Covert Operations And The Repression Of Political Dissent
by Jonathan Wilson
This essay will be covering the topic of government agency use of covert operations as a form of social control. Specifically, the focus will be on the use of covert operations that are intended to sabotage activist movements, organizations and influential individuals for the purpose of reducing or removing their ability to influence public sentiment. This essay will be using research to emphasise the point that while these actions are condoned and justified under the guise of protecting the public, catching criminals, and enforcing the law, the real purpose of these actions is purely ideological. It appears that the real goal is to protect the status quo, and suppress or discredit any people or groups that promote ideas or information that could undermine the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the general public. This is evident in that most of the organizations and individuals targeted are not engaging in illegal behavior. Ironically it is the government agencies that are breaking the law with the tactics they use in these covert operations. But, for the most part, these agencies are able to shield themselves from public and judicial oversight through the secrecy of their actions. As sociologist Gary T Marx (1974) observes "because of the secretive nature of the actions, civil liberties appear to remain intact".
The agency that is most widely known for the planning and operations of these covert tactic in North America is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. J. Edgar Hoover was appointed the director of the Bureau of Investigations or (BoI) in 1924 after working for the General Intelligence Department (GID) where he had already honed his tactics of ideological suppression using a network of paid informers to infiltrate organizations that were deemed politically undesirable.(Churchill, Wall 1990). Once becoming director Hoover was able to expand the bureau's resources very quickly, more than tripling the number of offices and personnel by the end of the 1920's.(www.fbi.gov 2007). Hoover quickly crafted the Bureau's policy and thinking around his own beliefs, setting up a standardized training for agents.(Churchill, Wall 1990). Former agent Jack Levine who was interviewed in the book The FBI Nobody Knows (Cook 1964) said the recruits were "heavily indoctrinated with radical right wing propaganda."(pg. 3). Hoover was also very concerned about the Bureau image and would only cooperate with media who would portray them in a favorable light, essentially having newspapers regurgitating as fact the FBI assessments of itself and other matters. Any negative press was deemed un-American. By 1938 the F.B.I. had launched illegal investigations of supposed subversion in the steel, coal, fur, newspaper industries, educational institutions, organized labor, youth groups governmental affairs, and the armed forces.(Churchill, Wall 1990) Oddly enough, the Bureau neglected to investigate any of the corporations that were providing support and supplies to the Nazis during WW2. Hoover remained the Director of the F.B.I. all the way until his death in 1972. (Churchill, Wall 1990).
The exact targets and methods of the F.B.I. remained largely unknown but during the late 60's many people suspected the F.B.I. was engaging in illegal activities to sabotage very legal organizations. On March 8, 1971, the FBI agency in Media, Pennsylvania, was broken into by members of a group called ‘The Citizens Commission to Investigate the F.B.I.'. Documents stolen in the break-in were widely circulated and published by the press. Since some of the documents carried the "COINTELPRO" caption a word unknown outside the Bureau, Carl Steru, a reporter for NBC, commenced a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to compel the Bureau to produce other documents relating to the programs.(Church 1976). This then resulted in a congressional investigation headed by Frank Church known as The Church Committee. Without the theft of these documents the public may never have known the full scale and philosophy of these covert operations.
COINTELPRO was the name given to a series of sustained and systematic campaigns directed by the Bureau against selected domestic political organizations and individuals mostly during the 60's. Many of these included collaboration with the local police. The goal of these actions as described in their documents is to expose, disrupt and neutralize these groups and the persons connected.
Who Was Targeted?
The groups that were targeted by COINTELPRO were put into 6 categories. Communist Party of USA, The Socialist Workers Party, The "New Left" [Anti-war, civil rights groups], The SCLC [Martin Luther King's civil rights organization.], Black Nationalist Hate Groups [Black Panther Party, United Slaves etc.] and White Hate Groups [KKK].(Wolf 2004). Essentially any political group that did not espouse to a far-right ideology was seen as a threat to national security that needed to be marginalized and disrupted by any means necessary. While it would seem legitimate to disrupt a group like the KKK which is known for violence, these actions were taken more because of concern that they were causing problems for businesses. The manipulation of the KKK was also used to facilitate attacks on other targets.(Churchill, Wall 1990). The groups and individuals that seemed to be targeted the most vigorously were those that were Black. Martin Luther King was subject to what could be described as a personal vendetta by Hoover. In the book Agents of Repression (Churchill, Wall 1990) this feud is well documented as King criticized the F.B.I. saying that "If an F.B.I. man agrees with segregation, he can't honestly objectively investigate." Hoover then dubbed King as "the most notorious liar in the country."(pg. 55).
The Black Panther Party also received savage targeting especially because they had been gaining an extreme amount of support and respect in the black communities as well as left leaning whites. As Noam Chomsky puts it ". . .the repressive apparatus of the state proceeded against it to ensure that it did not succeed in organizing as a substantial social or political force. We may add that in this case, government repression proved quite successful."(Churchill, Wall 1990: 63).
The Category of the ‘New Left' also received a large amount of targeting, the justification can be summarized by a COINTELPRO document that characterizes this movement:
"Our Nation is undergoing an era of disruption and violence caused to a large extent by various individuals generally connected with the New Left. Some of these activists urge revolution in America and call for the defeat of the United States in Vietnam. They continually and falsely allege police brutality and do not hesitate to utilize unlawful acts to further their so-called causes...With this in mind, it is our recommendation that a new Counterintelligence Program be designed to neutralize the New Left and the Key Activists." (Cointelpro Memorandum 5/9/68)
Essentially, the groups/individuals that had the most public support and credibility in the civil rights/anti-war movements were the ones that received the most targeting for sabotage.
What Methods Were Used?
There was extremely widespread use of surveillance of influential but law abiding individuals and organizations. In direct violation of the constitution. The F.B.I. conducted warrant-less wiretaps, break and enter, burglaries, planted electronic devices [bugs], live "tails" and mail opening.(Churchill, Wall 1990). These techniques were used to gather inside information on target organizations such as who all the members were, who made decisions [leadership], how they were financially supported, what other groups they were associated with and what events or activities that had planned for the future. The individuals were monitored for many of the same reasons as well as to gather information about their personal life. All of this was gathered not to find illegal activities, but to use against them in specially planned operations. Another purpose of this pervasive surveillance was simply to induce paranoia, to let people know that they had been targeted for "special treatment."(Churchill, Wall 1990).
Another tactic widely employed was the use of paid infiltrators to act as informers and agent provocateurs. The agency used literally thousands of infiltrators in the 60's against the left-wing and black movements. The job of agent provocateurs was to "disrupt the internal function of the target groups as well as spread disinformation"(Churchill, Wall 1990:47) and engage in and promote illegal, even violent behavior that would then be attributed to the target groups. Marx (1974) observes that this tactic can be seen as a reflection of "the degree of legal rights present in American society...the legal repression of those seen as politically undesirable require that authorities feel compelled to trick [and] aid them into actually carrying out illegal activities." These agents also used a technique called ‘bad-jacketing' which involved labeling authentic activists as informants or agents to plant suspicion.(Churchill, Wall 1990).
Another tactic was the distribution of bogus mail. This included the fabrication of correspondence between members of targeted groups designed to provoke ‘splits' in groups or between organizations. These provocations intensified when it appeared that it may result in violent conflict. Black propaganda was also utilized. This involves the distribution of publications in behalf of the target designed to misrepresent their positions in a way to discredit and foster group tensions. There was also plenty of grey propaganda which involves released disinformation to news media to discredit, this is seen as a way of conditioning public sentiment to accept the bureaus excesses.(Churchill, Wall 1990).
Other tactics included repeated arrests of targets on phony charges to, harass, tie up, and deplete resources. Along with this came the use of fabricated evidence to achieve convictions.
The Bureau even created man ‘pseudo-gangs' that were used to recruit targets as well as confuse, divide and do outright battle with the authentic dissidents groups.(Churchill, Wall 1990). This was so widespread it could be said that there was two left movements. Lastly although there are documented instances of the Bureau provoking murders, there are no outright admissions, but it is almost guaranteed that it engaged in political assassinations.
Black Panther Party
In 1968 Hoover described the BPP as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."(Churchill, Wall 1990:64). Fred Hampton was one of the most articulate and popular members and he quickly rose to a leadership role. The FBI disliked him especially because of his diplomatic abilities in working with other groups. At this time the FBI planted an infiltrator named William O'Neil into the Hamptons chapter and he quickly rose the ranks becoming the number three man and Hamptons personal bodyguard. Hampton was on the verge of successfully negotiating a merger between the BPP and a street called the Blackstone Rangers. When the FBI sent an anonymous letter signed "A black brother you don't know" to the leader of the rangers warning him that the panthers had a hit out on him.(Johnson, Cointelpro Memorandum 1/10/69). This successfully led to conflict which was further aggravated by O'Neil. O'Neil would constantly propose bombing and violent actions for the BPP which were always rejected by Hampton. He also started amassing weapons and would opening carry several guns. The FBI got O'Neil to draw up a detailed floor plan of Hamptons residence and convinced the local police to conduct an armed raid of the house by falsely telling them that Hampton was responsible for the resent death of two officers.(Churchill, Wall 1990). On December 3rd 1969 O'Neil prepared a late dinner for the residents at Hampton's house which he had spiked with a sedative. The police raided the house at dawn firing automatic weapons at the occupants while they were sleeping killing prominent member Mark Clark. Hampton received special treatment and was finished off with two shots to the back of the head while he lay injured from the initial raid. All the occupants were shot at least once in the raid arrested for attempting to murder the officers.(Churchill, Wall 1990).
Another example of a Cointel operations against BPP was the effective sabotage of their ‘breakfast for children program' that was run in the inner city neighborhoods with the help of church groups and local businesses. To take away support for the program the FBI had agents distribute coloring books to the various locations that hosted the program and they all withdrew their support.(Wolf 2004). This was part of larger part of the many actions to discredit the BPP in the eyes of the public which included the use of mainstream media as this memo reveals:
"...it was apparent that the television source used the very best judgement in editing comments by these extremists. He brought out that they were in favor of violent revolution without their explaining why. But he also brought out that they, personally, would be afraid to lead a violent revolution, making them appear to be cowards.....Each counterintelligence office should be alert to exploit this technique both for black nationalists and New Left types. ... Success in this case resulted from hard work and acumen on the part of the Agents who handled the matter. Especially important was the choice of individuals interviewed as they did not have the ability to stand up to a professional newsman. (Cointelpro Memorandum 5/26/69)
These examples here were not isolated incidents, and did eventually cripple the BPP into almost a complete non-entity on the political scene.
The New Left
A well known example of Cointel operations against the ‘new left' is the infamous case of the ‘Chicago 7' [formerly Chicago 8]. The transcripts of this trial were reproduced in the book The Conspiracy Trial (Clavir, Spitzer 1970). Charges of ‘interstate travel with intent to incite riot' were laid against several prominent activists who had helped organize for a peaceful protest at the Democratic Convention on in 1968. The protest turned into a violent confrontation when police began using physical force and arresting protesters. One of the activists who was standing trial had been beaten unconscious during the protest. The government intimidated jurors and produced several phoney witnesses.(Clavir, Spitzer 1970).
Agent provocateurs were utilized often, as it was not difficult to gain membership in these groups. David Sinise was an agent for the FBI who would constantly encourage violent extremist actions, even offer to supply materials. "I would advocate it, tell them how to do it" (Pacifica Radio 1976). After defecting he told Pacifica radio in 1976 how he would heckle activists, trying to convince them that if they were truly revolutionary they would set explosives to make their statement. He eventually convinced a group of people to plan a bridge bombing. The FBI helped plan the bombing so it wouldn't actually damage the bridge that severely, but was to be rigged to kill the person who placed it. David defected from the FBI just before going through with the bombing plot.(Pacifica Radio 1976). Another disenchanted operative spoke about how he thought when he joined he would be preventing bombings. Instead he was instructed to seek people out to conduct bombings and lead the bombing campaigns. (Pacifica Radio 1976).
Angela Davis was a UCLA professor who was targeted for her affiliations with the Communist party and the BPP in LA as she was becoming a very effective spokesperson for the movement as a whole. She was then charged with a murder despite no evidence of her involvement. She was proclaimed by the FBI to be one of the nations "most wanted terrorists". She was captured in Oct 1970. Her defense made many appeals which were all rejected as they made it all the way to the supreme court. She was ultimately acquitted by a jury after spending more than a year in prison.(Churchill, Wall 1990).
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the target of many FBI smear campaigns as he was becoming one of the most prominent and articulate leaders of the civil rights movement. The FBI tapped all of his phones as well as those at SCLC and placed bugs in his office to try to find incriminating evidence to defame him. Despite such massive and sustained coverage, they were unable to find incriminating evidence or derail his civil rights agenda.
In 1963 Hoover thought he finally had the evidence to bury King from a bug placed in his hotel room that purportedly revealed him consorting with prostitutes.(Churchill, Wall 1990). The Bureau attempted to use the tapes to discredit King among Washington political circles but to no avail. The tapes were sent to Kings to house for a his wife to see with an anonymous letter attempting to convince King to commit suicide.(Church, 1976). When this failed the tapes were then offered up to mainstream media who also refused to defame Dr. King and the smear campaign was left up to a few right-wing hacks.(Churchill, Wall 1990).
When FBI learned King was to visit the pope, they tried to convince church leaders to withdraw support, but it was to no avail. King had good reason to make the statement "they are out to get me, to harass me, to break my spirit."(Churchill, Wall 1990:57). This harassment continued until his death. It has been widely suspected the FBI was involved in his assassination but there was no definitive proof in the available documents. In 1999 lawyer William Pepper successfully convinced a jury of this in a Memphis courtroom despite extreme limits placed upon the proceedings.(King v. Jowers 1999).
After the conclusion of the trial, the King family made a public statements on their reaction to the verdict:
"After hearing and reviewing the extensive testimony and evidence, which had never before been tested under oath in a court of law, it took the Memphis jury only 1½ hours to find that a conspiracy to kill Dr. King did exist. Most significantly, this conspiracy involved agents of the governments of the City of Memphis, the state of Tennessee and the United States of America. The overwhelming weight of the evidence also indicated that James Earl Ray was not the triggerman and, in fact, was an unknowing patsy." (www.thekingcenter.com 1999)
The FBI conducted more than 2000 COINTELPRO operations before the programs were officially discontinued in April of 1971, after public exposure, in order to "afford additional security to their sensitive techniques and operations."(Wolf 2004). There is no doubt that Cointelpro style operations are still widely used today.
Recent Example Of Provocateurs
Since the COINTELPRO days there has not been much widespread exposure of government agencies using these illegal tactics to disrupt those who oppose their current agenda. Recently however, thanks to the widespread use of video technology the police were caught red handed trying to incite violence and aggressive behavior at an otherwise peaceful protest in Montebello Quebec on August 20, 2007.
The Protest was in regards to the ‘Security and Prosperity Partnership' meeting. The SPP is a trilateral organization involving the leaders of Canada, Mexico and he United States to "develop new avenues of cooperation that will make our open societies safer and more secure, our businesses more competitive, and our economies more resilient."(Bush, Martin, Fox 2005). While the goals of the SPP that are declared are vague, they follow the general theme of "common security" and "common prosperity" for all of North America . The reason people are protesting is that many are worried the SPP is going to establish a North American Union and eliminate any sovereignty the three countries once had. Some academics have to come to the conclusion that "The real objective underlying the SPP is to militarize civilian institutions and repeal democratic government" (Chossudovsky 2007).
At the protest in Quebec three men dressed as protesters with bandanas covering their faces approached the line of police. One can be seen to be holding a large rock. They are confronted for being undercover police and attempting to incite the peaceful protesters but they continue to push and are eventually taken down by the riot police. (www.youtube.com 2007). Since the incident was caught on video and put on the internet for all to see, the police were forced to retract their origional denials that the three men were undercover police but still insisted in a press release that "At no time did the Quebec provincial police officers act as agents provocateurs or commit criminal acts." (Sûreté du Québec 2007). Unfortunately for the police, the video speaks for itself. It is confirmation that peaceful dissent and protest are still being targeted covertly in North America despite the illegality of these actions.
In 1996, Gary Webb, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the San Jose Mercury News discovered direct connections between the CIA and individuals who were largely responsible for the rise of the crack epidemic in LA. There was a huge backlash in the mainstream media and Webb was attacked viciously in the mainstream press as having made unfounded claims and using poor research for which the CIA issued a blanket denial. "The government side of the story is coming through the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post" (Cockburn, St.Clair 2004). The San Jose Mercury News gave in to pressure and backed away from the story. Despite this, Webb continued his research and published it in the book Dark Alliance (1998). Despite the extensive research to back up his claims Webb was effectively shunned from employment in the mainstream press. Webb died on December 13, 2004 in his apartment reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. (Ruppert 2004).
Michael Ruppert is a former LAPD narcotics detective who has been trying to expose CIA drug operations since he discovered evidence 1978. In attempted to bring this to his superiors attention he was ridiculed and fired despite getting the highest possible ratings in his performance reviews.(Ruppert 2002). After Webb's story came out CIA John Deutch director attended a town hall meeting in Compton LA to deny any the allegations which had created quite an uproar in the community. Ruppert confronted Deutch embarrassing him on live TV (C-Span 1996). Ruppert started up an independent newsletter in 1998 called "From The Wilderness". After 9/11 Ruppert published extensive research which pointed not only to the negligence in stopping the attack, but the upper elements of the government took specific step to make sure it happened. This was then laid out in the book Crossing The Rubicon: the decline of the American empire at the end of the age of oil published in 2004 which became a bestseller despite not a single review in any mainstream publication. While originally embraced by the left-wing media Rupperts reporting on 9/11 was attacked and effectively marginalized by progressives like David Corn and Norman Solomon who attacked his credibility. "Ruppert is an expert at combining facts with unreliable reports and wild leaps of illogic." (Solomon 2002).
Ruppert and his newsletter was subject to constant sabotage and were successfully bankrupted in 2006 after their newly acquired office was broken into and had every computer taken out of its casing and smashed to bits. (Ruppert 2006). This was just one of a series of sustained attack on Ruppert and FTW which included severe intentional disruptions by employees:
"Throughout 2004 and 2005 a series of successive employees (one of whom was a retired FBI agent presenting herself as a victimized whistle blower) engaged in ruthless sabotage which came closer to sinking us than anything ever had. Other links to the FBI were well-documented. FTW struggled for survival, and I successfully fought back, ultimately winning a case in Small Claims Court wherein I proved deliberate sabotage and won a small judgment." (Ruppert 2006). .
Ultimately, the constant sabotage proved too much for Ruppert and the rest of his staff to handle and FTW went officially bankrupted after lasting a mere 8 years. The FTW website now serves as an archive of their research and Ruppert is currently receiving medical attention in Toronto for a severe illness that has yet to be diagnosed. (Kohlman 2006).
Ruppert is not the only person who has asserted the U.S. government facilitated the attack of 9/11. There are actually a large number of respectable academics who have written books and spoken out publicly, presenting evidence for this assertion, yet there has been almost a complete media blackout. The more prominent ones include Canadian journalist and media critic Barrie Zwicker who was produced a DVD called The 9/11 News Special You Never Saw (2004) and more recently published the book Towers of Deception: The Media Cover-Up of 9/11 (2006). Another notable is retired professor Dr. David Ray Griffin who published The New Pearl Harbor in 2003 and has now published 4 books on the subject. Skepticism of the official version of 9/11 is now extremely widespread, a recent scientific poll conducted by Scripps Howard poll found that 36% of Americans "that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them ‘because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.'" (Hargrove 2006). An activist movement has emerged on this issue referred to as the ‘9/11 Truth Movement' with the goal of exposing the government cover-up and getting a true independent investigation. Despite the growing numbers the Truth Movement has received little media coverage until recently where it is being continually misrepresented and ridiculed. Also, on close examination the Truth Movement has definitely been subject to intense Cointelpro type sabotage to associate 9/11 skepticism with anti-semitism, holocaust denial, and general stupidity.(TruthMove 2007).
While it is commonly assumed that intelligence agencies and law enforcement are used to protect the public from harmful individuals and substances, this is merely the image that is promoted so the public will submit. It is obvious that these agencies are used by governments to suppress, discredit and attack any person or group that promotes opinion or information that is in contrast with the governments intended public position. It is also quite apparent that the mainstream media is a large part of this apparatus of social control and is used to hide and distort information for the purpose of molding public opinion around the governments desired ideology and agenda while giving the appearance of objectivity. While political dissent is not against the law, it is covertly policed and repressed to make people think that they are living in a free and democratic society. This is done so the public will remain passive and unaware that the government and the media are not acting in the public interest at all.
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