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COINTELPRO is an acronym ('COunter INTELligence PROgram') for a program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at attacking dissident political organizations in the United States. Although covert operations have been employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO's of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against organizations that were (at the time) considered politically radical, such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The origins of COINTELPRO were rooted in the Bureau's operations against hostile foreign intelligence services. Counterintelligence, of course, goes beyond investigation; it refers to actions taken to neutralize enemy agents. "Counterintelligence" was a misnomer for the FBI programs, since the targets were American political dissidents, not foreign spies. In the atmosphere of the Cold War, the American Communist Party was seen as a serious threat to national security. Over the years, anti- Communist paranoia extended to civil rights, anti-war, and many other groups.

The FBI addressed the threats from the militant "New Left" as it had those from Communists in the 1950s and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s. It used both traditional investigative techniques and counterintelligence programs ("Cointelpro") to counteract domestic terrorism and conduct investigations of individuals and organizations who threatened terroristic violence. Wiretapping and other intrusive techniques were discouraged by J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director in the mid-1960s and eventually were forbidden completely unless they conformed to the Omnibus Crime Control Act. Hoover formally terminated all "Cointelpro" operations on April 28, 1971.

"And for the FBI, as recently as the 1960s and the '70s, we were found to have run a counterintelligence program, infamously known as COINTELPRO, that targeted persons involved in civil disobedience with investigative measures that crossed the line."
--Remarks by
Robert S. Mueller, III
Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
at the
Stanford Law School
Stanford, CA
October 18, 2002

Table of contents
1 History
2 Methods
3 References
4 See also
5 External Links


The program was initially targeted at the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA). After its initial success, it was expanded to include many other organizations. Some of the largest COINTELPROs targeted the Socialist Worker's Party, the "New Left" (including several anti-war groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Black Liberation groups such as the Black Panthers, Puerto Rican independence groups, and American Indian Movements. There were also attacks against other organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (whom the FBI sometimes collaborated with in other COINTELPROs).

The program was secret until 1971, when an FBI office was burglarized and many secret documents were stolen. The crime was never solved, and the group responsible slowly leaked the documents to various members of the media and Congress. Within the year, Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis. He did not promise that the FBI would stop using COINTELPRO tactics.

Further documents were revealed in the course of separate lawsuits filed against the FBI by NBC correspondent Carl Stern and by the SWP, and in 1976 by the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee" for its chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho. However, millions of pages of documents remain unreleased, and many released documents are entirely censored.

The Church committee documented a history of the FBI being used for purposes of political repression as far back as World War I, through the 1920s, when they were charged with rounding up "anarchists and revolutionaries" for deportation, and then building from 1936 through 1976.

Today, FBI programs in the spirit of COINTELPROs target groups like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador and the Anti-Globalization Movement.


The COINTELPROs used a broad array of methods, including:


See also

External Links