US Domestic Covert Operations
While boring from within, the FBI and police also attack dissident
movements from the outside. They openly mount propaganda campaigns
through public addresses, news releases, books, pamphlets, magazine
articles, radio, and television. They also use covert deception
and manipulation. Documented tactics of this kind include:
False Media Stories: COINTELPRO documents expose frequent
collusion between news media personnel and the FBI to publish
false and distorted material at the Bureau's behest. The FBI
routinely leaked derogatory information to its collaborators
in the news media. It also created newspaper and magazine articles
and television "documentaries" which the media knowingly
or unknowingly carried as their own. Copies were sent anonymously
or under bogus letterhead to activists' financial backers, employers,
business associates, families, neighbors, church officials, school
administrators, landlords, and whomever else might cause them
One FBI media fabrication claimed that Jean Seberg, a white
film star active in anti-racist causes, was pregnant by a prominent
Black leader. The Bureau leaked the story anonymously to columnist
Joyce Haber and also had it passed to her by a "friendly"
source in the Los Angeles Times editorial staff. The item
appeared without attribution in Haber's nationally syndicated
column of May 19, 1970. Seberg's husband has sued the FBI as
responsible for her resulting stillbirth, nervous breakdown,
Bogus Leaflets, Pamphlets, and Other Publications:
COINTELPRO documents show that the FBI routinely put out phony
leaflets, posters, pamphlets, newspapers, and other publications
in the name of movement groups. The purpose was to discredit
the groups and turn them against one another.
FBI cartoon leaflets were used to divide and disrupt the main
national anti-war coalition of the late 1960s. Similar fliers
were circulated in 1968 and 1969 in the name of the Black Panthers
and the United Slaves (US), a rival Black nationalist group based
in Southern California. The phony Panther/US leaflets, together
with other covert operations, were credited with subverting a
fragile truce between the two groups and igniting an explosion
of internecine violence that left four Panthers dead, many more
wounded, and a once-flourishing regional Black movement decimated.
Another major COINTELPRO operation involved a children's coloring
book which the Black Panther Party had rejected as anti-white
and gratuitously violent. The FBI revised the coloring book to
make it even more offensive. Its field offices then distributed
thousands of copies anonymously or under phony organizational
letterheads. Many backers of the Party's program of free breakfasts
for children withdrew their support after the FBI conned them
into believing that the bogus coloring book was being used in
Forged Correspondence: Former employees have confirmed
that the FBI has the capacity to produce state-of-the-art forgery.
This capacity was used under COINTELPRO to create snitch jackets
and bogus communications that exacerbated differences among activists
and disrupted their work.
One such forgery intimidated civil rights worker Muhammed
Kenyatta (Donald Jackson), causing him to abandon promising projects
in Jackson, Mississippi. Kenyatta had foundation grants to form
Black economic cooperatives and open a "Black and Proud
School" for dropouts. He was also a student organizer at
nearby Tougaloo College. In the winter of 1969, after an extended
campaign of FBI and police harassment, Kenyatta received a letter,
purportedly from the Tougaloo College Defense Committee, which
"directed" that he cease his political activities immediately.
If he did not "heed our diplomatic and well-thought-out
warning," the committee would consider taking measures "which
would have a more direct effect and which would not be as cordial
as this note." Kenyatta and his wife left. Only years later
did they learn it was not Tougaloo students, but FBI covert operators
who had driven them out.
Later in 1969, FBI agents fabricated a letter to the mainly
white organizers of a proposed Washington, D.C. anti-war rally
demanding that they pay the local Black community a $20,000 "security
bond." This attempted extortion was composed in the name
of the local Black United Front (BUF) and signed with the forged
signature of its leader. FBI informers inside the BUF then tried
to get the group to back such a demand, and Bureau contacts in
the media made sure the story received wide publicity.
The Senate Intelligence Committee uncovered a series of FBI
letters sent to top Panther leaders throughout 1970 in the name
of Connie Mathews, an intermediary between the Black Panther
Party's national office and Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver,
in exile in Algeria. These exquisite forgeries were prepared
on pilfered stationery in Panther vernacular expertly simulated
by the FBI's Washington, D.C. laboratory. Each was forwarded
to an FBI Legal Attache at a U.S. Embassy in a foreign country
that Mathews was due to travel through and then posted at just
the right time "in such a manner that it cannot be traced
to the Bureau." The FBI enhanced the eerie authenticity
of these fabrications by lacing them with esoteric personal tidbits
culled from electronic surveillance of Panther homes and offices.
Combined with other forgeries, anonymous letters and phone calls,
and the covert intervention of FBI and police infiltrators, the
Mathews correspondence succeeded in inflaming intra-party mistrust
and rivalry until it erupted into the bitter public split that
shattered the organization in the winter of 1971.
Anonymous Letters and Telephone Calls: During the 1960s,
activists received a steady flow of anonymous letters and phone
calls which turn out to have been from the FBI. Some were unsigned,
while others bore bogus names or purported to come from unidentified
activists in phony or actual organizations.
Many of these bogus communications promoted racial divisions
and fears, often by exploiting and exacerbating tensions between
Jewish and Black activists. One such FBI-concocted letter went
to SDS members who had joined Black students protesting New York
University's discharge of a Black teacher in 1969. The supposed
author, an unnamed "SDS member," urged whites to break
ranks and abandon the Black students because of alleged anti-Semitic
slurs by the fired teacher and his supporters.
Other anonymous letters and phone calls falsely accused movement
leaders of collaboration with the authorities, corruption, or
sexual affairs with other activists' mates. The letter on the
next page was used to provoke "a lasting distrust"
between a Black civil rights leader and his wife. Its FBI authors
hoped that his "concern over what to do about it" would
"detract from his time spent in the plots and plans of his
organization." As in the Seberg incident, inter-racial sex
was a persistent theme. The husband of one white woman active
in civil rights and anti-war work filed for divorce soon after
receiving the FBI-authored letter reproduced on page 50.
Still other anonymous FBI communications were designed to
intimidate dissidents, disrupt coalitions, and provoke violence.
Calls to Stokely Carmichael's mother warning of a fictitious
Black Panther murder plot drove him to leave the country in September
1968. Similar anonymous FBI telephone threats to SNCC leader
James Forman were instrumental in thwarting efforts to bring
the two groups together.
The Chicago FBI made effective use of anonymous letters to
sabotage the Panthers efforts to build alliances with previously
apolitical Black street gangs. The most extensive of these operations
involved the Black P. Stone Nation, or "Blackstone Rangers,"
a powerful confederation of several thousand local Black youth.
Early in 1969, as FBI and police infiltrators in the Rangers
spread rumors of an impending Panther attack, the Bureau sent
Ranger chief Jeff Fort an incendiary note signed "a black
brother you don't know." Fort's supposed friend warned that
"The brothers that run the Panthers blame you for blocking
their thing and there's supposed to be a hit out for you."
Another FBI-concocted anonymous "black man" then informed
Chicago Panther leader Fred Hampton of a Ranger plot "to
get you out of the way." These fabrications squelched promising
talks between the two groups and enabled Chicago Panther security
chief William O'Neal, an FBI-paid provocateur, to instigate
a series of armed confrontations from which the Panthers barely
managed to escape without serious casualties.
Pressure Through Employers, Landlords, and Others:
FBI records reveal repeated maneuvers to generate pressure on
dissidents from their parents, children, spouses, landlords,
employers, college administrators, church superiors, welfare
agencies, credit bureaus, and the like. Anonymous letters and
telephone calls were often used to this end. Confidential official
communications were effective in bringing to bear the Bureau's
immense power and authority.
Agents' reports indicate that such FBI intervention denied
Martin Luther King, Jr., and other 1960s activists any number
of foundation grants and public speaking engagements. It also
deprived alternative newspapers of their printers, suppliers,
and distributors and cost them crucial advertising revenues when
major record companies were persuaded to take their business
elsewhere. Similar government manipulation may underlie steps
recently taken by some insurance companies to cancel policies
held by churches giving sanctuary to refugees from El Salvador
Tampering With Mail and Telephone Service: The FBI
and CIA routinely used mail covers (the recording of names and
addresses) and electronic surveillance in order to spy on 1960s
movements. The CIA alone admitted to photographing the outside
of 2.7 million pieces of first-class mail during the 1960s and
to opening almost 215,000. Government agencies also tampered
with mail, altering, delaying, or "disappearing" it.
Activists were quick to blame one another, and infiltrators easily
exploited the situation to exacerbate their tensions.
Dissidents' telephone communications often were similarly
obstructed. The SDS Regional Office in Washington, D.C., for
instance, mysteriously lost its phone service the week preceding
virtually every national anti-war demonstration in the late 1960s.
Disinformation to Prevent or Disrupt Movement Meetings
and Activities: A favorite COINTELPRO tactic uncovered by
Senate investigators was to advertise a non-existent political
event, or to misinform people of the time and place of an actual
one. They reported a variety of disruptive FBI "dirty tricks"
designed to cast blame on the organizers of movement events.
In one "disinformation" case, the [FBI's] Chicago
Field Office duplicated blank forms prepared by the National
Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam ("NMC")
soliciting housing for demonstrators at the Democratic National
Convention. Chicago filled out 217 of these forms with fictitious
names and addresses and sent them to the NMC, which provided
them to demonstrators who made "long and useless journeys
to locate these addresses." The NMC then decided to discard
all replies received on the housing forms rather than have out-of-town
demonstrators try to locate nonexistent addresses. (The same
program was carried out when the Washington Mobilization Committee
distributed housing forms for demonstrators coming to Washington
for the 1969 Presidential inaugural ceremonies.)
In another case, during the demonstrations accompanying inauguration
ceremonies, the Washington Field Office discovered that NMC marshals
were using walkie-talkies to coordinate their movements and activities.
WFO used the same citizen band to supply the marshals with misinformation
and, pretending to be an NMC unit, countermanded NMC orders.
In a third case, a [Bureau] midwest field office disrupted
arrangements for state university students to attend the 1969
inaugural demonstrations by making a series of anonymous telephone
calls to the transportation company. The calls were designed
to confuse both the transportation company and the SDS leaders
as to the cost of transportation and the time and place for leaving
and returning. This office also placed confusing leaflets around
the campus to show different times and places for demonstration-planning
meetings, as well as conflicting times and dates for traveling
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