Media Beat, June 10, 1995
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

FBI Abuse: The Dossiers

As the White House pushes to expand FBI powers, some press reports are sounding cautionary notes -- usually vague allusions to the FBI's history of harassing political groups and movements.

Although President Clinton says stepped-up FBI infiltration will help prevent violence, the record shows that FBI spying has actually abetted violence.

Here are a few of the horrifying details:

DICK GREGORY: In 1968, the activist/comedian publicly denounced the Mafia for importing heroin into inner cities. Did the FBI welcome the anti-drug, anti-mob message? No. Head G-man J. Edgar Hoover responded by proposing that the Bureau ''alert La Cosa Nostra to Gregory's attack'' in order to ''neutralize'' the ''rabble-rousing Negro comedian.''

FREEDOM RIDERS: In 1961, black and white civil rights workers boarded interstate buses in the North and headed south in an effort to desegregate buses nationwide. The FBI learned that when the freedom riders reached bus depots in Alabama, the state police were going to give the Ku Klux Klan ''15 uninterrupted minutes'' to beat activists with baseball bats, clubs and chains. The bureau allowed the violence to occur; activist Walter Bergman spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed.

MARTIN LUTHER KING: For years, the FBI used spying and infiltration in a relentless campaign to destroy King -- to wreck his marriage, undermine his mental stability and encourage him to commit suicide. The bureau created dissension among King's associates, disrupted fund-raising efforts and recruited his bookkeeper as a paid agent after learning the employee was embezzling.

The FBI used ''media assets'' to plant smear stories in the press -- some insinuating that King was a Soviet agent. One FBI media asset against King in the early 1960s was Patrick Buchanan, then an editorial writer in St. Louis.

King was hated and regularly threatened by white supremacists and extremists -- but the FBI developed a written policy of not informing King about threats to his life. Why? Because of his ''unsavory character,'' ''arrogance'' and ''uncooperative attitude.''

PETER BOHMER: For months in the early 1970s, this economics professor and other antiwar activists in San Diego were terrorized -- with menacing phone calls, death threats and fire-bombings -- by the Secret Army Organization, a right-wing paramilitary group. On Jan. 6, 1972, gunshots were fired into Bohmer's house, wounding a friend.

After a bombing months later, a trial revealed that Howard Barry Godfrey, co-founder of SAO in San Diego and one of its most active and violent members, had all along been a paid FBI informant. Godfrey testified that he had driven the car from which the shots were fired; afterward, he took the weapon to his FBI supervisor, who hid it.

BLACK PANTHER PARTY: Some critics are denouncing the new movie ''Panther'' as an anti-FBI fantasy. But the hard facts about the FBI's war on the Panthers were published in 1976 by the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Frank Church. Using paid infiltrators and faked documents, the bureau routinely tried to goad militant groups and street gangs to commit violence against the Panthers.

In Chicago, the FBI forged and sent a letter to the Blackstone Rangers gang leader saying the Panthers had a ''hit'' out on him. The bureau's stated hope was that he ''take reprisals against'' the Panther leadership. In Southern California, the FBI helped instigate the murders of four Panthers by a rival political group.

CENTRAL AMERICA ACTIVISTS: Many recent news accounts say that FBI abuses pretty much ended with J. Edgar Hoover's death in 1972 and that the Bureau has been in check since the Justice Department issued new guidelines in 1976. Not true. FBI disruption of lawful dissent has continued -- though the terminology has changed from ''counterintelligence'' (COINTELPRO) to ''counterterrorism.''

During the 1980s, groups critical of U.S. intervention in Central America were spied on and disrupted by the FBI. Political break-ins occurred at churches, offices and homes -- and material from the burglaries ended up in FBI files. In the guise of monitoring supporters of foreign terrorists, the FBI compiled files on religious groups and thousands of nonviolent anti-intervention activists. The investigation produced not a single criminal charge.

At the center of this spying was FBI official Oliver Revell. Today, Revell (now retired) makes the rounds of TV news shows, complaining that the FBI is too hamstrung to track terrorists.

But the FBI has always had the power to infiltrate terrorist groups. The problem has been the bureau's diversion of resources to monitor and harass activists whose only ''crime'' was working for social change.

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