[sixties-l] COINTELPRO in Cyberspace (fwd)

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Date: Thu Jun 06 2002 - 19:35:57 EDT

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    Date: Mon, 03 Jun 2002 17:25:22 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: COINTELPRO in Cyberspace

    COINTELPRO in Cyberspace


    June 3, 2002
    by Jeff Elkins

    I've been amazed at the somewhat bland reaction to Ashcroft's new guidelines
    from some organizations that should surely know better. The "Well, that's
    not so bad" reaction from Cato was shocking. The Cato scholars certainly
    know the history of COINTELPRO operations by the FBI from the 1950s through
    the early 1970s. In order to fully grasp what our Attorney General has
    unleashed, you should too. Especially important today, are the expansion of
    COINTELPRO tactics into cyberspace.

    COINTELPRO is an acronym for the FBI's domestic "counterintelligence
    programs" to neutralize political dissidents. Formal COINTELPRO operations
    were conducted between 19561971 and targeted against radical political
    organizations, ranging from anti-war activists to civil-rights

    The roots of COINTELPRO can be found in the Bureau's operations against
    foreign intelligence services. Counterintelligence also implies more than
    mere investigation; it refers to actions taken to neutralize enemy agents as
    well, active measures ranging from disinformation campaigns to actual
    physical attack.

    However, FBI operations targeting foreign spies quickly expanded to include
    American citizens with undesirable views. Eventually, COINTELPRO became the
    primary weapon that the state used against the anti-war and civil rights

    Quoting J. Edgar Hoover: "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."

    COINTELPRO was exposed to the public eye after an unsolved break-in into the
    FBI's Media, PA field office that resulted in leaked documents, and separate
    lawsuits by NBC correspondent Carl Stern and the Socialist Workers' Party,
    followed by a US Senate investigation led by Senator Frank Church. The
    Church investigation in turn lead to more restrictive guidelines , those
    that were recently so blithely tossed in the trash by John Ashcroft.

    Past COINTELPRO operations utilized four basic approaches:

    Infiltration and internal psychological warfare.

    FBI agents and paid informers actively worked to disrupt organizations from
    the inside. The infiltration was designed to both sow discord within (Are
    you real or are you from the FBI?) and scare off potential supporters. It
    was also common to leak false information accusing genuine activists of
    being FBI plants and use entrapment techniques.

    External psychological warfare.

    The FBI planted erroneous stories with media sources, and published bogus
    material supposedly created by targeted organizations, wrote anonymous
    letters and forged correspondence, all this designed to paint false pictures
    of aims and goals. Other tactics included spreading misinformation about
    and/or disrupting meetings and events, setting up pseudo organizations run
    by agents, and using strong-arm techniques on parents, employers, landlords,
    school officials and others who had influence over activists.

    Legal harassment.

    Agents perjured themselves and fabricated evidence as a pretext for false
    arrests and false imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and
    other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance,
    "investigative" interviews, and grand jury subpoenas to intimidate

    Extralegal force and violence.

    The FBI and local police conducted break-ins, black-bag jobs, vandalism,
    assaults, and beatings. It is widely rumored that political assassinations
    were carried out as well.

    We've seen the beginnings of COINTELPRO-type tactics in the Bush/Ashcroft
    "war on terror" and you may rest assured that we will see the efforts
    expand. Let's examine some specifics from the full investigative guidelines
    just promulgated by Ashcroft's DOJ.

    In this column, I'd like to examine the expansion of COINTELPRO into
    cyberspace. Two clauses from the full guidelines available at the DOJ
    address online activity:

    General Topical Research

    The FBI is authorized to carry out general topical research, including
    conducting searches and accessing online sites and forums as part of such
    research on the same terms and conditions as members of the public

    Use of Online Resources Generally

    For the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorism or other criminal
    activities, the FBI is authorized to conduct online search activity and to
    access online sites and forums on the same terms and conditions as members
    of the public generally.

    These clauses were widely poo-pooed by the usual suspects, but examined
    closely, they are chilling to the extreme. Consider the dual nature of
    activism on the Internet: On one hand, it's widely used as a venue for
    publishing material critical of government activities that never seem to
    gain exposure in the mainstream media. Considering COINTELPRO tactics as
    used in the past, how long before pressure is applied to national ISPs to
    remove websites featuring such commentary? How long until the major search
    engines remove anti-government links from their indexes?

    And on the other hand, consider the explosion of interactive web-based
    forums, largely anonymous in nature, that feature discussion areas. Consider
    just how easily FBI agents and informers could infiltrate these online
    meeting places, both to gather information and to instigate activities
    resulting in prosecution and imprisonment. If you think this is far-
    fetched, please refer back to the four tactical aims of a COINTELPRO
    operation and perhaps remember other notable entrapment cases that could
    easily transfer into cyberspace (hint: Waco and Ruby Ridge).

    On that note, be very cautious of anyone online who attempts to coerce you
    into advocating physical action of any type against the government. They may
    just be the typical Internet hothead/keyboard-pounder, but then again they
    might be a modern-day COINTELPRO cybernaut.

    It's very important to understand that COINTELPRO never really went away. It
    was largely driven underground by bad publicity and the Church hearings, but
    it was always lurking beneath the surface of the polished FBI image, waiting
    for an Ashcroft to resurrect it and a complacent public to accept it.

    COINTELPRO has emerged from the shadows with a vengeance. In future columns
    I'll examine further aspects of it's return and John Ashcroft's efforts to
    fully convert the FBI into the enforcement division of George W. Bush's
    police state.
    Jeff Elkins is a freelance writer and the editor of Elkins.org, a free
    online webzine and discussion forum.

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