1956 — The FBI commences COINTELPRO operations against American citizens

COINTELPRO, or COunter INTELligence PROgram, was one of the FBI’s grossest violations of the civil rights of the people it supposedly protected in the agency’s existence. Authorised by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on August 28, 1956, and did not end until 1971. It consisted of a variety of counter-intelligence manouvres aimed at what were euphemistically called ‘domestic targets’.

The target list included organisations deemed ‘subversive’ by the FBI, approximately 85% of them leftist groups and individuals (including Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein) associated with the Civil Rights movement. The list of groups reads like a counter-culture who’s who: the SDS, the NAACP, the Congress for Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Congress, the Weathermen, the American Indian Movement and almost every group protesting the Vietnam War. (The remaining 15% of COINTELPRO’s attentions were aimed at the Ku Klux Klan and similar extreme right groups.)

Tactics used by COINTELPRO included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, even assassination. It only stopped after an illegal break in stole and made public documents exposing the program – not because it was, you know, wrong or illegal or anything like that, but because it made Hoover look bad in the press.

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Your Next Bold Move — Ani Di Franco