COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, and at times illegal,[1][2] projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.[3][4] FBI records show that COINTELPRO resources targeted groups and individuals that the FBI deemed subversive,[5] including the Communist Party USA,[6] anti-Vietnam War organizers, activists of the civil rights movement or Black Power movement (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party), feminist organizations,[7] independence movements (such as Puerto Rican independence groups like the Young Lords), Black-owned bookstores, and a variety of organizations that were part of the broader New Left.

The FBI has used covert operations against domestic political groups since its inception; however, covert operations under the official COINTELPRO label took place between 1956 and 1971.[8] COINTELPRO tactics are still used to this day, and have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination.[9][10][11][12] The FBI's stated motivation was "protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.[sic.]"[13]

Beginning in 1969, leaders of the Black Panther Party were targeted by the COINTELPRO and "neutralized" by being murdered, assassinated, imprisoned, publicly humiliated or falsely charged with crimes. Some of the Black Panthers affected included Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Zayd Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Marshall Conway. The government was able to use their efforts by planting agents that were able to assist the government in facilitating such charges against them. Common tactics used by COINTELPRO were perjury, witness harassment, witness intimidation and withholding of evidence.[14][15][16]

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued directives governing COINTELPRO, ordering FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise Neutralize" the activities of these movements and especially their leaders.[17][18] Under Hoover, the agent in charge of COINTELPRO was William C. Sullivan.[19] Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy personally authorized some of the programs.[20] Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of Martin Luther King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so",[21] Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy.[22]


Centralized operations under COINTELPRO officially began in August 1956 with a program designed to "increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections" inside the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Tactics included anonymous phone calls, IRS audits, and the creation of documents that would divide the American communist organization internally.[23] An October 1956 memo from Hoover reclassified the FBI's ongoing surveillance of black leaders, including it within COINTELPRO, with the justification that the movement was infiltrated by communists.[24] In 1956, Hoover sent an open letter denouncing Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a civil rights leader, surgeon, and wealthy entrepreneur in Mississippi who had criticized FBI inaction in solving recent murders of George W. Lee, Emmett Till, and other black people in the South.[25] When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an African-American civil rights organization, was founded in 1957, the FBI began to monitor and target the group almost immediately, focusing particularly on Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levison, and eventually Martin Luther King Jr.[26]

The "suicide letter",[27] that the FBI mailed anonymously to Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to convince him to commit suicide

After the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Hoover singled out King as a major target for COINTELPRO. Under pressure from Hoover to focus on King, Sullivan wrote:

In the light of King's powerful demagogic speech. ... We must mark him now if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.[28]

Soon after, the FBI was systematically bugging King's home and his hotel rooms, as they were now aware that King was growing in stature daily as the leader among leaders of the civil rights movement.[29]

In the mid-1960s, King began publicly criticizing the Bureau for giving insufficient attention to the use of terrorism by white supremacists. Hoover responded by publicly calling King the most "notorious liar" in the United States.[30] In his 1991 memoir, Washington Post journalist Carl Rowan asserted that the FBI had sent at least one anonymous letter to King encouraging him to commit suicide.[31][page needed] Historian Taylor Branch documents an anonymous November 21, 1964 "suicide package" sent by the FBI that contained audio recordings, which were obtained through tapping King’s phone and placing bugs throughout various hotel rooms over the past two years[32] was created two days after the announcement of King’s impending Nobel Peace Prize.[32] The tape, which was prepared by FBI audio technician John Matter[32] documented a series of King's sexual indiscretions combined with a letter telling him "There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation".[33] King was subsequently informed that the audio would be released to the media if he did not acquiesce and commit suicide prior to accepting his Nobel Peace Award.[32] When King refused to satisfy their coercion tactics, FBI Associate Director, Cartha D. DeLoach, commenced a media campaign offering the surveillance transcript to various news organizations including, Newsweek and Newsday.[32] And even by 1969, as has been noted elsewhere, "[FBI] efforts to 'expose' Martin Luther King Jr. had not slackened even though King had been dead for a year. [The Bureau] furnished ammunition to conservatives to attack King's memory, and...tried to block efforts to honor the slain leader."[33]

During the same period the program also targeted Malcolm X. While an FBI spokesman has denied that the FBI was "directly" involved in Malcolm's murder, it is documented that the Bureau worked to "widen the rift" between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad through infiltration and the "sparking of acrimonious debates within the organization," rumor-mongering, and other tactics designed to foster internal disputes, which ultimately led to Malcolm's assassination.[34][35] The FBI heavily infiltrated Malcolm's Organization of Afro-American Unity in the final months of his life. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable asserts that most of the men who plotted Malcolm's assassination were never apprehended and that the full extent of the FBI's involvement in his death cannot be known.[36][37]

Amidst the urban unrest of July–August 1967, the FBI began "COINTELPRO–BLACK HATE", which focused on King and the SCLC as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the Deacons for Defense and Justice, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Nation of Islam.[38] BLACK HATE established the Ghetto Informant Program and instructed 23 FBI offices to "disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations".[39]

A March 1968 memo stated the program's goal was to "prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups"; to "Prevent the RISE OF A 'MESSIAH' who could unify...the militant black nationalist movement"; "to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence [against authorities]."; to "Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to...both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy..."; and to "prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth." Dr. King was said to have potential to be the "messiah" figure, should he abandon nonviolence and integrationism,[40] and Stokely Carmichael was noted to have "the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way" as he was portrayed as someone who espoused a much more militant vision of "black power."[41] While the FBI was particularly concerned with leaders and organizers, they did not limit their scope of target to the heads of organizations. Individuals such as writers were also listed among the targets of operations.[42]

This program coincided with a broader federal effort to prepare military responses for urban riots, and began increased collaboration between the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and the Department of Defense. The CIA launched its own domestic espionage project in 1967 called Operation CHAOS.[43] A particular target was the Poor People's Campaign, a national effort organized by King and the SCLC to occupy Washington, D.C. The FBI monitored and disrupted the campaign on a national level, while using targeted smear tactics locally to undermine support for the march.[44] The Black Panther Party was another targeted organization, wherein the FBI collaborated to destroy the party from the inside out.[42]

Overall, COINTELPRO encompassed disruption and sabotage of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party (1967), and the entire New Left social/political movement, which included antiwar, community, and religious groups (1968). A later investigation by the Senate's Church Committee (see below) stated that "COINTELPRO began in 1956, in part because of frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the Government's power to proceed overtly against dissident groups ..."[45] Official congressional committees and several court cases[46] have concluded that COINTELPRO operations against communist and socialist groups exceeded statutory limits on FBI activity and violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and association.[1]

Program exposed

The building broken into by the Citizen's Commission to Investigate the FBI, at One Veterans Square, Media, Pennsylvania

The program was successfully kept secret until 1971, when the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI burgled an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, took several dossiers, and exposed the program by passing this material to news agencies.[47] Many news organizations initially refused to publish the information. Within the year, Director J. Edgar Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis.[48][49]

Additional documents were revealed in the course of separate lawsuits filed against the FBI by NBC correspondent Carl Stern, the Socialist Workers Party, and a number of other groups. In 1976 the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee" for its chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho, launched a major investigation of the FBI and COINTELPRO. Many released documents have been partly, or entirely, redacted.

The Final Report of the Select Committee castigated the conduct of the intelligence community in its domestic operations (including COINTELPRO) in no uncertain terms:

The Committee finds that the domestic activities of the intelligence community at times violated specific statutory prohibitions and infringed the constitutional rights of American citizens. The legal questions involved in intelligence programs were often not considered. On other occasions, they were intentionally disregarded in the belief that because the programs served the "national security" the law did not apply. While intelligence officers on occasion failed to disclose to their superiors programs which were illegal or of questionable legality, the Committee finds that the most serious breaches of duty were those of senior officials, who were responsible for controlling intelligence activities and generally failed to assure compliance with the law.[1] Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that ... the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.[45]

The Church Committee documented a history of the FBI exercising political repression as far back as World War I, through the 1920s, when agents were charged with rounding up "anarchists, communists, socialists, reformists and revolutionaries" for deportation. The domestic operations were increased against political and anti-war groups from 1936 through 1976.

Intended effects

The intended effect of the FBI's COINTELPRO was to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize" groups that the FBI officials believed were "subversive"[50] by instructing FBI field operatives to:[51]

1. Create a negative public image for target groups by surveiling activists and then releasing negative personal information to the public.

2. Break down internal organization by creating conflicts by having agents exacerbate racial tensions, or send anonymous letters to try to create conflicts.

3. Create dissension between groups by spreading rumors that other groups were stealing money.

4. Restrict access to public resources by pressuring non-profit organizations to cut off funding or material support.

5. Restrict the ability to organize protests through agents promoting violence against police during planning and at protests.

6. Restrict the ability of individuals to participate in group activities by character assassinations, false arrests, surveillance.

Range of targets

At its inception, the program's main target was the Communist Party.[42]

In an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, Noam Chomsky—a political activist and MIT professor of linguistics—spoke about the purpose and the targets of COINTELPRO, saying:

COINTELPRO was a program of subversion carried out not by a couple of petty crooks but by the national political police, the FBI, under four administrations... by the time it got through, I won't run through the whole story, it was aimed at the entire new left, at the women's movement, at the whole black movement, it was extremely broad. Its actions went as far as political assassination.[52]

According to the Church Committee:

While the declared purposes of these programs were to protect the "national security" or prevent violence, Bureau witnesses admit that many of the targets were nonviolent and most had no connections with a foreign power. Indeed, nonviolent organizations and individuals were targeted because the Bureau believed they represented a "potential" for violence—and nonviolent citizens who were against the war in Vietnam were targeted because they gave "aid and comfort" to violent demonstrators by lending respectability to their cause.

The imprecision of the targeting is demonstrated by the inability of the Bureau to define the subjects of the programs. The Black Nationalist program, according to its supervisor, included "a great number of organizations that you might not today characterize as black nationalist but which were in fact primarily black." Thus, the nonviolent Southern Christian Leadership Conference was labeled as a Black Nationalist-"Hate Group."

Furthermore, the actual targets were chosen from a far broader group than the titles of the programs would imply. The CPUSA program targeted not only Communist Party members but also sponsors of the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee and civil rights leaders allegedly under Communist influence or deemed to be not sufficiently "anti-Communist". The Socialist Workers Party program included non-SWP sponsors of anti-war demonstrations which were cosponsored by the SWP or the Young Socialist Alliance, its youth group. The Black Nationalist program targeted a range of organizations from the Panthers to SNCC to the peaceful Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and included every Black Student Union and many other black student groups. New Left targets ranged from the SDS to the InterUniversity Committee for Debate on Foreign Policy, from Antioch College ("vanguard of the New Left") to the New Mexico Free University and other "alternate" schools, and from underground newspapers to students' protesting university censorship of a student publication by carrying signs with four-letter words on them.

Examples of surveillance, spanning all presidents from FDR to Nixon, both legal and illegal, contained in the Church Committee report:[53]

  • President Roosevelt asked the FBI to put in its files the names of citizens sending telegrams to the White House opposing his "national defense" policy and supporting Col. Charles Lindbergh.
  • President Truman received inside information on a former Roosevelt aide's efforts to influence his appointments, labor union negotiating plans, and the publishing plans of journalists.
  • President Eisenhower received reports on purely political and social contacts with foreign officials by Bernard Baruch, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
  • The Kennedy administration had the FBI wiretap a congressional staff member, three executive officials, a lobbyist, and a Washington law firm. US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy received the fruits of an FBI wire tap on Martin Luther King Jr. and an electronic listening device targeting a congressman, both of which yielded information of a political nature.
  • President Johnson asked the FBI to conduct "name checks" of his critics and members of the staff of his 1964 opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater. He also requested purely political intelligence on his critics in the Senate, and received extensive intelligence reports on political activity at the 1964 Democratic Convention from FBI electronic surveillance.
  • President Nixon authorized a program of wiretaps which produced for the White House purely political or personal information unrelated to national security, including information about a Supreme Court Justice.

Groups that were known to be targets of COINTELPRO operations include:[54]

The COINTELPRO operators targeted multiple groups at once, and encouraged splintering of these groups from within. In letter writing campaigns (wherein false letters were sent on behalf of members of parties), the FBI ensured that groups would not unite in their causes. For instance they, launched a campaign specifically to alienate the Black Panther Party from the Mau Maus, Young Lords, Young Patriots and SDS. These racially diverse groups had been building alliances, in part due to charismatic leaders such as Fred Hampton and his attempts to create a "Rainbow Coalition". The FBI was concerned with ensuring that groups could not gain traction through unity, specifically across racial lines. One of the main ways of targeting these groups was to arouse suspicion between the different parties and causes. In this way the bureau took on a divide and conquer offensive.[42]

The COINTELPRO documents show numerous cases of the FBI's intentions to prevent and disrupt protests against the Vietnam War. Many techniques were used to accomplish this task. "These included promoting splits among antiwar forces, encouraging red-baiting of socialists, and pushing violent confrontations as an alternative to massive, peaceful demonstrations." One 1966 COINTELPRO operation tried to redirect the Socialist Workers Party from their pledge of support for the antiwar movement.[55]

The FBI claims that it no longer undertakes COINTELPRO or COINTELPRO-like operations. However, critics have claimed that agency programs in the spirit of COINTELPRO targeted groups such as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador,[56] the American Indian Movement,[8][57] Earth First!,[58] the White Separatist Movement,[59] and the Anti-Globalization Movement.[citation needed]


Body of Fred Hampton, national spokesman for the Black Panther Party, who was murdered[60][61] by members of the Chicago Police Department, as part of a COINTELPRO operation.[62][11]

According to attorney Brian Glick in his book War at Home, the FBI used four main methods during COINTELPRO:

  1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit, disrupt and negatively redirect action. 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.
  2. Psychological warfare: The FBI and police used myriad "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. They used bad-jacketing to create suspicion about targeted activists, sometimes with lethal consequences.[63]
  3. Harassment via 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 supporters.[62][64]
  4. Illegal force: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations.[62] The object was to frighten or eliminate dissidents and disrupt their movements.
  5. Undermine public opinion: One of the primary ways the FBI targeted organizations was by challenging their reputations in the community and denying them a platform to gain legitimacy. Hoover specifically designed programs to block leaders from "spreading their philosophy publicly or through the communications media". Furthermore, the organization created and controlled negative media meant to undermine black power organizations. For instance, they oversaw the creation of "documentaries" skillfully edited to paint the BPP as aggressive, and false newspapers that spread misinformation about party members. the ability of the FBI to create distrust within and between revolutionary organizations tainted their public image and weakened chances at unity and public support.[42]

The FBI specifically developed tactics intended to heighten tension and hostility between various factions in the black power movement, for example between the Black Panthers (BPP), the US Organization. For instance, the FBI sent a fake letter to the US Organization exposing a supposed Black Panther plot to murder the head of the US Organization, Ron Karenga. They then intensified this by spreading falsely attributed cartoons in the black communities pitting BPP against the US Organization.[42] This resulted in numerous deaths, among which were San Diego Black Panther Party members John Huggins, Bunchy Carter and Sylvester Bell.[62] Another example, of the FBI's annonymous letter writing campaign is how they turned the Blackstone Rangers head, Jeff Fort, against former ally Fred Hampton, by stating that Hampton had a hit on Fort.[42] They also were instrumental in developing the rift between Black Panther Party leaders Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, as executed through false letters inciting the two leaders of BPP.[42]

Dhoruba Bin Wahad a former Black Panther, reflects on how these tactics made him feel, saying he had a combat mentality and felt like he was at war with the government. When asked about why he thinks the Black Panthers were targeted he said, "In the United States, the equivalent of the military was the local police. During the early sixties, at the height of the civil rights movement, and the human rights movement, the police in the United States became increasingly militaristic. They began to train out of military bases in the United States. The Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA) supplied local police with military technology, everything from assault rifles to army personnel carriers. In his opinion, the Counterintelligence Program went hand-in-hand with the militarization of the police in the Black community, with the militarization of police in America."[65]

The FBI also conspired with the police departments of many U.S. cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia, Chicago) to encourage repeated raids on Black Panther homes—often with little or no evidence of violations of federal, state, or local laws—which resulted directly in the police killing many members of the Black Panther Party, most notably Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969.[62][11][66] Before the death of Hampton long-term infiltrator, William O'Neal, shared floor plans of his apartment with the COINTELPRO team. He then gave Hampton a dose of secobarbital that rendered Hampton unconscious during the raid on his home.[42]

In order to eliminate black militant leaders whom they considered dangerous, the FBI is believed to have worked with local police departments to target specific individuals,[67] accuse them of crimes they did not commit, suppress exculpatory evidence and falsely incarcerate them. Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, a Black Panther Party leader, was incarcerated for 27 years before a California Superior Court vacated his murder conviction, ultimately freeing him. Appearing before the court, an FBI agent testified that he believed Pratt had been framed, because both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department knew he had not been in the area at the time the murder occurred.[68][69]

Some sources claim that the FBI conducted more than 200 "black bag jobs",[70][71] which were warrantless surreptitious entries, against the targeted groups and their members.[72]

J. Edgar Hoover

In 1969 the FBI special agent in San Francisco wrote Hoover that his investigation of the Black Panther Party (BPP) had concluded that in his city, at least, the Panthers were primarily engaged in feeding breakfast to children. Hoover fired back a memo implying the agent's career goals would be directly affected by his supplying evidence to support Hoover's view that the BPP was "a violence-prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means".[73]

Hoover supported using false claims to attack his political enemies. In one memo he wrote: "Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the BPP and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge."[74]

In one particularly controversial 1965 incident, white civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo was murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen, who gave chase and fired shots into her car after noticing that her passenger was a young black man; one of the Klansmen was Gary Thomas Rowe, an acknowledged FBI informant.[75][76] The FBI spread rumors that Liuzzo was a member of the Communist Party and had abandoned her children to have sexual relationships with African Americans involved in the civil rights movement.[77][78] FBI records show that J. Edgar Hoover personally communicated these insinuations to President Johnson.[79][80] FBI informant Rowe has also been implicated in some of the most violent crimes of the 1960s civil rights era, including attacks on the Freedom Riders and the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.[75] According to Noam Chomsky, in another instance in San Diego, the FBI financed, armed, and controlled an extreme right-wing group of former Minutemen, transforming it into a group called the Secret Army Organization that targeted groups, activists, and leaders involved in the Anti-War Movement, using both intimidation and violent acts.[81][82][83]

Hoover ordered preemptive action "to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence."[17]

Illegal surveillance

The final report of the Church Committee concluded:

Too many people have been spied upon by too many Government agencies and too much information has been illegally collected. The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. The Government, operating primarily through secret and biased informants, but also using other intrusive techniques such as wiretaps, microphone "bugs", surreptitious mail opening, and break-ins, has swept in vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views, and associations of American citizens. Investigations of groups deemed potentially dangerous—and even of groups suspected of associating with potentially dangerous organizations—have continued for decades, despite the fact that those groups did not engage in unlawful activity.

Groups and individuals have been assaulted, repressed, harassed and disrupted because of their political views, social beliefs and their lifestyles. Investigations have been based upon vague standards whose breadth made excessive collection inevitable. Unsavory, harmful and vicious tactics have been employed—including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths. Intelligence agencies have served the political and personal objectives of presidents and other high officials. While the agencies often committed excesses in response to pressure from high officials in the Executive branch and Congress, they also occasionally initiated improper activities and then concealed them from officials whom they had a duty to inform.

Governmental officials—including those whose principal duty is to enforce the law—have violated or ignored the law over long periods of time and have advocated and defended their right to break the law.

The Constitutional system of checks and balances has not adequately controlled intelligence activities. Until recently the Executive branch has neither delineated the scope of permissible activities nor established procedures for supervising intelligence agencies. Congress has failed to exercise sufficient oversight, seldom questioning the use to which its appropriations were being put. Most domestic intelligence issues have not reached the courts, and in those cases when they have reached the courts, the judiciary has been reluctant to grapple with them.[84][85]

Post-COINTELPRO operations

While COINTELPRO was officially terminated in April 1971, critics allege that continuing FBI actions indicate that post-COINTELPRO reforms did not succeed in ending COINTELPRO tactics.[86][87][88] Documents released under the FOIA show that the FBI tracked the late David Halberstam—a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author—for more than two decades.[89] "Counterterrorism" guidelines implemented during the Reagan administration have been described as allowing a return to COINTELPRO tactics.[90] Some radical groups accuse factional opponents of being FBI informants or assume the FBI is infiltrating the movement.[91]

According to a report by the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI improperly opened investigations of American activist groups, even though they were planning nothing more than peaceful protests and civil disobedience. The review by the inspector general was launched in response to complaints by civil liberties groups and members of Congress. The FBI improperly monitored groups including the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh-based peace group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); and Greenpeace USA, an environmental activism organization. Also, activists affiliated with Greenpeace were improperly put on a terrorist watch list, although they were planning no violence or illegal activities.

The IG report found these "troubling" FBI practices between 2001 and 2006. In some cases, the FBI conducted investigations of people affiliated with activist groups for "factually weak" reasons. Also, the FBI extended investigations of some of the groups "without adequate basis" and improperly kept information about activist groups in its files. The IG report also found that FBI Director Robert Mueller III provided inaccurate congressional testimony about one of the investigations, but this inaccuracy may have been due to his relying on what FBI officials told him.[92]

Several authors have accused the FBI of continuing to deploy COINTELPRO-like tactics against politically active groups after the official COINTELPRO operations were ended. Several authors have suggested the American Indian Movement (AIM) has been a target of these operations.

In 2014, the FBI tracked an activist of the Black Lives Matter movement, using tactics that The Intercept in 2018 found "reminiscent of a rich American history of targeting black Americans," including "the FBI's notorious COINTELPRO program," which "was aimed at disrupting and infiltrating civil rights and black nationalist movements from 1956 to 1971."[93]

Authors such as Ward Churchill, Rex Weyler, and Peter Matthiessen allege that the federal government intended to acquire uranium deposits on the Lakota tribe's reservation land, and that this motivated a larger government conspiracy against AIM activists on the Pine Ridge reservation.[8][57][94][95][96] Others believe COINTELPRO continues and similar actions are being taken against activist groups.[96][97][98] Caroline Woidat says that, with respect to Native Americans, COINTELPRO should be understood within a historical context in which "Native Americans have been viewed and have viewed the world themselves through the lens of conspiracy theory."[96] Other authors argue that while some conspiracy theories related to COINTELPRO are unfounded, the issue of ongoing government surveillance and repression is real.[99][100]

Notable People targeted

See also


  1. ^ a b c "I. Introduction and Summary" (PDF). Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans - Church Committee final report. United States Senate. II. United States Government. 1976-04-26. p. 10. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-04-18. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  2. ^ Wolf, Paul (1 September 2001). COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story. World Conference Against Racism. Durbin, South Africa. p. 11 – via Archive.org. 
  3. ^ Jalon, Allan M. (8 March 2006). "A break-in to end all break-ins". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  4. ^ The Dangers of Domestic Spying by Federal Law Enforcement (PDF) (Report). American Civil Liberties Union. 2002. 
  5. ^ Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri (2008) [2007]. The FBI: A History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-300-14284-6. OCLC 223872966. 
  6. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 195.
  7. ^ "The Women's Liberation Movement and COINTELPRO" (PDF). www.freedomarchives.org. 
  8. ^ a b c Churchill & Vander Wall 1990, pp. xii, 303
  9. ^ Walby, Kevin; Monaghan, Jeffery (2016). "Private Eyes and Public Order: Policing and Surveillance in the Suppression of Animal Rights Activists in Canada". In Bezanson, Kate; Webber, Michelle. Rethinking Society in the 21st Century (4th ed.). Toronto: Canadian Scholars. p. 148, note 1. ISBN 978-1-55130-936-1. OCLC 1002804017. 
  10. ^ Orr, Martin (2010). "The Failure of Neoliberal Globalization and the End of Empire". In Berberoglu, Berch. Globalization in the 21st Century: Labor, Capital, and the State on a World Scale. Springer. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-230-10639-0. OCLC 700167013. 
  11. ^ a b c Swearingen, M. Wesley (1995). FBI Secrets: An Agent's Expose. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 978-0-89608-502-2. OCLC 31330305. [Special Agent Gregg York:] We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black nigger fuckers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. 
  12. ^ "Murder of Fred Hampton" (PDF). It's About Time - Black Panther Party Legacy & Alumni. 
  13. ^ Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, Book III: Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans (PDF) (Final Report). 1976. S. Rep. No. 94-755. 
  14. ^ Neal, Cleaver, Kathleen (1998). "Mobilizing for Mumia Abu-Jamal in Paris". Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities. 10 (2). ISSN 1041-6374. 
  15. ^ On', Shaba (22 April 1996). "25th Ann. of Panther 21 Acquittal: Program in NYC" (Press release) – via Hartford Web Publishing. 
  16. ^ Ogbar, Jeffrey O. G. (2017-01-16). "The FBI's War on Civil Rights Leaders". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2018-02-25. 
  17. ^ a b "COINTELPRO Revisited - Spying & Disruption - IN BLACK AND WHITE: THE F.B.I. PAPERS". What Really Happened. 
  18. ^ "A Huey P. Newton Story - Actions - COINTELPRO". PBS. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  19. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 196.
  20. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 233.
  21. ^ Hersh 2007, p. 372.
  22. ^ Hersh 2007, pp. 372–374.
  23. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 195.
  24. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 198.
  25. ^ Beito, David T.; Beito, Linda Royster (2009). Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 148, 154–59. ISBN 978-0-252-03420-6. OCLC 690465801. 
  26. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 200.
  27. ^ Gage, Beverly (2014-11-11). "What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-09. 
  28. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 235.
  29. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 236.
  30. ^ Branch, Taylor (1999). Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963–1965. Simon & Schuster. pp. 524–529. ISBN 978-1-4165-5870-5. OCLC 933467815 – via Google Books. 
  31. ^ Rowan, Carl T. (1991). Breaking Barriers: A Memoir (1st ed.). Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-75977-9. OCLC 22110131. 
  32. ^ a b c d e Churchill, Ward; Vander Wall, Jim (2002) [1990]. The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States. South End Press. ISBN 978-0-89608-648-7. 
  33. ^ a b Branch 1999, pp. 527–529.
  34. ^ Branch 1999, p. 243.
  35. ^ Kane, Gregory (14 May 2000). "FBI should acknowledge complicity in the assassination of Malcolm X". Baltimore Sun. 
  36. ^ Touré (17 June 2011). "Malcolm X: Criminal, Minister, Humanist, Martyr". Sunday Book Review. New York Times. p. BR18. 
  37. ^ Douglass, James W. (29 March 2006). The Converging Martyrdom of Malcolm and Martin. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture. Princeton Theological Seminary. 
  38. ^ "Guide to the Microfilm Edition of FBI Surveillance Files: Black Extremist Organizations, Part 1" (PDF). Lexis-Nexis. 
  39. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 271.
  40. ^ Hoover, J. Edgar. "The FBI Sets Goals for COINTELPRO". HERB: Resources for Teachers. City University of New York. 
  41. ^ Warden, Rob (February 10, 1976). "Hoover Rated Carmichael As 'Black Messiah'" (PDF). Chicago Daily News – via Harold Weisberg Archive, Hood College. 
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h i Churchill, Ward; Vander Wall, Jim (1990). The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Domestic Dissent. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 9780896083608. OCLC 21908953. 
  43. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 272.
  44. ^ McKnight 1998, pp. 26–28.
  45. ^ a b "Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans". United States Senate. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  46. ^ See, for example, Hobson v. Wilson, 737 F.2d 1 (1984); Rugiero v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 257 F.3d 534, 546 (2001).
  47. ^ Hamilton, Johanna (18 May 2015). "1971: Citizens Who Exposed COINTELPRO". PBS: Independent Lens. 
  48. ^ Cassidy, Mike; Miller, Will (May 26, 1999). "A Short History of FBI COINTELPRO". Albion Monitor. Wayward Press Inc. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007. 
  49. ^ Weiner 2012, p. 293.
  50. ^ Deflam, Mathieu (2008). Surveillance and governance: crime control and beyond. Emerald Publishing Group. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-7623-1416-4. 
  51. ^ Deflam, Mathieu (2008). Surveillance and governance: crime control and beyond. Emerald Publishing Group. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-0-7623-1416-4. 
  52. ^ Video on YouTube
  53. ^ Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Final Report of the Senate Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities
  54. ^ Various Church Committee reports reproduced online at ICDC: Final Report, 2A Archived 2006-10-19 at the Wayback Machine.; Final Report,2Cb; Final Report, 3A; Final Report, 3G. Various COINTELPRO documents reproduced online at ICDC: CPUSA; SWP; Black Nationalist; White Hate; New Left; Puerto Rico.
  55. ^ Blackstock, Nelson. COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom, Pathfinder, New York. 1975. p. 111.
  56. ^ Gelbspan, Ross. (1991) Break-Ins, Death Threats, and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement, Boston: South End Press.
  57. ^ a b Churchill, Ward; and James Vander Wall. Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, 1988, Boston, South End Press.
  58. ^ Pickett, Karen. "Earth First!(The RedWood Tree Activists on the West Coast) Takes the FBI to Court: Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney's Case Heard after 12 Years," Earth First Journal, no date.
  59. ^ "The Railroading of Matt Hale by Edgar J. Steele". 
  60. ^ Michael Newton. Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, p. 205. ISBN 1610692853
  61. ^ Kendall (3 November 2009). "Shoot It Out? The Death of Fred Hampton". 
  62. ^ a b c d e "The FBI'S Covert Action Program to Destroy the Black Panther Party". 
  63. ^ Ward Churchill (2002), Agents of Repression (Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement ed.), South End Press, ISBN 978-0896086463, OCLC 50985124, 0896086461 
  64. ^ "Assassination Archive and Research Center". 
  65. ^ Bin Wahad, Dhoruba. Still Black, Still Strong. Semiotext, 1993, pp. 18-19.
  66. ^ Brown, Elaine. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story. New York: Doubleday, 1992, pp. 204-06.
  67. ^ Paul Wolf, "COINTELPRO", ICDC
  68. ^ "Former Black Panther freed after 27 years in jail". CNN. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  69. ^ "In re Pratt, 82 Cal". 
  70. ^ Alexander Cockburn; Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press. Verso. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-85984-139-6. 
  71. ^ FBI document, 19 July 1966, DeLoach to Sullivan re: "Black Bag" Jobs.
  72. ^ Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities United States Senate (23 April 1976). Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book III: Warrantless Surreptitious Entries: FBI "Black Bag" Break-Ins and Microphone Installations (Report). Archived from the original on 12 February 2005. 
  73. ^ FBI document, 27 May 1969, "Director FBI to SAC San Francisco", available at the FBI reading room.
  74. ^ FBI document, 16 September 1970, Director FBI to SAC's in Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Haven, San Francisco, and Washington Field Office. Available at the FBI reading room.
  75. ^ a b Gary May, The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Murder of Viola Luzzo, Yale University Press, 2005.
  76. ^ "Jonathan Yardley". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  77. ^ Joanne Giannino. "Viola Liuzzo". Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography. Archived from the original on 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  78. ^ Kay Houston. "The Detroit housewife who moved a nation toward racial justice". The Detroit News, Rearview Mirror. Archived from the original on 1999-04-27. 
  79. ^ "Uncommon Courage: The Viola Liuzzo Story". Archived from the original on 2006-02-23. 
  80. ^ Mary Stanton (2000). From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo. University of Georgia Press. p. 190. 
  81. ^ Noam Chomsky, "Triumphs of Democracy", Excerpted from Language and Responsibility
  82. ^ Watergate and the Secret Army Organization - msg#00404 - culture.discuss.cia-drugs
  83. ^ "1972". 
  84. ^ "Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans Book II, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities United States Senate (Church Committee)". United States Senate. Archived from the original on October 19, 2006. Retrieved May 11, 2006. 
  85. ^ "Tapped Out Why Congress won't get through to the NSA". Slate. Retrieved May 11, 2006. 
  86. ^ David Cunningham. There's Something Happening Here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI. University of California Press, 2005: "However, strong suspicions lingered that the program's tactics were sustained on a less formal basis—suspicions sometimes furthered by agents themselves, who periodically claimed that counterintelligence activities were continuing, though in a manner undocumented within Bureau files."; Hobson v. Brennan, 646 F.Supp. 884 (D.D.C.,1986)
  87. ^ Bud Schultz, Ruth Schultz. The Price of Dissent: Testimonies to Political Repression in America. University of California Press, 2001: "Although the FBI officially discontinued COINTELPRO immediately after the Pennsylvania disclosures "for security reasons," when pressed by the Senate committee, the bureau acknowledged two new instances of "Cointelpro-type" operations. The committee was left to discover a third, apparently illegal operation on its own."
  88. ^ Athan G. Theoharis, et al. The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999: "More recent controversies have focused on the adequacy of recent restrictions on the Bureau's domestic intelligence operations. Disclosures of the 1970s that FBI agents continued to conduct break-ins, and of the 1980s that the FBI targeted CISPES, again brought forth accusations of FBI abuses of power—and raised questions of whether reforms of the 1970s had successfully exorcised the ghost of FBI Director Hoover."
  89. ^ The Associated Press, "FBI tracked journalist for over 20 years". Toronto Star. November 7, 2008. Retrieved November 23, 2008. 
  90. ^ Bud Schultz, Ruth Schultz. The Price of Dissent: Testimonies to Political Repression in America. University of California Press, 2001: "The problem persists after Hoover…."The record before this court," Federal Magistrate Joan Lefkow stated in 1991, "shows that despite regulations, orders and consent decrees prohibiting such activities, the FBI had continued to collect information concerning only the exercise of free speech." p. 399 ISBN 0520224019
  91. ^ Mike Mosedale, "Bury My Heart," City Pages, Volume 21 - Issue 1002, 16 February 2000.
  92. ^ "FBI Probes of Groups Were Improper, Justice Department Says". The San Jose Mercury News. September 20, 2010.  also reported at democracynow.org, 21 September 2010.
  93. ^ "FBI Tracked an Activist Involved With Black Lives Matter as They Travelled Across the U.S., Documents Show". The Intercept. 
  94. ^ Weyler, Rex. Blood of the Land: The Government and Corporate War Against First Nations.
  95. ^ Matthiessen, Peter, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, 1980, Viking.
  96. ^ a b c Woidat, Caroline M. "The Truth Is on the Reservation: American Indians and Conspiracy Culture", The Journal of American Culture 29 (4), 2006, pp. 454–467.
  97. ^ McQuinn, Jason. "Conspiracy Theory vs Alternative Journalism", Alternative Press Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, Winter 1996.
  98. ^ Horowitz, David. "Johnnie's Other O.J.", Front Page Magazine.com, September 1, 1997.
  99. ^ Berlet, Chip. "The X-Files Movie: Facilitating Fanciful Fun, or Fueling Fear and Fascism? Conspiracy Theories for Fun, Not for False Prophets", 1998, Political Research Associates
  100. ^ Berlet, Chip; and Matthew N. Lyons. 1998, "One key to litigating against government prosecution of dissidents: Understanding the underlying assumptions", Parts 1 and 2, Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report (West Group), 5 (13), (January–February): 145–153; and 5 (14), (March–April): 157–162.


Further reading



  • Drabble, John. "The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE and the Decline of Ku Klux Klan Organizations in Mississippi, 1964–1971", Journal of Mississippi History, 66:4, (Winter 2004).
  • Drabble, John. "The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE and the Decline Ku Klux Klan Organizations in Alabama, 1964–1971", Alabama Review, 61:1, (January 2008): 3-47.
  • Drabble, John. "To Preserve the Domestic Tranquility:" The FBI, COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE, and Political Discourse, 1964–1971", Journal of American Studies, 38:3, (August 2004): 297-328.
  • Drabble, John. "From White Supremacy to White Power: The FBI's COINTELPRO-WHITE HATE Operation and the 'Nazification' of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s," American Studies, 48:3 (Fall 2007): 49-74.
  • Drabble, John. "Fighting Black Power-New Left coalitions: Covert FBI media campaigns and American cultural discourse, 1967–1971," European Journal of American Culture, 27:2, (2008): 65-91.

FBI files

U.S. government reports

  • U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Internal Security. Hearings on Domestic Intelligence Operations for Internal Security Purposes. 93rd Cong., 2d sess, 1974.
  • U.S. Congress. House. Select Committee on Intelligence. Hearings on Domestic Intelligence Programs. 94th Cong., 1st sess, 1975.
  • U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Government Operations. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Hearings on Riots, Civil and Criminal Disorders. 90th Cong., 1st sess. – 91st Cong., 2d sess, 1967–1970.
  • U.S. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Hearings — The National Security Agency and Fourth Amendment Rights. Vol. 6. 94th Cong., 1st sess, 1975.
  • U.S. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Hearings — Federal Bureau of Investigation. Vol. 6. 94th Cong., 1st sess, 1975.
  • U.S. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Final Report — Book II, Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans. 94th Cong., 2d sess, 1976.
  • U.S. Congress. Senate. Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Final Report — Book III, Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans. 94th Cong., 2d sess, 1976.
  • Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. United States Senate, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, April 26 (legislative day, April 14), 1976. [AKA "Church Committee Report"]. Archived at Archive.org by the Boston Public Library