COINTELPRO in the 70s

excerpted from the book


by Brian Glick


Government harassment of U.S. political activists clearly exists today, violating our fundamental democratic rights and creating a climate of fear and distrust which undermines our efforts to challenge official policy. Similar attacks on social justice movements came to light during the 1960s. Only years later did we learn that these had been merely the visible tip of an iceberg. Largely hidden at the time was a vast government program to neutralize domestic political opposition through "covert action" (political repression carried out secretly or under the guise of legitimate law enforcement).

The 1960s program, coordinated by the FBI under the code name "COINTELPRO," was exposed in the 1970s and supposedly stopped. But covert operations against domestic dissidents did not end. They have persisted and become an integral part of government activity. ...


Domestic Covert Action Did Not End in the 1970s

... While domestic covert operations were scaled down once the 1960s upsurge had subsided (thanks in part to the success of COINTELPRO), they did not stop. In its April 27, 1971 directives disbanding COINTELPRO, the FBI provided for future covert action to continue "with tight procedures to ensure absolute security." The results are apparent in the record of 1970s covert operations which have so far come to light:


The Native American Movement:

1970s FBI attacks on resurgent Native American resistance have been well documented by Ward Churchill and others. In 1973, the Bureau led a paramilitary invasion of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as American Indian Movement (AIM) activists gathered there for symbolic protests at Wounded Knee, the site of an earlier U.S. massacre of Native Americans. The FBI directed the entire 71-day siege, deploying federal marshals, U.S. Army personnel, Bureau of Indian Affairs police, local GOONs (Guardians of the Oglala Nation, an armed tribal vigilante force), and a vast array of heavy weaponry.

In the following years, the FBI and its allies waged all-out war on AIM and the Native people. From 1973-76, they killed 69 residents of the tiny Pine Ridge reservation, a rate of political murder comparable to the first years of the Pinochet regime in Chile. To justify such a reign of terror and undercut public protest against it, the Bureau launched a complementary program of psychological warfare.

Central to this effort was a carefully orchestrated campaign to reinforce the already deeply ingrained myth of the "Indian savage." In one operation, the FBI fabricated reports that AIM "Dog Soldiers" planned widespread "sniping at tourists" and "burning of farmers" in South Dakota. The son of liberal U.S. Senator (and Arab-American activist) James Abourezk, was named as a "gunrunner," and the Bureau issued a nationwide alert picked up by media across the country.

To the same end, FBI undercover operatives framed AIM members Paul "Skyhorse" Durant and Richard "Mohawk" Billings for the brutal murder of a Los Angeles taxi driver. A bogus AIM note taking credit for the killing was found pinned to a signpost near the murder site, along with a bundle of hair said to be the victim's "scalp. " Newspaper headlines screamed of "ritual murder" by "radical Indians." By the time the defendants were finally cleared of the spurious charges, many of AIM's main financial backers had been scared away and its work among a major urban concentration of Native people was in ruin.

In March 1975, a central perpetrator of this hoax, AIM's national security chief Doug Durham, was unmasked as an undercover operative for the FBI. As AIM's liaison with the Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee during the trials of Dennis Banks and other Native American leaders, Durham had routinely participated in confidential strategy sessions. He confessed to stealing organizational funds during his two years with AIM, and to setting up the arrest of AIM militants for actions he had organized. It was Durham who authored the AIM documents that the FBI consistently cited to demonstrate the group's supposed violent tendencies.

Prompted by Durham's revelations, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced on June 23, 1975 that it would hold public hearings on FBI operations against AIM. Three days later, armed FBI agents assaulted an AIM house on the Pine Ridge reservation. When the smoke cleared, AIM activist Joe Stuntz Killsright and two FBI agents lay dead. The media, barred from the scene "to preserve the evidence," broadcast the Bureau's false accounts of a bloody "Indian ambush," and the congressional hearings were quietly canceled.

The FBI was then free to crush AIM and clear out the last pockets of resistance at Pine Ridge. It launched what the Chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission described as "a full-scale military-type invasion of the reservation" complete with M-16s, Huey helicopters, tracking dogs, and armored personnel carriers. Eventually AIM leader Leonard Peltier was tried for the agents' deaths before a right-wing judge who met secretly with the FBI. AIM member Anna Mae Aquash was found murdered after FBI agents threatened to kill her unless she helped them to frame Peltier. Peltier's conviction, based on perjured testimony and falsified FBI ballistics evidence, was upheld on appeal. (The panel of federal judges included William Webster until the very day of his official appointment as Director of the FBI.) Despite mounting evidence of impropriety in Peltier's trial, and Amnesty International's call for a review of his case, the Native American leader remains in maximum security prison.


The Black Movement:

Government covert action against Black activists also continued in the 1970s. Targets ranged from community based groups to the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika and the surviving remnants of the Black Panther Party.

In Mississippi, federal and state agents attempted to discredit and disrupt the United League of Marshall County, a broad-based grassroots civil rights group struggling to stop Klan violence. In California, a notorious paid operative for the FBI, Darthard Perry, code-named "Othello," infiltrated and disrupted local Black groups and took personal credit for the fire that razed the Watts Writers Workshop's multi-million dollar cultural center in Los Angeles in 1973. The Los Angeles Police Department later admitted infiltrating at least seven 1970s community groups, including the Black-led Coalition Against Police Abuse.

In the mid-1970s, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) conspired with the Wilmington, North Carolina police to frame nine local civil rights workers and the Rev. Ben Chavis, field organizer for the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ. Chavis had been sent to North Carolina to help Black communities respond to escalating racist violence against school desegregation. Instead of arresting Klansmen, the ATF and police coerced three young Black prisoners into falsely accusing Chavis and the others of burning white-owned property. Although all three prisoners later admitted they had lied in response to official threats and bribes, the FBI found no impropriety. The courts repeatedly refused to reopen the case and the Wilmington Ten served many years in prison before pressure from international religious and human rights groups won their release.

As the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) began to build autonomous Black economic and political institutions in the deep South, the Bureau repeatedly disrupted its meetings and blocked its attempts to buy land. On August 18, 1971, four months after the supposed end of COINTELPRO, the FBI and police launched an armed pre-dawn assault on national RNA offices in Jackson, Mississippi. Carrying a warrant for a fugitive who had been brought to RNA Headquarters by FBI informer Thomas Spells, the attackers concentrated their fire where the informer's floor plan indicated that RNA President Imari Obadele slept. Though Obadele was away at the time of the raid, the Bureau had him arrested and imprisoned on charges of conspiracy to assault a government agent.

The COINTELPRO-triggered collapse of the Black Panthers' organization and support in the winter of 1971 left them defenseless as the government moved to prevent them from regrouping. On August 21, 1971, national Party officer George Jackson, world-renowned author of the political autobiography Soledad Brother, was murdered by San Quentin prison authorities on the pretext of an attempted jailbreak. In July 1972, Southern California Panther leader Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt was successfully framed for a senseless $70 robbery-murder committed while he was hundreds of miles away in Oakland, California, attending Black Panther meetings for which the FBI managed to "lose" all of its surveillance records. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act later revealed that at least two FBI agents had infiltrated Pratt's defense committee. They also indicated that the state's main witness, Julio Butler, was a paid informer who had worked in the Party under the direction of the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. For many years, FBI Director Webster publicly denied that Pratt had ever been a COINTELPRO target, despite the documentary proof in his own agency's records.

Also targeted well into the 1970s were former Panthers assigned to form an underground to defend against armed government attack on the Party. It was they who had regrouped as the Black Liberation Army (BLA) when the Party was destroyed. FBI files show that, within a month of the close of COINTELPRO, further Bureau operations against the BLA were mapped out in secret meetings convened by presidential aide John Ehrlichman and attended by President Nixon and Attorney General Mitchell. In the following years, many former Panther leaders were murdered by the police in supposed "shoot-outs" with the BLA. Others, such as Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid Bin Wahad (formerly Richard Moore), and the New York 3 (Herman Bell, Anthony "Jalil" Bottom, and Albert "Nuh" Washington) were sentenced to long prison terms after rigged trials.

In the case of the New York 3, FBI ballistics reports withheld during their mid-1970s trials show that bullets from an alleged murder weapon did not match those found at the site of the killings for which they are still serving life terms. The star witness against them has publicly recanted his testimony, swearing that he lied after being tortured by police (who repeatedly jammed an electric cattle prod into his testicles) and secretly threatened by the prosecutor and judge. The same judge later dismissed petitions to reopen the case, refusing to hold any hearing or to disqualify himself, even though his misconduct is a major issue. As the NY3 continued to press for a new trial, their evidence was ignored by the news media while their former prosecutor's one-sided, racist "docudrama" on the case, Badge of the Assassin, aired on national television.


The Chicano and Puerto Rican Movements:

From 1972-1974, La Raza Unida Party of Texas was plagued with repeated, unsolved COINTELPRO-style political break-ins. Former government operative Eustacio "Frank" Martinez has admitted that after the close of COINTELPRO, the U. S . Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) paid him to help destroy La Casa de Carnalisimo, a Chicano community anti-drug program in Los Angeles. Martinez, who had previously infiltrated the Brown Berets and the Chicano Moratorium, stated that the ATF directed him to provoke bombings and plant a drug pusher in La Casa.

In 1973, Chicano activist and lawyer Francisco "Kiko" Martinez was indicted in Colorado on trumped-up bombing charges and suspended from the bar. He was forced to leave the United States for fear of assassination by police directed to shoot him "on sight." When Martinez was eventually brought to trial in the 1980s, many of the charges against him were dropped for insufficient evidence and local juries acquitted him of others. One case ended in a mistrial when it was found that the judge had met secretly with prosecutors, police, and government witnesses to plan perjured testimony, and had conspired with the FBI to conceal video cameras in the courtroom.

Starting in 1976, the FBI manipulated the grand jury process to assault both the Chicano and Puerto Rican movements. Under the guise of investigating Las Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion National Puertorriqueno (FALN) and other Puerto Rican urban guerrillas, the Bureau harassed and disrupted a cultural center, an alternative high school, and other promising community organizing efforts in Chicago's Puerto Rican barrio and in the Chicano communities of Denver and northern New Mexico. It subpoenaed radical Puerto Rican trade union leader Federico Cintron Fiallo and key staff of the National Commission on Hispanic Affairs of the U.S. Episcopal Church to appear before federal grand juries and jailed them for refusing to cooperate. The independent labor movement in Puerto Rico and the Commission's important work in support of Puerto Rican and Chicano organizing were effectively discredited.

On July 25, 1978, an undercover agent lured two young Puerto Rican independence activists, Carlos Soto Arrivi and Arnaldo Dario Rosado, to their deaths in a police ambush at Cerro Maravilla, Puerto Rico. The agent, Alejandro Gonzalez Malave, worked under the direct supervision of the FBI-trained intelligence chief of the island's police force. The FBI refused to investigate when the police claimed they were merely returning gunfire initiated by the activists. Later it was proved that Soto and Dario had surrendered and were then beaten and shot dead while on their knees. Though a number of officers were found guilty of perjury in the cover-up and one was sentenced for the murder, the officials who set up the operation remain free. Gonzalez has been promoted.

On November 11, 1979, Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, popular socialist leader of the movement to stop U.S. Navy bombing practice on the inhabited Puerto Rican island of Vieques, was murdered in the U.S. penitentiary in Tallahassee, Florida. Though U.S. authorities claimed 'suicide," Rodriguez Cristobal, in the second month of a six-month term for civil disobedience, had been in good spirits when seen by his lawyer hours before his death. He had been subjected to continuous threats and harassment, including forced drugging and isolation, during his confinement. Though he was said to have been found hanging by a bed sheet, there was a large gash on his forehead and blood on the floor of his cell.


The Women's, Gay, and Lesbian Movements:

FBI documents show that the women's liberation movement remained a major target of covert operations throughout the 1970s. Long after the official end of COINTELPRO, the Bureau continued to infiltrate and disrupt feminist organizations, publications, and projects. Its view of the women's movement is revealed by a 1973 report listing the national women's newspaper 'Off Our Backs' as "armed and dangerous -- extremist".

Covert operations also continued against lesbian and gay organizing. One former FBI informer, Earl Robert "Butch" Merritt, revealed that from October 1971 through June 1972 he received a weekly stipend to infiltrate gay publications and organizations in the District of Columbia. He was ordered to conduct break-ins, spread false rumors that certain gay activists were actually police or FBI informants, and create racial dissension between and within groups . One assignment involved calling Black groups to tell them they would not be welcome at Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front meetings.

As in the case of the Puerto Rican and Chicano movements, criminal investigations provided a convenient pretext for escalated FBI attacks on lesbian and feminist activists in the mid-1970s. In purported pursuit of anti-war fugitives Susan Saxe and Kathy Powers, FBI agents flooded the women's communities of Boston, Philadelphia, Lexington (Kentucky), Hartford and New Haven. Their conspicuous interrogation of hundreds of politically active women, followed by highly publicized grand jury subpoenas and jailings, wreaked havoc in health collectives and other vital projects. Activists and potential supporters were scared off, and fear spread across the country, hampering women's and lesbian organizing nationally.


The Anti-war and New Left Movements:

Government covert action against the New Left and anti-war movements also persisted, especially as activists mobilized to protest the 1972 Republican and Democratic Party conventions. In San Diego, where the Republicans initially planned to convene, this campaign culminated in the January 6, 1972 attempt on the life of anti-convention organizer Peter Bohmer by a "Secret Army Organization" of ex-Minutemen formed, subsidized, armed, and protected by the FBI.

Movement organizing and government sabotage continued when the Republican convention was moved to Miami Beach, Florida. In May 1972, Bill Lemmer, Southern Regional Coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (WAW), a key group in the convention protest coalition, surfaced as an undercover FBI operative. Lemmer's false testimony enabled the Bureau to haul the WAW's national leadership before a grand jury hundreds of miles away during the week of the convention.

FBI efforts to put the WAW "out of business" were later confirmed by another ex-operative, Joe Burton of Tampa, Florida, told the New York Times "that between 1972 and 1974 he worked as a paid FBI operative assigned to infiltrate and disrupt various radical groups in this country and Canada." Burton described how specialists were flown in from FBI Headquarters to help him forge bogus documents and "establish a 'sham' political group, 'the Red Star Cadre,' for disruptive purposes."

The same article reported that "two other former FBI operatives, Harry E. Schafer, 3d, and his wife, Jill, told of similar disruptive activity they undertook at the bureau's direction during the same period." Working out of "a similar bogus New Orleans front group, termed the 'Red Collective,"' the Schafers boasted of diverting substantial funds which had been raised to support the American Indian Movement.


The Labor Movement:

One of agent-provocateur Joe Burton's main targets was the United Electrical Workers Union (UE). The FBI falsified records to get Burton into UE Tampa Local 1201 soon after its successful 1973 organizing drive upset the Westinghouse Corporation's plan to develop a chain of non-union plants in the South. Burton's attacks on genuine activists repeatedly disrupted UE meetings. His ultra-left proclamations in the union's name antagonized newly organized workers and gave credibility to the company's red-baiting. Burton also helped the FBI move against the United Farm Workers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

In the mid-1970s, the FBI was instrumental in covering up the murder of labor activist Karen Silkwood and the theft of her files documenting the radioactive contamination of workers at the Kerr McGee nuclear fuel plant near Oklahoma City. Silkwood, elected to the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers local bargaining committee, had amassed proof that the company was falsifying safety reports to hide widespread exposure to dangerous levels of highly carcinogenic plutonium. She was killed when her car crashed into a concrete embankment enroute to a November 13, 1974 meeting with New York Times reporter David Burnham. Her files were never recovered from the wreck. While prominent independent experts concluded that Silkwood's car was bumped from behind and forced off the road, the FBI found that she fell asleep at the wheel after overdosing on Quaaludes and that she never had any files. It quickly closed the case, and helped Kerr-McGee sabotage congressional investigations and posthumously slander Silkwood as a mentally unstable drug addict. Key to the smear campaign were articles and testimony by Jacque Srouji, a Tennessee journalist secretly in the employ of the FBI, who later confessed to having served in a long string of 1960s COINTELPRO operations.

In 1979, government operatives played key roles in the massacre of communist labor organizers during a multi-racial anti-Klan march in Greensboro, North Carolina. Heading the KKK/Nazi death squad was Ed Dawson, a long-time paid FBI/police informer in the Klan. Leading the local American Nazi Party branch into Dawson's "United Racist Front" was U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms undercover agent Bemard Butkovich. Though their controlling agencies were fully warned of the Front's murderous plans, they did nothing to protect the demonstrators. Instead, the police gave Dawson a copy of the march route and withdrew as his caravan moved in for the kill. Dawson's sharpshooters carefully picked off key cadre of the Communist Workers Party (CWP), including the president and president-elect of two Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union locals, an organizer at a third local mill, and a leader of AFSCME's organizing drive at a nearby medical center. In the aftermath, the FBI attempted to cover up the government's role and to put the blame on the CWP.

At the turn of the decade, the Bureau joined with Naval Intelligence and the San Diego Police to neutralize a militant multi-racial union at the shipyards of the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, a major U.S. naval contractor. The Bureau paid Ramon Barton to infiltrate Iron workers Local 627 when it elected leftist officers and began to publicly protest dangerous working conditions. After an explosion from a gas leak killed two workers, Barton lured three others into helping him build a bomb and transport it in his van, where they were arrested. Though the workers entrapped by Barton were not union officials and were acquitted of most charges by a San Diego jury, the Ironworkers International used their trial as a pretext for placing the local in trusteeship and expelling its elected officers.


excerpted from the book
War at Home
by Brian Glick

published by
South End Press
116 Saint Botolph Street, Boston, MA 02115

Third World in United States

War At Home

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