The Cointelpro Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States

by Ward Churchill* and Jim Vander Wall

South End Press (1990)

Free PDF: Cointelpro Papers

Book Review

As the authors describe, the FBI Cointelpro program first came to light in letters and memos seized when antiwar activists broke into an FBI field office in 1971 looking for draft cards. Using these and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the authors make it clear that the FBI has infiltrated and sabotaged every major citizens group since 1945.

The Cointelpro papers should be required reading for high school graduation. It’s essential to realize that government wire tapping, stalking, covert break-ins and infiltration of community groups didn’t start in 2002 when these activities first became “legal” under the Patriot Act. In fact, it’s extremely well documented (by University of Wisconsin professor Alfred McCoy – see Spying on Americans: the Ugly History) that it first began during the US occupation of the Philippines in 1898-1901.

This book had great personal importance in my life. There are a number of parallels between Jean Seberg’s case (see below) and the FBI harassment I began experiencing in 1987 related to my work with two former Black Panthers.** Along with four other African American activists, they had occupied an abandoned Seattle school in 1985 to transform it into a community-controlled African American Heritage Building and Cultural Center.

The section of Cointelpro Papers I found most illuminating describes the death squad activity that occurred on the Pine Ridge Sioux reservations during the 1970s – fifty-plus murders were never even investigated, much less prosecuted. Most Americans assume forced disappearances and extrajudicial assassinations only occur in Third World countries (thanks to the excellent CIA training their military officers receive at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning Georgia). Learning of scores of documented instances on US soil is extremely troubling.

The book also reproduces chilling FBI memos related to the coordinated FBI/police attack and murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the attempted murder of Los Angeles Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt (who was subsequently imprisoned for 27 years on fictitious charges). The book goes on to recount to the brave refusal of Seattle mayor Wes Uhlman to consent to a similar FBI/police raid on the Black Panthers in Seattle (see The Mayor Who Said No to the Feds).

The saddest chapter describes the sadistic campaign of personal harassment Hoover undertook against actress Jean Seberg, a white actress who provided the Black Panthers with financial support. As a result of rumor campaigns and vicious gossip columns planted by the FBI, Seberg and her partner ultimately committed suicide.


*Ward Churchill is a well-known American Indian Movement (AIM) activist and former professor of ethnic studies at University of Colorado.

**Which I describe in my memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee

Comments
  1. Thank you Stuart. I read this book many years ago and it really helped me break through the programing of thinking the problem was a “few bad apples” in our government. It helped make it abundantly clear that the whole barrel is rotten to the core. In a similar vein I’d highly recommend Doug Valentine’s new book “The CIA as organized crime.” Sobering, but indispensable information and analysis.

    • Same here, intergenerationtrauma. I was extremely depressed after reading this book in the 1990s. It really brought it home to me that the US government is run by professional criminals.

  2. So, how can we effectively push back against the likes of what we are up against? Seeing as how many have tried, only to fail, be jailed or commit suicide? It doesn’t offer up much hope and that’s for sure. It would seem that we are all just sitting ducks since any type of organization that gets founded is soon infiltrated by those vile animals. They use what’s gone down to prevent people from getting any ideas that they can ever effect change by coming together. It is disheartening to read about so many who were brave enough to go up against that mess only to end up in a really bad place or dead.

    • Interesting question, Shelby. To answer it I think we need to look at some historical models – the ones I really like are the French resistance during World War II and the Zapatista movement in Mexico. The French resistance was totally underground – in other words they didn’t advertise public meetings. It was also face-to-face cells of people you knew really well and trusted. It was occasionally infiltrated but rarely. Advertising public meetings, especially on Facebook and Twitter, is a perfect set-up to be infiltrated. That’s why the so-called Facebook revolution (organized by the CIA and Google) behind the so-called Arab Spring was such a joke.

      The Zapatista’s also use this kind of decentralized model of organizing – though they use the Internet a lot to promote their successes to the rest of the world. They sure as hell don’t advertise their upcoming meetings on the Internet or anywhere else.

  3. Dr. Bramhall, I’ve added your memoir to my To Read List.
    Ours is a struggle without end. Yet, for our own sake, we must not tire or give up.

  4. Thanks, Rosaliene. I’m really flattered. I hope you like it.

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