COINTELPRO in the '80s: The "New" FBI
"Between 1981 and 1988, the FBI - in particular the bureau's global
counter-terrorism unit and its foreign intelligence division:
"Mounted a massive political spying campaign, involving 52 of the FBI's
59 field offices, to infiltrate and watch members of the committee in
solidarity with the people of el salvador, as well as 138 other labor,
educational, religious and political groups, who had mobilized against
US policies in central america. (1)
"Interviewed and, according to numerous subjects, intimidated more than
100 US citizens who traveled to nicaragua and ordered documents and
private papers seized from scores of citizens re-entering the US after
visiting central america.
"Compiled a "terrorist album" whos hundreds of entries included US
senators, congressmen, diplomats and clergy.
"Enlisted the aid of a range of private, rightwing extremist groups,
including the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's organization; a private,
intelligence-gathering network of US based rightwing salvadorans; John
Rees, a rightwing journalist who has provided information to the bureau
which he received from his own netowrk of police and police informants;
and a group of rightwing ideologues, including J. Michael Waller and
Michael Boos, whose spying operations have been sponsored by a number of
rightwing patrons and, in some cases, financed by the US government. (2)
"Collaborated in the surveillance, imprisonment and possible deaths of
salvadoran refugees who have been deported back to el salvador where
they were met by salvadoran authorities who had been alerted to their
arrival by the fbi.
"Ignored more than 85 reported break-ins and thefts of files at the
offices and homes of central american activists around the country.
While the fbi maintains it did not commit the break-ins, many vicitms
suspect the bureau has received data gathered by burglars. In addition,
the fbi has declined to investigate the break-ins, contending that
since it has no evidence of government involvement, it has no
jurisdiction to investigate.
"As a result of the fbi's operations, tens of thousands of names have
been added to the bureau's terrorism files- names of people whose only
offense has been to write a letter in support of the nuclear freeze
movement (which the fbi obtained by virtue of a mail intercept on the
post office box of freeze organizers) or to attend a meeting of cispes
or other groups (where the fbi recorded and traced license plates and
other information in order to identify activists) (3)
"The FBI's five year, nationwide investigation did not result in the
arrest of a single activist for criminal or terrorist activities.
"Even before he took office, president-elect reagan signalled a major
change in foreign policy goals. Human rights was out and counter
terrorism was in. That was the message to the nations's law enforcement
and intelligence communities. It was also the message that Ret. Maj.
Gen. John Singlaub and Daniel O. Graham, former head of the Defense
Intelligence Agency, brought to Central America in 1980. After
meeting with Singlaub and Graham the leaders of Guatemalas' fanatic
rightwing were delighted because they were given the distinct
impression that "Mr. reagan recognized that a good deal of dirty work
has to be done." (4)
"While the administration trumpeted its anti-terrorism policies to
justify its alliance with repressive central american governments, it
buried under the deepest kind of cover its campaign against hundreds of
thousands of law abiding dissenters inside the US.
"According to a 1980 Heritage Foundation report [a policy white paper
presented to president-elect reagan] compiled by an anonymous group
within the intelligence community, "extremist political groups should be
kept under surveillance, at first by reading and fileing publicly
available information ... the more serious surveillance can be carried
out by the use of such intelligence techniques as wiretapping, mail
intercepts, informants and, at least occasionally, surreptitious
"The report noted that terrorist groups may be difficult to detect,
since "clergymen, students, businessmen, entertainers, labor officials,
journalists and government workers may engage in subversive activities
without being fully aware of the extent, purpose or control of their
"Lamenting the weakening of law enforcement capabilities in the wake of
the revelations by the church and pike committees in the 1970's [these
congressional investigations dealt with past abuses of the fbi and cia
during the vietnam era], the report recommended "contracting with one or
several of the many private groups that have specialized in providing
and disseminating relevant information with legal complications."
[meaning illegally obtained information] (5)
"The group recommended scrapping the 1976 fbi guidelines instituted by
then Attorney General Edward Levi [instituted in response to the above
investigations]. It suggested exempting the fbi from the Freedom of
Information Act. And it called for the appointment of an attorney
general and fbi director who "understand the nature of the threat and
the professional tradecraft of internal security work." (5)
"Most of these recommendations found expression in an executive order
(EO 12333) which reagan signed in december 1981. That order permitted
the fbi, among other things, to contract with private groups for
intelligence gathering and to conceal the existence of such contracts;
to engage in warrantless break-ins under certain circumstances (which
remain classified); and to accept any material it received in the course
of a counter-terrorism or counterintelligence investigation regardless
of how the material was obtained.
"What is known today of the administration's assault on the first
amendment is vague, partly because the administration promulgated a
series of directives which effectively pulled a blanket of secrecy over
the government. But despite the administration's use of random
polygraph exams, censorship agreements and legislation (passed with the
consent of the aclu and the approval of congress) which adds dramatic
restrictions to the freedom of information act, some clues exist as to
the nature and scope of its campaign to silence dissent."
The article goes on to mention several sources of information, including
a published interview with former CIA contract agent Philip Mabry, the
trial of Lyndon LaRouche and congressional testimony of former FBI agent
According to Mabry, Oliver North and the National Security Council were
involved in instigating fbi investigations into the Christic Institute,
the Center for Constitutional Rights, CISPES, and former mercenary
turned wistleblower Jack Terrell.
In the LaRouche case, evidence surfaced that the FBI continues to keep
"DO NOT FILE" files, which it used in the 1960's and 70s to store
records of "black bag jobs" until they had been reviewed, after which
they were destroyed. (fbi representatives have testified under oath
that they no longer use these types of files) This particular file
referenced a secret meeting between Henry Kissinger (???) and William
Webster regarding a press conference LaRouche had had the previous day.
Kissinger, who had asked for the meeting, wanted no paper trail of it.
The most valuable information source was Frank Varelli:
Varelli spied on numerous groups opposed to central american policy.
He testified that he was asked to visit the offices of cispes and the
institute for policy studies, to check out the locations of filing
cabinets, alarms, exits and fire escapes. He was told that the work
had been authorized by the NSC and the White House. Soon after his
visits, these offices were broken into. In texas, he worked closely
with members of Rev. Moon's church, who had been hired by the FBI to
disrupt cispes events on the southern methodist university campus.
"Whenever CISPES mounted a lecture or demonstration, members of CARP
(the collegiate arm of the Moon organization) were on hand to throw
rocks and start fights."
He also came to know a network of rightwing salvadoran spies financed
and organized by a group of wealthy salvadoran exiles in the US. He
arranged to provide the names of airline travelers enroute to el
salvador to the fbi, which was able to look up their names in a
database of leftist salvadorans provided to the fbi by death squad
leader Roberto d'Aubussion. The FBI then alerted the salvadoran
national guard to the arrival of suspected subversives. He arranged
with the salvadoran consulate to get the names of american activists
who were applying for visas to el salvador. He testified that much of
the information stolen from activists offices in the US (including the
names of salvadoran activists) had been provided to the salvadoran
national guard, probably costing many salvadorans their lives.
"It is very distressing that, once again, the FBI has turned its
counter- terrorism unit into thought police. After years of promises,
reassurances, laws and guidelines, the FBI is still in the business of
spying on political protesters. It is, however, even more distressing
that the press, Congress and the public have let them get away with
it. We must ask, especially after eight years of Reagan doublespeak,
have we become so desensitized to the meaning of freedom that we do
not recognize when it is blatantly eroded?"
1. 1200 pages of fbi files released in a freedom of information act suit
brought by the center for constitutional rights.
2. Boston Globe 3/15/88; 4/20/88; 5/17/88. Interview with M. Waller,
5/88; KRON-TV, San Francisco, 11/10/87
3. FBI FOIA cispes files, Frank Varelli, Boston Globe 1/31/88
4. Scott and Lee Anderson, _Inside_the_League_, 1986
5. Mandate For Leadership - Policy Management in a Conservative
Administration, The Heritage Foundation, 1980
The next article in CAIB deals with the congressional investigation and the
coverup of these activities. No grand jury was ever convened, no one
was ever indicted. The hearings were a whitewash.
It should be pointed out that the FBI has functioned as a political
police since its founding. Similar tactics were used against labor
unions in the 30's, "red sympathizers" in the 50's, antiwar protesters
and the Black Panthers in the 60's, and the American Indian Movement
in the 70's. Innocent people were killed, and political prisoners
targeted by the FBI languish in prison to this day.
As the next article shows, nothing has changed since the congressional
hearings mentioned above.
>From In These Times, Dec 20, 1989:
When both cia director william webster and fbi director william
sessions conceded that the fbi should not have harassed the committee
in solidarity with the people of el salvador during webster's
misbegotten tenure as fbi director, it might have seemed that the
violations would end.
But according to a document acquired by cispes during the prosecution of
an antiwar activist in san francisco, government spying on cispes and
other opponents of the us' central american policy has continued.
The document, a march 6, 1989 domestic intelligence update, originated
at the state department- specifically at the bureau of diplomatic
security (ds). The report's author, charles sparks, is identified as a
member of the diplomatic security policy threat assessment division.
Sparks sent the update to 12 people in ds, including nine stationed in
major us cities who have the ominous title "bureau of diplomatic
security field office special agent in charge" In his report on the
activities of cispes and the salvadoran refugee committee (CRECEN),
sparks wrote that both groups had planned a 'non-violent blockade' of
the state department to protest what he acknowledged as "the US war in el
salvador." he also noted that cispes had been planning a fundraising
dinner on march 11, 1989.
Cispes and the fmln are particularly upset about the last line of the
intelligence document, which reads, "this information should be shared
with appropriate law enforcement contacts as well as official government
of el salvador representatives."
Fmln spokeswoman Guardelupe Gonzales put it this way: "it is very
dangerous for the salvadoran government to be getting the names of
salvadoran refugees who are opposing the government from here in the US,
because under the newly passed anti-terrorist law, speaking against the
government is prohibited whether you are inside or outside the country.
If you do it, it can mean a 10 year prison sentence." In el salvador, a
prison sentence for people convicted of political crimes is often a
prelude to death.
Cispes spokesman Mike Zielinski says, "this memo indicates that the
government's harassment and surveillance of cispes is ongoing.
Sessions has testified in congress that the fbi's actions in spying on
cispes were an abberation and had ended in 1985, but here we have a
government agency continuing that kind of activity in the spring of
Jinsoo Kim, who has been working on the cispes spying case for the new
york based center for constitutional rights (ccr) says, "when
americans go to el salvador, they often find their names on a list
when they are stopped at the airport in el salvador. That list had to
be coming from somewhere, and now we have an idea where the source
Cispes and CRECEN activists worry that the state department's newly
uncovered intelligence work may in part explain the violence and
threats of violence against those in the us working against american
policy in central america.
Noting that the alleged termination of fbi surveillance and the
infiltration of cispes by the fbi has not put an end to death threats
received by activists, cispes' zielinski says, "there is still quite a
pattern to the harassment, and i think it is clearly being organized
as a way of stifling dissent." He notes that recently salvadoran
refugees in los angeles were presented with a "hit list." And last
week, a Lousiville, KY minister active in cispes was sent a photograph
of the six priests killed in el salvador accompanied by a note warning
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