---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 13:34:08 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Ashcroft Requests Return to Cointelpro
Ashcroft Requests Return to Cointelpro
HUTCHINSON: The Ghost of COINTELPRO
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, AlterNet
December 14, 2001
Attorney General John Ashcroft has made a public pitch to dump the
guidelines put in place in the 1970s that ban FBI spying on domestic
Ashcroft says the guidelines are obsolete and hinder the hunt for
domestic terrorists. Eliminating them would give the FBI carte
blanche authority to surveil, and plant agents in churches, mosques
and of course, political groups. It would also permit FBI agents to
interrogate individuals. They could do all this without having to
show probable cause of criminal wronging.
The FBI would again have unbridled power to determine on who and what
groups and individuals it could target.
Ashcroft is banking that most Americans and public officials have a
short or no memory of the colossal havoc the super-secret, and
blatantly illegal counter-intelligence COINTELPRO program wreaked on
the lives of thousands of innocent Americans during the 1950s and
1960s. The mandate of the program, spelled out in one of the piles of
secret documents released by Senate investigators in 1976, was
to "disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize" groups and
individuals the FBI considered politically objectionable. Those
targeted were not foreign spies, terrorists, or suspected of criminal
The FBI patterned COINTELPRO on the methods used by its Counter-
intelligence Division and Internal Security Sections during the 1940s
and 1950s. The aim then was to nail spies, saboteurs and individuals
and groups that advocated overthrowing the government. The arsenal of
dirty tactics included non-court authorized wiretaps, undercover
plants, agent provocateurs, poison pen letters, black bag jobs, and
the compiling of secret dossiers. Local FBI offices were given wide
discretion to pick its targets, and the tactics they could use.
In those years, the FBI's favored targets were the Communist Party
and the Socialist Workers Party. But this changed in the mid-1960s.
Driven by a grotesque mix of personal racism and paranoia, FBI
Director J. Edgar Hoover kicked the program into even higher gear.
His goal was to demolish the Black Muslims, Black Panthers, civil
rights organizations, and leaders, and especially Martin Luther King.
The FBI assembled a small army of more than 7,500 "ghetto informants"
(known) and hundreds of FBI agents in a deadly national campaign to
harass and intimidate thousands of African-Americans.
The FBI listed the individuals targeted under categories variously
called, "Rabble Rouser Index," "Agitator Index," and the "Security
Index." The results were immediate and devastating. Thousands were
expelled from schools, lost jobs, evicted from their homes, and
offices, and publicly slandered. Few of these individuals were
indicted, convicted or even accused of any crimes. FBI documents
released in 1976 revealed that the agency devoted less than 20
percent of its spy activities to organized crime, solving bank
robberies, murders, rapes and interstate theft, By contrast, more
than half of its spy targets were political groups.
In 1967, the FBI dredged up yet another ominous tactic it its secret
war -- preventative detention. FBI officials in the Philadelphia
office boasted that they had jailed members of the Black Nationalist
group, RAM, on any charge they could think of. RAM members were held
for months with no charges filed, and with no hint that any would be.
Hoover was thrilled at the illegal detention tactic and ordered all
41 FBI field offices to copy it.
Three decades later it has carbon copied this tactic to round up and
detain more than 1,000 persons in its search for accomplices in the
September 11 terror massacre. Most of the detainees, as was the case
with the RAM members, have not been charged with any crimes. A study
by the Justice Department found that nearly 70 percent of the
detainees were released with no charges filed. Not one of those
currently in custody is charged with conspiracy in the September 11
terror massacre. The Justice Department has given no indication that
any indictments are forthcoming for terrorist activities.
With the death of Hoover in 1974 and congressional disclosure of the
illegal program, the Justice Department publicly assured that
COINTELPRO was a thing of the hideous past and that it had
implemented ironclad control over FBI activities. The obituary was
premature. During the 1980s the FBI waged a five-year covert war
against CISPES, and 215 religious and pacifist groups and leaders
that opposed American foreign policy in Central America. In the 1990s
it mounted covert campaigns against Silo Plowshares, an anti-nuclear
weapons group, Earth First, the American Indian Movement, and Arab-
American groups during the 1991 Gulf War. The FBI tactics were reruns
of those the Justice Department swore were dead and buried.
Ashcroft hasn't yet decided whether he'll scrap the guidelines. If he
does, he solemnly promises that the FBI will not trample on the
rights and liberties of religious and political groups. That's a
promise the thousands whose lives were ruined by COINTELPRO will find
hard to believe.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and
opinion Web site: www.thehutchinsonreport.com.
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