COINTELPROCounter Intelligence Program

In 1956, responding to a rise in domestic dissent, rooted first in the politics of the cold war, and later in the civil rights and anti-war movements, Herbert Hoover directed the initiation of a covert operation designed to avoid government restrictions on domestic spying in order to secretly investigate and disrupt dissenting, or “un-American,” individuals and organizations within the United States.

The program continued until 1971, ending only because activists broke into FBI offices and stole files exposing the illegal activities of the program. Many investigations of the program followed and lead to wide condemnation and more stringent laws governing domestic surveillance.

Cointelpro is the most infamous abuse of federal police powers ever completely ignored. Few born after 1970 have ever heard of it, and yet it set an ominous and historic precedent for what the powerful might do to protect their interests. Not knowing much of the history of counterintelligence, most are quite surprised at recent revelations that government intelligence agencies have been using their increased authority provided by the Patriot Act to spy on innocent people. Recent revelations of FBI, NSA, and NYPD covert operations suggests that we are returning to an environment in which contradiction to the norm results in the compromising of our rights. If you want peace, sustainable industry, a living wage, honest journalism, government regulation, or anything that sounds remotely socialist, and you do anything to widely promote those concerns, someone’s going to take note, will likely investigate, and may try to stop you.

  • “The unexpressed major premise of much of COINTELPRO is that the FBI has a role in maintaining the existing social order, and that its efforts should be aimed toward combating those who threaten that order.” 1

  • “The FBI’s covert action programs were aimed at five perceived threats to domestic tranquility: the “Communist Party, USA” program (1956-71) ; the “Socialist Workers Party” program (1961-69) ; the “White Hate Group” program (1964-71) ; the “Black Nationalist-Hate Group” program (1967-71) ; and the “New Left” program (1968-71).” 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 FBI 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.” 1

  • “In 1969 the FBI special agent in San Francisco wrote Hoover that his investigation of the Black Panther Party revealed that in his city, at least, the Black nationalists were primarily feeding breakfast to children. Hoover fired back a memo implying the career ambitions of the agent were directly related to his supplying evidence to support Hoover’s view that the BPP was “a violence prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means”.” 2