The FBI began COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
Their goals were to:
1. Prevent the COALITION of militant black nationalist groups.
2. Prevent the RISE OF A “MESSIAH” who could unify, and
electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have
been such a “messiah;” he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin
Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this
3. Prevent VIOLENCE on the part of black nationalist groups.
4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from
gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to three separate segments of
the community. The goal of discrediting black nationalists must be handled
tactically in three ways. You must discredit those groups and individuals
to, first, the responsible Negro community. Second, they must be
discredited to the white community, both the responsible community and to
“liberals” who have vestiges of sympathy for militant black nationalis simply because they are Negroes. Third, these groups must be
discredited in the eyes of Negro radicals, the followers of the movement.
5. A final goal should be to prevent the long-range GROWTH of
militant black organizations, especially among youth. Specific tactics to
prevent these groups from converting young people must be developed.
How exactly were the Black Panther Party, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Revolutionary Action Movement, and the Nation of Islam targeted, you ask?
In the beginning, the FBI were investigating these civil rights groups for allegedly having ties with communism. This was proven to be false and they resulted to targeting them for being black nationalist hate-type organizations. In broader terms, the answer would be because they were trying to lift the black community.
The FBI used these following measures to disrupt these black organizations:
Eavesdropping: The FBI regularly broke into homes and offices of their targets, used electronic surveillance and tampering with mail. Their goal was to both acquire intelligence and make their presence known to create paranoia.
Bogus mail: FBI agents would fabricate letters, ostensibly written by movement activists, which spread lies and disinformation. The Bureau sent many fake letters to Black Panther Party leaders and activists that were designed to sow confusion and division in the ranks. The Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver wings of the BPP, for example, were split after the FBI sent a number of manufactured letters from disgruntled party members to Cleaver, then in exile in Algeria, criticizing Huey Newton’s leadership.
Black propaganda: The distribution of fabricated articles, leaflets, etc., that misrepresented the politics and objectives of an organization or leader, in order to discredit the group or individual and to pit people and organizations against each other.
Disinformation: The FBI often released false or misleading information to the press to discredit groups or individuals and to foster tension.
Harassment arrests: The police or FBI often arrested leaders and activists on trumped up charges in order to tie up activists in legal and court proceedings, drain their financial resources, and heighten their sense of fear and paranoia.
Infiltrators or agent provocateurs: The infiltration of organizations by police agents served two purposes. One was to gather intelligence on the group. Provocateurs were used to try and encourage individuals to engage in illegal activity that could then be attributed to the group as a whole; to disrupt the internal functioning of organizations; and to assist in spreading of disinformation inside and outside the group.
Fabrication of evidence: FBI agents, police, and prosecutors routinely fabricated evidence in order to obtain convictions in criminal cases against activists.
Assassinations: There is ample evidence that FBI and related agencies played a direct role in the assassination of a number of key radical leaders.
COINTELPRO was discovered in March, 1971, when secret files were removed from an FBI office and released to news media. Freedom of Information requests, lawsuits, and former agents’ public confessions deepened the exposure until a major scandal loomed. Though it has been stated that the operation was ended, did it really?
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.