Many Black activists, organizers and leaders have heard of “Cointelpro,” or the Counterintelligence Program created by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
We make reference to this program whenever we discuss how the government assassinated Black leaders, created tension among and destroyed Black organizations, and sabotaged the Black Liberation Movement.
We often speak and write of terms associated with Cointelpro, such as “informants” or “Agents. ” Seldom however, do we carefully explain these terms, how Cointelpro-like operations work in our communities or most importantly, how to defend ourselves against such things.
Today, it is simply not enough to talk about this program which has killed our people, falsely imprisoned our people, caused some of us to have nervous breakdowns, led some of our warriors to become drug addicts, and smeared the good reputations of many genuine and committed men and women. Today, we must give serious thought to how we will destroy establishment efforts to destroy us.
What was Cointelpro?
“Cointelpro” was – courtesy of Wikipedia –
A series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.
The United States – through the Central Intelligence Agency -already had a history of destabilizing and killing foreign leaders and organizations under the guise of “insuring national security.”
What made Cointelpro unique was its focus on sabotaging domestic people and groups. Cointelpro formally began in 1956 when the FBI attempted to identify, monitor and sabotage the Communist Party USA organization. The program quickly adapted itself to national political trends. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Cointelpro’s focus on communism grew to include anti-war protestors, the Klu Klux Klan, The American Indian Movement, and several Civil Rights and Black Power organizations like SNCC, SCLC, the Congress of Racial Equality, Revolutionary Action Movement, Nation of Islam, Malcolm’s Organization of Afro American Unity, the Black Panther Party, and others.
Regarding the last point, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply concerned about the increasing militance and effectiveness of progressive and Black Nationalist organizations.
The now infamous FBI Memo of 1968 outlined Cointelpro’s objectives concerning these organizations and their leaders:
To prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups” ; to “Prevent the RISE OF A ‘MESSIAH’ who could unify…the militant black nationalist movement” ; “to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence [against authorities].” ; to “Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to…both the responsible community and to liberals who have vestiges of sympathy…”; and to “prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth.”
Using a team of Black informants and sneaky tactics like writing and sending fabricated letters, spreading rumors and smearing people’s reputations, falsely accusing activists of being “snitches,” instigating tension between Black organizations, destroying group headquarters, making false criminal charges and arrests of movement leaders and other forms of harrassment, the program was unfortunately, successful.
View a first-hand account of the FBI’s handy work from a negro named Dathard Perry, who himself was an informant, below (six-part clip)
By 1975, many Black Power organizations were in their decline, resulting largely from imprisonment, instigated in-fighting, sarbotaged fundraising attempts, assassinations, exorbitant legal fees, and several activists on the run from law enforcement authorities.
While the program officially ended in 1971, many activists and government watch dog group suggest that its activities continue to this day under different names and methods.
How Can We Defend Ourselves Against These Government Sabotage Tatics?
Become familiar with Cointelpro’s methods: the book “War at Home” identifies the following FBI tactics: “Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.
Psychological warfare: The FBI and police used myriad “dirty tricks” to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists. They used bad-jacketing to create suspicion about targeted activists, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Legal harassment: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, “investigative” interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters
Illegal force: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. The object was to frighten or eliminate dissidents and disrupt their movements.”
Learn more about Cointelpro in general: The Church Committee hearings in 1975-76 made many of the FBI’s immoral and illegal tactics against American citizens public. The records of this committee are a good place to start.
In addition, I strongly suggest that you read through the Cointelpro Papers when time and opportunity permit.
Read literature about how to guard yourself and your organization.
One of the best references I’ve found is a manual entitled “Rats: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself Against Snitches. “
The Talking Drum Website provides a wealth of information on the topic.
Lastly, activists an organizers should consider using smartphone apps to encrypt phone calls, texts and emails. Red phone is an excellent app for android phone calls, and a simple Google search will produce a treasure of apps for text messages and emails.
Now let’s get to work, brothers and sisters, and sabotage those trying to sabotage us!
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.