The FBI, Earth First! and the Bill of Rights; Me and the FBI
August 30, 2002
The FBI, Earth First! and the Bill of Rights
By Gar Smith
Before the trial of Judi Bari vs. the FBI began, Federal Judge Claudia Wilkins banned any discussion of the FBI's extensive but shadowy history of disrupting legal political dissent.
"Nearly every US citizen knows that the FBI has a 'dirty tricks' side of its operations. However, officially no one is allowed to talk about it, certainly not in a legal proceeding such as this," Humboldt County environmental leader Tracy Katelman declared on May 12, 2002. "The FBI has a long and sordid history of disrupting constitutionally protected political dissent. That's not OK in this country where we value our democracy and civil rights. That's why so many of us are here in court supporting this historic lawsuit."
With John Ashcroft loosening the collars on the bloodhounds of America's political police, it is important the recall the FBI's tradition of abusing citizens' liberties. Too often, from the days of J. Edgar Hoover on, the FBI has performed as a national political police apparatus. During the turbulent civil rights and anti-war protests of the Sixties, the FBI's secret "COINTELPRO" operations employed deception, intimidation and provocation in a covert campaign to "disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize" legal and democratic political activism.
In June, after a 17-year legal battle, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Seth Rosenfeld obtained the release of a wealth of FBI documents detailing the agency's covert war against students in the civil rights and anti-war movements at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB).
The FBI insisted that its efforts at UCB were nothing more than lawful attempts to safeguard civil order and national security but series of federal court judges ruled otherwise.
The Chronicle editorialized that these revelations came "just as [George W.] Bush has granted the FBI the types of broad powers the agency abused, in the name of containing communism, during the 1950s and 1960s. The FBI is once again unleashed to scrutinize ordinary people, including those who may disagree with the government, but who are not terrorists."
The papers revealed that it wasn't just the FBI. The Chronicle reported that "the FBI unlawfully schemed with the head of the CIA to harrass students, faculty and members of the Board of Regents, and mounted a concerted campaign to destroy the career of US President Clark Kerr, which included sending the White House derogatory allegations about him that the bureau knew were false."
The documents that the FBI fought so hard to keep hidden also revealed that the agency had developed a "close and cordial" relationship with Ronald Reagan who was, at that time, running for the governorship of California.
After his election, the Chronicle revealed, the FBI "secretly gave Gov. Reagan's administration information it could use 'against' protestors." Despite the oft-repeated line that the FBI and CIA are arch-rivals who never cooperate, the documents reveal that soon after UCB's Free Speech Movement staged the country's first US student sit-in, CIA Director John McCone met with Hoover at FBI headquarters and the two men hatched a joint plan to "curtail, harass and at times eliminate" liberal professors at UCB.
Hoover had the FBI comb through its records looking for incriminating information on 6,000 members of the university's faculty and its top officials. The result was a 60-page report that identified 72 faculty members, employees and students who were placed on the FBI's Security Index.
Two Steps Shy of a 'Death List'
The Security Index was a document just two steps shy of a government "death list." According to the Chronicle, Hoover's Index was "a secret nationwide list of people whom the FBI considered potentially dangerous to national security who would be detained without warrant during a crisis." Hoover's Security Index was so secret that not even members of Congress knew of its existence.
The released documents also revealed that the FBI conspired to protect Reagan from prosecution for lying under oath, a charge that would have cost him his governorship. "After he was elected," the Chronicle learned, "the FBI failed to report that Reagan falsely stated on a federal security clearance form that he never had been a member of any group officially deemed subversive, an omission that could have been prosecuted as a felony." (In the 1940s, Reagan had been a member of the American Veterans Committee and the Committee for a Democratic Far East Policy.)
In the 1960s, as the FBI escalated its covert war against dissidents, COINTEPRO campaigns resulted in the deaths of many Black Panther activists. In 1969, the FBI was party to the "targeted assassination" of Chicago Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. (Clark's family was subsequently awarded $1.85 million in a wrongful death settlement. The attorney in the Clark case was Dennis Cunningham, the same attorney who represented Judi Bari in this summer's historic $4.4 million judgment against the FBI. Cunningham is the only lawyer to have successfully sued the FBI - twice.)
The FBI spied on Native Americans. The FBI spied on student activists. The FBI even spied on Groucho Marx and John Lennon.
In his new book, Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities [Barricade Books, 185 Bridge Plaza North, Suite 308-A, Fort Lee, NY 07024, (201) 944-7600, www.barricadebooks.com], political satirist, editor and activist Paul Krassner recounts how the FBI did more than just place the former Beatle under surveillance.
"In September 1972, the government declassified secrets of the H-bomb design but still kept dozens of pages in the Lennon files confidential," Krassner reports. The FBI fought for 14 years to keep its Lennon File secret but the Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the FBI was forced to hand over the documents along with a check for $204,000 to cover the ACLU's court costs.
The reason for the FBI's concerns soon became clear. A month before his death in 1972, Hoover sent a memo to President Nixon's White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman warning of Lennon's "avowed intention to engage in disruptive activities surrounding RNC [the Republican National Convention]" in Miami.
Lennon had merely signaled his interest in performing on stage. The FBI knew that Lennon had stated that he would only attend if the demonstrations were completely nonviolent. Nonetheless, the documents revealed that the FBI worked with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to have Lennon arrested and deported to prevent him from performing outside the GOP's presidential nominating convention. The FBI, in a clearly partisan act, had embarked on a political conspiracy designed to benefit the reelection of Richard Nixon.
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono leafed through the files, they found a memo from the FBI's New York office that recorded how local agents were "attempting to obtain enough information to arrest both subject and wife" on drug charges. Lennon told Krassner that this might explain why "strangers kept trying to give [me] drugs."
Another memo informed the FBI's Miami office that Lennon was to be "arrested if at all possible on possession of narcotics charges." In order to help local police frame Lennon, the FBI produced a flyer with the singer's photo on it. Unfortunately the bumblers at the FBI mistakenly used a photo of Lower East Side musician David Peel.
"In December 1971, a month after Nixon had been reelected, the Lennon files ended," Krassner reports in his book. But the files contained one last, chilling note. "The FBI had inserted an asterisk adjacent to the symbol number on many documents whenever 'the source of the information was not a person but an illegal investigative technique'."
Unfortunately, in the future, the FBI's stealth wars against innocents may prove harder to unearth. On October 12, 2001, John Ashcroft promised the heads of all federal agencies that his Department of Justice would defend any bureaucrat who faced a lawsuit for refusing to comply with the disclosure laws of the Freedom of Information Act.
Me and the FBI
By Paul Krassner (excerpted from Murder at the Conspiracy Convention)
In school I had to write a report on a political candidate. I chose Vito Marcantonio, who was running for mayor of New York. I didn't know anything about him except that Sinatra was supporting his campaign and sang at a fundraiser. Marcantonio was running on the American Labor Party ticket, but my teacher called him a communist, got very agitated and phoned my parents.
At home, I learned that the Constitution didn't guarantee the separation of politics and culture. One of my favorite songs, "But Not for Me," included the phrase, "More clouds of gray that any Russian play could guarantee," but on the radio I heard an altered version: "More clouds of gray than any Broadway play could guarantee." The Cold War was on.
Flash ahead to October 1968. A man in New York City has been reading a profile of me in Life magazine. Now he sits down at this typewriter, trying to choose every word carefully as he composes a letter to the editor on plain stationery:
"You must be hard up for material. Am I asking the impossible by requesting that Krassner and his ilk be left in the sewers where they belong?
That a national magazine of your fine reputation (till now that is) would waste time and effort on the cuckoo editor of an unimportant, smutty little rag is incomprehensible to me. Gentlemen, you must be aware that The Realist is nothing more than blatant obscenity. To classify Krassner as some sort of 'social rebel' is far too cute. He's a nut, a raving, unconfined nut."
The letter was signed "Howard Rasmussen, Brooklyn College, School of General Studies."
That was the pseudonym of an FBI agent and his letter was for COINTELPRO, the FBI's counterintelligence program. Before mailing it to the magazine, he was required to send a copy to FBI headquarters in Washington, along with a memo requesting permission because "the Life article was favorable to Krassner."
In 1969, the FBI attempt to assassinate my character escalated to a more literal approach. I discovered this, not in my COINTELPRO file, but as part of a separate project calculated to cause rifts between the Jewish and black communities. The FBI produced a wanted poster featuring large swastika. In the four square spaces of the swastika were photos of Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Students for a Democratic Society leader Mark Rudd and me.
Under the headline - "Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades!" - the copy stated that "the only solution to Negro problems in America would be the elimination of the Jew. May we suggest the following order of elimination? (After all, we've been this way before.)" ["Lampshades" is a grotesque reference to the Nazi death camp at Dachau where the skins of murdered Jews were reportedly used to make lampshades. - The-Edge. ]
There followed this list:
All Jews connected with the Establishment.
All Jews connected with Jews connected with the Establishment.
All Jews connected with those immediately above.
All Jews except those in the Movement.
All Jews in the Movement except those who dye their skins black.
All Jews. (Look out, Abbie, Jerry, Mark and Paul!)
The flyer was approved, once again, by [Hoover's top assistants Kartha "Deke"] DeLoach and [William] Sullivan:
"Authority is granted to prepare and distribute on an anonymous basis to selected individuals and organizations in the New Left the leaflet submitted. Assure that all necessary precautions are taken to protect the Bureau as the source of these leaflets [which] suggest facetiously the elimination of these leaders [to] create further ill feeling between the new Left and the black nationalist movement."
And, of course, if some overly militant black had obtained that flyer and "eliminated" one of those "New Left leaders who are Jewish," the FBI's bureaucratic ass would be covered: "We said it was a facetious suggestion, didn't we?"
The paradox of America is that, while the nation seethes with corruption, we still have the freedom to expose that corruption. It's a start.
Paul Krassner is a cofounder of the Youth International Party (the Yippies) and the editor of the satirical journal The Realist.
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