Cointelpro (1956-1971), short for “Counter Intelligence Program”, was a secret FBI operation where the American government destroyed the New Left and Black Power movements in the 1960s and early 1970s.
As the FBI put it, it sought to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” certain political movements thereby “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.” To do this it lied, robbed and even murdered.
At first it was directed just against the Communist Party USA but later others were added to the list, among them:
- Black Panther Party
- Socialist Workers Party
- American Indian Movement (AIM)
- Nation of Islam
- El Comite-MINP
- Weather Underground
- Young Lords
- American Nazi Party
- Gay Liberation Front
Some who were on its watch list:
- Martin Luther King, Jr
- Malcolm X
- Angela Davis
- Elijah Muhammad
- Russel Means
- Richard Aoki
- Bill Ayers
- Stokely Carmichael
- Eldridge Cleaver
- Fred Hampton
- Bunchy Carter
- Geronimo Pratt
- Mario Savio
- Assata Shakur
- John Lennon
- Yoko Ono
- Muhammad Ali
Some of what the FBI did:
- Planted false stories in the press.
- Planted false witnesses in court trials.
- Sent false letters to create distrust and division among leaders.
- Planted informers everywhere – and then falsely named others as informers.
- Got people fired at work.
- Broke up marriages.
- Broke into people’s houses to search them.
- Arrested leaders for minor traffic violations.
- Framed people for murder and other false charges – to lock them up or at least keep them tied up in court till something stuck.
- Committed murder.
We do not know if Cointelpro was behind the murder of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no proof of it, but it is something they wanted to do. We do know they killed Fred Hampton, a Black Panther leader in Chicago. That was proved in court. They had the Chicago police break down his door in the middle of the night and gun him down. The FBI had been keeping a file on him even before he joined the Panthers.
The Panthers were shocked by the scale and thoroughness of the FBI. It was more than just planting a few informers and listening in on telephone calls:
- They framed Geronimo Pratt for murder – and then made sure one of his defence lawyers was an FBI informer!
- Panthers secretly working for the FBI talked about blowing up department stores – giving the police an excuse to arrest top Panthers and throw them in prison.
The press and the police did the FBI’s bidding. The Panthers found much of its leadership killed, sent to prison or driven out of the country. Those who remained did not know who to trust.
The truth came out in 1971 when left-wing activists robbed an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. More came out in 1976 at the Pike and the Church Committee hearings in Congress and later in different court trials. But there are still millions of pages that the FBI has never made public, so even now we do not know the full truth.