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In the United States during the 1960s, the nation was in a period of social turmoil. The post-World War II suburban culture was giving way to rebellion and revolution and a total upset of the status quo. Particularly in the school and universities, educated members of the youth population began to question the rules and morays established by their predecessors and became determined to change things. This did not sit well with the older Americans, those who had fought in the world wars or Korea and who had taken over the guardianship of the country, this included holding positions of political power in the United States government. Those in power did not trust the youth movement and were highly suspicious of their activities. To understand them and determine if the youth were a threat to the government, a program was designed to covertly spy on the activities of members of the youth culture, particularly African-American college students. The Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) was based on the assumption that the youth of the nation was dangerous and therefore, the government's surveillance, infiltration, disruption, and series of discrediting the groups was necessary in their eyes no matter how immoral or even illegal the actions of the government agents were. The purpose of the organization was to disturb the process and thwart the civil rights of individuals who only sought to make the world a less unequal place and for their efforts were rewarded with harassment, wrongful imprisonment, and even assassination at the hands of the government of the United States.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the purpose of COINTELPRO was to protect national security, to prevent violence, and to maintain the current social and political order (Wolf 2002). From its inception in 1956 to its discontinuation in 1971, COINTELPRO was responsible for countless criminal acts perpetrated against the American people. The official records of the FBI show that a staggering 85% of all COINTELPRO activities were perpetrated against or targeted groups or people which the FBI had labeled "subversive" (Jeffreys-Jones 2008,-page 189). FBI documents which have been revealed for the public to witness show that then-head of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover highly supported the action sof COINTELPRO. He was quoted as saying that he wanted agents of the FBI to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" these supposed enemies of the United States (Glick 1989). Such people included in the list of subversives were: those involved in either communist or socialist groups, people who were in any way associate or active in the Civil Rights Movement which included Martin Luther King, Jr., all people involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or the Congress of Racial Equality. Other people who were labeled subversive by the government included: black nationalist groups, those involved in the American Indian Movement, those labeled part of the New Left, anyone protesting the war in Vietnam, the National Lawyers Guild, those groups who were dedicated to protecting and promoting women's rights, Puerto Rican nationals and those who supported Puerto Rican independence, and many others including famous American citizens like Albert Einstein who might have been involved in progressive activities. These are just a fraction of the groups who were victimized by COINTELPRO. When information could not be found against an individual who the FBI had set its sights on, the agents would make up evidence which they would use against the "subversives." One 1969 document from an agent in San Francisco to J. Edgar Hoover stated that the Black Panthers were involved in charity work such as providing breakfast foods children. This was not what Hoover wanted and he wrote the agent that his career was dependant on finding evidence which would support that the Black Panthers were a "violence-prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means" (FBI 1969). It seems that anyone who made a question of the actions of the government was ripe for investigation by this covert group, their only crime being in disagreement with those in power.
The other 15% of COINTELPRO's activities dealt with the Klu Klux Klan (KKK). As part of this group FBI agents perpetrated or were witness to countless hate crimes perpetrated against African-Americans or Civil Rights Activists. One famous case was that of Viola Liuzzo who was shot at and run off the road by members of the KKK after it was suggested that she had an African-American man as the passenger in her car (Yardley 2005). It was later found that one of the KKK members involved in the murder was a government agent working on the orders of the FBI. Rowe had been recruited by the FBI in 1960 to infiltrate the KKK and report on their activities. However, he was no interested in doing his duty to his country so much as the enjoyment he felt in being hurtful to people. Witnesses claim that he was not just a spectator in the activities against Mrs. Liuzzo, but that he had been an active participant in the violence. Still, he was never tried for her murder but instead was given full immunity for testifying against the other KKK members.
More than any other group, it is evident that the FBI was primarily concerned with the eradication of African-Americans as a perceived threat to the social status quo. African-Americans in the south were growing weary of segregation and being victimized and lynched for the color of their skin. This discord let to the establishment of groups who intended to promote civil rights and equality for all of the races. In 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established to promote equality and to organize protests against white America's continual oppression of the black population. From its inception the SCLC was targeted by COINTELPRO. This targeting only increased after the successful 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Weiner 2012,-page 200). After that event, King was labeled as a major threat by COINTELPRO and singled out for harassment and illegal surveillance. The agent in charge of COINTELPRO under J. Edgar Hoover was a man named William Sullivan. He said of King, "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" (Weiner 2012,-page 235). Following this assertion, King was a main target of the government. They followed him relentlessly and went so far as to bug his home and the motels in which he stayed with microphones to record what he said in the hope that they could catch him doing or saying something incriminating.
With King's emergence as a leader of the African-Americans and their social protests, he became the major target of COINTELPRO. In July and April of 1967, the FBI began a new program known as COINTELPRO- BLACK HATE. This program focused on King, the SCLC, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a group of students who organized and protested against black oppression. Part of operation BLACK HATE was the establishment of the Ghetto Information Program (GIP) wherein some 7,000 black people were used as spies upon the members of their community. It is reported that more than 50 Black Panthers were actually agents of the GIP and were tasked with spreading disinformation in the black community and reporting information on the other Panthers to the FBI (Haak 2011).
According to Brian Glick in the book War at Home (1989), there were four main methods which were utilized by COINTELPRO. The first method was infiltration which meant that FBI agents would enter the organizations they were monitoring as members and then spy on the activities of the real members. They were also involved in discrediting and disrupting the activities of these organizations. Many of the organizations knew that there were FBI agents in their midst but were not sure who was a spy and who was an honest person; the uncertainty bred fear and mistrust in the organizations which was also part of the infiltration step of the plan (Glick 1989,-page 41). The second method was the use of psychological warfare against stated enemies of COINTELPRO. Some of the psychological warfare techniques included planting false media stories, issuing bogus leaflets, forging correspondence, sending out anonymous letters and making anonymous phone calls, and used strong-arm techniques against parents, employers, landlords, school officials, and other people in authority over the students participating in the "subversive" groups (Glick 1989,-page 45). Legal harassment was the third method that COINTELPRO used to harass and target their foes. They would manipulate the legal system and plant evidence so that it seemed the students and organizations were involved in illegal activities, something which was highly ironic. Officers of the law would perjure themselves in court against the FBI's enemies. Students and organization members were wrongfully imprisoned and jailed for false…[continue]
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