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TUCoPS :: Spies! :: contel~1.txt

The FBI's Counterintelligence Program




"COINTELPRO" was the FBI's secret program to undermine the popular upsurge
which swept the country during the 1960s. Though the name stands for
"Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not enemy spies. The FBI
set out to eliminate "radical" political opposition inside the U.S.. When
traditional modes of repression (exposure, blatant harassment, and
prosecution for political crimes) failed to counter the growing insurgency,
and even helped to fuel it, the Bureau took the law into its own hands and
secretly used fraud and force to sabotage constitutionally-protected
political activity. Its methods ranged far beyond surveillance, and
amounted to a domestic version of the covert action fro which the CIA had
become infamous throughout the world.

The first section of this pamphlet gives a brief overview of what we know
the FBI did in the 60s. It explains why we can expect similar government
intervention in the 90s and beyond, and offers general guidelines for
effective response. The main body of the pamphlet describes the specific
methods which have previously been used to undermine domestic dissent and
suggests steps we can take to limit or deflect their impact. A final
chapter explores ways to mobilize broad public protest against this kind of

The pamphlet's historical analysis is based on confidential internal
documents prepared by the FBI and police during the 60s. It also draws on
the post-60s confessions of disaffected government agents, and on testimony
of public officials before Congress and the courts. Though the information
from these sources is incomplete, and much of what was done remains secret,
we now know enough to draw useful lessons for future organizing.

The suggestions included in the pamphlet are based on the author's 20 years
experience as an activist and lawyer, and on talks with long-time
organizers in a broad range of movements. They are meant to provide
starting points for discussion, so we can get ready before the pressure
intensifies. Most are a matter of common sense once the methodology of
covert action is understood. Please take these issues seriously. Discuss
the recommendations with other activists. Adapt them to the conditions you
face. Point out problems and suggest other approaches.

It is important that we begin now to protect our movements and ourselves.



A History to Learn From

What was COINTELPRO ?, How do we know about it?, How did it work?, Who were
the main targets?, What effect did it have?

The Danger We Face

Did COINTELPRO ever really end?, Is it a threat today?, What can we do
about it?, A checklist of essential precautions.

What They Do & How We Can Protect Ourselves

Infiltration by agents or informers, Guidelines for coping with
infiltration. Other forms of deception, Gudelines for coping with other
forms of deception, Harassment, intimidation and violence, Guidelines for
coping with harassment, intimidation and other kinds of violence.

Organizing Public Opposition to Covert Intervention

A broad-based strategy, Diverse tactics, Prospects.


   * In the Southwest, paid informers infiltrate the church services, Bible
     classes and support networks of clergy and lay workers giving
     sanctuary to refugees from el Salvador and Guatemala.

   * In Alabama, elderly Black people attempting for the first time to
     exercise their right to vote are interrogated by FBI agents and hauled
     before Federal grand juries hundreds of miles from their homes.

   * In New England, a former CIA case officer cites examples from his own
     past work to warn college students of efforts by undercover operatives
     to misdirect and discredit protests against South African and U.S.

   * In the San Francisco Bay area, activists planning anti-nuclear civil
     disobedience learn that their meetings have been infiltrated by the
     U.S. navy.

   * In Detroit, Seattle, and Philadelphia, in Cambridge, MA., Berkeley,
     CA., Phoenix, AR., and Washington, D.C., churches and organizations
     opposing U.S. policies in Central America report obvious political
     break-ins in which important papers are stolen or damaged, while money
     and valuables are left untouched. License plates on a car spotted
     fleeing one such office have been traced to the U.S. National Security

   * In Puerto Rico, Texas and Massachusetts, labor leaders , community
     organizers, writers and editors who advocate Puerto Rican independence
     are branded by the FBI as "terrorists," brutally rounded-up in the
     middle of the night, held incommunicado for days and the jailed under
     new preventative detention laws.

   * The FBI puts the same "terrorist" label on opponents of U.S.
     intervention in El Salvador, but refuses to investigate the
     possibility of a political conspiracy behind nation-wide bombings of
     abortion clinics.

   * Throughout the country, people attempting to see Nicaragua for
     themselves find their trips disrupted, their private papers
     confiscated, and their homes and offices plagued by FBI agents who
     demand detailed personal and political information.

These kinds of government tactics violate our fundamental constitutional
rights. They make it enormously difficult to sustain grass-roots
organizing. They create an atmosphere of fear and distrust which undermines
any effort to challenge official policy.

Similar measures were used in the 1960s as part of a secret FBI program
known as "COINTELPRO." COINTELPRO was later exposed and officially ended.
But the evidence shows that it actually persisted and that clandestine
operations to discredit and disrupt opposition movements have become an
institutional feature of national and local government in the U.S.. This
pamphlet is designed to help current and future activists learn from the
history of COINTELPRO, so that our movements can better withstand such an

The first section gives a brief overview of what we know the FBI did in the
60s. It explains why we can expect similar government intervention in the
90s and beyond, and offers general guidelines for effective response.

The main body of the pamphlet describes the specific methods which have
previously been used to undermine domestic dissent and suggests steps we
can take to limit or deflect their impact.

A final chapter explores ways to mobilize broad public protest against this
kind of repression.

The pamphlet's historical analysis is based on confidential internal
documents prepared by the FBI and police during the 60s. It also draws on
the post-60s confessions of disaffected government agents, and on the
testimony of public officials before Congress and the courts. Though the
information from these sources is incomplete, and much of what was done
remains secret, we now kno enough to draw useful lessons for future

The suggestions included in this pamphlet are based on the author's 20
years experience as an activist and lawyer, and on talks with long-time
organizers in a broad range of movements. They are meant to provide
starting points for discussion, so we can get ready before the pressure
intensifies. Most are a matter of common sense once the methodology of
covert action is understood. Please take these issues seriously. Discuss
the recommendations with other activists. Adapt them to the conditions you
face. Pont out problems and suggest other approaches.

It is important that we begin now to protect our movements and ourselves.

A History to Learn from


"COINTELPRO" was the FBI's [Federal Bureau of Investigation] secret program
to undermine the popular upsurge which swept the country during the 1960s.
Though the name stands for "Counterintelligence Program." the targets were
not enemy spies. The FBI set out to eliminate "radical" political
opposition inside the U.S.. When traditional modes of repression (exposure,
blatant harassment, and prosecution for political crimes) failed to counter
the growing insurgency, and even helped to fuel it, the Bureau took the law
into its own hands and secretly used fraud and force to sabotage
constitutionally-protected political activity. Its methods ranged far
beyond surveillance, and amounted to a domestic version of the covert
action for which the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] has become infamous
throughout the world.


CONINTELPRO was discovered in March 1971, when secret files were removed
from an FBI office and released to the news media. Freedom of Information
[Act] requests, lawsuits, and former agents' public confessions deepened
the exposure until a major scandal loomed. To control the damage and
re-establish government legitimacy in the wake of Viet Nam and Watergate,
Congress and the courts compelled the FBI to reveal part of what it had
done and to promise it would not do it again. Much of what had been
learned, and copies of some of the actual documents, can be found in the
readings in the back of this pamphlet.


The FBI secretly instructed its field offices to propose schemes to
"misdirect, discredit, and otherwise neutralize" specific individuals and
groups. Close coordination with local police and prosecutors was
encouraged. Final authority rested with top FBI officials in Washington,
who demanded assurance that "there is no possibility of embarrassment to
the Bureau." More than 2,000 individual actions were officially approved.
The doccuments reveal three types of methods:

  1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political
     activists. Their main function was to discredit and disrupt. Various
     means to this end are analyzed below.

  1. Other forms of deception: The FBI and police also waged psychological
     warfare from the outside - through bogus publications, forged
     correspondence, anonymous letters and telephone calls, and similar
     forms of deceit.

  1. Harassment, intimidation and violence: Eviction, job loss, break-ins,
     vandalism, grand jury subpoenas, false arrests, frame-ups, and
     physical violence were threatened, instigated or directly employed, in
     an effort to frighten activists and disrupt their movements.
     Government agents either concealed their involvement or fabricated a
     legal pretext. In the case of the Black and Native American movements,
     these assaults - including outright political assassinations - were so
     extensive and vicious that they amounted to terrorism on the part of
     the government.


The most intense operations were directed against the Black movement,
particularly the Black Panther Party. This resulted from FBI and police
racism, the Black community's lack of material resources for fighting back,
and the tendency of the media - and whites in general - to ignore or
tolerate attacks on Black groups. It also reflected government and
corporate fear of the black movement because of its militance, its broad
domestic base and international support, and its historic role in
galvanizing the entire Sixties' upsurge. Many other activists who organized
against U.S. intervention abroad or for racial, gender or class justic at
home also came under covert attack. The targets were in no way limited to
those who used physical force or took up arms. Martin Luther King, David
Dellinger, Phillip Berrigan and other leading pacifists were high on the
list, as were projects directly protected by the Bill of Rights, such as
alternative newspapers.

The Black Panther Party came under attack at a time when their work
featured free food and health care and community control of schools and
police, and when they carried guns only for deterrent and symbolic
purposes. It was the terrorism of the FBI and police that eventually
provoked the Panthers to retaliate with the armed actions that later were
cited to justify their repression.

Ultimately the FBI disclosed six official counterintelligence programs:
Communist Party-USA (1956-71); "Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto
Rico" (1960-71); Socialist Workers Part (1961-71); "White Hate Groups"
(1964-71); "Black Nationalist Hate Groups" (1967-71); and "New Left"
(1968-71). The later operations hit anti-war, student, and feminist groups.
The "Black Nationalist" caption actually encompassed Martin Luther King and
most of the civil rights and Black Power movements. The "white hate"
program functioned mainly as a cover for covert aid to the KKK and similar
right-wing vigilantes, who were given funds and information, so long as
they confined their attacks to COINTELPRO targets. FBI documents also
reveal covert action against Native Americans, Chicano, Phillipine,
Arab-American, and other activists, apparently without formal
Counterintelligence programs.


COINTELPRO's impact is difficult to fully assess since we do not know the
entire scope of what was done (especially against such pivotal targets as
Malcom X, Martin Luther King, SNCC [Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee] and SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]), and we have no
generally accepted analysis of the Sixties. It is clear, however, that:

   * COINTELPRO distorted the public's view of radical groups in a way that
     helped to isolate them and to legitimize open political repression.

   * It reinforced and exacerbated the weakness of these groups, making it
     very difficult for the inexperienced activists of the Sixties to learn
     from their mistakes and build solid, durable organizations.

   * Its violent assaults and covert manipulation eventually helped to push
     some of the most committed and experienced groups to withdraw from
     grass-roots organizing and to substitute armed actions which isolated
     them and deprived the movement of much of its leadership.

   * COINTELPRO often convinced its victims to blame themselves and each
     other for the problems it created, leaving a legacy of cynicism and
     despair that persists today.

   * By operating covertly, the FBI and police were able to severely weaken
     domestic political opposition without shaking the conviction
     [illusion] of most U.S. people that they live in a democracy, with
     free speech and the rule of law.

The Danger We Face


Public exposure of COINTELPRO in the early 1970s elicited a flurry of
reform. Congress, the courts and the mass media condemned government
"intelligence abuses." Municipal police forces officially disbanded their
red squads. A new Attorney General notified past victims of COINTELPRO and
issued guidelines to limit future operations. Top FBI officials were
indicted (albeit for relatively minor offenses), two were convicted, and
several others retired or resigned. J. Edgar Hoover - the egomaniacal,
crudely racist and sexist founder of the FBI - died, and a well-known
federal judge, William Webster, eventually was appointed to lean house and
build a "new FBI."

Behind this public hoopla, however, was little real improvement in
government treatment of radical activists. Domestic covert operations were
briefly scaled down a bit, after the 60s upsurge had largely subsided, due
in part to the success of COINTELPRO. But they did not stop. In April,
1971, soon after files had been taken from one of its offices, the FBI
instructed its agents that "future COINTELPRO actions will be considered on
a highly selective, individual basis with tight procedures to insure
absolute security." The results are apparent in the record of subsequent

   * A virtual war on the American Indian Movement, ranging from forgery of
     documents, infiltration of legal defense committees, diversion of
     funds, intimidation of witnesses and falsification of evidence, to the
     paramilitary invasion of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota,
     and the murder of Anna Mae Aquash, Joe Stuntz and countless others;

   * Sabotage of efforts to organize protest demonstrations at the 1972
     Republican and Democratic Party conventions. The attempted
     assassination of San Diego University Professor Peter Bohmer, by a
     "Secret Army Organization" of ex-Minutemen formed, subsidized, armed,
     and protected by the FBI, was a part of these operations;

   * Concealment of the fact that the witness whose testemony led to the
     1972 robbery-murder conviction of Black Panther leader Elmer
     "Geronimo" Pratt was a paid informer who had worked for the Black
     Panther Party under the direction of the FBI and the Los Angeles
     Police Department;

   * Infiltration and disruption of the Viet nam Veterans Against the War,
     and prosecution of its national leaders on false charges (Florida,

   * Formation and operation of sham political groups such as "Red Star
     Cadre," in Tampa, Florida, and the New Orleans "Red Collective"

   * Mass interrogation of lesbian and feminist activists, threats of
     subpoenas, jailing of those who refused to cooperate, and disruption
     of women's health collectives and other projects (Lexington, Kentucky,
     Hartford and New Haven, connecticut, 1975);

   * Harassment of the Hispanic Commission of the episcopal Church and
     numerous other Puerto Rican and Chicano religious activists and
     community organizers (Chicago, New York City, Colorado and New Mexico,

   * Entrapment and frame-up of militant union leaders (NASCO shipyards,
     san diego, 1979); and

   * Complicity in the murder of socialist labor and community organizers
     (Greensboro, North Carolina, 1980).


All this, and maybe more, occurred in an era of reform. The use of similar
measures in today's very different times cannot be itemized in such detail,
since most are still secret. The gravity of the current danger is evident,
however, from the major steps recently taken to legitimize and strengthen
political repression, and from the many incidents which are coming to light
despite stepped-up security.

The ground-work for public acceptance of repression has been laid by
President Reagan's speeches reviving the old red-scare tale of worldwide
"communist take-overs" and adding a new bogeyman in the form of domestic
and international "terrorism." The President has taken advantage of the
resulting political climate to denounce the Bill of Rights and to red-bait
critics of U.S. intervention in Central America. He has pardoned the FBI
officials convicted of COINTELPRO crimes, praised their work, and spoken
favorably of the political witch-hunts he took part in during the 1950s.

For the first time in U.S. history, government infiltration to "influence"
domestic political activity has received official sanction. On the pretext
of meeting the supposed terrorist threat, Presidential Executive Order
12333 (December 4, 1981) extends such authority not only to the FBI, but
also to the military and, in some cases, the CIA. History shows that these
agencies treat legal restriction as a kind of speed limit which they feel
free to exceed, but only by a certain margin. Thus, Reagan's Executive
Order not only encourages reliance on methods once deemed abhorrent, it
also implicitly licenses even greater, more damaging intrusion. Government
capacity to make effective use of such measures has also been substantially
enhanced in recent years:

   * Judge Webster's highly-touted reforms have served mainly to modernize
     the FBI and make it more dangerous. Instead of the back-biting
     competition which impeded coordination of domestic counter-insurgency
     in the 1960s, the Bureau now promotes inter-agency cooperation. As an
     equal opportunity employer it can use Third World and female agents to
     penetrate political targets more thoroughly than before. By
     cultivating a low-visibility corporate image and discreetly avoiding
     public attack on prominent liberals, the FBI has regained
     respectability and won over a number of former critics.

   * Municipal police forces have similarly revamped their image while
     upgrading their repressive capabilities. The police "red squads" that
     infiltrated and harassed the 60s movements have been revived under
     other names and augmented by para-military SWAT [Special Weapons and
     Tactics] teams and tactical squads as well as highly-politicized
     community relations and "beat-rep" programs, in which Black, Latino
     and female officers are often conspicuous. Local operations are linked
     by FBI-led regional anti-terrorist task forces and the national Law
     Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU).

   * Increased military and CIA involvement has added political
     sophistication and advanced technology. Army Special Forces and other
     elite military units are now trained and equipped for
     counter-insurgency (known as "low-intensity warfare"). Their manuals
     teach the essential methodology of COINTELPRO, stressing earlier
     intervention to neutralize potential opposition before it can take

The CIA's expanded role is especially ominous. In the 60s, while legally
banned from "internal security functions," the CIA managed to infiltrate
the Black, student and anti-war movements. It also made secret use of
university professors, journalists, labor leaders, publishing houses,
cultural organizations and philanthropic fronts to mold U.S. public
opinion. But it apparently felt compelled to hold back - within the country
- from the kinds of systematic political destabilization, torture, and
murder which have become the hallmark of its operations abroad. Now, the
full force of the CIA has been unleashed at home.

All of the agencies involved in covert operations have had time to learn
from the 60s and to institute the "tight procedures to insure absolute
security" that FBI officials demanded after COINTELPRO was exposed in 1971.
Restoration of secrecy has been made easier by the Administration's steps
to shield covert operations from public scrutiny. Under Reagan, key FBI and
CIA files have been reclassified "top secret." The Freedom of Information
Act has been quietly narrowed through administrative reinterpretation.
Funds for covert operations are allocated behind closed doors and hidden in
CIA and defense appropriations.

Government employees now face censorship even after they retire, and new
laws make it a Federal crime to publicize information which might tend to
reveal an agent's identity. Despite this stepped-up security, incidents
frighteningly reminiscent of 60s COINTELPRO have begun to emerge.

The extent of the infiltration, burglary and other clandestine government
intervention that has already come to light is alarming. Since the vast
majority of such operations stay hidden until after the damage has been
done, those we are now aware of undoubtedly represent only the tip of the
iceberg. Far more is sure to lie beneath the surface.

Considering the current political climate, the legalization of COINTELPRO,
the rehabilitation of the FBI and police, and the expanded role of the CIA
and military, the recent revelations leave us only one safe assumption:
that extensive government covert operations are already underway to
neutralize today's opposition movements before they can reach the massive
level of the 60s.


Domestic covert action has now persisted in some form through at least the
last seven presidencies. It grew from one program to six under Kennedy and
Johnson. It flourished when an outspoken liberal. Ramsey Clark, was
Attorney General (1966-68). It is an integral part of the established model
of operation of powerful, entrenched agencies on every level of government.
It enables policy-makers to maintain social control without detracting from
their own public image or the perceived legitimacy of their method of
government. It has become as institutional in the U.S. as the race, gender,
class and imperial domination it serves to uphold.

Under these circumstances, there is no reason to think we can eliminate
COINTELPRO simply by electing better public officials. Only through
sustained public education and mobilization, by a broad coalition of
political, religious and civil libertarian activists, can we expect to
limit it effectively.

In most parts of the country, however, and certainly on a national level,
we lack the political power to end covert government intervention, or even
to curb it substantially. We therefore need to learn how to cope more
effectively with this form of repression.


   * Check out the authenticity of any disturbing letter, rumor, phone call
     or other communication before acting on it.

   * Deal openly and honestly with the differences within our movements
     (race, gender, class, age, religion, national origin, sexual
     orientation, personality, experience, physical and intellectual
     capacities, etc.) Before the FBI and police exploit them to tear us

   * Don't rush to expose a suspected agent. Instead, directly criticize
     what the suspect says and does. Intra-movement witch-hunts only help
     the government create distrust and paranoia.

   * Support whoever comes under government attack. Don't be put off by
     political slander, such as recent attempts to smear radical activists
     as "terrorists." Organize public opposition to FBI investigations,
     grand juries, show trials and other forms of political harassment.

   * Above all, do not let them divert us from our main work. Our most
     powerful weapon against political repression is effectively organizing
     around the needs and issues which directly affect people's lives.

What Can They Do & How We Can Protect Ourselves


Agents are law enforcement officers disguised as activists.

Informers are non-agents who provide information to a law enforcement or
intelligence agency. They may be recruited from within a group or sent in
by an agency, or they may be disaffected former members or supporters.

Infiltrators are agents or informers who work in a group or community under
the direction of a law enforcement or intelligence agency. During the 60s
the FBI had to rely on informers (who are less well trained and harder to
control) because it had very few black, latino or female agents, and its
strict dress and grooming code left white male agents unable to look like
activists, As a modern equal opportunity employer, today's FBI has fewer
such limitations.

What They Do:

Some informers and infiltrators quietly provide information while keeping a
low profile and doing whatever is expected of group members. Others attempt
to discredit a target and disrupt its work. They may spread false rumors
and make unfounded accusations to provoke or exacerbate tensions and
splits. They may urge divisive proposals, sabotage important activities and
resources, or operate as "provacateurs" who lead zealous activists into
unnecessary danger. In a demonstration or other confrontation with police,
such an agent may break discipline and call for actions which would
undermine unity and detract from tactical focus [or make it easier for the
police to surround and arrest marchers or demonstrators].

Infiltration as a Source of Distrust and Paranoia:

While individual agents and informers aid the government in a variety of
specific ways, the general use of infiltrators serves a very special and
powerful strategic function. The fear that a group may be infiltrated often
intimidates people from getting more involved. It can give rise to a
paranoia which makes it difficult to build the mutual trust which political
groups depend on. This use of infiltrators, enhanced by covertly-initiated
rumors that exaggerate the extent to which a particular movement or group
has been penetrated, is recommended by the manuals used to teach
counter-insurgency in the U.S. and Western europe.

Covert Manipulation to Make a Legitimate Activist Appear to Be an Agent:

An actual agent will often point the finger at a genuine, non-collaborating
and highly-valued group member, claiming that he or she is the infiltrator.
The same effect, known as a "snitch hacket," has been achieved by planting
forged doccuments which appear to be communications between an activist and
the FBI, or by releasing for no other apparent reason oneof a group of
activists who were arrested together. Another method used under COINTELPRO
was to arrange for some activists, arrested under one pretext or another,
to hear over the police radio a phony broadcast which appeared to set up a
secret meeting between the police and someone from their group.


  1. Establish a process through which anyone who suspects an informer (or
     other form of covert intervention) can express his or her fears
     without scaring others. Experienced people assigned this
     responsibility can do a great deal to help a group maintain its morale
     and focus while, at the same time, centrally consolidating information
     and deciding how to use it. This plan works best when accompanied by
     group discussion of the danger of paranoia, so that everyone
     understands and follows the established procedure.

  2. To reduce vulnerability to paranoia and "snitch-jackets", and to
     minimize diversion from your main work, it generally is best if you do
     not attempt to expose a suspected agent or informer unless tou are
     certain of their role (For instance, they surface to make an arrest,
     testify as a government witness or in some other way admit their
     identity). Under most circumstances, an attempted exposure will do
     more harm than the infiltrator's continued presence. This is
     especially true if you can discreetly limit the suspect's access to
     funds, financial records, mailing lists, discussions of possible law
     violations, meetings that plan criminal defense strategy, and similar

  3. Deal openly and directly with the form and content of what anyone says
     and does, whether the person is a suspected agent, has emotional
     problems, or is simply a sincere, but naive or confused person new to
     the work.

  4. Once an agent or informer has been definitely identified, alert other
     groups and communities by means of photographs, a description of their
     methods of operation, etc.. In the 60s, some agents managed even after
     their exposure in one community to move on and repeat their
     performance in a number of others.

  5. Be careful to avoid pushing a new or hesitant member to take risks
     beyond what that person is ready to handle, particularly in situations
     which could result in arrest and prosecution. People in this position
     have proved vulnerable to recruitment as informers.


Bogus leaflets, pamphlets, etc.:

COINTELPRO documents show that the FBI routinely put out phoney leaflets,
posters, pamphlets, etc. to discredit its targets. In one instance, agents
revised a children's coloring book which the black Panther Party had
rejected as anti-white and gratuitously violent, and then distributed a
cruder version to backers of the Party's program of free breakfasts for
children, telling them the book was being used in the program.

False media stories:

The FBI's documents expose collusion by reporters and news media that
knowingly published false and distorted material prepared by Bureau agents.
One such story had Jean Selberg, a noticeably pregnant white film star
active in anti-racist causes, carrying the child of a prominent Black
leader. Selberg's white husband, the actual father, sued the FBI as
responsible for her resulting still-birth, breakdown, and suicide.

Forged correspondence:

Former employees have confirmed that the FBI and CIA have the capacity to
create "state of the art" forgery. The U.S. Senate's investigation of
COINTELPRO uncovered a series of letters forged in the name of an
intermediary between the Black Panther Party's national office and Panther
leader Eldridge Cleaver, in exile in Algeria. The letters proved
instrumental in inflaming intra-party rivalries that erupted into the
bitter public split that shattered the Party in the winter of 1971.

Anonymous letters and telephone calls:

During the 60s, activists received a steady flow of anonymous letters and
phone calls which turn out to have been from government agents. Some
threatened violence. Others promoted racial divisions and fears. Still
others charged various leaders with collaboration, corruption, sexual
affairs with other activists' mates, etc.. As in the Seberg incident,
inter-racial sex was a persistent theme. The husband of one white woman
involved in a bi-racial civil rights group received the following anonymous
letter authored by the FBI:

"Look, man, I guess your old lady doesn't get enough at home or she
wouldn't be shucking and jiving with our black men in ACTION, you dig? Like
all she wants is to integrate in the bedroom and us Black Sisters ain't
gonna take no second best from our men. So lay it on her man - or get her
the hell off [name]."

-A Soul Sister

False rumors:

Using infiltrators, journalists and other contacts, the Bureau circulated
slanderous, disruptive rumors through political movements and communities
in which they worked.

Other misinformation:

A favorite FBI tactic uncovered by Senate investigators was to misinform
people that a political meeting or event had been canceled. Another was to
offer non-existent housing at phoney addresses, stranding out-of-town
conference attendees who naturally blamed those who had organized the
event. FBI agents also arranged to transport demonstrators in the name of a
bogus bus company which pulled out at the last minute. Such "dirty tricks"
interfered with political events and turned activists against each other.

Fronts for the FBI:

COINTELPRO documents reveal that a number of Sixties' political groups and
projects were actually set up and operated by the FBI.

One, "Grupo pro-Uso Voto," was used to disrupt the fragile unity developing
in 1967 among groups seeking Puerto Rico's independence from the U.S.. The
genuine proponents of independence had joined together to boycott a
U.S.-administered referendum on the island's status. They argued that
voting under conditions of colonial domination could serve only to
legitimize U.S. rule, and that no vote could be fair while the U.S.
controlled the island's economy, media, schools, and police. The bogus
group, pretended to support independence, broke ranks and urged
independencias to take advantage of theopportunity to register their
opinion at the polls.

Since FBI front groups are basically a means for penetrating and disrupting
political movements, it is best to deal with them on the basis of the
Guidelines for Coping with Infiltration (below).

Confront what a suspect group says and does, but avoid public accusations
unless you have definite proof. If you do have such proof, share it with
everyone affected.


  1. Don't add unnecessarily to the pool of information that government
     agents use to divide political groups and turn activists against each
     other. They thrive on gossip about political tensions, rivalries and
     disagreements. The more these are aired in public, or via a telephone
     which can be tapped or mail which can be opened, the easier it is to
     exploit a groups' problems and subvert its work (Note that the CIA has
     the technology to read mail without opening it, and that the telephone
     network can now be programmed to record any conversation in which
     specified political terms are used).

  2. The best way to reduce tensions and hostilities, and the urge to
     gossip about them, is to make time for open, honest discussion and
     resolution of "personal" as well as "political" issues.

  3. Don't accept everything you hear or read. Check with the supposed
     source of the information before you act on it. Personal
     communications among estranged activists, however difficult or
     painful, could have countered many FBI operations which proved
     effective in the Sixties.

  4. When you hear a negative, confusing or potentially harmful rumor,
     don't pass it on. Instead, discuss it with a trusted friend or with
     the people in your group who are responsible for dealing with covert

  5. Verify and double-check all arrangements for housing, transportation,
     meeting rooms, and so forth.

  6. When you discover bogus materials, false media stories, etc., publicly
     disavow them and expose the true source, insofar as you can.


Pressure through employers, landlords, etc.:

COINTELPRO documents reveal frequent overt contacts and covert
manipulations (false rumors, anonymous letters and telephone calls) to
generate pressure on activists from their parent, landlords, employers,
college administrators, church superiors, welfare agencies, credit bureaus,
licensing authorities, and the like.

Agents' reports indicate that such intervention denied Sixties' activists
any number of foundation grants and public speaking engagements. It also
cost underground newspapers most of their advertising revenues, when major
record companies were persuaded to take their business elsewhere. It may
underlie recent steps by insurance companies to cancel policies held by
churches giving sanctuary to refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.


Former operatives have confessed to thousands of 'black bag jobs" in which
FBI agents broke into movement offices to steal, copy or destroy valuable
papers, wreck equipment, or plant drugs.


FBI infiltrators have admitted countless other acts of vandalism, including
the fire which destroyed the Watts Writers Workshop's multi-million dollar
ghetto cultural center in 1973. Late 60s' FBI and police raids laid waste
to movement offices across the country, destroying precious printing
presses, typewriters, layout equipment, research files, financial records,
and mailing lists.

Other direct interference:

To further disrupt opposition movements, frighten activists, and get people
upset with each other, the FBI tampered with organizational mail, so it
came late or not at all. It also resorted to bomb threats and similar
"dirty tricks."

Conspicuous surveillance:

The FBI and police blatantly watch activists' homes, follow their cars, tap
phones, open mail and attend political events. The object is not to collect
information (which is done surreptitiously), but to harass and intimidate.

Attempted interviews:

Agents have extracted damaging information from activists who don't know
they have a legal right to refuse to talk, or who think they can outsmart
the FBI. COINTELPRO detectives recommend attempts at interviews throughout
political movements to "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles" and
"get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."

Grand juries:

Unlike the FBI, the Grand Jury has the legal power to make you answer its
questions. Those who refuse, and are required to accept immunity from use
of their testimony against them, can be jailed for contempt of court (Such
"use immunity" enables prosecuters to get around the constitutional
protection against self-incrimination).

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have manipulated this process to
turn the grand jury into an instrument of political repression. Frustrated
by jurors' consistent refusal to convict activists of overtly political
crimes, they convened over 100 grand juries between 1970 and 1973 and
subpoenaed more than 1,000 activists from the Black, Puerto Rican, student,
women's and anti-war movements. Supposed pursuit of fugitives and
"terrorists" was the usual pretext. Many targets were so terrified that
they dropped out of political activity. Others were jailed without any
criminal charge or trial, in what amounts to a U.S. version of the
political internment procedures employed in South Africa and Northern

False arrest and prosecution:

COINTELPRO directives cite the Philadelphia FBI's success in having local
millitants "arrested on every possible charge until they could no longer
make bail" and "spent most of the summer in jail." Though the bulk of the
activists arrested in this manner were eventually released, some were
convicted of serious charges on the basis of perjured testimony by FBI
agent, or by co-workers who the Bureau had threatened or bribed.

The object was not only to remove experienced organizers from their
communities and to divert scarce resources into legal defense, but even
more to discredit entire movements by portraying their leaders as vicious
criminals. Two victims of such frame-ups, Native American activist Leonard
Peltier and 1960s' Black Panther official Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, have
finally gained court hearings on new trial motions.

Others currently struggling to re-open COINTELPRO convictions include
Richard Marshall of the American Indian Movement and jailed Black Panthers
Herman Bell, Anthony Bottom, Albert Washington (the "New York 3") and
Richard "Dhoruba" Moore.


One COINTELPRO communique urged that "The Negro youths and moderates must
be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they
will be dead revolutionaries."

Others reported use of threats (anonymous and overt) to terrorize
activists, driving some to abandon promising projects and others to leave
the country. During raids on movement offices, the FBI and police routinely
roughed up activists and threatened further violence. In August, 1970, they
forced the entire staff of the Black panther office in Philadelphia to
march through the street naked.

Instigation of violence:

The FBI's infiltrators and anonymous notes and phone calls incited violent
rivals to attack Malcom X, the Black Panthers, and other targets. Bureau
records also reveal maneuvers to get the Mafia to move against such
activists as black comedian Dick Gregory.

A COINTELPRO memo reported that "shootings, beatings and a high degree of
unrest continue to prevail in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego . . .
it is felt that a substantial amount of the unrest is directly attributable
to this program."

Covert aid to right-wing vigilantes:

In the guise of a COINTELPRO against "white hate groups," the FBI
subsidized, armed, directed and protected the Ku Klux Klan and other
right-wing groups, including a "Secret Army Organization" of California
ex-Minutemen who beat up Chicano activists, tore apart the offices of the
San Diego Street Journal and the Movement for a Democratic Military, and
tried to kill a prominent anti-war organizer. Puerto Rican activists
suffered similar terrorist assaults from anti-Castro Cuban groups organized
and funded by the CIA.

Defectors from a band of Chicago-based vigilantes known as the "Legion of
Justice" disclosed that the funds and arms they used to destroy book
stores, film studios and other centers of opposition had secretly been
supplied by members of the Army's 113th Military Intelligence Group.


The FBI and police were implicated directly in murders of Black and Native
American leaders. In Chicago, police assassinated Black Panthers Fred
Hampton and Mark Clark, using a floor plan supplied by an FBI informer who
apparently also had drugged Hampton's food to make him unconscious during
the raid.

FBI records show that this accomplice received a substantial bonus for his
services. Despite an elaborate cover-up, a blue-ribbon commission and a
U.S. Court of Appeals found the deaths to be the result not of a shootout,
as claimed by police, but of a carefully orchestrated, Viet Nam-style
"search and destroy mission."


  1. Establish security procedures appropriate to your group's level of
     activity and discuss them thoroughly with everyone involved. Control
     access to keys, files, letterhead, funds, financial records, mailing
     lists, etc.. Keep duplicates of valuable documents. Safeguard address
     books, and do not carry them when arrest is likely.

  2. Careful records of break-ins, thefts, bomb threats, raids, arrests,
     strange phone noises (not always taps or bugs), harassment, etc. will
     help you to discern patterns and to prepare reports and testimony.

  3. Don't talk to the FBI. Don't let them in without a warrant. Tell
     others that they came. Have a lawyer demand an explanation and
     instruct them to leave you alone

  4. If an activist does talk, or makes some other honest error, explain
     the harm that could result. But do not attempt to ostracize a sincere
     person who slips up. Isolation only weakens a person's ability to
     resist. It can drive someone out of the movement and even into the
     arms of the police.

  5. If the FBI starts to harass people in your area, alert everyone to
     refuse to cooperate. Set up community meetings with speakers who have
     resisted similar harassment elsewhere. Get literature, films, etc..
     Consider "Wanted" posters with photos of the agents, or guerilla
     theater which follows them through the city streets.

  6. Make a major public issue of crude harassment, such as tampering with
     your mail. Contact your congressperson. Call the media. Demonstrate at
     your local FBI office. Turn the attack into an opportunity for
     explaining how covert intervention threatens fundamental human rights.

  7. Many people find it easier to tell an FBI agent to contact their
     lawyer than to refuse to talk. Once a lawyer is involved, the Bureau
     generally pulls back, since it has lost the power to intimidate. If
     possible, make arrangements with a local lawyer and let everyone know
     that agents who visit them can be referred to that lawyer. In your
     group engages in civil disobedience or finds itself under intense
     police pressure, start a bail fund, train some members to deal with
     the legal system, and develop an ongoing relationship with a
     sympathetic local lawyer.

  8. Organizations listed in the back of this pamphlet can also help resist
     grand jury harassment. Community education is important, along with
     legal, financial, child care, and other support for those who protect
     a movement by refusing to divulge information about it. If a respected
     activist is subpoenaed for obviously political reasons, consider
     trying to arrange for sanctuary in a local church or synagogue.

  9. While the FBI and police are entirely capable of fabricating criminal
     charges, any law violations make it easier for them to set you up. The
     point is not to get so up-tight and paranoid that you can't function,
     but to make a realistic assessment based on your visibility and other
     pertinent circumstances.

 10. Upon hearing of Fred Hampton's murder, the black Panthers in Los
     Angeles fortified their offices and organized a communications network
     to alert the community and news media in the event of a raid. When the
     police did attempt an armed assault four days later, the Panthers were
     able to hold off the attack until a large community and media presence
     enabled them to leave the office without casualties. Similar
     preparation can help other groups that have reason to expect
     right-wing or police assaults.

 11. Make sure your group designates and prepares other members to step in
     if leaders are jailed or otherwise incapacitated. The more each
     participant is able to think for herself or himself and take
     responsibility, the better will be the group's capacity to cope with

Organizing Public Opposition to Covert Intervention


No one existing political organization or movement is strong enough, by
itself, to mobilize the public pressure required to significantly limit the
ability of the FBI, CIA and police to subvert our work. Some activists
oppose covert intervention because it violates fundamental constitutional
rights. Others stress how it weakens and interferes with the work of a
particular group or movement. Still others see covert action as part of a
political and economic system which is fundamentally flawed. Our only hope
is to bring these diverse forces together in a single, powerful alliance.

Such a broad coalition cannot hold together unless it operates with
clearly-defined principles. The coalition as a whole will have to oppose
covert intervention on certain basic grounds - such as the threat to
democracy, civil liberties and social justice, leaving its members free to
put forward other objections and analysis in their own names. Participants
will need to refrain from insisting that only their views are "politically
correct" and that everyone else has "sold out."

Above all, we will have to resist government maneuvers to divide us by
moving against certain groups, while subtly suggesting that it will go easy
on the others, if only they disassociate themselves from those under
attack. This strategy is evident in the recent Executive Order and
Guidelines, which single out for infiltration and disruption people who
support liberation movements and governments that defy U.S. hegemony or who
entertain the view that it may at times be necessary to break the law in
order to effectuate social change.


For maximum impact, local and national coalitions will need a multi-faceted
approach which effectively combines a diversity of tactic, including:

  1. Investigative research to stay on top of, and doccument, just what the
     FBI, CIA and police are up to.

  2. Public education through forums, rallies, radio and TV, literature,
     film, high school and college curricula, wall posters, guerilla
     theater, and whatever else proves interesting and effective.

  3. Legislative lobbying against administration proposals to strengthen
     covert work, cut back public access to information, punish government
     "whistle-blowers", etc.. Coalitions in some cities and states have won
     legislative restrictions on surveillance and covert action. The value
     of such victories will depend on our ability to mobilize continuing,
     vigilant public pressure for effective enforcement.

  4. Support for the victims of covert intervention can reduce somewhat the
     harm done by the FBI, CIA and police. Organizing on behalf of grand
     jury resisters, political prisoners, and defendants in political
     trials offers a natural forum for public education about domestic
     covert action.

  5. Lawsuits may win financial compensation for some of the people harmed
     by covert intervention. Class action suits, which seek a court order
     (injunction) limiting surveillance and covert action in a particular
     city or judicial district, have proved a valuable source of
     information and publicity. They are enormously expensive, however, in
     terms of time and energy as well as money. Out-of-court settlements in
     some of these cases have given rise to bitter disputes which split
     coalitions apart, and any agreement is subject to reinterpretation or
     modification by increasingly conservative, administration-oriented
     Federal judges.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago has ruled that the consent decree
against the FBI there affects only operations based "solely on the
political views of a group or an individual," for which the Bureau can
conjure no pretext of a "genuine concern for law enforcement."

  1. Direct action, in the form of citizens' arrest, mock trials, picket
     lines, and civil disobedience, has recently greeted CIA recruiters on
     a number of college campuses. Although the main focus has been on the
     Agency's international crimes, its domestic activities have also
     received attention. Similar actions might be organized to protest
     recruitment by the FBI and police, in conjunction with teach-ins and
     other education about domestic covert action. Demonstrations against
     Reagan's attempts to bolster covert intervention, or against
     particular FBI, CIA or police operations, could also raise public
     consciousness and focus activists' outrage.


Previous attempts to mobilize public opposition, especially on a local
level, indicate that a broad coalition, employing a multi-faceted approach,
may be able to impose some limits on the government's ability to discredit
and disrupt our work. It is clear, however, that we currently lack the
power to eliminate such intervention. While fighting hard to end domestic
covert action, we need also to study the forms it takes and prepare
ourselves to cope with it as effectively as we can.

Above all, it is essential that we resist the temptation to so preoccupy
ourselves with repression that we neglect our main work.

Our ability to resist the government's attack depends on the strength of
our movements.

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