60s. It explains why we can expect similar government
intervention in the 80s and beyond, and offers general guidelines
for effective response.
The main body of the pamphlet describes the specific methods which
have previously been used to undermine domestic dissent and
suggests steps we can take to limit or deflect their impact.
A final chapter explores ways to mobilize broad public protest
against this kind of repression.
It also draws on the post-60s confessions of disaffected
government agents, and on the testimony of public officials before
Congress and the courts. Though the information from these sources
is incomplete, and much of what was done remains secret, we
now know enough to draw useful lessons for future organizing.
The suggestions included in the pamphlet are based on the
author's 20 years experience as an activist and lawyer, and on
talks with long-time organizers in a broad range of movements.
They are meant to provide starting points for discussion, so we
can get ready before the pressure intensifies. Most are a matter
of common sense once the methodology of covert action is
understood. Please take these issues seriously. Discuss the
recommendations with other activists. Adapt them to the conditions
you face. Point out problems and suggest other approaches.
IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE BEGIN NOW TO PROTECT OUR MOVEMENTS AND
A HISTORY TO LEARN FROM
WHAT WAS COINTELPRO?
"COINTELPRO" was the FBI's secret program to undermine the popular
upsurge which swept the country during the 1960s. Though the name
stands for "Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not
enemy spies. The FBI set out to eliminate "radical" political
opposition inside the US. When traditional modes of repression
(exposure, blatant harassment, and prosecution for political
crimes) failed to counter the growing insurgency, and even helped
to fuel it, the Bureau took the law into its own hands and
secretly used fraud and force to sabotage constitutionally-
protected political activity.Its methods ranged far beyond
surveillance, and amounted to a domestic version of the covert
action for which the CIA has become infamous throughout the world.
HOW DO WE KNOW ABOUT IT?
COINTELPRO was discovered in March, 1971, when some secret files
were removed from an FBI office and released to news media.
Freedom of Information requests, lawsuits, and former agents'
public confessions deepened the exposure until a major scandal
loomed. To control the damage and re-establish government
legitimacy in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, Congress and the
courts compelled the FBI to reveal part of what it had done and to
promise it would not do it again. Much of what has been learned,
and copies of some of the actual documents, can be found in
the readings listed at the back of this pamphlet.
HOW DID IT WORK?
The FBI secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes
to "misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize
"specific individuals and groups. Close coordination with local
police and prosecutors was encouraged. Final authority rested with
top FBI officials in Washington, who demanded assurance that
"there is no possibility of embarrassment to the Bureau." More
than 2000 individual actions were officially approved. The
documents reveal three types of methods:
1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on
political activists. Their main function was to discredit and
2. Other forms of deception: The FBI and police also waged
psychological warfare from the outside--through bogus
publications, forged correspondence, anonymous letters and
telephone calls, and similar forms of deceit.
3. Harassment, intimidation and violence: Eviction, job loss,
break-ins, vandalism, grand jury subpoenas, false arrests, frame-
ups, and physical violence were threatened, instigated or directly
employed, in an effort to frighten activists and disrupt their
movements. Government agents either concealed their involvement or
fabricated a legal pretext. In the case of the Black and Native
American movements, these assaults--including outright political
assassinations--were so extensive and vicious that they amounted
to terrorism on the part of the government.
WHO WERE THE MAIN TARGETS?
The most intense operations were directed against the Black
movement, particularly the Black Panther Party. This resulted from
FBI and police racism, the Black community's lack of
material resources for fighting back, and the tendency of the
media--and whites in general--to ignore or tolerate attacks on
Black groups. It also reflected government and corporate fear of
the Black movement because of its militance, its broad domestic
base and international support, and its historic role in
galvanizing the entire Sixties' upsurge. Many other activists who
organized against US intervention abroad or for racial, gender or
class justice at home also came under covert attack. The targets
were in no way limited to those who used physical force or took
up arms. Martin Luther King, David Dellinger, Phillip Berrigan
and other leading pacifists were high on the list, as were
projects directly protected by the Bill of Rights, such as
The Black Panthers came under attack at a time when their work
featured free food and health care and community control of
schools and police, and when they carried guns only for deterrent
and symbolic purposes. It was the terrorism of the FBI and
police that eventually provoked the Panthers to retaliate with the
armed actions that later were cited to justify their repression.
Ultimately the FBI disclosed six official counterintelligence programs:
Communist Party-USA (1956-71);
"Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto Rico" (1960-71);
Socialist Workers Party (1961-71); "White Hate Groups" (1964-71);
"Black Nationalist Hate Groups" (1967-71); and "New Left" (1968-
71).The latter operations hit anti-war, student, and feminist
groups. The "Black Nationalist" caption actually encompassed
Martin Luther King and most of the civil rights and Black Power
movements. The "white hate" program functioned mainly as a cover
for covert aid to the KKK and similar right-wing vigilantes,who
were given funds and information, so long as they confined their
attacks to COINTELPRO targets. FBI documents also reveal covert
action against Native American, Chicano, Phillipine, Arab-
American, and other activists, apparently without formal
WHAT EFFECT DID IT HAVE?
COINTELPRO's impact is difficult to fully assess since we do not
know the entire scope of what was done (especially against such
pivotal targets as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, SNCC and
SDS),and we have no generally accepted analysis of the Sixties.
It is clear,however, that:
-COINTELPRO distorted the public's view of radical groups in a
way that helped to isolate them and to legitimize open political
-It reinforced and exacerbated the weaknesses of these groups,
making it very difficult for the inexperienced activists of the
Sixties to learn from their mistakes and build solid, durable
-Its violent assaults and covert manipulation eventually helped
to push some of the most committed and experienced groups to
withdraw from grass-roots organizing and to substitute armed
actions which isolated them and deprived the movement of much of
-COINTELPRO often convinced its victims to blame themselves and
each other for the problems it created, leaving a legacy of
cynicism and despair that persists today.
-By operating covertly, the FBI and police were able to severely
weaken domestic political opposition without shaking the
conviction of most US people that they live in a democracy, with
free speech and the rule of law.
THE DANGER WE FACE
DID COINTELPRO EVER REALLY END?
Public exposure of COINTELPRO in the early 1970s elicited a
flurry of reform. Congress, the courts and the mass media
condemned government "intelligence abuses." Municipal police
forces officially disbanded their red squads. A new Attorney
General notified past victims of COINTELPRO and issued Guidelines
to limit future operations. Top FBI officials were indicted
(albeit for relatively minor offenses), two were convicted, and
several others retired or resigned. J. Edgar Hoover--the
egomaniacal, crudely racist and sexist founder of the FBI--died,
and a well-known federal judge, William Webster, eventually was
appointed to clean house and build a "new FBI."
Behind this public hoopla, however, was little real improvement
in government treatment of radical activists. Domestic covert
operations were briefly scaled down a bit, after the 60s' upsurge
had largely subsided, due in part to the success of COINTELPRO.
But they did not stop. In April, 1971, soon after files had been
taken from one of its offices, the FBI instructed its agents that
"future COINTELPRO actions will be considered on a highly
selective, individual basis with tight procedures to insure
absolute security. "The results are apparent in the record of the
-A virtual war on the American Indian Movement, ranging from
forgery of documents, infiltration of legal defense committees,
diversion of funds, intimidation of witnesses and falsification of
evidence, to the para-military invasion of the Pine Ridge
Reservation in South Dakota, and the murder of Anna Mae Aquash,
Joe Stuntz and countless others;
-Sabotage of efforts to organize protest demonstrations at the
1972 Republican and Democratic Party conventions. The attempted
assassination of San Diego Univ. Prof. Peter Bohmer, by a "Secret
Army Organization" of ex-Minutemen formed, subsidized, armed, and
protected by the FBI, was a part of these operations;
-Concealment of the fact that the witness whose testimony led to
the 1972 robbery-murder conviction of Black Panther leader Elmer
"Geronimo" Pratt was a paid informer who had worked in the BPP
under the direction of the FBI and the Los Angeles Police
-Infiltration and disruption of the Vietnam Veterans Against the
War, and prosecution of its national leaders on false charges
-Formation and operation of sham political groups such as "Red
Star Cadre," in Tampa, Fla., and the New Orleans "Red Collective"
-Mass interrogation of lesbian and feminist activists, threats
of subpoenas, jailing of those who refused to cooperate, and
disruption of women's health collectives and other projects
(Lexington, KY., Hartford and New Haven,Conn., 1975);
-Harassment of the Hispanic Commission of the Episcopal Church
and numerous other Puerto Rican and Chicano religious activists
and community organizers (Chicago, New York City, Puerto Rico,
Colorado and New Mexico, 1977);
-Entrapment and frame-up of militant union leaders (NASCO
shipyards,San Diego, 1979); and
-Complicity in the murder of socialist labor and community
organizers (Greensboro, N.C., 1980).
IS IT A THREAT TODAY?
All this, and maybe more, occurred in an era of reform. The use of
similar measures in today's very different times cannot
be itemized in such detail, since most are still secret. The
gravity of the current danger is evident, however, from the major
steps recently taken to legitimize and strengthen political
repression, and from the many incidents which are coming to light
despite stepped-up security.
The ground-work for public acceptance of repression has been laid
by President Reagan's speeches reviving the old red-scare tale of
worldwide "communist take-overs" and adding a new bogeyman in the
form of domestic and international "terrorism." The President has
taken advantage of the resulting political climate to denounce
the Bill of Rights and to red-bait critics of US intervention in
Central America. He has pardoned the FBI officials convicted of
COINTELPRO crimes, praised their work, and spoken favorably of
the political witchhunts he took part in during the 1950s.
For the first time in US history, government infiltration
to "influence" domestic political activity has received official
sanction. On the pretext of meeting the supposed terrorist
threat, Presidential Executive Order 12333 (Dec. 4, 1981) extends
such authority not only to the FBI, but also to the military and,
in some cases, the CIA. History shows that these agencies treat
legal restriction as a kind of speed limit which they feel free
to exceed, but only by a certain margin. Thus, Reagan's Executive
Order not only encourages reliance on methods once deemed
abhorrent, it also implicitly licenses even greater, more damaging
intrusion. Government capacity to make effective use of such
measures has also been substantially enhanced in recent years:
-Judge Webster's highly-touted reforms have served mainly to
modernize the FBI and make it more dangerous. Instead of the back-
biting competition which impeded coordination of domestic counter-
insurgency in the 60s, the Bureau now promotes inter-agency
cooperation. As an equal opportunity employer, it can use Third
World and female agents to penetrate political targets more
thoroughly than before. By cultivating a low-visibility corporate
image and discreetly avoiding public attack on prominent
liberals, the FBI has regained respectability and won over a
number of former critics.
-Municipal police forces have similarly revamped their image
while upgrading their repressive capabilities. The police "red
squads" that infiltrated and harassed the 60s' movements have been
revived under other names and augmented by para-military SWAT
teams and tactical squads as well as highly-politicized community
relations and "beat rep" programs, in which Black, Hispanic and
female officers are often conspicuous. Local operations are linked
by FBI-led regional anti-terrorist task forces and the national
Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU).
-Increased military and CIA involvement has added
political sophistication and advanced technology. Army Special
Forces and other elite military units are now trained and equipped
for counter-insurgency (known as"low-intensity warfare"). Their
manuals teach the essential methodology of COINTELPRO, stressing
earlier intervention to neutralize potential opposition before it
can take hold.
The CIA's expanded role is especially ominous. In the 60s, while
legally banned from "internal security functions," the CIA
managed to infiltrate the Black, student and antiwar movements. It
also made secret use of university professors, journalists, labor
leaders, publishing houses, cultural organizations and
philanthropic fronts to mold US public opinion. But it apparently
felt compelled to hold back--within the country--from the kinds of
systematic political destabilization, torture, and murder which
have become the hallmark of its operations abroad. Now, the full
force of the CIA has been unleashed at home.
-All of the agencies involved in covert operations have had time
to learn from the 60s and to institute the "tight procedures to
insure absolute security" that FBI officials demanded after
COINTELPRO was exposed in 1971. Restoration of secrecy has been
made easier by the Administration's steps to shield covert
operations from public scrutiny. Under Reagan, key FBI and CIA
files have been re-classified "top secret." The Freedom of
Information Act has been quietly narrowed through administrative
reinterpretation. Funds for covert operations are allocated behind
closed doors and hidden in CIA and defense appropriations.
Government employees now face censorship even after they retire,
and new laws make it a federal crime to publicize information
which might tend to reveal an agent's identity. Despite this
stepped-up security, incidents frighteningly reminiscent of 60s'
COINTELPRO have begun to emerge.
The extent of the infiltration, burglary and other clandestine
government intervention that has already come to light is
alarming. Since the vast majority of such operations stay hidden
until after the damage has been done, those we are now aware of
undoubtedly represent only the tip of the iceberg. Far more is
sure to lie beneath the surface.
Considering the current political climate, the legalization of
COINTELPRO, the rehabilitation of the FBI and police, and the
expanded role of the CIA and military, the recent revelations
leave us only one safe assumption: that extensive government
covert operations are already underway to neutralize today's
opposition movements before they can reach the massive level of
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Domestic covert action has now persisted in some form through at
least the last seven presidencies. It grew from one program to
six under Kennedy and Johnson. It flourished when an outspoken
liberal, Ramsey Clark, was Attorney General (1966-68). It is an
integral part of the established mode of operation of powerful,
entrenched agencies on every level of government. It enables
policy-makers to maintain social control without detracting from
their own public image or the perceived legitimacy of their method
of government. It has become as institutional in the US as the
race, gender, class and imperial domination it serves to uphold.
Under these circumstances, there is no reason to think we can
eliminate COINTELPRO simply by electing better public officials.
Only through sustained public education and mobilization, by a
broad coalition of political, religious and civil libertarian
activists, can we expect to limit it effectively.
In most parts of the country, however, and certainly on a
national level, we lack the political power to end covert
government intervention, or even to curb it substantially. We
therefore need to learn how to cope more effectively with this
form of repression.
The next part of this pamphlet examines the methods that were
used to discredit and disrupt the movements of the 60s and
suggests steps we can take to deflect or reduce their impact in
A CHECK-LIST OF ESSENTIAL PRECAUTIONS:
-Check out the authenticity of any disturbing letter, rumor,
phone call or other communication before acting on it.
-Document incidents which appear to reflect covert intervention,
and report them to the Movement Support Network Hotline: 212/477-
-Deal openly and honestly with the differences within our
movements (race, gender, class, age, religion, national origin,
sexual orientation, personality, experience, physical and
intellectual capacities, etc.) before the FBI and police exploit
them to tear us apart.
-Don't rush to expose a suspected agent. Instead, directly
criticize what the suspect says and does. Intra-movement
witchhunts only help the government create distrust and paranoia.
-Support whoever comes under government attack. Don't be put off
by political slander, such as recent attempts to smear radical
activists as "terrorists." Organize public opposition to FBI
investigations, grand juries, show trials and other forms of
-Above all, do not let them divert us from our main work. Our
most powerful weapon against political repression is effective
organizing around the needs and issues which directly affect
WHAT THEY DO & HOW WE CAN PROTECT OURSELVES
INFILTRATION BY AGENTS OR INFORMERS
Agents are law enforcement officers disguised as activists.
Informers are non-agents who provide information to a law
enforcement or intelligence agency. They may be recruited from
within a group or sent in by an agency, or they may be disaffected
former members or supporters.
Infiltrators are agents or informers who work in a group or
community under the direction of a law enforcement or
intelligence agency. During the 60s the FBI had to rely on
informers (who are less well trained and harder to control)
because it had very few black, Hispanic or female agents, and its
strict dress and grooming code left white male agents unable to
look like activists. As a modern equal opportunity employer,
today's FBI has fewer such limitations.
What They Do: Some informers and infiltrators quietly
provide information while keeping a low profile and doing whatever
is expected of group members. Others attempt to discredit a target
and disrupt its work. They may spread false rumors and make
unfounded accusations to provoke or exacerbate tensions and
splits. They may urge divisive proposals, sabotage
important activities and resources, or operate as "provocateurs"
who lead zealous activists into unnecessary danger. In a
demonstration or other confrontation with police, such an agent
may break discipline and call for actions which would undermine
unity and detract from tactical focus.
Infiltration As a Source of Distrust and Paranoia: While
individual agents and informers aid the government in a variety
of specific ways, the general use of infiltrators serves a very
special and powerful strategic function. The fear that a group
may be infiltrated often intimidates people from getting more
involved. It can give rise to a paranoia which makes it difficult
to build the mutual trust which political groups depend on. This
use of infiltrators, enhanced by covertly-initiated rumors that
exaggerate the extent to which a particular movement or group has
been penetrated, is recommended by the manuals used to teach
counter-insurgency in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Covert Manipulation to Make A Legitimate Activist Appear to be
an Agent: An actual agent will often point the finger at a
genuine, non-collaborating and highly-valued group member,
claiming that he or she is the infiltrator. The same effect,
known as a "snitch jacket," has been achieved by planting forged
documents which appear to be communications between an activist
and the FBI, or by releasing for no other apparent reason one of
a group of activists who were arrested together. Another method
used under COINTELPRO was to arrange for some activists, arrested
under one pretext or another, to hear over the police radio a
phony broadcast which appeared to set up a secret meeting between
the police and someone from their group.
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GUIDELINES FOR COPING WITH INFILTRATION:
l. Establish a process through which anyone who suspects an
informer (or other form of covert intervention) can express his
or her fears without scaring others. Experienced people assigned
this responsibility can do a great deal to help a group maintain
its morale and focus while, at the same time, centrally
consolidating information and deciding how to use it. This
plan works best when accompanied by group discussion of the danger
of paranoia, so that everyone understands and follows the
2. To reduce vulnerability to paranoia and "snitch jackets", and
to minimize diversion from your main work, it generally is best if
you do not attempt to expose a suspected agent or informer unless
you are certain of their role. (For instance, they surface to make
an arrest, testify as a government witness or in some other way
admit their identity). Under most circumstances, an attempted
exposure will do more harm than the infiltrator's
continued presence. This is especially true if you can discreetly
limit the suspect's access to funds, financial records, mailing
lists, discussions of possible law violations, meetings that plan
criminal defense strategy, and similar opportunities.
3. Deal openly and directly with the form and content of what
anyone says and does, whether the person is a suspected agent, has
emotional problems, or is simply a sincere, but naive or confused
person new to the work.
4. Once an agent or informer has been definitely identified,
alert other groups and communities by means of photographs, a
description of their methods of operation, etc. In the 60s, some
agents managed even after their exposure in one community to move
on and repeat their performance in a number of others.
5. Be careful to avoid pushing a new or hesitant member to take
risks beyond what that person is ready to handle, particularly in
situations which could result in arrest and prosecution. People in
this position have proved vulnerable to recruitment as informers.
OTHER FORMS OF DECEPTION
Bogus leaflets, pamphlets, etc.: COINTELPRO documents show that
the FBI routinely put out phony leaflets, posters, pamphlets,
etc. to discredit its targets. In one instance, agents revised a
children's coloring book which the Black Panther Party had
rejected as anti-white and gratuitously violent, and then
distributed a cruder version to backers of the Party's program of
free breakfasts for children, telling them the book was being
used in the program.
False media stories: The FBI's documents expose collusion by
reporters and news media that knowingly published false and
distorted material prepared by Bureau agents. One such story had
Jean Seberg, a noticeably pregnant white film star active in
anti-racist causes, carrying the child of a prominent
Black leader. Seberg's white husband, the actual father, has sued
the FBI as responsible for her resulting still-birth, breakdown,
Forged correspondence: Former employees have confirmed that the
FBI and CIA have the capacity to produce "state of the art"
forgery. The U.S. Senate's investigation of COINTELPRO uncovered a
series of letters forged in the name of an intermediary between
the Black Panther Party's national office and Panther leader
Eldridge Cleaver, in exile in Algeria. The letters proved
instrumental in inflaming intra-party rivalries that erupted into
the bitter public split that shattered the Party in the winter of
Anonymous letters and telephone calls: During the 60s, activists
received a steady flow of anonymous letters and phone calls which
turn out to have been from government agents. Some threatened
violence. Others promoted racial divisions and fears. Still
others charged various leaders with collaboration, corruption,
sexual affairs with other activists' mates, etc. As in the Seberg
incident, inter-racial sex was a persistent theme. The husband of
one white woman involved in a bi-racial civil rights group
received the following anonymous letter authored by the FBI:
--Look, man, I guess your old lady doesn't get enough at home or
she wouldn't be shucking and jiving with our Black Men in ACTION,
you dig? Like all she wants to integrate is the bedroom and us
Black Sisters ain't gonna take no second best from our men. So
lay it on her man--or get her the hell off [name]. A Soul
False rumors: Using infiltrators, journalists and other contacts,
the Bureau circulated slanderous, disruptive rumors through
political movements and the communities in which they worked.
Other misinformation: A favorite FBI tactic uncovered by
Senate investigators was to misinform people that a political
meeting or event had been cancelled. Another was to offer non-
existent housing at phony addresses, stranding out-of-town
conference attendees who naturally blamed those who had organized
the event. FBI agents also arranged to transport demonstrators
in the name of a bogus bus company which pulled out at the last
minute. Such "dirty tricks" interfered with political events and
turned activists against each other.
Fronts for the FBI: COINTELPRO documents reveal that a number
of Sixties' political groups and projects were actually set up and
operated by the FBI.
One, "Grupo pro-Uso Voto," was used to disrupt the fragile
unity developing in l967 among groups seeking Puerto Rico's
independence from the US.The genuine proponents of independence
had joined together to boycott a US-administered referendum on
the island's status. They argued that voting under conditions of
colonial domination could serve only to legitimize US rule, and
that no vote could be fair while the US controlled the island's
economy, media, schools, and police. The bogus group, pretending
to support independence, broke ranks and urged independistas to
take advantage of the opportunity to register their opinion at
Since FBI front groups are basically a means for penetrating and
disrupting political movements, it is best to deal with them on
the basis of the Guidelines for Coping with Infiltration.
Confront what a suspect group says and does, but avoid public
accusations unless you have definite proof. If you do have such
proof, share it with everyone affected.
GUIDELINES FOR COPING WITH OTHER FORMS OF DECEPTION:
l. Don't add unnecessarily to the pool of information that
government agents use to divide political groups and turn
activists against each other. They thrive on gossip about
personal tensions, rivalries and disagreements. The more these
are aired in public, or via a telephone which can be tapped or
mail which can be opened, the easier it is to exploit a groups'
problems and subvert its work. (Note that the CIA has the
technology to read mail without opening it, and that pay
telephones can now be programmed to record any conversation in
which specified political terms are used.)
2. The best way to reduce tensions and hostilities, and the urge
to gossip about them, is to make time for open, honest discussion
and resolution of "personal" as well as "political" issues.
3. Don't accept everything you hear or read. Check with the
supposed source of the information before you act on it. Personal
communication among estranged activists, however difficult or
painful, could have countered many FBI operations which proved
effective in the Sixties.
4. When you hear a negative, confusing or potentially harmful
rumor, don't pass it on. Instead, discuss it with a trusted friend
or with the people in your group who are responsible for dealing
with covert intervention.
5. Verify and double-check all arrangements for
housing, transportation, meeting rooms, and so forth.
6. When you discover bogus materials, false media stories, etc.,
publicly disavow them and expose the true source, insofar as you
HARASSMENT, INTIMIDATION & VIOLENCE:
Pressure through employers, landlords, etc.: COINTELPRO documents
reveal frequent overt contacts and covert manipulation (false
rumors, anonymous letters and telephone calls) to generate
pressure on activists from their parents, landlords, employers,
college administrators, church superiors, welfare agencies, credit
bureaus, licensing authorities, and the like.
Agents' reports indicate that such intervention denied Sixties'
activists any number of foundation grants and public speaking
engagements. It also cost underground newspapers most of their
advertising revenues, when major record companies were persuaded
to take their business elsewhere. It may underlie recent steps
by insurance companies to cancel policies held by churches giving
sanctuary to refugees from El Salvador and Guatamala.
Burglary: Former operatives have confessed to thousands of "black
bag jobs" in which FBI agents broke into movement offices to
steal, copy or destroy valuable papers, wreck equipment, or plant
Vandalism: FBI infiltrators have admitted countless other acts of
vandalism, including the fire which destroyed the Watts Writers
Workshop's multi-million dollar ghetto cultural center in l973.
Late 60s' FBI and police raids laid waste to movement offices
across the country, destroying precious printing presses,
typewriters, layout equipment, research files, financial records,
and mailing lists.
Other direct interference: To further disrupt opposition
movements, frighten activists, and get people upset with each
other, the FBI tampered with organizational mail, so it came late
or not at all. It also resorted to bomb threats and similar "dirty
Conspicuous surveillance: The FBI and police blatantly watch
activists' homes, follow their cars, tap phones, open mail and
attend political events. The object is not to collect information
(which is done surreptiously), but to harass and intimidate.
Attempted interviews: Agents have extracted damaging information
from activists who don't know they have a legal right to refuse
to talk, or who think they can outsmart the FBI. COINTELPRO
directives recommend attempts at interviews throughout political
movements to "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles" and
"get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every
Grand juries: Unlike the FBI, the Grand Jury has legal power to
make you answer its questions. Those who refuse, and are required
to accept immunity from use of their testimony against them, can
be jailed for contempt of court. (Such "use immunity" enables
prosecutors to get around the constitutional protection against
The FBI and the US Dept. of Justice have manipulated this process
to turn the grand jury into an instrument of political
repression. Frustrated by jurors' consistent refusal to convict
activists of overtly political crimes, they convened over 100
grand juries between l970 and l973 and subpoenaed more than 1000
activists from the Black, Puerto Rican, student, women's and
anti-war movements. Supposed pursuit of fugitives and
"terrorists" was the usual pretext. Many targets were so terrified
that they dropped out of political activity. Others were jailed
without any criminal charge or trial, in what amounts to a U.S.
version of the political internment procedures employed in South
Africa and Northern Ireland.
False arrest and prosecution: COINTELPRO directives cite the
Philadelphia FBI's success in having local militants "arrested on
every possible charge until they could no longer make bail" and
"spent most of the summer in jail." Though the bulk of the
activists arrested in this manner were eventually released, some
were convicted of serious charges on the basis of perjured
testimony by FBI agents, or by co-workers who the Bureau had
threatened or bribed.
The object was not only to remove experienced organizers from
their communities and to divert scarce resources into legal
defense, but even more to discredit entire movements by
portraying their leaders as vicious criminals. Two victims of
such frame-ups, Native American activist Leonard Peltier and
l960s' Black Panther official Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, have
finally gained court hearings on new trial motions.
Others currently struggling to re-open COINTELPRO convictions
include Richard Marshall of the American Indian Movement and
jailed Black Panthers Herman Bell, Anthony Bo:Pom,
Albert Washington (the "NY3"), and Richard "Dhoruba" Moore.
Intimidation: One COINTELPRO communique urged that "The Negro
youths and moderates must be made to understand that if they
succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead
Others reported use of threats (anonymous and overt) to terrorize
activists, driving some to abandon promising projects and others
to leave the country. During raids on movement offices, the FBI
and police routinely roughed up activists and threatened further
violence. In August, 1970, they forced the entire staff of the
Black Panther office in Philadelphia to march through the streets
Instigation of violence: The FBI's infiltrators and anonymous
notes and phone calls incited violent rivals to attack Malcolm X,
the Black Panthers,and other targets. Bureau records also reveal
maneuvers to get the Mafia to move against such activists as black
comedian Dick Gregory.
A COINTELPRO memo reported that "shootings, beatings and a high
degree of unrest continue to prevail in the ghetto area of
southeast San Diego...it is felt that a substantial amount of the
unrest is directly attributable to this program."
Covert aid to right-wing vigilantes: In the guise of a COINTELPRO
against "white hate groups," the FBI subsidized, armed, directed
and protected the Klu Klux Klan and other right-wing groups,
including a "Secret Army Organization" of California ex-Minutemen
who beat up Chicano activists, tore apart the offices of the San
Diego Street Journal and the Movement for a Democratic Military,
and tried to kill a prominent anti-war organizer. Puerto Rican
activists suffered similar terrorist assaults from anti-Castro
Cuban groups organized and funded by the CIA.
Defectors from a band of Chicago-based vigilantes known as the
"Legion of Justice" disclosed that the funds and arms they used
to destroy book stores, film studios and other centers of
opposition had secretly been supplied by members of the Army's
ll3th Military Intelligence Group.
Assassination: The FBI and police were implicated directly in
murders of Black and Native American leaders. In Chicago, police
assassinated Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, using a
floor plan supplied by an FBI informer who apparently also had
drugged Hampton's food to make him unconscious during the raid.
FBI records show that this accomplice received a substantial bonus
for his services. Despite an elaborate cover-up, a blue-ribbon
commission and a U.S Court of Appeals found the deaths to be the
result not of a shootout, as claimed by police, but of a
carefully orchestrated, Vietnam-style "search and destroy
GUIDELINES FOR COPING WITH HARASSMENT, INTIMIDATION & VIOLENCE:
l. Establish security procedures appropriate to your group's
level of activity and discuss them thoroughly with everyone
involved. Control access to keys, files, letterhead, funds,
financial records, mailing lists, etc. Keep duplicates of valuable
documents. Safeguard address books, and do not carry them when
arrest is likely.
2. Careful records of break-ins, thefts, bomb threats, raids,
arrests, strange phone noises (not always taps or bugs),
harassment, etc. will help you to discern patterns and to prepare
reports and testimony.
3. Don't talk to the FBI. Don't let them in without a warrant.
Tell others that they came. Have a lawyer demand an explanation
and instruct them to leave you alone.
4. If an activist does talk, or makes some other honest error,
explain the harm that could result. But do not attempt to
ostracize a sincere person who slips up. Isolation only weakens a
person's ability to resist. It can drive someone out of the
movement and even into the arms of the police.
5. If the FBI starts to harass people in your area, alert
everyone to refuse to cooperate (see box). Call the Movement
Support Network's Hotline:(2l2) 614-6422. Set up community
meetings with speakers who have resisted similar harassment
elsewhere. Get literature, films, etc. through the organizations
listed in the back of this pamphlet. Consider "Wanted"
posters with photos of the agents, or guerilla theater which
follows them through the city streets.
6. Make a major public issue of crude harassment, such as
tampering with your mail. Contact your congressperson. Call the
media. Demonstrate at your local FBI office. Turn the attack into
an opportunity for explaining how covert intervention threatens
fundamental human rights.
7. Many people find it easier to tell an FBI agent to contact
their lawyer than to refuse to talk. Once a lawyer is involved,
the Bureau generally pulls back, since it has lost its power to
intimidate. If possible, make arrangements with a local lawyer and
let everyone know that agents who visit them can be referred to
that lawyer. If your group engages in civil disobedience or
finds itself under intense police pressure, start a bail fund,
train some members to deal with the legal system, and develop an
ongoing relationship with a sympathetic local lawyer.
8. Community education is important, along with legal, financial,
child care, and other support for those who protect a movement
by refusing to divulge information about it. If a respected activist
is subpoenaed for obviously political reasons, consider trying to
arrange for sanctuary in a local church or synagogue.
9. While the FBI and police are entirely capable of
fabricating criminal charges, your non-political law violations
(such as drugs) make it easier for them to set you up. The point
is not to get so up-tight and paranoid that you can't function,
but to make a realistic assessment based on your visibility and
other pertinent circumstances.
10. Upon hearing of Fred Hampton's murder, the Black Panthers in
Los Angeles fortified their offices and organized a
communications network to alert the community and news media in
the event of a raid. When the police did attempt an armed assault
four days later, the Panthers were able to hold off the attack
until a large community and media presence enabled them to leave
the office without casualties. Similar preparation can help other
groups that have reason to expect right-wing or police assaults.
11. Make sure your group designates and prepares other members to
step in if leaders are jailed or otherwise incapacitated. The more
each participant is able to think for herself or himself and take
responsibility, the better will be the group's capacity to cope
ORGANIZING PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO COVERT INTERVENTION
A BROAD-BASED STRATEGY: No one existing political organization
or movement is strong enough, by itself, to mobilize the public
pressure required to significantly limit the ability of the FBI,
CIA and police to subvert our work. Some activists oppose covert
intervention because it violates fundamental constitutional
rights. Others stress how it weakens and interferes with the work
of a particular group or movement. Still others see covert action
as part of a political and economic system which is
fundamentally flawed. Our only hope is to bring these diverse
forces together in a single, powerful alliance.
Such a broad coalition cannot hold together unless it operates
with clearly-defined principles. The coalition as a whole will
have to oppose covert intervention on certain basic grounds--such
as the threat to democracy, civil liberties and social justice,
leaving its members free to put forward other objections and
analyses in their own names. Participants will need to refrain
from insisting that only their views are "politically correct"
and that everyone else has "sold out."
Above all, we will have to resist the government's maneuvers to
divide us by moving against certain groups, while subtly
suggesting that it will go easy on the others, if only they
dissociate themselves from those under attack. This strategy is
evident in the recent Executive Order and Guidelines, which single
out for infiltration and disruption people who support liberation
movements and governments that defy U.S. hegemony or who
entertain the view that it may at times be necessary to break the
law in order to effectuate social change.
DIVERSE TACTICS: For maximum impact, local and national coalitions
will need a multi-faceted approach which effectively combines
a diversity of tactics, including:
l. Investigative research to stay on top of, and document, just
what the FBI, CIA and police are up to.
2. Public education through forums, rallies, radio and TV,
literature, film, high school and college curricula, wallposters,
guerilla theater, and whatever else proves interesting and
3. Legislative lobbying against administration proposals to
strengthen covert work, cut back public access to information,
punish government "whistle-blowers", etc. Coalitions in some
cities and states have won legislative restrictions on
surveillance and covert action. The value of such victories will
depend our ability to mobilize continuing, vigilant public
pressure for effective enforcement.
4. Support for the victims of covert intervention can reduce
somewhat the harm done by the FBI, CIA and police. Organizing on
behalf of grand jury resisters, political prisoners, and
defendants in political trials offers a natural forum for public
education about domestic covert action.
5. Lawsuits may win financial compensation for some of the people
harmed by covert intervention. Class action suits, which seek a
court order (injunction) limiting surveillance and covert action
in a particular city or judicial district, have proved a valuable
source of information and publicity. They are enormously
expensive, however, in terms of time and energy as well as money.
Out-of-court settlements in some of these cases have given rise
to bitter disputes which split coalitions apart, and any
agreement is subject to reinterpretation or modification by
increasingly conservative, administration-oriented federal
The US Court of Appeals in Chicago has ruled that the consent
decree against the FBI there affects only operations based
"solely on the political views of a group or an individual," for
which the Bureau can conjure no pretext of a "genuine concern for
6. Direct action, in the form of citizens' arrests, mock trials,
picketlines, and civil disobedience, has recently greeted CIA
recruiters on a number of college campuses. Although the main
focus has been on the Agency's international crimes, its domestic
activities have also received attention. Similar actions might be
organized to protest recruitment by the FBI and police, in
conjunction with teach-ins and other education about domestic
covert action. Demonstrations against Reagan's attempts to bolster
covert intervention, or against particular FBI, CIA or police
operations, could also raise public consciousness and focus
PROSPECTS: Previous attempts to mobilize public opposition,
especially on a local level, indicate that a broad coalition,
employing a multi-faceted approach, may be able to impose some
limits on the government's ability to discredit and disrupt our
work. It is clear, however, that we currently lack the power to
eliminate such intervention. While fighting hard to end domestic
covert action, we need also to study the forms it takes and
prepare ourselves to cope with it as effectively as we can.
Above all, it is essential that we resist the temptation to so
preoccupy ourselves with repression that we neglect our main
work. Our ability to resist the government's attacks depends
ultimately on the strength of our movements. So long as we
continue to advocate and organize effectively, no manner of
intervention can stop us.
Electronic Osmosis by New York On-Line (718) 852-2662