---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 13:56:33 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Reforming The FBI: Lessons From The 1960s
REFORMING THE FBI AFTER SEPTEMBER 11:
Lessons From The 1960s
By JONATHAN M. SCHOENWALD
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
We know this from FBI discussions that occurred after conductor Leonard
Bernstein held a fund-raiser at his apartment for the Black Panthers in
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
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
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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