[News] Felt and Miller: Leaders and architects of the COINTELPRO program

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 2 13:36:44 EDT 2005

Felt and Miller: Leaders and architects of the u.s. government's COINTELPRO 
program (see below).

The suit against the FBI for COINTELPRO acts carried out against WUO 
supporters was Clark v.USA . Mutulu and Afeni Shakur, both leaders of the 
Black Liberation Movement, had built an organization called the National 
Taskforce for COINTELPRO Litigation and Research and filing the lawsuit was 
originally their idea.

Mutulu is one of many Black political prisoners held in the u.s. prisons. 
Their idea was to try to broadcast the existence of COINTELPRO by showing 
it had affected white radicals (who tend to get media attention) as well as 
all the Black radicals who'd been killed, imprisoned, had organizations 
destroyed, etc. In the midst of all this news, it is essential to remember 
Mutulu and the Black political prisoners still inside as a result of the 
domestic warfare engendered by the FBI with COINTELPRO.

Laura Whitehorn

COINTELPRO Lives On  (abridged)
by Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall
South End Press ISBN 0-89608-359-4

According to the official histories, COINTELPRO existed from late 1956 
through mid-1971. During this period, the FBI admits to having engaged in a 
total of 2,218 separate COINTELPRO actions, many of them coupled directly 
with other sorts of systematic illegality such as the deployment of 
warrantless phone taps (a total of 2,305 admitted) and bugs (697 admitted) 
against domestic political targets, and receipt of correspondence secretly 
intercepted by the CIA (57,846 separate instances admitted). The chart on 
the following page illustrates the sweep of such activities during the 
COINTELPRO era proper.1
This however, is dramatically insufficient to afford an accurate impression 
of the scope, scale and duration of the Bureau's domestic counterinsurgency 
function. None of the FBI's vast proliferation of politically repressive 
operations conducted between 1918 and 1956, covered to some extent in the 
preceding chapters, are included in the figures. Similarly, it will be 
noted that certain years within the formal COINTELPRO period itself have 
been left unreported. Further, it should be noted that none of the Bureau's 
host of counterintelligence operations against the Puerto Rican 
independentistas during the years supposedly covered were included in the 
count. The same can be said with regard to COINTELPRO aimed at the Chicano 
movement from at least as early as 1967. 2
Even in areas, such as its campaign against the Black Panther Party, where 
the FBI disclosed relatively large segments of its COINTELPRO profile, the 
record was left far from complete. During the various congressional 
committee investigations, the Bureau carefully hid the facts of its 
involvement in the 1969 Hampton-Clark assassinations. 3 Simultaneously, it 
was covering up its criminal withholding of exculpatory evidence in the 
murder trial of LA Panther leader Geronimo Pratt. 4 Recently, it has also 
come to light that the FBI denied information to congress concerning 
entirely similar withholding of exculpatory evidence in the murder trial of 
New York Panther leader Richard Dhoruba Moore. 5 How many comparable 
coverups are at issue with regard to the anti-Panther COINTELPRO alone 
remains a mystery. Given the Bureau's track record, on this score, however, 
it is abundantly clear that much of the worst of the FBI's performance 
against the Panthers remains off record."

Then there is the matter of the Bureau's continuation of domestic political 
counterintelligence operations after 1971 despite well-publicized 
governmental claims that the program ceased, and the FBI's abandonment of 
the acronym COINTELPRO itself. One indication of this is revealed in the 
accompanying chart. During the three years (1972-74) following the point at 
which COINTELPRO was supposedly terminated, the frequency with which the 
Bureau engaged in warrantless bugging and wiretapping increased 
dramatically (bugging from l6 instances in 1971 to 42 in 1974; wiretaps 
from 101 instances in 1971 to 190 in 1974). The relationship between these 
ELSUR activities and the fact that the FBI maintained an ongoing 
involvement in defacto COINTELPRO is brought out clearly in the 
accompanying July 29,1975 teletype from Director Clarence Kelley to all 
SACs inquiring as to the proportion of "warrantless electronic 
surveillance" then being devoted to "counterintelligence purposes" 
associated with "domestic security investigations."6
The reality of COINTELPRO's continuation was masked not only behind the 
dropping of the descriptive title, but a retooling of the terminology 
utilized to define its targets as well. During the 1950s and early 1960s, 
the Bureau typically followed the McCarthyesque practice of defining those 
subject to "neutralization" as being "subversives." By the second half of 
the latter decade, however, such vernacular was archaic and discredited. 
Hence, COINTELPRO specialists shifted to habitual use of the phrase 
"political extremist" in defining their quarry; the organizations and 
individuals focused upon during this peak period of COINTELPRO might also 
be described as "violent" or "violence prone," but they were acknowledged 
as being politically so nonetheless.
After 1971, with the FBI increasingly exposed before the public as having 
conducted itself as an outright political police, the Bureau sought to 
revise its image, ultimately promising never to engage in COINTELPRO-type 
activities again. In this context, it became urgently necessary - if 
counterintelligence operations were to continue - for any hint of overt 
orientation to subjects' politics to be driven from agents' vocabularies, 
preferably in favor of a term which would "inspire public support and 
confidence" in the Bureau's covert political mission This pertained as much 
to internal documents as to public pronouncements, insofar as the 
possibility of FOIA disclosure of the former was emerging as a significant 
The Advent of "Terrorism"
This was accomplished in the immediate aftermath of COINTELPRO's alleged 
demise as is shown in the accompanying April 12, 1972 Airtel from Director 
L. Patrick Gray to the SAC, Albany. The word selected was "terrorist," 
applied here to members of the Black Panther Party cum Black Liberation 
Army who had only months earlier still been designated as "agitators" and 
"key extremists." 7 Such a word-choice allowed the deployment of a raft of 
associated terms such as "guerrillas" and - in the case of the American 
Indian Movement - "insurgents." The public, which experience had shown 
would balk at the idea of the FBI acting to curtail political diversity as 
such, could be counted on to rally to the notion that the Bureau was now 
acting only to protect them against "terror." Thus, the Bureau secured a 
terminological license by which to pursue precisely the same goals, 
objectives and tactics attending COINTELPRO, but in an even more vicious, 
concerted and sophisticated fashion.
The results of such linguistic subterfuge were, as was noted in the 
introduction to this book, readily evidenced during the 1980s when it was 
revealed that the FBI had employed the rubric of a "terrorist 
investigation" to rationalize the undertaking of a multiyear "probe" of the 
nonviolent CISPES organization - extended to encompass at least 215 other 
groups, including Clergy and Laity Concerned, the Maryknoll Sisters, 
Amnesty International, the Chicago Interreligious Task Force, the U.S. 
Catholic Conference, and the Virginia Education Association - opposed to 
U.S. policy in Central America."8 Needless to say, the CISPES operation was 
attended by systematic resort to such time-honored COINTELPRO tactics as 
the use of infiltrators/provocateurs, 9 disinformation, 10 black bag 
jobs,11 telephone intercepts,12 conspicuous surveillance (to make targets 
believe "there's an agent behind every mail box"), 13 and so on.

The same veneer of "counter-terrorism" has also been applied to operations 
conducted against the devoutly pacifist Silo Plowshares organization - 
committed to antinuclearism/anti-militarism - a situation so ludicrous as 
to provoke COINTELPRO veteran John Ryan to refuse to participate. Ryan, who 
had two commendations to his credit during a 21-year career, and who was 
less than two years short of retirement at the time, was fired as a result 
of his stand. 14
Meanwhile, Plowshares "terrorists" such as Katya Komisaruk Jerry Ebner, 
Helen Woodson, Lin Romano, Joe Gump, Ann and Jim Albertini, George 
Ostensen, Richard Miller and Father Carl Kabat were being ushered into long 
prison sentences for such things as "conspiring" to trespass at U.S. 
nuclear facilities. 15
Even in instances involving actual armed struggle on the part of liberation 
movements - leaving aside the probability that earlier applications of 
COINTELPRO tactics had done much to convince adherents that no other route 
to effect positive social change lay open to them - the Bureau had been 
duplicitous in its approach. One need only examine the case of Assata 
Shakur (s/n: Joanne Chesimard) to get the picture. Publicly and 
sensationally accused by the FBI of being the .revolutionary mother hen" of 
a BLA cell conducting a "series of cold-blooded murders of New York City 
police officers," Shakur was made the subject of a nationwide manhunt in 
1972. 16 On May 2, 1973, she, BLA founder Zayd Malik Shakur (her 
brother-in-law) and Sundiata Acoli (s/n: Clark Squire) were subjected to 
one of the random harassment stops of blacks on the New Jersey Turnpike for 
which the Jersey state troopers are so deservedly notorious. Apparently 
realizing who it was they'd pulled over, the two troopers -Werner Foerster 
and James Harper - opened fire, wounding Assata Shakur immediately. In the 
fight which followed, both Zayd Shakur and trooper Foerster were killed, 
trooper Harper and Sundiata Acoli wounded. Both surviving BLA members were 
captured. 17

Assata was, however, charged with none of the killings which had ostensibly 
earned her such celebrated status as a "terrorist." Instead, the government 
contended she had participated in bank robberies, and the state of New York 
accused her of involvement in the killing of a heroin dealer in Brooklyn 
and the failed ambush of two cops in Queens on January 23, 1973. 18 She was 
acquitted of every single charge in a series of trials lasting into 1977. 
Meanwhile, she was held without bond, in isolation and in especially 
miserable local jail facilities. 19 Finally, having exhausted all other 
possibilities of obtaining a conviction, the authorities took her to trial 
in New Jersey in the death of trooper Foerster. Despite the fact that 
Sundiata Acoli had long-since been convicted of having fired the fatal 
bullets - and medical testimony indicating her wounds had incapacitated her 
prior to the firefight itself Assata Shakur was convicted of first degree 
murder by an all-white jury on March 25, 1977. She was sentenced to life 
The travesty imbedded in all this was unmistakable, and Shakur's 
circumstances remained the topic of much discussion and debate. This became 
all the more true on the night of November 2, 1979, when a combat unit of 
the BLA set the prisoner free from the maximum security building of the 
Clinton Women's Prison in New Jersey. 20 It is instructive that this 
organization of what the police and the FBI were busily portraying as "mad 
dog killers" appear to have gone considerably out of their way to insure 
that no one, including the guards, was hurt during the prison break. For 
her part, Assata Shakur - now hyped by the Bureau as "the nation's number 
one terrorist fugitive" despite the state's failure to link her to any 
concrete ,act of terrorism" 21 - was quietly provided sanctuary in Cuba 
where she remains today.

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