Cointelpro – the History and Background

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Cointelpro – the History and Background

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?In the late 1960s, the FBI undertook a project titled “COINTELPRO”, short for counterintelligence program; the rise of black nationalist parties was one threat the program hoped to squash. The FBI narrowed its focus on the most active groups–the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Nation of Islam, and primarily, the very prominent Black Panther Party. Although the program was aimed at preventing these groups from instigating violence, it became a justification for the FBI’s use of illegal tactics in their operations. Reel Six of the FBI files on black extremist groups contains a plethora of reports surrounding the various extremist groups as well as plans for action on behalf of the FBI. The reel consists of 5 sections which each outline the pros and cons of various potential actions to be taken on the extremist groups, as well as results of actions that were carried out and any possibly damning evidence found. In Reel Six of the FBI documents titled COINTELPRO, the Bureau aims to investigate various black nationalist groups under the claim of protecting national security in the wake of the threat of violence; the


?In defense of the FBI’s actions towards black nationalist groups, one may argue the Bureau was justified in its actions as they were a response to the threat of violence on the part extremist black organizations. Cases in which the threat of violence was probable support this idea. In a letter to the Bureau, the Jackson division of the FBI reported that on July 31st, 1969, officers belonging to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) arrested three black militants after they were stopped on a traffic violation and were found in possession of a stolen vehicle, a fully loaded .30 caliber gun, a bolt action rifle, and several burglary tools. In this event, the arrest of militants as well as the inclusion of the incident in the FBI files are warranted, as there was potential for violence to break out. While examining this isolated incident, one can reach the conclusion the FBI was not overstepping its boundaries in response to the possession of illegal arms and stolen property. The violent actions of the Black Panther Party’s leaders has also been called out; Between 1967 and 1969, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and David Hilliard were all arrested on the charges of killing a police officer, engaging in a gun battle, and making a public threat, respectively. (source test 1,pg 134) The arrests of these men points to the question: if those at the forefront of the movement acted out on violent impulses, what was stopping their followers from doing the same?

?In order to assess whether the risk of violence on the part of nationalist groups excuses covert and often illegal FBI operations, the foremost circumstances to be observed are the frequency with which these threats arose as well as the aspects of the organizations the FBI chose to address and undermine. Out of the sixteen COINTELPRO reports taken from the 18th of November to the 11th of December, only one report involved a case in which an illegal act was committed by a black individual and the crime was nonviolent; on December 1st, 1970 an unnamed black nationalist was arrested for credit card theft (source, reel 1, page 28). The claims that the FBI’s surveillance of black nationalist groups was to stem violent crimes being committed by these groups was clearly not substantiated by facts. The frequency of violent attacks does not support the FBI claims that surveillance was needed to prevent violence perpetuated by such groups, and instead, raises the suspicion that the COINTELPRO files were nothing but furious efforts by the FBI to thwart the growing black nationalist movement. Additionally, of the sixteen FBI reports taken from the 18th of November to the 11th of December in 1970, seven of them discuss the dissemination of the Black Panther Party’s newspapers as well as plans to anonymously thwart their delivery. One plan proposed on December 4th by the Cleveland Bureau details a plan to “hire a Negro Agent impersonator who generally picks up BPP newspapers shipped into Cleveland from BPP national headquarters…sign [his] name to the air bill and take possession of newspapers being shipped into Cleveland” (source, test 1, page 3). The FBI reports focused on suppressing the Black Panther’s newspaper system rather than on deterring violent incidences. This reveals that violence was not the biggest issue the FBI was tackling but rather it was responding to its greater fear of the mounting anti-white sentiment among blacks and the growing rebellion against racist policies of the white establishment. By covertly attacking the rising African American groups and their influence, the Bureau could carry out their goal of quelling the civil rights movement that was gaining momentum through groups such as the Black Panther Party.

?The FBI, the very agency created to protect Americans, was actually violating the rights of Americans by engaging in illegal and subversive tactics to fulfill its own agenda of breaking the black nationalist movement. In an October report written by the Norfolk Bureau which targeted the Nation of Islam, a handwritten, anonymous letter was forged by officials pretending to be fellow members of the Nation of Islam in order to undermine the group. The letter, which inquires at the allegation that Elijah Muhammad fathered an illegitimate child, was purposefully noted to have been written with “typographical errors and misspelled words” to appear more authentic. (source:reel round 2, 196). Most likely, the anonymous letter was written in order to discredit the head of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, by exposing the existence of his illegitimate child and pressuring the Nation of Islam to reveal this fact. By undermining the group's leader, the Bureau attempted to cause disillusionment among the members which they hoped would lead to the group’s disintegration. .Another plan called for a telegraph to be sent to BPP headquarters warning of poisoned food, and then having fruit laced with laxatives be sent to the New Jersey BPP headquarters; their intent was for the members to eat the tainted food, and then question all food that is donated to them, thereby reducing the value of donations to the BPP. (source, test 1, 102-104). The illegal operations were justified by the FBI as essential to break up extremist groups that presented a threat to national security. However, the ends do not justify the means and there in America no person or persons is above the law. The FBI showed a flagrant disregard for the rights of the American citizen, abused