The Bureau (FBI) in War and Peace
excerpted from the book
The Lawless State
The crimes of the U.S. Inteligence Agencies
by Morton Halperin, Jerry Berman, Robert Borosage,
Penguin Books, 1976
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the nation's chief law
enforcement agency. It is also an intelligence agency, the domestic
counterpart to the Central Intelligence Agency It does at home
what the CIA does abroad: gathers information on those whose politics
it distrusts, and uses covert techniques to disrupt their activities.
Over the past forty years, the modern bureau, established in 1935,
has grown in both power and size; from a small unit inside the
Justice Department into a massive police bureaucracy having jurisdiction
over 100 federal criminal matters. Deploying over 8,000 trained
agents from the "Seat of Government" in Washington,
D.C., to some fifty field offices and resident agencies across
the country, the bureau investigates both politics and crime.
It has also grown into a nationwide spy apparatus that devotes
20 percent of its resources-more than twice the amount allocated
to its fight against organized crime-to conduct intelligence operations
directed primarily at American citizens engaged in political activity.
THE OVERT WAR AGAINST DOMESTIC COMMUNISM AND DISSENT
... From the beginning of FBI intelligence operations on the eve
of World War ll, J. Edgar Hoover and top bureau officials made
repeated demands on the Justice Department to prosecute subversives-to
take action against America's political "enemies." They
wanted subversives to be prosecuted under the Smith Act for advocating
revolution or under the Voorhis Act for failing to register with
the government as foreign agents. The bureau also updated its
lists of persons marked for arrest and detention during a national
During the cold-war decade, all branches of the government
aided in open war against dissent and nonconformity. The House
Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security
Committee launched extensive investigations to determine the extent
of Communist and subversive influence in all areas of American
life. HUAC investigated communism. in the arts, sciences, and
professions, and in the government and entertainment industries.
The Senate Internal Security Committee dominated by Senator Joseph
McCarthy, investigated communism in the State and Defense departments.
The committees, with staff members "on loan" from the
bureau, conducted a public disruption program. Committee members
read off lists of suspected Communists, lists that were often
supplied by the bureau. Friendly witnesses, generally FBI undercover
agents, "named names." Persons "charged" were
hauled before the committees and interrogated about their beliefs
and political associations. A witness who took the Fifth Amendment
was presumed guilty. A witness who refused to discuss his or her
political life on First Amendment grounds was subject to contempt
and jailing. Individuals pilloried by the committees often lost
their jobs or were blacklisted. Lives and reputations were destroyed.
Political speech was "chilled" as Americans learned
that to dissent was to risk public exposure and censure.
The Loyalty and Security boards conducted similar inquisitions
based on evidence gathered by the bureau. By 1952, the FBI had
checked over 6.6 million citizens for possible "disloyalty,"
to determine whether they should retain their government positions
or were fit to serve. Of these, 25,750 were subjected to full
FBI field investigations. If the FBI uncovered evidence of possible
disloyalty an individual was given a hearing to determine whether
he or she was disloyal. Thousands withdrew their applications
for employment before or during these hearings. Those who went
through the process were tried on the vague charge of membership
or even "sympathetic association" with an organization
on the Attorney General's List prepared by the FBI. Individuals
were tried without being able to confront their accusers-FBI informers
whose identity was a protected secret. By 1952, over 490 persons
were dismissed on loyalty grounds, yet no case of espionage was
ever uncovered by the investigations. The message to the public
was that dissent could disqualify a person for government employment.
The Justice Department entered the overt campaign against
subversives in 1949. The top leadership of the Communist party
was prosecuted under the Smith Act, which punished advocacy and
the teaching of Communist doctrine. FBI investigations laid the
basis for the prosecutions, and between 1949 and 1956, 104 members
of the party were tried and convicted. The judiciary sanctioned
the campaign in 1951 when the Supreme Court upheld the Smith Act
convictions in the Dennis case on the grounds that Communist "speech"
had to be distinguished from other political advocacy because
those who advocated the doctrine were part of an international
movement. Justice Felix Frankfurter went so far as to take "judicial
notice" of this "highly organized conspiracy" in
rendering his decision for the Court.
The only program the FBI was not able to put in motion was
its plan for emergency detention in case of national emergency.
Nevertheless, the bureau prepared for this eventuality throughout
the cold-war decade. The bureau, often without the full knowledge
of the Justice Department and under standards far broader than
those laid down by Congress in 1950, maintained a number of detention
lists. The Security Index had top priority in case of national
crisis. This list, which included the Communist leaders, included
11,982 names. Next in line for preventive detention were members
of the party, a list of 17,783 persons contained in the bureau's
Communist Index. These were only the names in FBI headquarters
files. FBI field offices listed over 200,000 persons considered
by the FBI to constitute a danger to national security in time
of l crisis.
SECRET WAR DECLARED
In the mid-fifties, cold-war tensions eased and the nation's
political hysteria subsided. After a decade-long witch hunt, Americans
paused, surveyed the constitutional wreckage, and took steps to
end the government campaign against political dissent. Repressive
programs were dismantled and the "McCarthy Era" came
to a close.
In 1954, the United States Senate voted overwhelmingly to
censure Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1956, the United States Supreme
Court drastically limited the ability of the government to prosecute
under the Smith Act, and the Justice Department ended its efforts
to prosecute members of the Communist party. Loyalty boards withered
and the Justice Department decided not to update the Attorney
General's List after 1955.X7 The bureau's authority to monitor
"subversive activities" was not curtailed, however.
The FBI continued to gather information about the political activities
of American citizens. Not unexpectedly, the FBI viewed the actions
by the Congress and the Supreme Court as a serious setback in
the national effort to combat subversion. J. Edgar Hoover and
top bureau officials decided that drastic measures were necessary.
Reasoning that the "Supreme Court rulings had rendered the
Smith Act technically unenforceable" and an "ineffective"
weapon in the battle against subversive elements, the bureau's
top officials met to consider "something to take its place.''
The bureau decided to set up covert action programs to wage secret
war against subversives. If public bodies were no longer willing
to employ FBI intelligence against citizens to "preserve"
the country, the FBI was prepared to act on its own, in secret,
and beyond the law.
Behind a wall of secrecy, the bureau established, in August
1956, COINTELPRO in order to disrupt, expose, discredit, and otherwise
neutralize the United States Communist party and related organizations.
FBI field offices were informed of this "top-secret"
program, and special agents were assigned to develop and carry
out actions to disrupt political activity. Field agents had to
submit proposed actions to FBI headquarters for approval by Hoover
and other top officials. Since its inception, FBI agents have
taken over 2,000 actions against individuals and groups. An unknown
number of similar operations- including those against the Reverend
Martin Luther King, Jr., already described-were carried out under
other programs not labeled COINTELPRO.
The FBI COINTELPRO against the Communist party and related
organizations transformed McCarthyism into an underground operation.
Under COINTELPRO, however, the FBI had even more leeway to disrupt
the political activity of citizens and organizations for it could
conduct its war in secret, unhindered by the law.
The FBI used press contacts to conduct campaigns to expose,
discredit, and humiliate selected citizens. Derogatory information,
arrest records, and other confidential bureau records were leaked
to "friendly media" to form the basis for stories that
could harm the reputation of citizens. Bureau-authored articles
were planted in newspapers and magazines for the same purpose.
As part of its effort to neutralize the Communist party, FBI
agents conducted anonymous-letter operations to have "subversives"
fired from their jobs. The bureau also recruited other organizations,
such as the American Legion, to launch similar actions. The bureau
brought pressure on universities and schools to have professors
and teachers fired and to urge other public institutions to deny
Communists the right to speak or even a place to hold public meetings
or assemblies. Many of these initiatives were successful.
Working through other agencies of government, the FBI took
actions to disrupt the activities of the Communist party and its
members. The bureau obtained the tax records of the party from
the IRS and successfully encouraged IRS officials to institute
"selective" tax audits of top party officials and of
the Communist party itself. Other forms of official harassment
included the FBI's encouragement of local police to arrest "subversives"
on any pretext. When bureau informers or agents uncovered evidence
of petty offenses, they immediately reported these matters to
local police authorities. The FBI even placed some citizens in
jeopardy of biased prosecution by approaching judges with "evidence"
that persons on trial for other reasons were dangerous subversives.
The FBI infiltrated organizations and disrupted them from
within. Informers were instructed to fan hostilities between members
and upset plans and activities. The bureau planted so-called "snitch
jackets" (false documents indicating cooperation with police)
on loyal members to make it appear that they were police informers.
FBI operatives established dummy chapters of the Communist party
to drain off funds and then "deviate" from the party
line. The FBI invaded the privacy of political associations provoked
paranoia inside groups, and destroyed their effectiveness. While
this is the stock-in-trade of foreign intelligence agencies, the
FBI was plying it against American citizens. As one bureau official
If you have good intelligence and know what it's going to
do, you can seed distrust, sow misinformation. The same technique
is used in the foreign field. The same technique is used, misinformation,
disruption, is used in the domestic groups....
The bureau's initial COINTELPRO target was the Communist party,
but it soon went after "related" organizations. Over
the years, the FBI commenced covert actions under the "Communist"
program against the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American
Activities Committee because it believed it was "Communist-inspired";
the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., because the bureau believed
he was under the "influence" of Communists; and the
United Farmworkers Union because it allowed a Communist to speak
at one of its rallies.
The FBI conducted COINTELPRO by breaking the laws of the United
States in addition to violating its own "charter," which
gave it no authority to take such actions. The bureau violated
statutes prohibiting government officials from interfering with
the civil rights of citizens. It conducted its letter campaign
in violation of mail fraud statutes. It leaked information in
the face of a statutory prohibition against divulging information
gained from wiretaps. It even acted in contravention of federal
FBI records establish that a few high government officials
were at least apprised of aspects of the anti-Communist COINTELPRO.
Attorneys General William Rogers and Robert Kennedy were shown
memoranda that described efforts by the bureau to "disrupt"
the party, but without naming the program. There is a record of
a cabinet briefing by Hoover in 1958, but the details are not
known. Bureau records do indicate that the House Appropriations
Committee knew of and approved this FBI disruptions program. Except
for the "captive" committee, however, members of Congress
did not know the intimate details of the operation and certainly
no one asked for "more" information. The FBI interpreted
official silence as authority. For failing to inquire, these officials
must share the blame for COINTELPRO.
Ultimately, it was a program that succeeded in hurting people
and their politics, effects that cannot be measured or conveyed
in a summary of its activities. Bureau action could sow dissension
as well as destroy a man, as happened in the case of William Albertson
after the bureau planted documents on him (a snitch jacket) to
make it appear that he was a police informer.
William Albertson was a member of the American Communist party,
until he was expelled in 1964. He was charged with being an FBI
informer because "incriminating" evidence was found
in his automobile. At that time, Albertson had been a member for
almost thirty years, and had risen through the ranks of the party
to become a high party official, a member of the National Committee.
He had devoted his active political life to the party and the
trade union movement, and had suffered the social ostracism that
befell other members of the party. He was convicted under the
Smith Act and although his conviction was ultimately reversed,
he served time in jail for contempt for refusing to tell the court
who was at a meeting he had attended. He told the court: "My
wife and I have tried to raise our children in the best traditions
of the American labor movement. We have given them a hatred for
spies, stool pigeons, and scabs. I could not look my children
in the face if I violated those traditions."
The evidence that led to his expulsion from the party was
a letter addressed "Dear Joe" and signed "Bill,"
a document that appeared to be in his handwriting and which offered
information to an FBI agent in exchange for a "raise in expenses."
Although Albertson pleaded with party officials that the letter
was a fake and a forgery? he was drummed out as a "stool
pigeon" and a person who had led a life of "duplicity
and treachery." For the rest of his life, he tried unsuccessfully
to gain reinstatement in the party. Barred from his former union
because of his conviction under the Smith Act, Albertson had difficulty
finding employment. Ironically, he was approached by the FBI to
become a paid informer.
Albertson refused the FBI and persisted in his appeals. His
family was ostracized from its former circle of friends. "Even
our friends," his wife recounts, "who were sure that
Bill had been framed would have nothing to do with us for fear
of guilt by association." After arson threats, his home was
burned. His family approached disintegration and sought therapy.
The party did not answer his correspondence. "The most painful
thing I ever had to experience," his widow recalls, "was
watching a destroyed man trying to save himself." William
Albertson was killed in an accident in 1972. He was the victim
of a "snitch jacket" planted by the FBI as one of its
many COINTELPRO I actions.
THE FBI WAR AGAINST POLITICAL DISSENT
In the 1960s, America's long tradition of political activism
reasserted itself in a decade of new politics, dissent, and protest.
A nonviolent civil rights movement emerged. Student activists
joined in that struggle, started university-based protests aimed
at "free speech" and academic reform, and established
the New Left, a nonsectarian, unorganized radical movement committed
to reform and "participatory democracy." Black militants
called for "black power" and women started their own
liberation movement. The Vietnam War molded many of these protest
groups and millions of other Americans into a coalition to end
the war in Vietnam. In 1972, these same Americans became delegates
to the Democratic National Convention and helped to nominate the
party's candidate for president of the United States.
The FBI viewed the new politics of dissent as suspicious and
subversive. In part on its own, and in part in response to the
demands of the White House, the FBI went after the whole spectrum
of political dissent that emerged over the course of the decade.
At first? the FBI monitored reform groups under the pretext of
determining whether they were under the "influence"
of communism. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the
Congress of Racial Equality, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Floyd
McKissick were investigated under COMINFIL and a General Racial
Matters Program aimed at uncovering subversive tendencies in the
civil rights movement. Similarly? the Free Speech Movement at
Berkeley and the Students for a Democratic Society were monitored
When the FBI could not find significant "subversive"
influence, the bureau abandoned all pretense that its intelligence
was directed only at organizations under the control or influence
of a foreign power or dedicated to "violence." The Socialist
Workers party (SWP) was placed under heavy surveillance even through
the bureau conceded it was "home grown tomatoes" and
in active opposition to the Communist party. The bureau took aim
at the SWP because it espoused the "revolutionary principles
of Marx, Lenin, and Engles (sic) as interpreted by Leon Trotsky"
by "running candidates for public office." The surveillance
of Martin Luther King, Jr., as we have seen, was ostensibly to
prevent "the rise of a 'messiah' who could unify and electrify
the . . . black . . . movement," although King's criticism
of the bureau may well have been the real reason.
The New Left was defined by the bureau itself as a "loosely-bound?
free-wheeling? college-oriented movement." Yet it was labeled
a "subversion force" because it was allegedly dedicated
to the destruction of America's "traditional values"
and was "anti-war and anti-draft." In an earlier decade,
the FBI had erased the distinction between foreign and domestic
threats of subversion. In the 1960s, the FBI came to the point
where it identified dissent with subversion.
THE GOVERNMENT'S POLICE
Increasingly, the FBI served as an intelligence arm of the
government, on call at the whim of the president. Executive officials
viewed the FBI as an agency obligated to carry out the president's
wishes. Exercising "inherent power," one president after
another issued sweeping orders to the FBI to collect intelligence
on Americans, often for strictly political purposes. The bureau
interpreted these instructions as a mandate to monitor all dissent.
Even when the concerns were legitimate, the orders issued
to the FBI invited extensive surveillance of lawful political
activity. Reacting to Klan violence in 1964, President Lyndon
Johnson issued oral instructions to Hoover "to put people
after the Klan and study it from one county to the next. Hoover
took this to justify an investigation of all members of the Klan,
regardless of whether or not they were involved in violent acts.
After President Johnson received word of the first ghetto disorders
in 1964, he ordered the FBI to report on "their origins and
extent." Hoover provided the report and started an intensive
surveillance program in ghetto areas. Civil disorders reached
their height in the summer of 1967 and, as a consequence, Attorney
General Ramsey Clark issued a sweeping instruction to the FBI
that brought countless black activists under surveillance. Clark
ordered the FBI to use the maximum resources, investigative and
intelligence, to collect and report all facts bearing upon the
question as to whether there has been or is a scheme or conspiracy
by any group of whatever size, effectiveness or affiliation, to
plan, promote or aggravate riot activity....
Clark's memorandum went on to authorize the bureau to take
every step possible to determine whether the rioting is pre-planned
or organized; and, if so, to determine the identity of the people
and interests involved; and to deter this activity by prompt and
vigorous legal action. As a part of the broad investigation which
must necessarily be conducted . . . sources or informants in black
nationalist organizations, SNCC and other less-publicized groups
should be developed and expanded to determine the size and purpose-of
these groups and their relationship to other groups, and also
to determine the whereabouts of persons who might be involved
in instigating riot activity in violation of federal law. Further,
we need to investigate fully allegations of conspiratorial activity
that come to our attention from outside sources....
Executive officials frequently called on the FBI to monitor
its political opposition, sometimes for purely political purposes.
To uncover who was behind the sugar lobby, Attorney General Robert
Kennedy ordered the FBI to place "national security"
wiretaps on the lobbyists, their Washington attorneys, and their
contacts at the Department of Agriculture. Concerned about the
challenge of the black Mississippi Freedom Democratic party to
the all-white delegation from Mississippi at the Democratic National
Convention in 1964, Lyndon Johnson, we have seen, dispatched a
squad of thirty agents to gather intelligence at the convention.
The antiwar movement also caused the president to order the
FBI into operation. Warned by the CIA that foreign countries and
Communists might exploit the movement, Johnson issued instructions
to Hoover in 1965 to determine the extent of subversive influence
behind the antiwar protests. Johnson informed Hoover that he wanted
the information to use in speeches against his critics. Hoover
responded by putting the antiwar movement and the New Left under
more intensive surveillance and even dispatched agents to monitor
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings to compare the
statements of Senator Wayne Morse and other Senate war critics
with the "Communist Party line."
Executive branch officials did not turn just to the FBI for
intelligence on Americans. By 1968, all intelligence agencies
were enlisted to spy on Americans. The CIA was ordered to investigate
the foreign links of antiwar activists in 1967. Military intelligence
opened up a major surveillance program aimed at Americans to prepare
for "civil disorders." The National Security Agency
was brought in to monitor the international communications of
black extremists and antiwar activists, and the Justice Department
set up an Interdivisional Information Unit (IDIU) to collect,
computerize, and evaluate reports coming primarily from the FBI
and military intelligence agencies. Sharing information with all
of these agencies authorized to collect information on the political
activities of citizens, the bureau was at the center of a massive
surveillance effort ordered by the executive.
The Nixon administration gave the FBI even more latitude to
conduct surveillance. The bureau was instructed by executive order
to do "thumbnail" sketches (a replacement for the Attorney
General's List) of the new extremist organizations as part of
the government's employment security program.' The administration
called on the FBI to help plug "security leaks" after
press reports divulged the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia.
This resulted in an FBI-operated "national security"
wiretap program directed at seventeen government officials and
Finally, President Nixon authorized the Huston Plan in 1970,
a joint FBI, CIA, NSA and military program to collect intelligence
on the antiwar and black protest movements by using informers,
illegal burglaries, and mail opening. When Hoover objected because
its exposure might prove "embarrassing" (and also because
it impinged on his turf), the operation was conducted informally.
Unknown to the president, however, the FBI and other intelligence
agencies of government were already employing these techniques
against American citizens. The FBI in particular had interpreted
this long line of "executive orders" as a mandate to
operate the most extensive, intensive, and illegal intelligence
operations in its history.
The FBI probed every corner of American political life to
meet the "threat" of dissent. Over the course of the
last decade, the FBI opened up over 500,000 headquarters files
on over one million Americans. The bureau's collection of information
on Americans under multiple indices demonstrates that it no longer
had the interest or the ability to distinguish between subversion
and dissent and between political violence and lawful, if vociferous,
political opinion. Under COMINFIL, General Racial Matters, Black
Nationalist Hate-Type Groups, Key Extremist, and Rabble Rouser,
the FBI gathered information on Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, the Black Panther party, the
Nation of Islam, Stokeley Carmichael, Ralph David Abernathy, "all
black student unions," and the American Indian Movement-
among others. Under the Racial Matters, White HateType Groups,
and Rabble Rouser categories, the FBI swept up information on
all members of the Klan, the John Birch Society, Gerald L. K.
Smith, the Christian Nationalist Crusade, the American Nazi party,
and the National States Rights party. Under COMINFIL, STUDEM,
VIDEM, New Left, and Key Activist, the FBI gathered information
on SDS, Tom Hayden, the Institute for Policy Studies, Jane Fonda,
Sam Brown, SANE, Antioch College, "all free universities,"
Women Strike for Peace, the Women's Liberation movement, Clergy
and Laity Concerned, the American Friends Service Committee, the
Weather-people, the Inter-University Committee for Debate on Foreign
Policy, the New Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam-virtually
the entire social protest movement.
Domestic intelligence became an almost full-time occupation
for the Intelligence Division of the bureau. The FBI virtually
abandoned its counterintelligence operations against hostile foreign
intelligence activities as it focused its effort on monitoring
dissent and protecting the political order. Hundreds of agents
used every available technique to collect information on citizens,
from scouring public source materials to committing multiple burglaries
and mail openings.
Agents placed various organizations and individuals under
physical surveillance, conducted extensive interviews of suspects,
and plied their confidential sources for information. In addition
to bank, medical, and phone toll records, the FBI had almost unlimited
access to confidential tax information, especially after l969
when the IRS at White House request, opened its own intelligence
operation designed to audit the nation's "political enemies."
The FBI and IRS joined in a two-way flow of information on the
political and confidential activities of thousands of American
The FBI relied primarily on informers to gather intelligence.
The bureau employed legions of them to penetrate political groups.
At one point, the FBI had as many as 774 "sources" in
the Klan and over 7,402 "listening posts" in urban ghettos.
Informers collected all information without limit. As a one-time
bureau informer inside the Vietnam Veterans against the War recalls:
I was to go to meetings, write up reports . . . on what happened,
who was there . . . to try to totally identify the background
of every person there, what their relationships were, who they
were living with, who they were sleeping with, to try to get some
sense of the local structure and the local relationships among
the people in the organization.
FBI informers in the Socialist Workers party managed not only
to infiltrate the tiny organization but in many instances to achieve
high positions. So much so that in 1975 when a federal district
court judge ordered the FBI to keep its informers away from the
national convention of the SWP, the government appealed the matter
all the way to the Supreme Court. The FBI explained that its informants
were such senior officials that if they did not attend the convention
their identities would immediately become obvious.
The FBI wiretapped the telephones and bugged the offices and
homes of citizens and organizations. Under authority granted by
the attorney general, the FBI placed warrantless "national
security" wiretaps on such domestic organizations as the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, the Socialist Workers party, the Students
for a Democratic Society, the Jewish Defense League, and individuals
such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X., Hanson Baldwin, and
Charles E. Radford, to uncover subversion, to "plug leaks,"
and to gather political information for the White House. Acting
without authority, FBI agents placed "wildcat" or "suicide"
taps and bugs on antiwar groups after the United States Supreme
Court held in 1972 that a warrant was required in any domestic
security case."' The FBI also supplied a "watch list"
of over 1,200 names to the National Security Agency, which intercepted
the international cables and telephone communications of antiwar
and black political activists watchlisted by the bureau. Neither
the FBI nor the NSA obtained judicial warrants for this surveillance.
The FBI conducted at least six "mail surveys" to
collect and open the mail of specified citizens. At the same time,
the FBI continued to supply a "watch list" to the CIA.
Each year, the agency opened over 10,000 letters. Most of the
information was sent to the FBI. The FBI and the CIA opened private
correspondence without warrants or probable cause, and in violation
of United States statutes."
The FBI's illegal burglary program was also extensive throughout
this period. The scope of this program may never be divulged because
it is almost certain that the FBI has destroyed many of the records
of this "Do Not File" operation. It is known, however,
that the FBI conducted at least 239 "black-bag jobs"
aimed at "fifteen domestic groups" and over ninety burglaries
against the Socialist Workers party during this time. In 1973
and 1974, FBI agents conducted numerous burglaries against the
families and friends of members of the Weather Underground to
look for evidence of their possible whereabouts.
Each year the FBI collected intelligence and distributed it
throughout the government. Public officials were kept apprised
of the political opinions, plans, and activities of its citizens.
The White House received FBI reports on the confidential strategies
of civil rights activists and antiwar protesters, the negotiations
of delegates at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, background
information on the campaign staff of Barry Goldwater, Jr., the
1968 contacts of Richard Nixon's campaign with persons close to
the South Vietnam government, the 1972 strategy suggestions of
advisers to candidate Edmund Muskie. The president and the attorney
general also received an "Inlet" letter on a regular
basis from the FBI designed to provide "items with an unusual
twist or concerning prominent personalities which may be of special
interest to the President or Attorney General. FBI reports on
Ralph Abernathy Coretta King, Seymour Hersh, Sammy Davis, Jr.,
Cesar Chavez, and others were transmitted in thousands of dispatches
sent to the Justice Department and fed into IDIU computers for
storage and analysis. The FBI and the Justice Department provided
information to the IRS for its "enemies project." The
FBI sent its information to the CIA, the Secret Service, and Military
Intelligence. They, in turn, sent information to the bureau. By
1972, the intelligence agencies of the government, with the FBI
at the center, had placed the political left and a large part
of the Democratic party under surveillance.
THE SECRET WAR
The FBI placed citizens under surveillance, surrounded them
with agents, penetrated their organizations with a network of
informers, wired their offices and homes gathered confidential
information on their plans and activities and then secretly turned
around and used its agents, informers, and information to "expose,
disrupt, discredit or otherwise neutralize" dissent. The
FBI initiated political actions against the Socialist Workers
party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), Black Nationalist Hate-Type
Groups (1967), and the New Left (1968).
The FBI sowed dissension in the Klan. It conducted extensive
interviewing of Klan members and infiltrated and took leadership
positions in many Klaverns. It created paranoia about police surveillance
and played on internal disputes. It rendered the Klan ineffective
by wholesale assault. FBI informers also joined in the Klan's
many beatings of civil rights workers and blacks to protect their
"cover." FBI agents, forewarned by informers of impending
Klan violence, stood by at the scene and watched when local police
did nothing to stop it.
The FBI's principal effort against the Black Panther party
was to provoke hostility and violent warfare between it and the
militant black organizations such as Ron Karenga's United Slaves.
The FBI wrote a provocative anonymous letter purporting to be
from one organization to the other:
To Former [Panther] Comrade [name] . . .
Why, I read an article in the Panther paper where a California
Panther sat in his car and watched his friend get shot by Karenga's
group and what did he do? He ran back and write a full page story
about how tough the Panthers are and what they're going to do.
Goodbye [name] baby-and watch out. Karenga's coming.
Operating inside the Panthers, the FBI planted "snitch
jackets" on militant members, inviting other Panthers to
attack them for having "informed" to the police. The
FBI also created dissension among the Panthers and claimed success
for provoking at least four instances of assault by one militant
black activist against another.
The FBI worked to create violent confrontations between factions
on the radical left. The bureau was prepared in this case to commit
violent acts itself. In New York, agents set cars on fire with
"molotov cocktails," making it appear that one faction
was attacking another. FBI agents conducted at least five such
bombings in 1973 and 1974.
The FBI's campaign included covert acts designed to destroy
the family lives of group members. The FBI sent anonymous letters
to the wives of Klan and Black Panther party members accusing
their husbands of infidelity. Using information gathered from
its surveillance, the FBI mailed a letter to the wife of the Grand
Dragon of the United Klans of America, which alleged in part:
Yes, Mrs. A., he has been committing adultery. My menfolk
say they don't believe this but I think they do. I feel like crying,
I saw her with my own eyes. They call her Ruby . . . and she lives
in the 700 block of [deleted] Street in [deleted]. I know this.
I saw her strut around at a rally with her lust-filled eyes and
smart aleck figure.
Written in what the bureau considered the "grammar"
of typical Klan members, this type of anonymous letter was viewed
by the bureau as a very successful covert tactic.
The FBI did not reserve such measures for those who might
engage in violence, but also tried to provoke violence by peaceful
groups. An FBI operative inside the San Diego Minutemen became
a leader in a secret army organization which terrorized a Marxist
professor of economics at San Diego State University who was active
in the antiwar movement. A former FBI agent provocateur recalls
how he led the Camden Nine to conduct a raid on a local draft
board that resulted in their arrest and prosecution by the FBI
and the Justice Department:
I taught them everything they knew . . . how to cut glass
and open windows without making any noise.... How to open file
cabinets without a key.... How to climb ladders easily and walk
on the edge of the roof without falling.... I began to feel like
the Pied Piper.
Under COINTELPRO and similar programs, the FBI erased the
line between investigation and disruption. Informers became agents
provocateurs, and surveillance methods were turned into harassment
techniques. The bureau tried to convince dissenters that "there
was an FBI agent behind every mailbox," and by so doing to
"chill" the exercise of free speech. In one instance,
it went so far as to "kidnap" an antiwar activist to
scare him into stopping his protests against the war.
To quell dissent, the FBI's primary efforts inevitably interfered
in the political process. The thrust of the FBI campaign against
the Socialist Workers party was to subvert SWP's efforts to elect
candidates to public office. In 1962, the New York office of the
FBI compiled an arrest and conviction record on an SWP candidate
for Manhattan borough president and supplied it to a reporter
for the New York Daily News, who published it in a column. In
1963, the San Francisco office sent an anonymous letter to a black
independent candidate for mayor of the city, attacking the SWP
members active in his campaign and urging him to dissociate himself
from them. In 1964, the Newark office distributed leaflets attacking
a New Jersey SWP candidate for the U.S. Senate for alleged anti-black
political stands on issues. In 1965, the Denver office sent an
anonymous letter from a "concerned mother" to the Denver
School Board in which the SWP affiliations and activities of a
school board candidate were detailed. The purpose of the letter
was "to prevent him from being elected to the School Board."
When an SWP candidate was running for mayor in 1965, the New York
field office sent an anonymous letter to various newspapers and
television stations revealing that the candidate had previously
appeared in court in Chicago for "non-support" of his
family and that his marital status could be questioned. In 1969,
the New York field office sent an anonymous letter to a black
SWP candidate for mayor that purported to be from white members
of the SWP and attacked him for being too militant on the race
issue, in order to cause dissension and hurt his campaign.
The FBI moved against the New Left for similar reasons. Agents
were instructed to gather "derogatory" information about
the New Left activists to undercut their protest efforts. The
FBI also attempted to gather data to prove that the charges of
police brutality at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968
Once again, the liberal press and the bleeding hearts and
the forces on the left are taking advantage of the situation in
Chicago surrounding the Democratic National Convention to attack
the police and organized law enforcement.... We should be mindful
of this situation and develop all possible evidence to expose
this activity and to refute these false allegations.
At one point, the bureau distributed a news article titled
"Rabbi in Vietnam Says Withdrawal Not the Answer" to
convince antiwar activists "of the correctness of the U.S.
foreign policy in Vietnam."
The FBI concentrated on those who were not convinced by the
bureau's stand on the war. To undercut those who opposed its position
on United States policy in Vietnam, the FBI instructed field agents
(1) prepare leaflets designed to discredit student demonstrators,
using photographs of New Left leadership at the respective universities.
"Naturally, the most obnoxious pictures should be used";
(2) instigat[e] "personal conflicts or animosities"
between New Left leaders;
(3) creat[e] the impression that leaders are "informants
for the Bureau or other law enforcement agencies";
(4) send . . . articles from student newspapers or the "underground
press" which show the depravity of the New Left to university
officials, donors, legislators and parents. "Articles showing
advocation of the use of narcotics and free sex are ideal";
(5) hav[e] members arrested on marijuana charges;
(6) send . . . anonymous letters about a student's activities
to parents, neighbors and the parents' employers. "This could
have the effect of forcing the parents to take action";
(7) send . . . anonymous letters or leaflets describing the
"activities and associations" of New Left faculty members
and graduate assistants to university officials, legislators,
Boards of Regents and the press. "These letters should be
signed 'A Concerned Alumni,' or 'A Concerned Taxpayer' "
(8) use . . . "cooperative press contacts" to emphasize
that the disruptive elements constitute a "minority"
of the students. "The press should demand an immediate referendum
on the issue in question";
(9) exploit . . . the "hostility" among the SDS
and other New Left-groups toward the SWP, YSA and Progressive
(10) use . . . "friendly news media" and law enforcement
officials to disrupt New Left coffee houses near military bases
which are attempting to "influence members of the Armed Forces"
(11) us[e] cartoons, photography and anonymous letters to
"ridicule" the New Left; and
(12) us[e] "misinformation" to "confuse and
disrupt" New Left activities, such as by notifying members
that events have been cancelled."
FBI agents faithfully carried out the instructions. They sent
anonymous letters to parents, wrote leaflets, distributed handbills,
and conducted campaigns to disrupt the New Left. They caused the
University of Arizona to fire a college professor who had engaged
in antiwar protests. They succeeded in having two other professors
put on probation because they were influential in the publication
of underground newspapers. They convinced institutions to deny
protest groups places to meet. They sent out "disinformation"
during protest demonstrations to confuse demonstrators and they
blocked the efforts of university students to attend the presidential
inaugural in 1969. Agents even "roughed up" radical
antiwar activists to frighten them or to disrupt protest rallies.
(It was bureau policy not to beat up activists too seriously so
they would not go to the police and perhaps launch an investigation
that would lead to the bureau.)
The FBI had by the late 1960s become enmeshed in a government-wide
program to disrupt dissent. As protests mounted, COlNTELPRO-type
operations spread to other agencies. With FBI cooperation and
information, the IRS conducted selective tax audits. The FBI sent
information to the Secret Service, which began to take steps to
"protect" the president not only from harm but from
"embarassment" or from having to confront peaceful protestors.
The FBI and the CIA carried out a joint collection operation and
the CIA became involved in disrupting demonstrations in Washington,
D.C. The military, also sharing information with the bureau, conducted
photographic surveillance of demonstrators to let them know they
were being watched. After the Huston Plan was devised in 1970,
America was on the verge of acquiring a full-scale secret police,
with the FBI at its center.
Today the FBI stands exposed. Many of its operations have
been terminated, not by executive orders or legislation but because
of the "Media Papers," the tenacity of investigative
journalists, the Watergate revelations, and civil litigation.
These events slowed the bureau-not the president, the Justice
Department, or the Congress.
Executive officials did not approve the burglary program or
COINTELPRO. These were largely secret programs. But they were
secret because the FBI operated beyond accountability. Some officials
even knew of aspects of COINTELPRO: the programs to disrupt the
Communist party; the bureau effort to destroy King; the activities
directed at the Klan. Either they approved of what the bureau
was doing or did not inquire about the details.
Congress has now investigated the FBI and has uncovered an
agency afraid of the subversive but even more distressed about
open society and democratic government. For forty years, the FBI
has operated on a theory of subversion that assumes that people
cannot be trusted to choose among political ideas. The FBI has
assumed the duty to protect the public by placing it under surveillance.
For these long years, the FBI has watched over America's internal
security threat and in the end that threat has turned out to be
the democratic political process itself.
The executive and the Congress apparently share the bureau's
concerns, because they have not terminated FBI intelligence operations.
Today the FBI still conducts surveillance of Americans engaged
in lawful political activity. Its informer network is still in
place and in operation. Its field offices may still be committing
burglaries and illegal wiretaps, as the Socialist Workers party
suit has shown. COINTELPRO has been formally ended, but other
disruption programs continue. The exact scope of the bureau's
activities is unknown, but its focus has not been altered. The
bureau is still concerned with the opinions of men and women rather
than solely with their illegal acts. The Justice Department has
issued strict guidelines to prevent a recurrence of past "mistakes,"
but agents believe those guidelines authorize the bureau to continue
investigating "subversive activities:" The guidelines
leave the matter open by permitting limited inquiries into lawful
conduct. Even if that were not the case, the guidelines are only
tentative rules that can be changed tomorrow by a worried executive
concerned about the next political turmoil.
Only Congress can prohibit the FBI from continuing to probe
political life by enacting a strict prohibition of FBI intelligence
investigations. But the Congress, like the body that investigated
the "Palmer Raids" after World War I, seems willing
to accept the promise made by the FBI that "it won't happen
This wishful thinking leaves the American political process
extremely vulnerable. Another crisis can trigger a new sweeping
intelligence probe of American political life, a dangerous possibility
in the age of sophisticated electronic surveillance and computer
technology. Meanwhile, the FBI waits. As one agent stated, "Kelley
[the present FBI director] said it won't be done any more, but
I can assure you that it will." The bureau waits . . . and
Security Agency watch