Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland

COINTELPRO and the Black Panthers
Seán Mac Mathúna

Best site: The COINTELPRO Papers


Armies of Repression: The FBI, COINTELPRO and Far Right Vigilante Networks

COINTELPRO: The Sabotage Of Legitimate Dissent

"The FBI figured prominently in the assassination of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King and Fred Hampton" The Assassination of Malcolm X, (1)


The two articles by Allan Hougland published in Flame, detail the struggle in the USA by two revolutionaries from the Black Panther movement: Geronimo Ji Jaga and Mumia Abu-Jamal. It is believed that these two political prisoners were victims of a long campaign by the FBI known as COINTELPRO, or Counter Intelligence programme, that may have continued up to today, with new "targets" being found in the Green movement, and Rap singers such as Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Back in the 1960s, COINTELPRO was aimed at smashing domestic liberation movements such as the Black Panther Party (BPP). Later, in the 1970's, the U.S. government claimed that it had stopped these operations. But many commentators believe it still carries on - notably against persons and groups connected with more radical elements in the Green movement, such as Earth First! Why was the BPP targeted? Amongst other things, it was certainly because started to provide an effective voice for black people in the U.S. - especially after the assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. For example, the BPP instituted free breakfast programmes for children, community health clinics and classes in political education. It demanded, among other things, the right of black people to defend themselves against racist attacks, and a end to the draft of black men into the military. By 1969, the BPP had 27 chapters throughout the U.S.(2)

The BPP was formed during October 1967, in Oakland, California by, amongst others, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. As the popularity and appeal of the BPP grew among the impoverished black ghettos in the U.S., so did the "racist paranoia" of the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. They responded with armed confrontations around the country, which between 1966 and 1970, led to more than 30 members of the BPP being killed by the police and FBI - including BPP leader Fred Hampton, who was assassinated in by the Chicago police in 1969. The BPP was the primary target of the COINTELPRO operations, with almost 90% of all counter-intelligence activities against the black liberation movement targeting the BPP.(2)

However, it is only since the Watergate scandal in 1974, that it became established that harassment and suppression of dissident groups in the U.S. is common. This has often resulted in long terms of imprisonment or death for those concerned - such as in the case of Fred Hampton. He was drugged by an FBI infiltrator in his house, then wounded in his sleep by FBI gunfire and executed at close range by two bullets in the head. The FBI then dragged him to the doorway of his flat where his body was later found.(3)

The first concrete evidence of COINTELPRO operations surfaced in March 1971 when burglars calling themselves the "Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI", removed secret files from a FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and released them to the press. These revealed for the first time, the FBI's dirty tricks against political dissidents in the United States.

The Watergate scandal not only brought down President Nixon, but it led to an amendment to the US Freedom of Information Act, which made is possible to get documents previously withheld from the public by such agencies as the CIA and FBI. As a result, a flood of lawsuits by the SWP, and other organisations and individuals forced the government to turn over additional secret documents. It was found that the CIA had:

"Consistently violated the laws prohibiting its operations against American citizens on American soil by burglaries, wiretaps, unauthorised opening of mail, infiltration of organisations, provocation's of violence, and training of local police departments on how to commit these and other crimes on their own. The FBI has also done all these things and more . . ."(4)

In May 1971, President Nixon and the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover launched a new initiative against the Black liberation movement in which Nixon ordered a "no-punches pulled" campaign to imprison Black political fugitives. As with the Watergate tapes, the minutes of this meeting were lost by Nixon. This investigation, codenamed NEWKILL, served as a basis for the FBI to begin the "hunting down, murder, torture and prosecution of the Black revolutionaries forced into hiding by the successful COINTELPRO operators of the FBI".(2)

Political assassinations in the U.S.

The Negro youth and moderates must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries FBI memo dated 3rd April 1968, from San Francisco Office to Director, FBI5

The murder of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King l believe were part of a much wider attempts to smash the black liberation movement in the United States. Two books provide a clear insight into State-sponsored terrorism against such dissident groups in the USA, such as the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, the Communist and Socialist Workers Party, to name but a few. In The Assassination of Malcolm X, the authors examine the possible connections, between the US Government and the murderers of the Black revolutionary leader, Malcolm X.

Reading these books, we begin to dispel the crude myths of the "cold war", with the "free world" led by the USA on one side, and the "evil empire" led by the Soviet Union on the other. Although we now know that the CIA and FBI targeted "all militant and radical groups", none was a greater target than the Black Liberation movement in the 1960's. The aim was "to smash the Black movement by any means possible". The FBI done this through COINTELPRO. The aim, as their own records show, was "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralise the activities of Black Nationalist, hate-type organisations and groupings, their leadership, spokesman, membership, and supporters. Another aims was "to prevent the coalition of militant Black Nationalist groups" from getting influence, and to "prevent militant nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability".

It would be years later that a secret FBI memo, signed by J. Edgar Hoover and written one month before the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, was found. It discussed the way "to prevent the rise of a 'messiah' who could unify and electrify, the militant Black Nationalist movement". Many believe that this indicates FBI involvement in the murder of Dr. King as the memo continues: "[Malcolm X] might have been such a 'messiah'; he is the martyr of the movement today".(6)

As part of the COINTELPRO operations, paid informers and agents provocateurs were sent into targeted organisations such as the Black Panther Party. Thus, the FBI were able to set up Black Panther members for murderous police raids that in one case led to the assassination of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago during 1969. Another tactic discussed in a COINTELPRO memo dated May 11th 1970, was to fabricate documents that would appear to be stolen from Police files; planting spies pretending to be "disgruntled Police employees" and promoting factionalism by revealing the "misuse or misappropriation of Panther funds". The aim - which succeeded in many cases - was to promote dissension and confusion in the ranks of the Black Panthers, which led to widespread expulsions in the party.(4)

The case of Dhoruba Bin-Wadad

Whereas it was accepted that if you lived in the USSR you would be harassed if you engaged in activities the state deemed "subversive", in the United States during the 1960's and 1970's, just attending a political meeting could lead to the secret police - in this case the FBI - commencing a "criminal" investigation of you. This occurred in the case of the Black Panther leader Dhoruba Bin-Wadad, later - like Ji Jaga and Abu-Jamal - to be framed for a crime he did not commit. when he had attended his first BPP meeting in 1968, the New York Police commenced a "criminal" investigation of him. By 1969, the FBI had started their own "investigation" into him, and placed him on their "Security Index" - a list of American citizens subject to internment in the event of a "national emergency".(2)

Bin-Wadad was released in 1990 after spending 19 years in jail for a crime the U.S. government knew he did not commit. His freedom came after a 15 year campaign to expose a "politically motivated frame up designed to neutralise a effective Black spokesperson". Covert Action said that the 300, 000 U.S. government documents obtained during his legal fight:

"Vividly illustrate how the U.S. government uses its criminal justice system as part of a counter-insurgency campaign against domestic liberation movements"(2)

The FBI also tried to discredit any supporters from the liberal white community. For example, in January 1970, the noted composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein hosted a fund-raising party for incarcerated Panthers. The FBI responded by mailing copies of articles from the BPP newspaper which expressed support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to Jewish guests that had attended the event. The FBI signed these letters with an anonymous name with additional phraseology such as "concerned and loyal Jew". Alienation of Jewish support for the Black Panther Party was a "frequent goal" of the COINTELPRO operations. (2)

FBI Disruption Programmes

"Anyone who opposes us - we'll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn't support us, we'll destroy" Egil Krogh, aide to President Nixon, 1971(7)

The COINTELPRO operations of the 1960's that targeted the Black Panther Party were modeled on the successful programmes of earlier years undertaken to disrupt the American Communist Party. The first FBI "disruption programme" was launched in August 1960 against groups advocating independence for the US-occupied island of Puerto Rico. In 1961, it was the turn of the SWP for it's own "Disruption Programme" as the FBI called it. The FBI noted that the SWP had openly supported the revolution in Cuba, along with what it called "integration problems . . . in the South". This shows that as early as this, the FBI were working against civil-rights groups that were fighting the racist Ku Klux Klan in the South. This was at a time when KKK lynching's and other acts of terrorism were rising. Some of these activities were aimed at preventing Black voter registration - a theme of the the film Mississippi Burning.

From 1966 to 1968, the FBI launched Operation Hoodwink against the Communist Party. The aim was to incite the Mafia against them through documents fabricated by the FBI - in the hope that criminal elements would carry on the work of repression and disruption in their own manner - by means "that may be left to the imagination" according to Nelson Blackstock writing in his book COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom. (8)

Noam Chomsky, writing in the introduction to the book, also observes that:

"The most serious of the FBI disruption programmes were these directed against Black Nationalists', such as the Black Panther Party. Methods included to "ridicule and discredit" individuals who attempted to raise funds for the movement, and ultimately "extensive Police and judicial attack" on the Panthers (9).

Last word should go to Robert J. Boyle, who, writing in Covert Action in 1991, summed up the effects of the COINTELPRO operations against the black liberation movement:

"The existence of Black political prisoners in the US is a consequence of the vicious racist repression of illegal COINTELPRO activities under the pretext and guise of the criminal law. Their existence exposes the US government as one of the most hypocritical violator of human rights in the world. The freedom of US political prisoners is therefore something that must be supported by all freedom-loving peoples" (2)


1 The Assassination of Malcolm X. George Breitman, Herman Porter and Baxter Smith. Pathfinder, New York, USA, 1976.
2 Covert Action, No 36, Spring 1991.
3 Wake Up! No 11, Lowestoft, England, 1996
4 Page 9, ibid
5 From an FBI memo entitled Counter Intelligence Programme, Black Nationalist Hate Groups, Racial Intelligence. Quoted in Covert Action, No 36, Spring 1991.
6 Page 10, ibid
7 Page 173, ibid
8 COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom. Nelson Blackstock, Pathfinder/Anchor Foundation, New York, USA, 1988. Page 173.
9 Ibid, page 14

© 1997