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Skeletons From the Closet


By David A. Demilo

TWELVE YEARS AFTER it all happened, America has learned what a high price she has paid for her ignorance. Only after Martin Luther King's assassination; after the instigated riots, the enemies lists, and the revelations of corruption in the Department of Justice have we begun to learn the source of that corruption. Lives have been marred--some ruined and some dashed--by the irresponsible harassment and blackballing perpetrated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a part of their counterintelligence programs (cointelpro) during the '60s.

The FBI consistently strayed away from its chartered role as a law-enforcement organization during those years, assuming a self-appointed role as political and moral troubleshooters. Rather than restricting their efforts to the control of criminals and violent hate groups, the FBI chose to harass and even to "destroy" any political organizations which then-director J. Edgar Hoover considered "detrimental to this country."

Following the passage of the Freedom of Information Act of 1968, a Senate subcommittee poured over newly obtained FBI cointelpro documents and scrutinized the activities of the nation's chief law enforcement agency during the latter part of the last decade.

It is now known, for example, that the FBI sent an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King in 1963 suggesting that he commit suicide and that they tried to prevent him from meeting with Pope Paul VI in 1964. It is known that the FBI circulated false personal letters in the press and the mails for the purpose of discrediting participants in the anti-war movement. It is known that the FBI's largest dollar and man-hour activity was "No. 1-type activity"--activity aimed at "preventing people from teaching and meeting and speaking," according to the Senate Subcommittee on Intelligence in 1975. "Many of the FBI's targets of the new left were professors at universities," an FBI agent told the Senate subcommittee in 1975.

But before the 1968 cointelpro "to disrupt the new left," the FBI focused much of its work into disrupting black nationalist organizations, the Ku Klux Klan, other race-hate groups--and the Communist Party.

The Crimson has recently obtained copies of FBI files which show that the FBI included King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in its harassment of "black nationalist hate groups." Additional files show that the FBI tries to provoke a "fight" between the Communist Party and "La Cosa Nostra" through a campaign of bogus letters and misinformation between the two groups.

King's SCLC: A Hate-type Organization

A YEAR BEFORE Martin Luther King was assassinated, the FBI initiated a cointelpro against black nationalist-hate groups, supposedly to insure "internal security."

King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were listed with the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Deacons for Defense and Justice and the Nation of Islam as movements to be continuously scrutinized and harassed in this effort.

On March 26, 1968, agent G.C. Moore set forth a plan to "curtail the success" of King's "poor people's march on Washington D.C." In his letter--which was obtained by the Select Senate Committee--Moore pointed out that the SCLC had solicited financial contributions from some 70,000 possible donors by mail. He suggested that this fact be publicized through "cooperative media contacts" to imply "that King does not need contributions from the 70,000 people he solicited. Since the churches have offered support, no more money is needed and any contributed would only be used by King for some other purposes."

"This (news) item," Moore said, "would need nation-wide circulation in order to reach all the potential contributors and curtail their donations," thus curtailing the success of King's spring project.

In yet another effort to impede King's efforts, Moore issued another memorandum on May 10, 1968 directing agent W.C. Sullivan to furnish "cooperative news media contacts" with a document linking the Communist Party to King's Poor People's Campaign (PPC), in order to discredit the PPC.

Neither the Select Senate Committee nor any other investigative body has ever ascertained why the FBI placed King's SCLC in its list of black nationalist hate groups. The Senate Committee's report concluded that King's attacks of Hoover in the national press in part caused the director to overreact to King's presence on the national political scene.

Hoover's master plan--in his own words--was to "prevent the rise of the messiah who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist group. Martin Luther King...aspires to this position."

Hoover hoped to "take King off his pedestal" and "reduce him completely in influence" and replace him with another, more impotent black leader. The plan didn't really work--or so we think.

Operation Hoodwink

OTHER DOCUMENTS recently obtained by The Crimson delineate agent F.J. Baumgardner's memorandum of October 4, 1966, which recommended "a long-range counterintelligence program designed to provoke a dispute between the Communist Party, USA, and La Cosa Nostra' under the code name of Hoodwink."

The bureau sent phony letters to mob leaders, signed by Communist Party members, protesting the working conditions of local labor union "sweatshops." The selected unions had intimate mob ties, and the FBI's goal was to disrupt both groups by expending "their energies, time, and money attacking the other."

By giving various mob leaders the impression that the Communist Party was criticizing "La Cosa Nostra," the FBI hoped for some kind of retaliation. The FBI carefully avoided specifying the exact nature of the retaliation it hoped for in bureau communications.

In assessing the tangibleresults of the new cointelpro, Hoover pointed out that the Communist Party headquarters in New York had recently been bombed--"a typical hoodlum technique," he said. But Hoover decided to cancel Hoodwink on July 31, 1968, explaining in a memo that the Communist Party was not concerned with "civic issues" and "reformism," and could not be goaded into responding to the FBI provocation.

A Congress of Sorrows

THE FINDINGS of the Senate Committee are shocking, but for some, they merely confirm long-held suspicions about the intentions of the nation's chief law enforcement agency.

These discoveries--revealed 12 years after the fact--have led to nothing but condemnation, disgust, and the moral indignation of politicians--sentiments never expressed 12 years ago because they were impolitic.

While the Freedom of Information Act makes it possible for any citizen to obtain FBI files, it is important for Congress to further action in redefining and possibly monitoring the actions of the FBI. Such measures have been taken in a small way, and more effective ways to oversee the Department of Justice are in the works.

But skepticism and vigilance are still key. A capital full of sorrowful senators is simply not enough.

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