COINTELPRO is an acronym for a series of FBI counterintelligence programs designed to neutralize political dissidents. Although covert operations have been employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO’s of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against radical political organizations. In the early 1950s, the Communist Party was illegal in the United States. The Senate and House of Representatives each set up investigating committees to prosecute communists and publicly expose them. (The House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy). When a series of Supreme Court rulings in 1956 and 1957 challenged these committees and questioned the constitutionality of Smith Act prosecutions and Subversive Activities Control Board hearings, the FBI’s response was COINTELPRO, a program designed to “neutralize” those who could no longer be prosecuted. Over the years, similar programs were created to neutralize civil rights, anti-war, and many other groups, many of which were said to be “communist front organizations.” As J. Edgar Hoover, longtime Director of the FBI, put it
The forces which are most anxious to weaken our internal security are not always easy to identify. Communists have been trained in deceit and secretly work toward the day when they hope to replace our American way of life with a Communist dictatorship. They utilize cleverly camouflaged movements, such as peace groups and civil rights groups to achieve their sinister purposes. While they as individuals are difficult to identify, the Communist party line is clear. Its first concern is the advancement of Soviet Russia and the godless Communist cause. It is important to learn to know the enemies of the American way of life.
The FBI conducted more than 2000 COINTELPRO operations before the the programs were officially discontinued in April of 1971, after public exposure, in order to “afford additional security to [their] sensitive techniques and operations.”
from the Church Committee reports*
Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book II
I. Introduction and Summary
II. The Growth of Domestic Intelligence: 1936 to 1976
(A) Violating and Ignoring the Law
(B) Overbreadth of Domestic Intelligence Activity
(C) Excessive Use of Intrusive Techniques
(D) Using Covert Action to Disrupt and Discredit Domestic Groups
(E) Political Abuse of Intelligence Information
(F) Inadequate Controls on Dissemination and Retention
(G) Deficiencies in Control and Accountability
IV. Conclusions and Recommendations
Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports, Book III
COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Covert Action Programs Against American Citizens
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Case Study
The FBI’s Covert Action Program to Destroy the Black Panther Party
The Use of Informants in FBI Intelligence Investigations
Warrantless FBI Electronic Surveillance
Warrantless Surreptitious Entries: FBI “Black Bag” Break-ins And Microphone Installations
The Development of FBI Domestic Intelligence Investigations
Domestic CIA and FBI Mail Opening
CIA Intelligence Collection About Americans: CHAOS Program And The Office of Security
National Security Agency Surveillance Affecting Americans
Improper Surveillance of Private Citizens By The Military
The Internal Revenue Service: An Intelligence Resource and Collector
National Security, Civil Liberties, And The Collection of Intelligence: A Report On The Huston Plan
* Books II and III of the Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, 1976
FBI COINTELPRO Documents
Communist Party, USA – Smith Act prosecutions, Security Index, “disillusioned comrades,” development of anonymous mailing technique, use of Socialist Workers Party against, use of La Cosa Nostra against, IRS investigations of members, Teamsters, Howard Fast, William Z. Foster.
Socialist Workers Party creating disputes with Communist Party, followers of Malcolm X, anonymous letters to newspaper editors, NAACP, UAW-CIO, peace groups, employers, open letter to Trotskyites, Armageddon News, Notes from the Sand Castle, Fly United, CAMD, YSA, Morris Starsky, campaigns to discredit political candidates: John Clarence Franklin, Sam Jordan, Clifton DeBerry, George Weissman, Berta Green, Barbara Taplin, Howard Wallace, Fred Halstead, Ralph Levitt, Paul Boutelle, Nelson Rockefeller’s anti- Judy White bill.
New Left Students for a Democratic Society, MOBE, NMC, LNS, REP, National Lawyers Guild, Columbia University, Princeton University, anonymous letters to students’ parents, university officials, members of state legislatures, press, use of drug charges against, BPP informants create rift, split with YSA and SWP, FBI use of astrology and mysticism, Kaleidoscope, Key Activists, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Jane Fonda, John Lennon, Jean Seberg, David Herreshoff, David Simpson.
COMINFIL — SCLC blackmailing Martin Luther King with tape.
Black Nationalist Hate Groups “prevent the rise of a black messiah,” use of Jewish Defense League against, use of La Cosa Nostra against, cartoons, “Blackboard”, Rabbi Kahane, William O’Neal, and numerous victims including: Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Revolutionary Action Movement, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, Congress of Racial Equality, SNCC, Nation of Islam, Poor People’s Campaign, Republic of New Africa, US organization, Black Liberators, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H. “Rap” Brown, Elijah Muhammad, Maxwell Stanford, Dick Gregory, Huey Newton, David Hilliard, Ron Karenga, Charles Koen, Sylvester Bell, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Geronimo Pratt, John William Washington, Richard Henry, Muhammed Kenyatta, Jeff Fort.
White Hate Groups Ku Klux Klan, National States Rights Party, National Committee for Domestic Tranquility (cover org), “The Black Klan,” anonymous postcards to Klansmen.
Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto Rico Juan Mari Bras, MPIPR, FUPI, FEPI, APU, mass media program, anonymous mailings of cartoons.
Border Coverage Program Communist Party of Mexico (PCM)
Cuban Matters (none)
Violence-Prone Yugoslav Emigres (none)
Counterintelligence and Special Operations establishment of local intelligence cover organizations, falsification of photos and documents, CIA Chaos program, Revolutionary Union.
Misc CACTUS cryptonym, use of Vietnamese informant, use of COINTELPRO caption discontinued, COINTELPRO Composite.
bibliography with links to online resources