The FBI’s Domestic Counter-Insurgency Campaign (1960s-70s)

The FBI’s infamous Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTEL-PRO) should serve as a chilling reminder of the length to which our enemy will go to crush our resistance. This is especially true since veterans of this time are still with us, & many remain in prison to this day as a result (inc. Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, etc.).
Many are also dead, killed by the FBI, police, & paramilitaries during the 1960’s & 70’s. Our failure to learn from this time would not only leave us vulnerable to the same tactics, it would be a dishonor to the sacrifices made by the previous generation.

COINTEL-PRO had its roots in the anti-communist campaign of the 1950s (when the Cold War began). Its first targets were communist & socialist groups, as well as the black civil rights movement. In the 1960s, new liberation movements emerged around the world. US involvement in Vietnam & the fierce resistance of the Vietnamese people contributed to a climate of insurgency & rebellion, one that extended into the US itself.

At this time, COINTEL-PRO was expanded nation-wide, involving extensive surveillance, informants, collaborators, assaults, false charges, imprisonment, fabricated communications, smear & disinformation campaigns, burglary, vandalism, arson, as well as lethal force. Many key organizers were assassinated, and many are still imprisoned. Among the hardest hit were the Black Panthers & the American Indian Movement, although the Chicano, Puerto Rican, and anti-war movements were also targeted.

The goal of this counter-insurgency campaign was to destroy organized resistance movements, using any means necessary. A major focus was instilling a sense of paranoia & fear among movements, in order to neutralize them. Those who refused to submit were targeted with harsher methods, and some killed. Violent assaults & deaths contributed to over-greater paranoia & insecurity. By exploiting internal divisions during a time of intense repression, the FBI/police were successful in neutralizing this first phase of current resistance in North America (but they couldn’t kill the spirit).

COINTEL-PRO was exposed after unknown persons broke into the FBI’s Media, Pennsylvania offices in 1971. Government hearings and inquiries gave the impression that COINTEL-PRO ended; however, domestic repression continued throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Today, new anti-terrorist laws such as the PATRIOT ACT have legitimized much of what occurred under COINTEL-PRO and have even extended the powers of FBI, police & intelligence agencies.

Examples of COINTEL-PRO Techniques:

Surveillance: extensive & wide-spread surveillance was used to gather information on groups & individuals, both technical (bugs, wiretaps, telephone, mail, photo & film) & physical (personal & vehicle). This info often formed the basis for further COINTEL-PRO operat-ions. FBI & local police agencies, along with other law enforcement agencies, were involved. Surveillance itself was often used as a means to induce paranoia & fear (by surveillance being obvious & belligerent).

Infiltrators, informants & collaborators: widespread use of infiltrators & informants was a key part of the FBI’s COINTEL-PRO. Informants, usually disaffected members or associates of a group, were recruited through intim-idation or money. They provided critical human intelligence. In the case of infiltrators & collaborators, they also actively disrupted organizations & enabled FBI/police to carry out deadly assaults, frame-ups, etc.

Infiltrators included FBI agents, undercover police, and civilians. In some police departments, ‘red squads’ worked with anti-gang units to prevent unity between gangs & resistance movements. They also recruited infiltrators from gang members facing jail or for money.

Infiltrators were often able to provide information & resources (via their FBI/police handlers) to the group. Because of their experience with weapons & violence, they were often promoted to high-ranking positions in the organization, with some being in charge of security for chapters or leaders.

How did the movements become so heavily infiltrated? They were completely open & public organizations, which actively recruited members from the general public. Infiltrators were easy to place. The only area in which security measures were taken was at the leadership level, and this is where some of the greatest mistakes were made.

In both the Black Panthers & AIM, infiltrators gained access to this inner circle, frequently in charge of security for the group itself. Some played the role of an ‘ultra-militant’, promoting violence & attempting to draw the group into carrying out illegal actions. Criminals/hustlers turned infiltrators were also sources of drugs, weapons, & anti-social violence within groups. Other activities included planting evidence, stealing funds, sabotage of equipment or organizing efforts, supplying information leading to arrests or deaths, as well as spreading disinformation, paranoia, & division.

Bad-jacket, or snitch-jacket: when a genuine movement member is portrayed as being an informant (or a thief, a rapist, etc.). Often, other informants are used to spread rumours, plant evidence, etc. In their efforts to attach a bad-jacket, police may frequently arrest a target during raids, but then quickly let him/her go (while others remain in jail). Police themselves may gossip or leave evidence indicating a person is an informant.

The purpose of the bad-jacket is to neutralize the target individual as an effective organizer. This technique resulted in interrogations, assaults, and even executions of suspected informants (as occurred among the Black Panthers).

False communications: fake letters were sent between individuals or groups with misinformation (i.e., allegations of sexual affairs between members, death threats, etc.). When hostilities existed between groups, this was exploited to the point where assaults & even deaths occurred.

Another example of false communications was the production of fake newsletters, posters, etc. by the FBI/police, and distributed as genuine movement publications. This technique was effective in cutting funding for one Panther chapter’s breakfast program after offensive comics were sent to funders.

Media disinformation: in collaboration with corporate media, the FBI & police would conduct ‘smear & disinformation’ campaigns against movements, organizations, & individuals, portraying them as violent, criminal, terrorist, or insane.

Arrests/false evidence/frame-ups: petty charges & outright frame-ups were used to tie people & groups up in the court system, and to imprison many with harsh sentences. Constant or massive arrests & charges drained movements of time & resources, diverting them from resistance to legal defense. Imprisonment served to neutralize organizers while scaring away the less-committed. Scores of political prisoners & POWs remain in US prisons to this day, imprisoned in the 1970s as a result of COINTEL-PRO. Arrests & imprisonment also served to criminalize movements & groups.

Other harassment: other forms of harassment used by the FBI & police included approaching members at their homes or workplaces for interviews, approaching landlords, employers or family members to exert pressure on members (i.e., having them evicted, losing their jobs, or facing ostracism by family). Agents would also cancel bus reservations on behalf of an organizing group, or announce that meetings, rallies, etc. had been cancelled.

Burglary, Vandalism, and Arson: FBI and local police routinely broke into offices and homes in order to steal files, copy them, and/or to destroy equipment. Offices were also set on fire, destroying valuable resources such as printing presses, files, archives, etc.

Pseudo-Gangs: false groups set up by police-intelligence agents to discredit the movement & entrap genuine movement members. In the 1960s & ’70s, the FBI set up many pseudo-gangs to disrupt campaigns (i.e., among Puerto Rican independistas, anti-war activists, etc.).

Lethal force: key organizers were killed by police during raids & assaults, by vigilantes (including right-wing racists), by FBI-police infiltrators, or as a result of ‘bad-jacketing’. Scores were killed during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, including:

1. Fred Hampton & Mark Clark (Black Panthers) were both killed during a police raid on their Chicago home, in 1969.

2. Alprentice Carter & Jon Huggins (Black Panthers) were killed in 1969 by members of a rival group in a COINTEL-PRO instigated feud.

3. George Jackson, a prisoner & a prominent Black Panther, was killed during an alleged escape attempt in 1971.

4. Fred Bennett, an SF Black Panther, was executed by comrades after being successfully ‘bad-jacketed’ by an FBI infiltrator, in 1969. One of the Panthers involved in this, Jimmie Carr, was himself ‘bad-jacketed’ and executed by other Panthers in 1972 (!).

Assisting Paramilitary Death Squads: On the Pine Ridge reservation in S. Dakota, at least 67 members or associates of AIM were killed by BIA police, FBI, and paramilitary forces (the Guardians Of the Oglala Nation, GOONs, as they referred to themselves) from 1973-76. The GOONs, employed by a corrupt tribal president, were armed, equipped, and supported by the FBI as part of its counter-insurgency effort against Indigenous insurgents. They carried out a reign of terror against AIM & traditionalists on the reserve, including fire-bombings, assaults, drive-by shootings, and killings.

Other examples of the use of paramilitary & vigilante groups include the FBI’s assistance to right-wing groups such as the Minutemen, Secret Army Organization, and the Ku Klux Klan. As with the GOONs, these groups were given funds, equipment, weapons, training and protection by the FBI. They were used to carry out assassinations, assaults, arson, etc. In Chicago, the League of Justice vigilante group was later revealed to have been assisted by the US Army’s 113th Military Intelligence unit.

Two Examples of FBI/Police Assassination & Use of Infiltrators:

Assassination of Fred Hampton & Mark Clark 1969

Fred Hampton & Mark Clark were members of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton was a young & promising leader, a highly effective organizer who had begun forming alliances with other movements and even street gangs in Chicago, including the Blackstone Rangers.

In 1968, FBI infiltrator William O’Neal joined the chapter. O’Neal was a petty criminal, charged with car theft and impersonating an FBI agent using false ID. In exchange for dropping these charges, O’Neal agreed to infiltrate the Chicago chapter. He quickly became head of security and Hampton’s bodyguard. This was based on his experience with weapons & violence.

In order to stop the Panther/Blackstone Ranger alliance, fake letters were sent to both groups with warnings & threats about one or the other. This later resulted in violent conflicts between the groups, instigated by O’Neal.

O’Neal constantly agitated for armed attacks & robberies, offering training & weapons (the ‘ultra-militant’). He recommended getting a plane to bomb city hall, that all Panthers be armed, and that an electric chair be installed in order to interrogate/torture suspected informants (all refused). He himself brought in firearms used as a pretext for a police raid in June 1969 of the Panther offices. Such raids were again carried out in July & October of that year.

O’Neal, along with other infiltrators, also stole Panther financial records, files, books, tapes, films, etc. in order to sabotage their efforts. The FBI also manufactured fake comics, which were sent to funders of the Breakfast Program. The comics were so offensive that many funders withdrew their support.

In November 1969, the FBI and local police began planning the assassination of Hampton. O’Neal supplied a detailed floor-plan of Hampton’s apartment, including his bed and the location of his head while sleeping.

On December 4/69, fourteen heavily armed police raided the apartment using a warrant to search for “illegal weapons.” Earlier that night, O’Neal had made a dinner for the residents, including Kool-Aid spiked with a sleeping agent. Hampton himself had passed out in mid-sentence talking to his mother on the phone earlier in the night. At around 4:30 AM, police kicked in the door and immediately shot Mark Clark, who was seated in the front room and armed with a shotgun (security against just such a raid). Unfortunately, Clark was passed out due to O’Neal’s Kool-Aid.

Police then directed their gunfire against the wall where Hampton’s bed was and in the area of his head. Both Hampton and Clark were killed, while others were wounded. Chicago police claimed it was a ‘wild shootout’ with heavily armed Panthers, although the only shot fired by the Panthers was when Clark’s shotgun went off in reflex to his being shot by police.

Douglas Durham, 1973-75

Douglas Durham was a non-Native infiltrator into the American Indian Movement, working for the FBI. He was a former Iowa police officer who had also worked for the CIA and who had some Special Forces military experience. He was trained in demolitions, sabotage, burglary, etc.

In the early 1960s he was involved with organized crime, including a prostitution ring. This activity led to conflicts with his wife, who died as a result of a violent assault by Durham in July 1964. He was fired from the police and found to be a violent schizoid “unfit for public service.”

Durham again began working as a police intelligence agent in 1971. He was present during the siege at Wounded Knee 1973, posing as a reporter. He then joined the Iowa chapter of AIM, dyeing his hair black and wearing brown contact lenses. He claimed to be a quarter Chippewa.

Based on his background & skills, Durham became head of security for national AIM and a body guard to Dennis Banks, one of AIM’s national leaders. During the Wounded Knee trials of 1974-75, Durham oversaw all legal discussions & strategies, as well as taking control of much of AIM’s overall administration through its national office in Minneapolis (including funds).

Like other infiltrators, Durham advocated outrageous schemes including kidnapping politicians, armed confrontations, etc. He is suspected in the death of at least one person –Jancita Eagle Deer, who was killed in April 1975. Durham was the last person seen with her after he picked her up from a relative’s house. Eagle Deer had charged William Janklow, then-attorney general of S. Dakota (later governor), with rape.

In March 1975, lawyers working on the Wounded Knee defense committee obtained FBI files as part of court disclosures, one of which contained a report signed by Durham. When confronted, Durham acknowledged his role as a federal infiltrator. His exposure further demoralized AIM, which was then suffering under intense repression, including deaths, assaults, and imprisonment of its members.


The purpose of security is to protect our movement from state repression. It is vital to the success & survival of the resistance movement. This is because we have an enemy who actively works to undermine & ultimately destroy us. Failure to remain aware of security concerns can mean the difference between freedom or imprisonment, life or death, victory or defeat. Although following basic security guidelines may at first seem awkward or even overly paranoid, it is important that movement members follow them to the greatest extent possible in order to minimize the effects of increasing state repression in the years to come.

1. Do not send or discuss sensitive information over any form of telecommunications (phone, cell, internet, etc.), all of which are vulnerable to interception. This also includes rumours or personal information about others.

2. Never discuss sensitive information in any enclosed area vulnerable to listening devices (i.e., homes, vehicles, cafes, etc.).

3. Follow the Need-to-Know-Only Rule: If a person is not involved in the information, then they do not need to know it. The less a person knows, the less danger there is they can tell others.

4. Avoid those unable to follow basic security codes. They are a danger to you & the movement. This includes persons who talk too much, who do not take security seriously, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc.

5. Be aware of criminals & hustlers posing as genuine movement members, such persons are vulnerable to recruitment by state security forces as informants (i.e., money, drugs or potential imprisonment) and are also sources of anti-social crime within movements (including drugs & interpersonal violence).

6. Be aware of infiltrators, informants & agent provocateurs. Whether police agents or civilians, infiltrators & informants are important sources of human intelligence and can also severely disrupt organizations. They can help police neutralize movement members, as well as provoke incidents inviting police repression.

7. Control access to keys, files, funds, equipment, etc. Make duplicates of important files and store at a safe location.

8. Deal openly & honestly with the form & content of what anyone sais or does, whether the person is a suspected agent, has emotional problems, or is simply naïve.

9. Do not talk with any federal agents or police officers, and do not allow them access into areas without a search warrant.

10. Verify and double-check all arrangements for housing, transportation, meeting rooms, etc., to ensure they have not been cancelled or changed by others.

11. Don’t accept everything you hear or read as fact. Check with the supposed source of the information before you act. Personal communication between estranged members could have prevented or limited many FBI operations in the 1960s-70s.

12. Document and if necessary publicize forms of harassment & repression. This makes others aware of harassment and can limit further repression.

For More Info: Agents of Repression: the FBI’s Secret War Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, by Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall, South End Press, 1990 edition.

Posted on February 13, 2011, in Counter-Insurgency, Documents and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: