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, Christine Marwick

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.


... 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 emergency.

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.


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 explained:

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 extortion laws.

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.


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 under COMINFIL.

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.


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 newsmen.'

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 citizens.

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 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. Ha Ha-B-S-.
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 were false.

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 to:

(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 Labor Party;

(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 again."

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 watches.

The Lawless State

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