In 1956, the FBI embarked upon a domestic surveillance campaign known as COINTELPRO, designed to infiltrate and disable domestic groups considered a threat to national security. The program was one of the most expansive domestic surveillance programs in America’s recent history, and was shut down in 1971 after a full Congressional investigation under the Church Committee. The Church Committee found:
“Bureau witnesses admit that many of the targets were nonviolent and most had no connections with a foreign power. Indeed, nonviolent organizations and individuals were targeted because the Bureau believed they represented a “potential” for violence — and nonviolent citizens who were against the war in Vietnam were targeted because they gave “aid and comfort” to violent demonstrators by lending respectability to their cause.”
Today, the resurgence of an extremely ambitious FBI surveillance program becomes more reminiscent of COINTELPRO every day, causing the Bill of Rights Committee and other groups to deem our current age that of “COINTELPRO 2.0.” The 2008 Mukasey Guidelines, which replaced the Attorney General guidelines constraining the FBI post-COINTELPRO permit agents to “use intrusive investigatory methods” without even a suspicion of wrongdoing, leaving all American citizens and their groups open to unchecked surveillance. In the 1950s and 1960s, COINTELPRO effectively limited the voices and assembly of all those the government disagreed with – and today’s policy does the same.
Among the most brazen of such recent activities is the targeting of activists in the Midwest region. In fall and winter of 2010, 23 activists from Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan were served subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury. The activists were involved in various groups, including the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and came together to organize anti-war marches during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008. In protest, the activists have refused to appear before a grand jury here in Chicago, and await potential jail sentences for their decision to do so. Check out this video with a recent update about the subpoenas.
The rise of the FBI’s power under the Bush and Obama administrations foreshadows more to come, and the continued rise of COINTELPRO 2.0.
Find out more information about CONTELPRO 2.0 issues from our partners, including:
- Defending Rights and Dissent: Defending Rights and Dissent, a joining of the former Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, is a national non-profit grassroots organization working to defend the rule of law and rights and liberties challenged by overbroad national security and counter-terrorism policies.
- Committee to Stop FBI Repression: The Committee to Stop FBI Repression formed in response to the FBI raids on seven homes and an anti-war office in September 2010, and continues to organize on behalf of all served subpoenas, demanding an end to the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.
- National Lawyer’s Guild: NLG is a national non-proﬁt legal and political organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers. The Chicago chapter has worked with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression to support and raise awareness for the targeted activists.
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