by Athan Theoharris
Chapter 5 of Spying on Americans: Political Surveillance from Hoover to the Huston Plan, Temple University Press, 1978
Having secured authorization to investigate "subversive activities" and having carefully devised procedures to preclude disclosure of questionable investigative activities, FBI officials no longer were principally concerned that politically motivated investigations could be effectively challenged. They, however, did not remain satisfied merely to compile extensive files and indexes on organizations and individuals targeted as threats to the nation's security. The FBI became a national political force committed to averting "potential subversion," and in time devised alternative extralegal measures to safeguard the "national security."
For one, their conservatism rendered FBI officials responsive to using politically information obtained through intensive investigations to discredit dissident activities. In addition, because much of this information either had been illegally obtained (whether through wiretaps, break-ins, or without specific legislative or executive authority) or involved no criminal activities, FBI officials possessed quantities of otherwise unusable data.
At first, such FBI political efforts were nonstructured, informal, and instituted on an ad hoc basis. On one level, the FBI voluntarily alerted White House officials to the "subversive" background of dissident groups and individuals. (This political effort is discussed in greater detail in the succeeding chapter.) FBI officials simultaneously sought to influence national policy by a conscious policy of leaks to "friendly" sources in the media, the Congress, or conservative organizations.
If these efforts dated from the early 1940s, the first attempt to formalize this response occurred in February 1946. On February 27, D. M. Ladd (head of the FBI's Intelligence Division) wrote FBI Director Hoover to recommend that the bureau influence "public opinion" by releasing "educational material" through "available channels." This effort, Ladd emphasized, could undermine Communist support in the labor unions, among prominent religious personalities and "liberal elements," and demonstrate "the basically Russian nature of the Communist Party in this country." The Catholic priest Father John Cronin was one recipient of this FBI informational program; given access to FBI files, Cronin used them to prepare reports in 1945 for the American Catholic bishops and in 1946 for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Radio commentator Walter Winchell and other conservative reporters as well as congressmen were other recipients of similar FBI leaks. 1
In time, this FBI political effort was further refined. In addition to maintaining FBI records, the FBI's Crime Records Division was assigned other, political responsibilities. These included liaison with "friendly" congressmen, authors, and news reporters. By the 1960s the bureau developed a formally described Mass Media Program wherein derogatory information on prominent radicals was leaked to the news media. The Crime Records Division, moreover, helped draft speeches and/or letters for members of Congress and leaked information to conservative authors (like Don Whitehead) who in turn wrote books and articles either highly favorable toward the bureau or critical about bureau critics. Similarly, to further the bureau's liaison role, beginning in 1950 FBI agents were ordered to collect information first on candidates for Congress and then on prominent state political leaders -- the resultant files included information about the individual's attitudes toward the bureau and personal background. Earlier, on his own initiative, FBI Director Hoover approached American Legion officials to develop a liaison relationship. Hoover proposed (and a November 1940 Legion conference concurred) that Legion members furnish confidential information to the FBI. Last, while not the Crime Records Division's exclusive responsibility, that division (as well as the bureau division having this assignment) serviced White House name check requests. 2
These efforts to contain radicalism by leaking derogatory information about prominent radicals and organizations did not constitute the sole political activities of FBI officials. They also sought to reduce the ability of radical organizations to function effectively or to recruit new members. For a time, with the intensification of Cold War fears and the rise of McCarthyite politics, these informal efforts bore fruit. In 1948, for example, twelve Communist party leaders were indicted under the Smith Act of 1940. Then, under provisions of the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 and the Communist Control Act of 1954, Communist, Communist-front, and Communist-action organizations were required to register as foreign agents with the Subversive Activities Control Board and to label their publications as Communist propaganda. Beginning dramatically in 1947 and extending throughout the 1950s, moreover, through highly publicized hearings, congressional committees (notably the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security) relied directly or indirectly on FBI investigative reports to expose Communist influence in the federal government, in the entertainment industry, in labor unions, and in public schools and universities. Last, FBI investigative reports were employed during the conduct of federal loyalty/ security programs to raise doubts about the loyalty, and deny employment to, certain individuals. (The loyalty/security program is discussed in detail in chapter seven.)
The resultant litigation, loyalty/security program proceedings, and congressional hearings provided opportunities for effective utilization of FBI investigative findings. FBI investigative reports thereby served to popularize the conclusion of bureau officials that radicals were subversive, to sensitize the American public to the seriousness of the internal security threat, and concomitantly to discredit individuals and/or organizations active in radical politics. By the mid- 1950s, however, and not because of a change in popular fears or executive branch policy, this political avenue appeared thwarted.
High-level FBI officials had always been deeply concerned about prosccuting activities. These concerns increased after 1947 as FBI officials became troubled by the effect of prosecution on the FBI's intelligence-gathering capabilities. For example, over one hundred FBI informants had had to be exposed during the various Smith Act trials and Subversive Activities Control Board proceedings. Then, in a series of important rulings in 1956 and 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed major restrictions on uses of FBI reports, challenged the premise that individual liberties must be sacrificed to safeguard the national security, and thereby threatened to close what for FBI officials had been an effective means of propagandizing antiradical fears. The Court's decisions in effect reduced the scope of the Eisenhower security program, limited federal loyalty officials' ability to fire summarily individual employees, struck down state loyalty statutes, undercut the earlier Dennis ruling so that a Smith Act conviction now required the government to prove advocacy to commit violence, ordered the Subversive Activities Control Board* to reconsider its ruling that the U.S. Communist party must register as a Communist organization because of the "tainted" evidence on which this ruling had been based, held that state officials' summary dismissal of employees who took the Fifth Amendment violated due process, required that FBI reports on pretrial testimony of government witnesses be made available to defense attorneys during trial proceedings, and overturned House Committee on Un-American Activities contempt citations of a subpoenaed "unfriendly" witness on the ground that the committee's "question under inquiry" had not been made clear to the individual. 3
These Court decisions ironically occurred simultaneously with an increased concern among FBI officials, in the aftermath of the Successful Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott of 1955, about the degree of Communist influence in the more militant civil rights movement, which threatened to disrupt Southern race relations and to transform national politics. Reflecting this conservative concern, FBI Director Hoover sent, in the spring of 1956, a series of reports to the White House alleging Communist influence and involvement in the civil rights movement. President Eisenhower responded by requesting that Hoover brief the Cabinet on the Southern racial situation. Hoover did so, emphasizing particularly the Communists' role in lobbying for civil rights objectives and the NAACP's plans to push for civil rights legislation. Following up on this effort, in 1957 the FBI prepared and disseminated to the military intelligence agencies a 137-page report on Communist influence and strategy toward the NAACP. 4
Sensitive to the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court's rulings on the uses of the bureau's investigative findings, still alarmed over the seriousness of the internal security problem, in August 1956 FBI officials devised a formal program to provide alternative means for containing Communists.
Having successfully averted meaningful executive oversight (whether by the president or the attorney general) either when formulating the Security Index program or when securing presidential authorization to investigate "subversive activities," FBI officials unilaterally instituted a so-called counterintelligence program to neutralize the U.S. Communist party -- the first of a series of programs (captioned COINTELPROs). This COINTELPRO was initiated without the knowledge or authorization of either the attorney general or the president. Hoover's 1956 decision was unique not because the bureau began to "disrupt" radical organizations -- the FBI had been doing that at least since 1941 -- but because it initiated a formal program based on written directives and responsive to the direct supervisory control of the FBI director. No longer willing simply to prosecute Communist officials, bureau officials had concluded by 1956 that more aggressive and extralegal techniques were essential and feasible. 5
The memorandum formally instituting this program, dated August 28, 1956, sharply outlines the political nature of this decision. By August 1956 bureau officials no longer considered the Communist party an actual espionage or sabotage threat. Instead they were concerned about the Communist party's "influence over the masses, ability to create controversy leading to confusion and disunity, penetration of specific channels in American life where public opinion is molded, and espionage and sabotage potential." These officials' extreme anti-radicalism and elitism, in short, made them fearful that without effective counteraction the public might be unduly receptive to radical appeals. In a memorandum to FBI official L. V. Boardman, Alan Belmont (the head of the FBI's Internal Security Section) further highlighted these political objectives. The FBI had traditionally attempted to "foster factionalism" within the Communist party, Belmont wrote. Internal Communist party divisions resulting from developments at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Communist party and the disruptive impact of Smith Act prosecutions and Subversive Activities Control Board proceedings, however, provided an unparalleled opportunity for the bureau to "initiate on a broader scale than heretofore attempted, a counterintelligence program against the CP." Belmont then enumerated recommended FBI-initiated "disruptive" efforts and concluded: "The Internal Security Section is giving this program continuous thought and attention and we are remaining alert for situations which might afford additional opportunities for further disruption of the CP, USA." This COINTELPRO-Communist party was expanded in March 1960 and then in October 1963 to prevent Communist infiltration of mass organizations varying from the NAACP to Boy Scout troops. Significantly, under this expansion the program's focus shifted from party members to non-Communist groups or individuals whom FBI officials suspected might be susceptible to Communist influence. 6
The highly political nature of COINTELPRO activities as well as the fact that this program had been initiated without the knowledge of responsible administration officials necessitated procedures to ensure against public knowledge and, in addition, to control whatever information high-level administration officials received about this program. Prior to instituting a COINTELPRO-activity, FBI agents were required to secure advance approval (whether from FBI Director Hoover directly, FBI Assistant Director Clyde Tolson, or the head of the Intelligence Division) and to specify proposed safeguards that would preclude public knowledge of the FBI's involvement in these approved activities. A memorandum authorizing the initiation of a later COINTELPRO pointedly articulated this concern: "Under no circumstance should the existence of the program be made known outside the Bureau and appropriate within-office security should be afforded to sensitive operations and techniques considered under the program." Such control procedures (similar to 1942 Do Not File procedures for break-ins and the 1940-44 pink slip/blue slip procedure used by FBI officials for "sensitive" information forwarded to FBI Director Hoover) indicate the FBI officials' sole concern: not illegality but political embarrassment and/or political harm. 7
On May 8, 1958, FBI Director Hoover ostensibly informed Eisenhower administration officials of this COINTELPRO Communist party. Having precluded independent knowledge of this program outside the bureau, Hoover could volunteer whatever information he deemed appropriate. Hoover's May 8, 1958, letters advising Attorney General William Rogers and Special Assistant to the President Robert Cutler that in August 1956 the FBI had initiated a program "designed to promote disruption within the ranks of the Community Party," carefully confined administration knowledge about this COINTELPRO. Specific FBI activities were listed, including the use of informants to provoke "acrimonious debates" and anonymous mailings to ensure "disillusionment and defection" and increase "factionalism" among party members. Beyond citing the use of informants and mailings, however, Hoover had not fully informed the Eisenhower White House about other more questionable FBI COINTELPRO activities. 8
Neither Rogers nor Cutler pressed Hoover for further details about this program. In addition, Hoover, on November 8, 1958, briefed the Eisenhower Cabinet about the FBI's COINTELPRO-Communist party. (We do not know why Hoover had been invited to do so. The considerable time lag between the FBI director's May letters and this November briefing suggests that the two were not related. Hoover's briefing and the booklet he distributed at the November Cabinet meeting that focused on Soviet espionage activities further suggest that the catalyst stemmed from administration concerns about Soviet activities.) The briefing did not accurately portray the nature and thrust of FBI officials' objectives. The "top secret" booklet (which was collected at the end of the meeting) was intended to illustrate his remarks (in the words of the Cabinet minutes) "regarding Russian intentions, intelligence techniques and our counterintelligence activities." Hoover's oral remarks specifically cited double agents, scientific developments such as micro-dots, and the increased number of passport requests by "known Communist supporters." Seven FBI programs were described in the thirty-six-page booklet, identified as being "part of [FBI] counterintelligence operations" and "specific answers to specific problems which have arisen within the FBI's investigative jurisdiction." The first six programs related directly to espionage; the seventh described the FBI's COINTELPRO:
To counteract a resurgence of Communist Party influence in the United States, we have a seventh program designed to intensify any confusion and dissatisfaction among its members. During the past few years, this program has been most effective. Selective informants were briefed and trained to raise controversial issues within the Party. In the process, many were able to advance themselves to higher positions. The Internal Revenue Service was furnished the names and addresses of Party functionaries who had been active in the underground apparatus. Based on this information, investigations were instituted in 262 possible income tax evasion cases. Anticommunist literature and simulated Party documents were mailed anonymously to carefully chosen members. 9
Although the briefing book accurately conveyed some of the FBI's COINTELPRO activities, Hoover had ostensibly informed the administration without having in fact done so. First, the FBI director had introduced this COINTELPRO in the context of counterespionage activities. Both Hoover's oral report and the FBI booklet only briefly cited the COINTELPRO and directly tied it with espionage programs. Moreover, Cabinet officials had not had the opportunity to read the booklet carefully in advance of the meeting and thereby appreciate this seventh program's distinctiveness. Although Hoover had technically briefed the Cabinet, what he understood and what Cabinet officials were led to understand about this program would remain widely divergent. The Cabinet minutes, if brief (as were all Eisenhower Cabinet minutes), are eloquent testimony to this fact. Significantly, there is no record that Hoover was queried about this program's authority -- whether legislative or executive -- and whether the identified activities were legal or permissible. This does not confirm necessarily that the Cabinet had neither read nor understood pages 35-36 of the FBI booklet constitutional and legal questions might simply not have troubled the conservative Eisenhower Cabinet.
By identical January 10, 1961, letters to Secretary of State-designate Dean Rusk, Attorney General-designate Robert Kennedy, and Deputy Attorney General-designate Byron White, FBI Director Hoover similarly informed high-level Kennedy administration officials about the ongoing COINTELPRO-Communist party. Hoover appended a memorandum to these letters outlining Communist party activities and the FBI's internal security responsibilities "and our counterattack against the CPUSA."
Hoover began by bleakly depicting the U.S. Communist party's subversive goals and the gravity of communism's "threat to the internal security of the United States." After outlining FBI investigative responsibilities and authority, the FBI director enumerated the FBI's "many-pronged" "counterattack" against the party and some of the FBI's "more effective programs":
penetration of the Party at all levels with security informants; use of various techniques to keep the Party off balance and disillusion individual communists concerning communist ideology; investigation of every known member of the CPUSA in order to determine whether he should be detained in the event of a national emergency; and gathering evidence to be used in prosecutions of communists and communist organizations. (Emphasis added)
The FBI director more precisely reported:
As an adjunct to our regular investigative operations, we carry on a carefully planned program of counterattack against the CPUSA which keeps it off balance. Our primary purpose is to bring about disillusionment on the part of individual members which is carried on from both inside and outside the Party organizations. . . .
In certain instances we have been successful in preventing communists from seizing control of legitimate mass organizations and have discredited others who were secretly operating inside such organizations."' (Emphasis added)
Hoover's memorandum apprised the attorney general-designate of the FBI's COINTELPRO-Communist party. To the individual currently knowledgeable about the COINTELPROs, the emphasized language can be interpreted as fully informative. Can we conclude, however, that Robert Kennedy understood what the FBI was doing? Hoover's language is both vague and cryptic; his references to what clearly constituted harassment were insufliciently descriptive and imprecise and were enveloped by more specific language either alarmingly describing Communist subversion or enumerating the FBI's legal authority and responsibilities. As in 1958, FBI Director Hoover technically informed his superiors about this COINTELPRO without having provided the information essential for an independent judgment. Kennedy, moreover, had not been informed that this program had been unilaterally instituted by Hoover without the attorney general's prior consent. This does not exonerate the attorney general; clearly he had failed to insist upon additional information about these activities and their authority. Nonetheless, when the Kennedy White House formally requested a later briefing on all "internal security programs," Hoover's July 25, 1961, description of' the FBI's "investigative programs" did not list the COINTELPRO's disruptive activities. 11
Hoover's and other high-level FBI officials' concern about the political activities of another radical organization -- in this case, the Socialist Workers party (SWP) -- resulted in yet another COINTELPRO, again initiated without the attorney general's prior knowledge or authorization. What particularly exercised Hoover, as his October 12, 1961 letter to all special agents in charge announcing this new "disruptive program" highlights, was the SWP's radical politics:
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has, over the past several years, been openly espousing its line on a local and national basis through running candidates for public office and strongly directing and/or supporting such causes as Castro's Cuba and integration problems arising in the South. The SWP has also been in frequent contact with international Trotskyite groups stopping short of open and direct contact with these groups.
Outlining this COINTELPRO's "educational" purpose, Hoover emphasized the need to "alert the public to the fact that the SWP is not just another socialist group but follows the revolutionary principles of Marx, Lenin and Engels as interpreted by Leon Trotsky." This was not to be a crash program; "only carefully thought-out operations with the widest possible effect and benefit to the nation should be submitted." After careful evaluation, this program might subsequently be expanded. 12
While these FBI COINTELPROs (Communist party and Socialist Workers party) had been unilaterally initiated, the COINTELPRO-White Hate groups were indirectly responsive to Johnson administration pressures. Disturbed by the spread of the Ku Klux Klan activities throughout the South, in early 1964 Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent a team Of Justice Department lawyers to Mississippi. Based on this team's report and his own findings, a memorandum prepared by Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall in June 1964 proposed that the FBI should be encouraged "to develop its own procedures for the collection of' intelligence" and
consideration should be given by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to new procedures for identification of individuals who may be or have been involved in acts of terrorism, and to the possible participation in such acts by law enforcement officials or at least their toleration of terrorist activity . . . .
The unique difficulty . . . is in gathering information on fundamentally lawless activities which have the sanction of local law enforcement agencies, political officials and a substantial segment of the white population. The techniques followed in the use of specially trained special assignment agents in the infiltration of Communist groups should be of value. If you [Johnson] approve, it might be desirable to take up with the Bureau the possibility of developing a similar effort to meet this problem. 13
Concurrently, President Johnson dispatched former CIA Director Allen Dulles to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi (involved in a nationally publicized voter registration project). In his report to the president, Dulles recommended substantially increasing the number of FBI agents in Mississippi to help "control the terrorist activities." 14
Whether because of Dulles's or Marshall's recommendations (or both), the president subsequently directed Hoover (according to Don Whitehead's sympathetic study of the FBI) "to put people after the Klan and study it from one county to the next. I want the FBI to have the best intelligence possible to check on the activities of these people." 15
White House and Justice Department officials might have wanted the FBI to intensify investigations of the Klan; bureau officials moved beyond this limited effort. In July 1964 Hoover first transferred supervision of investigations of the Klan and other white supremacist groups from the General Investigative Division to the Domestic Intelligence Division. Among the reasons advanced for this transfer were the Domestic Intelligence Division's "wide experience" in the penetration of subversive organizations through informants, anonymous sources, sophisticated microphone and technical surveillance, interview programs of highly specialized nature, etc." In addition, the head of the Domestic Intelligence Division argued, his division "would be in a position to launch a disruptive counterintelligence program against the Klan and other hate groups with the same effectiveness that they are now doing insofar as the Communist Party is concerned." This recommendation was supported by the head of the FBI's Inspection Division and ultimately was approved by FBI Director Hoover. 16
Concurrently, on July 30, 1964, Hoover directed the Domestic Intelligence Division to study whether to initiate a counterintelligence program aimed at "hate groups." On August 27, 1964, the Domestic Intelligence Division rccommended the immediate initiation of "a hard-hitting, closely supervised, coordinated counterintelligence program to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and specified other hate groups." Hoover concurred and, in a letter of September 2, 1964, advised all special agents in charge:
The activities of these groups [the Klan and other white supremacist organizations] must be followed on a continuous basis so we may take advantage of all opportunities for counterintelligence and also inspire action in instances where circumstances warrant. The devious rnaneuvers and duplicity of these groups must be exposed to public scrutiny through the cooperation of reliable news media sources, both locally and [in Washington]. We must frustrate any effort of the groups to consolidate their forces or to recruit new or youthful adherents. In every instance, consideration should be given to disrupting the organized activity of these groups and no opportunity should be missed to capitalize upon organizational and personal conflicts of their leadership.
Whether Hoover was more sensitive to the illegality of the FBI's expanded COINTELPRO efforts or concerned about this program's possible impact upon the bureau's relations with Southern law enforcement officials and political leaders, in contrast to his earlier COINTELPRO authorization letters, he pointedly emphasized the need for secrecy:
In instances where a reliable and cooperative news media representative or other source outside the Bureau is to be contacted or utilized in connection with a proposed counterintelligence operation, it will be incumbent upon the recommending office to furnish assurances the source will not reveal the Bureau's interest or betray our confidence.
... You are cautioned that the nature of this new endeavor is such that under no circumstances should the existence of the program be made known outside the Bureau and appropriate within-office security should be afforded this sensitive operation. 17
Indirectly responsive to White House and Justice Department pressures, FBI Director Hoover later independently briefed Attorneys General Nicholas Katzenbach (in 1965), Ramsey Clark (in 1967), and John Mitchell (in 1969) and White House aide Marvin Watson (in 1965) about this COINTELPRO. Having only sought an intensification of FBI investigations of the Klan, Johnson administration officials had no independent knowledge of the general nature of the FBI's COINTELPROs (Mitchell was inadequately briefed about an ongoing program). Neither the Johnson nor the Nixon administrations apparently fully appreciated Hoover's briefing memorandums. Hoover's memorandums, moreover, focused on legitimate and legal FBI investigative activities and his descriptions of FBI "disruption" tactics were sketchy and incomplete.
Hoover began his September 2, 1965, memorandum to Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (captioned "Penetration and disruption of Klan organizations-racial matters"), for example, by recounting how the FBI's successful high-level "penetration" of the Klan had helped solve "a number of cases involving racial violence in the South," contributed to the recovery of stolen weapons and ammunition, without public knowledge "forestall[ed] violence in certain racially explosive areas," and FBI informants and sources were obtaining "up-to-date intelligence data concerning racial matters." Then, in a glancing reference to the FBI's COINTELPRO, the FBI director added:
We also are seizing every opportunity to disrupt the activities of Klan organizations. Typical is the manner in which we exposed and thwarted a "kick back" scheme a Klan group was using in one southern state to help finance its activities. One member of the group was selling insurance to other Klan members and would deposit a generous portion of the premium refunds in the Klan treasury. As a result of the action we took, the insurance company learned of the scheme and cancelled all the policies held by Klan members, thereby cutting off a sizeable source of revenue which had been used to finance Klan activities. 18
Hoover's September 2, 1965, memorandum (a copy of which was sent to Special Assistant to the President Marvin Watson) was disingenuous. Although recounting one incident of "disruption," it was vague as to method and did not cite representative COINTELPRO activities -- identified activities, moreover, would not elicit a questioning response from the attorney general. Whether or not Attorney General Katzenbach read this memorandum carefully and fully understood the nature and extent of the FBI's anti-Klan activities, his September 3, 1965, response is at least revealing of Justice Department supervision of the bureau. Captioning his memorandum as responding to "Your memorandum of September 2, regarding penetration and disruption of Klan Organizations," Katzenbach either had not understood these disruption tactics or intentionally refused to acknowledge having been briefed about questionable "disruptive" activities:
I have been aware in a general way of the accomplishments of the Bureau in the area of Klan penetration, but I appreciate having the benefit of detailed information on this subject, and I hope you will continue to keep me up to date on it.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the development of your informant system in the Klan organizations and on the results you have obtained through it. It is unfortunate that the value of these activities would in most cases be lost if too extensive publicity were given to them; however, perhaps at some point it may be possible to place these achievements on the public record, so that the Bureau can receive its due credit. 19 (Emphasis added)
During December 3, 1975, testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, the former attorney general pointedly denied having been briefed by this memorandum. The bureau, Katzenbach maintained, frequently "used terms of art, or euphemisms, without informing the Attorney General that they were terms of art." 20
Katzenbach's December 1975 testimony cannot, however, be dismissed as a self-serving attempt to escape responsibility. Annual FBI reports of 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968, which Hoover forwarded to the White House and to the attorney general, contain a lengthy section detailing the FBI's specifically designated "counterintelligence" programs. These reports described legitimate criminal investigations and did not even slightly hint that the FBI sought to "expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize" organizations as diverse as the Communist party, the Socialist Workers party, or the Klan (and, after 1967 and 1968, Black Nationalist and New Left organizations). The annual reports conveyed a narrow, literal definition of counterintelligence. In addition, when Klan leaders complained to FBI and Post Office officials in 1967 about a possible mail fraud involving a faked letter actually prepared by the bureau under this COINTELPRO, FBI officials approached the Chief Postal Inspector's office in Washington to ascertain contemplated action on this complaint. Informed that the matter had been referred to the Justice Department's Criminal Division, FBI officials did not brief Justice or Post Office officials that FBI agents authored this faked letter. When the Criminal Division concluded that no investigation was warranted, Washington bureau officials then directed the local FBI field office to prepare a second phony letter. 21
FBI Director Hoover's briefing of Attorney General Ramsey Clark paralleled that of Katzenbach. Hoover advised the attorney general on December 19, 1967, that the lengthy attached memorandum (with a copy to Deputy Attorney General Warren Christopher) captioned "Ku Klux Klan investigations FBI accomplishments" had been prepared in response to Clark's conversation with FBI Assistant Director Cartha De Loach "concerning FBI coverage and penetration" of the Klan. Much of this information was already a matter of public record, the FBI director conceded; his memorandum also cited "matters dealing with extremely sensitive operations of this Bureau and it is suggested that this be handled on a strict need-to-know basis." The memorandum summarized the Klan's history and present status, outlined FBI investigative authority, detailed FBI investigations of the more important Klan cases, and described the FBI informant program and what Hoover captioned as "special projects." This "special projects" section vaguely described the FBI's COINTELPRO.
Hoover specifically recounted a number of COINTELPRO projects. These included efforts to remove Klan officials: disseminating information within Klan units to discredit the leadership, provoke scandal, and reduce the Klan's effectiveness; disseminating information to local police officials to ensure prosecution of Klan officials under local law; identifying those state troopers who were Klan members to state authorities; and selectively interviewing Klan members to "cause disillusionment of the members and disruption of the organization." Hoover's references might have been lengthy and descriptive. Nonetheless, they did have distinct law enforcement purposes, and no single incident had been cited wherein the FBI had disseminated information to the media, attempted to deny Klan members private employment, or tried to break up marriages. Hoover's description, for example, of the FBI's "special projects" in Virginia specified:
In the fall of 1965 the United Klans of America began an intensive organizational effort in the State of Virginia. We immediately began an all-out effort to penetrate the Virginia Klan, contain its growth, and deter violence. Working closely with local and state authorities we were able to disseminate information on contemplated cross burnings. Several arrests were made. . . .
. . . We provided the Governor [in December 1966] with information regarding Klan activities in his state. As a result, Governor [Mills] Godwin pressed for more effective enforcements of Virginia cross burning laws, and publically [sic] repudiated the Ku Klux Klan. . . .
In May, 1966, we learned of Klan plans to "arrange an accident" for [name deleted] a civil rights worker working in the State of Virginia. We advised [deleted] and local authorities of the plot against her life and alerted our informants to follow the plot closely. To this date, the Klan has taken no action against [deleted]. This is just one of many examples of our notifying authorities and intended victims of racial violence in order that they could take appropriate protective measures. 22
During his December 3, 1975, testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, Clark also denied knowledge of the existence, scope, or purpose of the COINTELPRO-White Hate groups. When pressed as to his response to the December 19, 1967, memorandum, in a frank admission of the carelessness of the Justice Department's oversight of the FBI, the former attorney general affirmed: "Did they [the words describing the "special projects"] put me on notice? No. Why? I either did not read them, or if I read them, didn't read them carefully. . . . So I guess I think I didn't read this. I think perhaps I had asked for it for someone else, and either bucked it on to them or I never saw it." 23
FBI Director Hoover also briefed Attorney General John Mitchell on September 17, 1969 (with copies to the deputy attorney general, and the assistant attorneys general in charge of the Criminal, Internal Security, and Civil Rights Divisions). In his one-page letter captioned "Investigation of Klan organizations-Racial Matters (Klan)," Hoover recounted the "Significant progress we have recently made in our investigation of the Ku Klux Klan." "During the last several months [implying quite recent efforts although the COINTELPRO-White Hate groups had been initiated in 1964]," the FBI director reported, "while various national and state leaders of the United Klan of America remain in prison, we have attempted to negate the activities of the temporary leaders of the Ku Klux Klan." The only "negation" activity Hoover cited was the "careful use and instruction of selected racial informants" to "initiate a split within the United Klans of America.The FBI director then promised to devote "full attention to our responsibilities in an effort to accomplish the maximum possible neutralization of the Klan." 24
In 1967 the COINTELPRO-White Hate groups investigations were expanded to obtain "details concerning [Klan or other white supremacist organizations'] rallies [and] demonstrations" and in 1968 to include information about groups "known to sponsor demonstrations against integration and . . bussing." In 1969 FBI coverage was broadened to include "full details concerning the speeches made at the rallies or demonstrations, as well as the identities of the speakers." Beginning in 1971, not only were persons with a "potential for violence" investigated but anyone "who in judgment of SAC should be subject of investigation due to extremist activities." This reporting requirement virtually granted special agents in charge of FBI field offices unlimited discretion to investigate dissident activities. 25
Simultaneously, FBI investigations of civil rights and black nationalist organizations intensified in 1964, partly in response to White House pressure. Following the outbreak of the first urban racial riots during the summer of 1964, President Johnson directed the FBI to investigate their origins and extent. As civil rights organizations became more active and militant, and as racial riots recurred in 1965 in other urban centers, the FBI in early 1965 and again in 1966 intensified investigations of "General Racial Matters." FBI investigations then focused on "black nationalist groups," "hate-type organizations" with a "propensity for violence and civil disorder," and "militant- black leaders and personalities active in planning demonstrations, rallies, or marches in the North or the South. At the same time, in June 1964, earlier FBI investigative efforts were refined and a "special desk" in the Domestic Intelligence Division was established to supervise an "intensifiication of the investigation of communist influence in racial matters." 26
When these FBI investigations could not confirm either Communist control of and direction to civil rights activities or militant black leaders' violations of federal law, in August 25, 1967, FBI Director Hoover ordered twenty-three special agents in charge to institute another COINTELPRO-Black Nationalist-Hate groups. Again, this COINTELPRO's purpose was clearly political: "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder." Hoover directed the agents to investigate these organizations on "a continuous basis"; to exploit "all opportunities for counterintelligence" "enthusiastic[ally] and imaginative[ly]," and specifically ordered:
The pernicious background of such groups, their duplicity, and devious maneuvers must be exposed to public scrutiny where such publicity will have a neutralizing effect. Efforts of the various groups to consolidate their forces or to recruit new or youthful adherents must be frustrated. 27
Concerned about the "tremendous increase in black nationalist activity, and the approach of the summer," on February 29, 1968, FBI official George Moore recommended extending this COINTELPRO to all forty-one FBI field offices (and not simply the twenty-three offices then conducting the program). Such an expansion was needed "to prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups, prevent the rise of a leader who might unify and electrify these violence-prone elements, prevent these militants from gaining respectability and prevent the growth of these groups among America's youth." On March 4, 1968, FBI Director Hoover concurred in this recommendation. He directed special agents to develop procedures, report back how they were handling this assignment, and submit a progress letter every ninety days "summarizing counterintelligence operations proposed during the period, operations effected, and tangible results." Once again the FBI director emphasized: "Each operation must be designed to protect the Bureau's interest so that there is no possibility of embarrassment to the Bureau. Beyond this the Bureau will give every possible consideration to your proposals." 28
Black organizations not formerly prominent in civil rights activities or only recently organized had not been specifically cited under the August 25, 1967, or March 4, 1968, authorization letters. Individuals already on the FBI's list of Key Black Extremists (which included leaders of the Black Panther party) were, however, targeted. Soon concerned about the dramatic rise and appeal of the Black Panthers during the late 1960s, on November 25, 1968, Hoover ordered "imaginative and hard-hitting intelligence measures aimed at crippling" the Black Panther party and, on January 30, 1969, directed additional FBI field offices to expand this aim. 29
Quite independently of these FBI efforts to discredit and limit the appeal of black civil rights organizations, the Department of Justice solicited additional information on black organizations or leaders who might have been conspiring to "plan, promote or aggravate riot activity." This intensified investigative effort was formally authorized on September 14, 1967, by Attorney General Ramsey Clark and was based on specific statutory authority. To refine this effort and to utilize effectively the obtained intelligence, the attorney general on December 18, 1967, specifically created an interdivision intelligence unit within the Department of Justice having the limited responsibility "for reviewing and reducing to quickly retrievable form all information that may come to this Department relating to organizations and individuals throughout the country who may play a role, whether purposefully or not, either in instigating or spreading civil disorders, or in preventing or checking them." 30 If Clark's purpose was prosecutive and not political, his authorization nonetheless provided cover for an already ongoing unilateral FBI program.
The 1960s was a decade of protest. College students as well as civil rights organizations were in the forefront of this protest. Beginning first by challenging arbitrary university requirements, college students soon moved to support civil rights objectives and then to radical politics, in reaction to the Vietnam War. Amorphous and nonideological, the student left (the so-called New Left) had limited connections and associations with traditional radical organizations. The appeal of the New Left, moreover, was not necessarily radical, deriving as well from moral convictions, an activist opposition to an increasingly unpopular war, and the policies and style of President Lyndon Johnson. Not surprisingly, FBI investigations of the New Left began by seeking whether to ascertain Communist or subversive influence and then whether to include student activists on the Security Index. As early as April 28, 1965, Hoover directed FBI officials to prepare a memorandum "with emphasis upon the communist influence" within the antiwar movement "so that it can be used publicly by prominent officials of the Administration whom the President intends to send in [sic] various parts of the country to speak on the Vietnam situation." Ultimately, the bureau's inability to confirm Communist control over the New Left, thereby discrediting campus radicalism, provided the impetus to establish the COINTELPRO-New Left.
The specific catalyst for this decision was a demonstration led by radical students on the Columbia University campus. FBI officials viewed this demonstration, like others on college campuses, as "a direct challenge to law and order and a substantial threat to the stability of society in general." Appalled by university officials' refusal to call in the local police, thereby effectively "tying the hands of law enforcement officials," and alarmed by the "era of disruption and violence" sweeping the nation "caused to a large extent" by the New Left, Domestic Intelligence Division officials Charles Brennan and William Sullivan on May 9, 1968, recommended the "immediate enactment" of a COINTELPRO "to neutralize the New Left and Key Activists . . . who are the driving forces behind the New Left." Brennan affirmed: "The purpose of this program is to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize the activities of this group and persons connected with it. It is hoped that with this new program their violent and illegal activities may be reduced if not curtailed."
FBI Director Hoover formally concurred on May 10, 1968, and solicited suggestions from all FBI field offices for "counterintelligence action against the New Left." After analyzing these replies, on October 28, 1968, Hoover authorized the COINTELPRO-New Left. Particular projects to be initiated included drafting anonymous letters and disseminating derogatory information to cooperative press contacts and "friendly news media." "Be alert for opportunities to confuse and disrupt New Left activities by misinformation. . . ." FBI officials were again urged: "You are reminded that no counterintelligence action is to be taken without Bureau approval. Insure that this program is assigned to an Agent with an excellent knowledge of both New Left groups and individuals. It must be approached with imagination and enthusiasm if it is to be successful." 31
Lacking external authorization (either in law, executive orders, or presidential directives) and clearly political, Hoover required his or a designated representative's advance approval for each proposed COINTELPRO project and further emphasized the need to forestall public knowledge of the project's existence and the bureau's involvement, and established a centralized reviewing system. Ironically, these carefully devised safeguards, particularly the requirement that proposed projects be submitted and receive formal authorization in writing, rendered the COINTELPRO vulnerable should the sanctity of FBI files be compromised.
On March 8, 1971, an activist antiwar group (the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI) broke into the FBI's Media (Pennsylvania) resident agency office and stole approximately one thousand FBI documents. In subsequent weeks, this group selectively released carefully screened documents to members of Congress, individual journalists, and organizations identified in the pilfered documents as having been targeted by the FBI. These documents partially revealed investigative techniques, priorities, and the scope of the FBI's secret police activities. These included: surveillance of anti-war and black activist groups on college campuses, intelligence-gathering in black neighborhoods, and attempts to harass New Left activists. More important, one of the fourteen FBI documents released to the Washington Post was captioned COINTELPRO-New Left. This September 16, 1970, document recommended intensified FBI interviewing of' dissidents so that this "will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox." 32 Release of these documents threatened to imperil COINTELPRO's continuance: should additional documents be pilfered front FBI offices revealing the scope and political nature of FBI COINTELPRO activities the integrity and authority of the FBI and its director could be severely undermined. (Hoover had reached mandatory retirement age in 1965 but had been allowed to continue as FBI director by an executive order of President Johnson.)
Although the Media documents confirmed the political biases of FBI investigations and hinted at COINTELPRO's existence (the captioned September 16, 1970, document), neither the Nixon White House nor Attorney General John Mitchell advocated an investigation of bureau practices and their legality. To the contrary. On March 23, 1971, Attorney General Mitchell warned that publication of these documents (which other Justice Department sources certified had been stolen front the FBI's Media office) could endanger national security and the lives of some federal agents. Before issuing this plea, Mitchell admitted to having considered seeking a court order restraining publication. The next day, however, Justice Department officials assumed the offensive and charged that the by-then released fourteen documents were among one thousand which had been stolen from the FBI office and that those responsible for this raid and dissemination had carefully selected documents to create an unwarranted impression of FBI illegality and irresponsibility. "Actually," one Department of Justice official affirmed, "a full examination of the stolen documents reveals the FBI showed restraint rather than overzealousness."
The next month (on April 14, 1971), Senators Gaylord Nelson and Edmund Muskie released copies of still other FBI reports disclosing FBI surveillance of Earth Day activities. Senator Nelson, moreover, demanded creation of a special commission to investigate domestic intelligence-gathering and surveillance activities. The Nixon White House responded by dismissing these charges as unfounded, "blatantly political," and intended to create the false impression that the FBI was spying on law-abiding citizens. Not Earth Day activities but persons known to foment violence had been under surveillance, Mitchell claimed. "One reason the FBI is the most respected investigative agency in the world," the attorney general affirmed, "is that it has steadfastly remained apart from politics and political activity, and has concerned itself solely with threats against national security and violations of federal law." The administration, moreover, was not the bureau's sole defender. Democratic Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield similarly dismissed criticisms of the FBI as "more noise than substance"; Mansfield strongly implied that he opposed a congressional investigation of the FBI. 33
Although the Nixon administration and the congressional leadership might have disdained to investigate FBI practices, release of the Media documents precipitated two internal FBI decisions. Within four months of the raid, FBI Director Hoover ordered the closing of 103 of the FBI's resident agencies; rules governing which papers and files would be kept in residence agencies were tightened and more strictly enforced. In addition, intricate alarm systems were installed in resident agencies not housed in well-guarded and secure buildings. Second, various COINTELPROs were formally terminated on April 28, 1971.
In an April 27, 1971, memorandum to William Sullivan (the head of the Domestic Intelligence Division), Charles Brennan recommended discontinuing COINTELPRO in order "to afford additional security to our sensitive techniques and operations." Brennan never alluded directly to the Media documents; his concern derived, however, less from COINTELPRO's illegality than the FBI director's requirement that all recommended COINTELPRO activities be submitted and authorized in writing by Washington headquarters. Brennan accordingly counseled:
These programs involve a variety of sensitive intelligence techniques and disruptive activities which are afforded close supervision at the Seat of Government [a bureau phrase for Washington headquarters]. They have been carefully supervised with all actions being afforded prior Bureau approval and an effort has been made to avoid engaging in harassment. Although successful over the years, it is felt they should now be discontinued for security reasons because of their sensitivity.
In exceptional instances where counterintelligence action is warranted, it will be considered on a highly selective individual basis with tight procedures to insure absolute security.
FBI Director Hoover concurred. On April 28, 1971, he ordered the immediate discontinuance of the various COINTELPROs but added:
In exceptional instances where it is considered counterintelligence action is warranted, recommendations should be submitted to the Bureau under the individual case caption to which it pertains. These recommendations will be considered on an individual basis.
You are reminded prior Bureau authority is required before initiating any activity of a counterintelligence nature. 34
The decision to terminate COINTELPRO was not then a decision to terminate COINTELPRO-type activities. The Media raid had confirmed that future raids on FBI field offices could compromise FBI investigative activities. COINTELPRO's Vulnerability, in fact, stemmed from Hoover's earlier requirements (1) that every proposal be submitted for his approval and (2) that field offices submit follow-up reports. In April 1971, Hoover had simply ordered discontinuance of a formal, and for that reason vulnerable, program. In the future such activities could still be instituted ad hoc.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities investigation of COINTELPRO, moreover, uncovered at least three COINTELPRO-type operations conducted after Hoover's April 28, 1971, termination order. The committee obtained information concerning two of these operations from the FBI; the third program (which involved the leaking of derogatory information about Daniel Ellsberg's lawyer to Ray McHugh, the chief of Copley News Service's Washington bureau) had been independently uncovered by the committee staff. In the Senate Select Committee report on COINTELPRO staff counsel Barbara Banoff concluded:
The Committee has not been able to determine with any greater precision the extent to which COINTELPRO may be continuing. Any proposals to initiate COINTELPRO-type action would be filed under the individual case caption. The Bureau has over 500,000 case files, and each one would have to be searched. In this context, it should be noted that a Bureau search of all field office COINTELPRO files [in 1975] revealed the existence of five operations in addition to those known to the [Assistant Attorney General Henry] Petersen committee [which was directed in 1974 to prepare a report on the FBI's COINTELPRO]. A search of all investigative files might be similarly productive. 35
The bureau's interest in limiting its vulnerability proved to be politically astute -- though not because the Nixon administration or the congressional leadership was willing to investigate the FBI. (Senator Nelson's 1971 resolution to create a joint congressional oversight committee died in committee. Reintroduced in 1973, 1974, and 1975, the resolution was seriously considered only after the dramatic revelations of the federal intelligence agencies' abuses of power were publicized in 1975 and 1976 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities. Responding to the impact of these revelations, in May 1976 the Senate approved a resolution to establish a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.) Rather, the FBI's COINTELPROs were uncovered, because of a suit brought by NBC correspondent Carl Stern.
On March 20, 1972, Stern wrote Attorney General Richard Kleindienst requesting "any document which (i) authorized the establishment and maintenance of Cointelpro-New Left, (ii) terminated such program, and (iii) ordered or authorized any change in the purpose, scope or nature of such program." On January 13, 1973, the attorney general denied Stern's request. The NBC reporter then brought suit under the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. During the subsequent trial, the Justice Department (among other responses) contended that the court "lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint". The department further had the right to withhold the requested documents by virtue of Freedom of Information Act exemptions (arguing that release of these documents would reveal instructions "on the manner in which the FBI conducts investigations" and would thereby substantially impair the effective operation of the FBI).
On July 16, 1973, U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker ordered the government to submit the requested documents to the court by July 24, 1973, for in camera inspection. The Justice Department complied. After reviewing the documents, on September 25, 1973, Judge Parker ordered their release to Stern. The Justice Department first appealed this ruling on October 20, 1973, reconsidering this decision, but then, on December 6, 1973, announced it would not appeal the judge's order.
That same day Acting Attorney General Robert Bork released two documents to Stern -- one dated May 10, 1968, announcing the initiation, and the other dated April 28, 1971, the termination, of the COINTELPRO-New Left. These releases publicly compromised three other FBI COINTELPROs. On March 7, 1974, the NBC reporter received seven additional documents concerning FBI COINTELPROs involving the Socialist Workers party, White Hate groups, and Black Nationalist-Hate groups (but inexplicably not the COINTELPRO-Communist party). 36
Stern's suit had forced Justice Department officials at least to initiate an investigation of FBI practices and procedures. The Department of Justice at the time had been reviewing FBI Director Clarence Kelley's proposal that the president issue an executive order directing the FBI to "expand by further defining the FBI's investigative authority to enable it to develop advance information" about "terrorist and revolutionaries who seek to overthrow or destroy the Government." 37 In December 1973, however, Acting Attorney General Robert Bork convinced Attorney General designate William Saxbe to delay action on Kelley's proposal and instead to investigate the FBI's COINTELPRO practices. Saxbe concurred and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen was assigned responsibility to conduct this inquiry. When informed of this committee's formation, FBI Director Kelley urged Bork to exclude the FBI's "extremely sensitive foreign intelligence collection techniques" from the department's review. These, Kelley warned, were handled within the bureau "on a strictly need-to-know basis" and should not be included in a study "which will be beyond the control of the FBI." 38
Still unwilling to exercise administrative responsibility over the FBI, the Department of Justice concurred in Kelley's suggestion. In addition, Petersen at first demurred to accept responsibility to conduct the investigation. FBI Director Kelley, the Assistant Attorney General instead suggested, should "undertake this responsibility." Replying that Kelley was extremely busy and did not "know what was going on over there either," Saxbe requested that Petersen conduct this inquiry "for both of us." Claiming ignorance as to where information could be obtained, Petersen accordingly requested the FBI to prepare summaries; these would be "spot checked" for "accuracy" by representatives from the Justice Department's Criminal Division. These FBI summaries were brief and rather bland. By not seeking direct access to the bureau's raw files, moreover, the Petersen committee could not learn either the reasons why agents had proposed and FBI Director Hoover had approved particular projects, or how these particular activities had been implemented.
The Senate Select Committee investigation into the raw files eventually disclosed the extremely misleading nature of these FBI summaries when contrasting one FBI summary with the approved FBI COINTELPRO project. The FBI summary reported: "It was recommended that an anonymous letter be mailed to the leader of the Blackstone Rangers, a black extremist organization in Chicago. The letter would hopefully drive a wedge between the Blackstone Rangers and the Black Panther Party. The anonymous letter would indicate that the Black Panther Party in Chicago blamed the leader of the Blackstone Rangers for blocking their programs." In fact, the proposed project was more ambitious and far less incidental. The recommendation emphasized that the Blackstone Rangers were prone to "violent type activity, shouting, and the like" and accordingly that an anonymous letter should be sent to a Blackstone Rangers leader stating that "the Panthers blame you for blocking their thing and there's supposed to be a hit out for you." This anonymous letter "may intensify the degree of animosity between the two groups" and "lead to reprisals against [the Black Panther party] leadership."
In addition, although criticizing "isolated instances" for practices "abhorrent in a free society" and "a small number of instances" where programs "involved what we consider today to be improper activities," the Petersen committee report nonetheless affirmed that most programs "were legitimate" and "were entirely proper and appropriate law enforcement procedures." The report enumerated these "entirely proper and appropriate" procedures:
notifying other Government authorities of civil and criminal violations of group members; interviewing such group members; disseminating public source material on such individuals and groups to media representatives; encouraging informants to argue against the use of violence by such groups; and issuing general public comment on the activities, policies and objectives of such groups through testimony at legislative hearings and in other formal reports.
Conceding that certain FBI COINTELPRO proposals violated the law, the Petersen committee nonetheless recommended against a criminal investigation:
any decision as to whether prosecution should be undertaken must also take into account several other important factors which bear upon the events in question. These factors are: first, the historical context in which the programs were conceived and executed by the Bureau in response to public and even Congressional demands for action to neutralize the self-proclaimed revolutionary aims and violence prone activities of extremist groups which posed a threat to the peace and tranquility of our cities in the mid and late sixties; second, the fact that each of the COINTELPRO programs were personally approved and supported by the late Director of the FBI; and third, the fact that the interference with First Amendment rights resulting from individual implemented program actions were insubstantial.
Rather than prosecution, the attorney general should publicly release the committee's report. (Saxbe complied with this recommendation and during November 20, 1974, testimony before the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights released the full report -- portions of the report had been made public in April 1974.) The Petersen committee also recommended issuance of a directive prohibiting the FBI
from instituting any counterintelligence program such as COINTELPRO without [the attorney general's] prior knowledge and approval. Specifically, this directive should make it unmistakably clear that no disruptive action should be taken by the FBI in connection with its investigative responsibilities involving domestic based organizations, except those which are sanctioned by rule of law, procedure, or judicially recognized and accepted police practices, and which are not in violation of state or federal law. 39
Attorney General Saxbe issued no such directive. In November 1975. however, Saxbe's Successor, Edward Levi, established a departmental committee to develop new FBI "guidelines," This committee proposed a series of "preventive action" guidelines. Under one of these, the FBI would have been authorized to take "nonviolent emergency measures" to "obstruct or prevent" the use of force or violence upon the attorney general's specific finding that there was "probable cause to believe that violence is imminent and cannot be prevented by arrest." Because of congressional opposition and because of recognition that this proposal would not have prevented the recurrence of COINTELPRO-type activities, Attorney General Levi was eventually forced to abandon this proposal when formally issuing Justice Department guidelines on March 10, 1976. 40
Justice Department efforts to minimize COINTELPRO activities -- whether claiming that violations of First Amendment rights were "insubstantial" or that most projects were legitimate -- did not accurately reflect their thrust and nature. First, many of the activities the Petersen committee report listed as being "entirely proper and appropriate law enforcement procedures" scarcely warrant this characterization. Second, the FBI's purposes for leaking derogatory information to the media about targeted individuals or organizations were purely political. Third, even when forwarding information to local and state authorities concerning planned or actual violations of local and state laws, the FBI had secured this information without prior investigative authority. Fourth, many of the bureau's contacts with public officials either constituted harassment or were intended to deny targeted individuals public employment.
COINTELPRO activities included sending anonymous, scurrilous, and false letters to break up marriages, to sow internal dissension within organizations, or to inform public and private employers of the political activities and organizational membership of radical individuals. Other COINTELPRO activities included efforts to provoke violence, prevent the election of radicals to public office, prevent dissidents from speaking or holding meetings, and prevent targeted individuals or organizations from publishing and disseminating their views. In addition, the Justice Department's own review of the FBI's COINTELPRO files led Attorney General Edward Levi to announce on April 1, 1976, the department's decision to send notification letters to individuals who might have been harmed by, or who remained ignorant that they had earlier been the target of, FBI COINTELPRO activities. By July 1977, 282 such notifications letters had been sent. 41
Neither innocent nor benign, FBI COINTELPRO activities confirmed the FBI's consciously political efforts to undermine political movements which bureau officials found abhorrent. The FBI, moreover, had not merely responded to public, congressional, or executive pressure. FBI officials had unilaterally initiated the various COINTELPROs without the prior knowledge and consent of responsible leaders either in the Congress or the excecutive branch. Furthermore, elaborate procedures had been devised to ensure against the attorney general's, the Congress's, and the public's knowledge of those activities. This program was formally terminated, it should also be emphasized, only when the COINTELPROs' secrecy was compromised in 1971. The nature of the activities conducted under the various COINTELPROs, the quest to ensure secrecy, and the far-reaching abuses of power confirmed the extent to which the FBI had become a law unto itself, had successfully precluded meaningful external oversight, and had based investigations on political considerations.
* The SACB had been created by the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 and had been assigned responsibility to enforce the act's registration provisions.
1. IARA, pp. 66, 211 n1. SDSRIARA, p. 16. Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case (New York: Knopf, 1978), pp. 9n, 275-276, 280, 358-359, 365-366. John Chabot Smith, "The Debate of the Century (Con't.)." Harper's (June 1978), pp. 81-85. Gary Wills, Nixon Agonistes (New York: New American Library, 1971), pp. 36-37. Peter Irons, "American Business and the Origins of McCarthyism: The Cold War Crusade of the United States Chamber of Commerce," in Griffith and Theoharis, eds., The Specter, pp. 79-82. For other examples of similar pre-COINTELPRO activities, see Caute, The Great Fear, pp. 169-181, 474, 481-482.
2. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 88-89, 170-172, 186-188, 486-494, 535-538, 761, 766-784, 817. Memo, Marvin Watson to President Lyndon Johnson, July 10, 1967, WHCF FG135, A12, FG135-6, 1/14/67 6/30/68, LBJ. New York Times, June 4, 1978, p. 6E. Ungar, FBI, pp. 277-278, 283-288, 355-358, 373-386. IARA, pp. 242-243, 242 n105, 242 n106, 242 n109. Robert Friedman, "FBI: Manipulating the Media," Rights, 23 (May/June 1977), pp. 13 14. Milwaukee Journal, Nov. 22, 1977, p. 2; Nov. 23, 1977, pp. 1, 8; Nov. 24, 1977, pp. 1, 9; Dec. 9, 1977, Accent, p. 4; Dec. 11, 1977, pp. 1, 15. Weinstein, Perjury, pp. 5, 366. Whitehead, The FBI Story, pp. 252-253. Walter Goodman, "J. Edgar Hoover and Me," Nation, 226 (Mar. 25, 1978). p. 325. Robert Wall, "Special Agent for the FBI," New York Review of Books, 13 (Jan. 27, 1972), pp. 140-167.
3. The more important Supreme Court rulings were Communist Party v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1956). 351 U.S. 115; Pennsylvania v. Nelson (1956), 350 U.S. 497; Peters v. Hobby (1955), 349 U.S. 331; Service v. Dulles (1957), 354 U.S. 363; Slochower v. Board of Education (1956), 350 U.S. 551 ; Cole v. Young (1956), 351 U.S. 536; Watkins v. United States (1957), 354 U.S. 178; Yates, et al. v. United States (1957), 354 U.S. 298; and Jencks v. United States (1957), 353 U.S. 657. SDSRIARA, pp. 16-17. Belknap, Cold War Political Justice, pp. 156, 175, 190-192, 216-220, 228-230, 236-248, 261, 263, 265.
4. John Elliff, "Aspects of Federal Civil Rights Enforcement: The Justice Department and the FBI, 1939-1964," Perspectives in American History, V (1971), pp. 643-647. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, p. 473. IARA, p. 180. SDSRIARA, pp. 450-451.
5. Not principally concerned over legal restrictions and holding alarmist "national security" views, FBI officials were committed simply to obtaining practical results. IARA, pp. 14, 14 n82, 66, 211 n1. SDSRIARA, pp. 3, 10-11, 15, 16 17, 108, 469-470. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, p. 70.
6. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 372-376. IARA, pp. 66-67, 211, 211 n2. SDSRIARA, pp. 5, 17, 110 111. Similar considerations underlay Bureau efforts to develop a "responsible" leader for the civil rights movement. Navasky, "The FBI's Wildest Dream," pp. 716-718.
7. IARA, pp. 146-147, 151, 156, 281. SDSRIARA, pp. 9 n39, 27, 62, 63-64.
8. IARA, p. 281. SDSRIARA, p. 65. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 819-820.
9. Minutes of Cabinet Meeting, Nov. 6, 1958, Cabinet Minutes, DDE. IARA, pp. 281-282. SDSRIARA, pp. 69-70.
10. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 821-826. SDSRIARA, p. 66.
11. IARA, p. 282. SDSRIARA, pp. 465-466.
12. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, p. 377. SDSRIARA, pp. 17-18.
13. Navasky, Kennedy Justice, pp. 105-106.
14. New York Times, June 27, 1964; Washington Post, June 17, 1964.
15. Don Whitehead, Attack Against Terror: The FBI Against the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970), pp. 90-91.
16. SDSRIARA, pp. 18, 471-472.
17. Ibid., pp. 19-20; HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 378-382,602-604.
18. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 513-514.
19. Ibid., p. 515.
20. Ibid., pp. 202, 206-207, 213-217, 218, 231-232, 243-247.
21. IARA, pp. 151-152. SDSRIARA, p. 64 n261. Annual FBI Reports of 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968. Documentary Supplement, Department of Justice, vol. XIII, FBI, pt. XlXb, LBJ. The FBI's 1966 report inaccurately identified this counterintelligence program as "designed to identify foreign intelligence personnel working against the United States and to determine their objectives so that protective measures and counter moves can be devised. These investigations are largely preventive in nature and their effectiveness cannot be measured on the basis of convictions or other statistics. Also, by the very nature of the investigations and the information obtained from them, a detailed outline of accomplishments cannot be publicly recorded." Ibid., 1966 Report, p. 23. While other annual reports were neither so specific nor so dishonest, these same themes were generally reiterated. See also the bland descriptions of the FBI's "internal security" responsibilities in Narrative History, Department of Justice, vol. XIX, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 22-39, LBJ.
22. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 516-527.
23. Ibid., pp. 221, 224, 232-235, 240-241.
24. SDSRIARA, p. 69.
25. Ibid., pp. 474-475; HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 679-680.
26. SDSRIARA, pp. 108, 179, 475-483; HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, p. 68 1. See also Navasky, "The FBI's Wildest Dream," pp. 716-718 for an account of FBI cointelpro-type activities directed at civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
27. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 383-385. SDSRIARA, pp. 20-21. Milwaukee Journal, Mar. 11, 1978, p. 3.
28. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 386-392.
29. SDSRIARA, pp. 22, 187--188, 528-531.
30. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 528-534. IARA, pp. 83-84. SDSRIARA, pp. 487-501.
31. SDSRIARA, pp. 23-27, 483-489. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 393-397. Wise, The American Police State, p. 311.
32. Milwaukee Journal, Mar. 24, 1971, pp. 1, 6. Wise. The American Police State, pp. 281, 314n. Ungar, FBI, pp. 136 140, 484-492. IARA, p. 127 n635.
33. Milwaukee Journal. March 24, 1971, pp. 1, 6; March 25, 1971, p. 6; Apr. 15, 1971, pp. 1, 2; April 16, 1971, pp. 1, 2.
34. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 30, 605. IARA, p. 285. Wise, The American Police State, p. 314n. Ungar, FBI, p. 488. HDIOIS, p. 3832.
35. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 30, 49, 90, 165, 330-332, 486-488. SDSRIARA, pp. 13-14. IARA, p. 246. Milwaukee Journal. Mar. 23, 1975, p. 14.
36. SDSRIARA, p. 73. Milwaukee Journal, Dec. 7, 1973, p. 5; Dec. 9, 1973, p. 18; March 8, 1974, pp. 1, 7. HDIOIS, pp. 3540-3544, 3831-3913.
37. HIA, vol. 6. Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 540-575. SDSRIARA, p. 553. The background to FBI Director Kelley's August 7, 1973, proposal and the response are more fully discussed in chapter three.
38. SDSRIARA, p. 553. U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Hearings on FBI Counterintelligence Programs, 93rd Cong., 2d sess., 1974, pp. 9-16, 20-23, 44-47.
39. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 270-272, 430-433: IARA, pp. 130-131, 271 n20; SDSRIARA, pp. 12, 42, 73-76, 195-198, 553-554. U.S. House, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Hearings on FBI Counterintelligence Programs, 93rd Cong., 2d sess., 1974. pp, 9-16, 20-23, 44-47. Justice Department officials' indifference and willingness to minimize FBI COINTELPRO activities are also graphically demonstrated in Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kevin Maroney's April 8, 1974, testimony before the House Committee on Internal Security. Even though COINTELPRO documents had been released to NBC reporter Carl Stern in December 1973 and March 1974 and disclosed programs dating from 1961, Maroney nonetheless testified: "As has been indicated in the press by virtue of some documents made available by the Department, it [Cointel] was a program operated for about 3 years and discontinued in 1971." HDIOIS, p. 3533.
40. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of investigation, pp. 316-320; IARA, pp. 135, 316-320; SDSRIARA, p. 76 n314. Kansas City Star, Aug. 13, 1975, p. 1. Milwaukee Journal, April 4. 1975, p. 7; Dec. 11, 1975. p. 18; Feb. 17. 1976, p. 2; Feb. 18, 1976, pp. 1, 2; Feb. 28. 1976, p. 1: March 12, 1976, Accent, p. 9; April 9, 1976, Accent, p. 14. New York Times, Dec. 10, 1976, p. 76: March 14, 1976, p. 4E.
41. HIA, vol. 6, Federal Bureau of Investigation, pp. 24-29, 31-34, 42-48, 50-59, 65-80, 83, 88-90, 92-95, 99-101, 103-104, 118, 151, 171, 271-272, 370-371, 398-407, 430-442, 486-494, 535-538, 606-622, 684-685, 689-702, 762-818. IARA, pp. 10-12, 17-18, 93-94, 180, 215-219, 242-248. SDSRIARA, pp. 7-11, 27-61, 95-96, 96 n68, 188-223, 242 n63, 251-252, 850-855, Blackstock, COINTELPRO, pp. 28-192. HJDIIP, pp. 113, 114, 235-236. Milwaukee Journal, Nov. 22, 1977, p. 2; Nov. 23, 1977, pp. 1, 8; Nov. 24, 1977, pp. 1, 9: Nov. 26, 1977, p. 11.