Building Liberty | COINTELPRO | War at Home
War at Home:
Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About it
by Brian Glick
South End Press
War ar Home by Brian Glick, South End Press:
Update & Overview
by Brian Glick
Government harassment of U.S. political activists clearly exists today,
violating our fundamental democratic rights and creating a climate of
fear and distrust which undermines our efforts to challenge official
policy. Similar attacks on social justice movements came to light during
the 1960s. Only years later did we learn that these had been merely the
visible tip of an iceberg.
Largely hidden at the time was a vast government
program to neutralize domestic political opposition through "covert action" (political
repression carried out secretly or under the guise of legitimate law
enforcement). The 1960s program, coordinated by the FBI under the code
name "COINTELPRO," was exposed in the 1970s and supposedly stopped. But
covert operations against domestic dissidents did not end. They have
persisted and become an integral part of government activity.
How COINTELPRO Worked
When congressional investigations, political trials,
and other traditional legal modes of repression failed to counter the
growing movements, and even helped to fuel them, the FBI and police moved
outside the law. They resorted to the secret and systematic use of fraud
and force to sabotage constitutionally protected political activity.
Their methods ranged far beyond surveillance, amounting to a homefront
version of the covert action for which the CIA has become infamous throughout
FBI Headquarters secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes
to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" specific
individuals and groups. Close coordination with local police and prosecutors
was strongly encouraged. Other recommended collaborators included friendly
news media, business and foundation executives, and university, church,
and trade union officials, as well as such "patriotic" organizations
as the American Legion. Final authority rested with FBI Headquarters
in Washington, D.C.
Top FBI officials pressed local field offices to
step up their activity and demanded regular progress reports. Agents
were directed to maintain full secrecy "such that under no circumstances
should the existence of the program be made known outside the Bureau
and appropriate within-office security should be afforded to sensitive
operations and techniques." A total of 2,370 officially approved COINTELPRO
actions were admitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and thousands
more have since been uncovered.
Four main methods have been revealed:
1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political
activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very
presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters.
The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as
agents. Guidelines for Coping with Infiltration
2. Psychological Warfare From the Outside: The FBI and police
used myriad other "dirty tricks" to undermine progressive movements.
They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other
publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence,
sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread
misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups
run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers,
landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists.
Guidelines for Coping with Psychological Warfare
3. Harassment Through the Legal System: The FBI and police abused
the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals.
Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated
evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They
discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and
used conspicuous surveillance, "investigative" interviews, and grand
jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their
Guidelines for Coping with Harassment Through the Legal System
4. Extralegal Force and Violence: The FBI and police threatened,
instigated, and themselves conducted break-ins, vandalism, assaults,
and beatings. The object was to frighten dissidents and disrupt their
movements. In the case of radical Black and Puerto Rican activists (and
later Native Americans), these attacks—including political assassinations—were
so extensive, vicious, and calculated that they can accurately be termed
a form of official "terrorism."
Guidelines for Coping with Extralegal Force and Violence
The Bureau's war at home has continued unabated. Domestic covert action
did not end when it was exposed in the 1970s. It persisted throughout
the 1980s and became a permanent feature of U.S. government repression.
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Copyright 1989, 1991, 2011, Brian Glick