[sixties-l] Reforming The FBI: Lessons From The 1960s (fwd)

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Date: Mon Mar 18 2002 - 02:29:38 EST

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    Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 13:56:33 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Reforming The FBI: Lessons From The 1960s

    Lessons From The 1960s


    Thursday, Mar. 14, 2002

    Six months after September 11, the FBI, like a lot of other government
    intelligence agencies, is still running at full throttle. The public
    doesn't really know how much progress has been made in, say, tracking down
    the perpetrator(s) of the anthrax murders, or in rounding up terrorists.
    Nevertheless, it's hard to find a public official who is willing to
    question the workings of the agency.
    Indeed, as we've seen in poll after poll, most Americans are not only ready
    to defend the FBI, but are also willing to give up some of their civil
    liberties to aid the war on terrorism. In other words, in the wake of
    terror, the American people have handed the FBI a clean slate.
    It is precisely these conditions that demand openness from the FBI. We
    should not forget that it is an institution haunted by a legacy of illegal
    activities that were conducted in the name of uncovering internal and
    external subversion. Now, when the rationale of tracking down subversive Al
    Qaeda terrorists can be used to justify almost any action, there is a
    renewed threat that the FBI may resort, once again, to illegal means.
    Examining another time in recent American history when the government also
    feared internal subversion and domestic terrorism will help illustrate the
    need for vigilance against FBI lawbreaking, and reform of the agency.
                         A Promise of FBI Accountability Not Yet Kept
    In August of last year, President Bush's appointee to head the FBI, Robert
    S. Mueller, arrived on the job. Mueller faced an uphill struggle to reform
    the agency, and he knew it. Accordingly, he peppered his confirmation
    hearings with expressions of his desire to make his agents more
    "accountable" though accountability has been a concept foreign to the
    Bureau for much of the twentieth century.
    During his hearings, Mueller endured questions about a litany of agency
    problems that had occurred during the 1990s. The problems included the
    FBI's handling of the sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge, its unreliable lab
    results, and the institutionalized racism that had prevented
    African-American agents from advancing as far or as fast as white agents
    Now the public has all but forgotten these problems, but that doesn't mean
    that the agency itself has been rehabilitated. Rather, the agenda has
    shifted -- with all these issues taking a distant back seat to the war on
    September 11: Wiping the Slate Clean?
    That needs to change. Government institutions, like President Bush himself,
    are enjoying a post-9/11 honeymoon of sorts. Their popularity, and the
    public's trust in them, are at longtime peaks. Nevertheless, in order to
    retain the public's trust while uncovering evildoers, Mueller needs to
    follow through with his plan for internal FBI reform, even as pressure on
    the agency to produce results grows daily.
    As the fear of September 11 dissipates and normalcy returns, the rights
    that Americans have handed over to the government, even if informally, must
    be returned to citizens, and must remain sacrosanct. Now is the time that
    Americans need to be extra vigilant. As history shows us, it is at times,
    like the present, when the government has been most trusted, that it has
    made some of its worst decisions.
                         Civil Liberties, Terrorism, and COINTELPRO
    Thirty years ago, the FBI believed that the most dangerous enemy of the
    United States was the American Left, which was centered around opposition
    to the Vietnam War and to racial discrimination. In 1968, the Bureau
    initiated the Counterintelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was a
    massive undertaking that was designed to discredit the Left by conducting
    surveillance, infiltrating organizations, and spreading misinformation and
    One of the most insidious efforts of COINTELPRO came in trying to fracture
    the coalition comprised of African-Americans and American Jews. By 1968,
    the radical Black Panther Party had captured the imagination of many
    African-Americans. At the same time, the FBI believed that Jews were behind
    much of the financing of leftist causes, including the Panthers.
    This alliance, from the FBI's perspective, had to be shatteredand the FBI
    decided to try to shatter it.
    The FBI's Strategy: Lying to, and Dividing, African-Americans and Jews
    In 1969, the New York FBI office attempted to turn the Jewish Defense
    League against the Black Panthers, by sending the JDL anonymous reports of
    alleged anti-Semitic actions or statements by the Panthers. Eventually the
    Bureau chose Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mercurial director of the JDL, as the
    unwitting source through which to funnel and disseminate the false information.
    The extremes of the late 1960s demanded hyperbole to get noticed, a tactic
    the FBI decided to embrace. Agents admitted that information passed to
    Kahane would need "some embellishment" to provoke the JDL into taking action.
    So, resorting to stereotypes, the FBI's New York office penned a fake
    letter from an African-American World War II veteran to the JDL. The letter
    claimed that the fabricated veteran had been helped by "a Jewish Army
    Dr. named ^A'Rothstein,'" and had been "encouraged to remain in high school
    for two years by my favorite Jewish teacher, Mr. Katz." The "veteran" said
    he was upset because his son was a Black Panther who, after returning from
    Algeria, had hatched a plan to extort money from Jewish storeowners that
    would then be sent to "the Arabs in Africa." If the storeowners did not
    cooperate, their shops would be blown up.
                         Threatening Liberals and Fracturing a Tenuous Coalition
    What kind of action the FBI hoped Kahane would take after receiving the
    letter from the "veteran," is unclear. At a minimum, the Bureau wanted to
    use the JDL to cut off Jewish funding to the Panthers and other
    African-American organizations.
    We know this from FBI discussions that occurred after conductor Leonard
    Bernstein held a fund-raiser at his apartment for the Black Panthers in
    mid-January 1970.
    The New York office proposed sending Jewish attendees at the fundraiser
    threatening letters from anonymous JDL members.
    The letters urged recipients that "We Jews have fought too long and too
    hard to let ourselves be destroyed from within by a group of well meaning
    but foolish people who give aid and comfort to our enemies." Such enemies,
    according to the letters, consisted of any pro-Arab or anti-Israeli groups
    in the Middle East, including the PLO and Egyptian leader Gamel Nassar. The
    Panthers' Jewish supporters, of course, were the ones accused of giving aid
    and comfort.
    By forcing these liberal Jews to choose between their own heritage and the
    Black-Jewish coalition, the FBI bet that the former would win out over the
    latter. Ending ominously, the letters reminded these Jews, "We know who you
    Using the Middle East to split the American Left meant exploiting an
    already precarious trust between African Americans and Jews. In the FBI's
    opinion, however, no sacrifice was too great in the name of saving America
    from itself.
    Meir Kahane eventually moved to Israel, where he led a radical Jewish
    coalition opposed to compromise with the Palestinians. When Kahane was
    assassinated in 1990, few knew that the FBI had hoped to use his rhetoric,
    and possibly his legions, against "radical" African-Americans.
                         The Need for Candor: An Open FBI
    As history shows us, Americans have good reason to be suspicious of the
    FBI, which is exactly why Mueller should emphasize openness. Even in the
    midst of ongoing investigations against terrorists, the FBI must convince
    the public that its work is both legal and necessary to protect our rights.
    Mueller might begin this process by calling for a thorough investigation
    into the Bureau's activities three decades ago. At the conclusion of the
    investigation, the Bureau should also, if necessary, make amends to those
    Americans who committed no crimes but were illegally harassed solely for
    their political beliefs.
    It would be tragic if, in thirty years, we were to discover that September
    11 had unleashed a wave of secret, illegal governmental activities that
    were performed in the name of fighting terrorism, but that actually
    undermined our most fundamental rights. Mr. Mueller has inherited a job
    with a lot of unopened baggage. In the name of accountability, it's time
    that he and his agents see what they've been carrying around for so long.
    Only this will allow the agency to move forward, unburdened, into this new

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