On Tuesday, the activists/burglars who stole top secret J. Edgar Hoover-era FBI files including documents about what’s known as COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), and subsequently delivered the files to reporters some 43 years ago finally revealed themselves in The New York Times. Their collective emergence coincides with a forthcoming book about the burglary by Betty Medsger.
And right on cue, Snowden supporters took to Twitter in a predictable and misleading effort to compare COINTELPRO and the people who exposed it with the revelations and activities of Edward Snowden.
I’ll come back to how off-base the comparisons are, but it’s important to understand exactly what was exposed in the FBI documents. COINTELPRO involved the illegal surveillance of activists and other so-called “subversives” without warrants or court oversight. The FBI’s activities included eavesdropping and infiltration of civil rights organizations like the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the American Indian Movement, and most infamously the secret wiretapping and bugging of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1971, anti-war activists William C. Haverford, Keith Forsyth, John and Bonnie Raines and Bob Williamson, along with three others, successfully broke into an FBI satellite office in Media, Pennsylvania — prying open a back door with a crow-bar, and absconded off with stacks of documents, one of which contained the COINTELPRO acronym. After news about the operations were reported in the press, COINTELPRO was discontinued in 1972 and became one of the primary focuses of the 1975 Church Committee hearings on U.S. intelligence operations.
So there it is, greatly condensed (there’s so much more to it).
We often forget that America was vastly different, pre-Watergate and pre-Church, than it is today. It seemed everyone in government was eavesdropping on everyone else — looking back, it seemed like the wild west of surveillance inside the U.S., with wires and listening devices instead of six-shooters, operating and recording and blackmailing with impunity.
Knowing how the intelligence community so grievously targeted and intimidated American citizens without cause or court oversight, is there really any meaningful resemblance whatsoever between COINTELPRO and the NSA revelations from Snowden — other than, of course, the theft of government documents? Well, the usual suspects believe there is… [CONTINUE READING]