Tired of Vague References to FBI Abuse? Here are the Dossiers
As the White House pushes to expand FBI powers, some pressreports are sounding cautionary notes -- usually vague allusionsto the FBI's history of harassing political groups and movements.Missing from most accounts are specifics. This column offers a few ofthe many horrifying details. Although President Clinton saysstepped-up FBI infiltration will help prevent violence, the recordshows that FBI spying hasactually abetted violence. * DICK GREGORY: In 1968, the activist comedian publiclydenounced the Mafia for importing heroin into the inner city. Didthe FBI welcome the anti-drug, anti-mob message? No. Head G-manJ. Edgar Hoover responded by proposing that the Bureau try toprovoke the mob to retaliate against Gregory as part of an FBI"counterintelligence operation" to "neutralize" the comedian.Hoover wrote: "Alert La Cosa Nostra (LCN) to Gregory's attack onLCN." * FREEDOM RIDERS: In 1961, black and white civil rightsworkers boarded interstate buses in the North and headed south inan effort to desegregate buses nationwide. The FBI learned thatwhen the freedom riders reached bus depots in Alabama, the statepolice were going to give the Ku Klux Klan "15 uninterruptedminutes" to beat activists with baseball bats, clubs and chains.The Bureau allowed the violence to occur; activist Walter Bergmanspent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed. * VIOLA LIUZZO: The white civil rights volunteer fromDetroit -- a mother of five -- joined Martin Luther King's 1965Selma (Ala.) campaign aimed at securing the right to vote forblacks. She was shot and killed after being chased 20 miles athigh speed by a carload of four Klansmen. In the car was GaryDavid Rowe, a well-paid FBI informant inside the Klan; theviolence-prone Rowe had played a big role in the beatings offreedom riders years earlier. "He couldn't be an angel and be agood informant," commented one of his FBI handlers. * FRANK WILKINSON: A lifelong civil libertarian who led thecampaign to abolish the House Committee on Un-AmericanActivities, his FBI surveillance file spans 30 years and 132,000pages. Estimated cost to us taxpayers: $17 million. Wilkinsonnever advocated or committed violence, but the file shows thatthe Bureau burglarized his offices and encouraged beatings ofhim. The FBI once heard of a right-wing scheme to assassinateWilkinson -- but took no action to inform him or protect him.* MARTIN LUTHER KING: For years, the FBI used spying andinfiltration in a relentless campaign to destroy King -- to wreckhis marriage, undermine his mental stability and encourage him tocommit suicide. The Bureau created dissension among King'sassociates, disrupted fundraising efforts and recruited hisbookkeeper as a paid agent after learning the employee wasembezzling. The FBI used "media assets" to plant smear stories in thepress -- some insinuating that King was a Soviet agent. One FBImedia asset against King in the early 1960s was Patrick Buchanan,then an editorial writer in St. Louis. The FBI once hatched ascheme to "completely discredit" King and have him replaced by acivil rights leader the Bureau could control. The one individualnamed by the Bureau as "the right kind of Negro leader" waslawyer Samuel Pierce -- who years later became the only black inPresident Reagan's cabinet. King was hated and regularly threatened by whitesupremacists and extremists -- but the FBI developed a writtenpolicy 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, thiseconomics professor and other antiwar activists in San Diego wereterrorized -- with menacing phone calls, death threats and fire-bombings -- by the Secret Army Organization, a right-wingparamilitary group. On Jan. 6, 1972, gunshots were fired intoBohmer's house, wounding a friend. After a bombing months later, a trial revealed that HowardBarry Godfrey, co-founder of SAO in San Diego and one of its mostactive and violent members, had all along been a paid FBIinformant. Godfrey testified that he had driven the car fromwhich the shots were fired; afterward, he took the weapon to hisFBI supervisor, who hid it.* BLACK PANTHER PARTY: Some critics are denouncing the newmovie "Panther" as an anti-FBI fantasy. But the hard facts aboutthe FBI's war on the Panthers were published in 1976 by theSenate Intelligence Committee chaired by Frank Church. Using paidinfiltrators and faked documents, the Bureau routinely tried togoad militant groups or street gangs to commit violence againstthe Panthers. In Southern California, FBI agents helped provoke RonKarenga's militant US group into attacks on Panthers and boastedabout it in memos to headquarters. When the FBI learned that thePanthers and US were trying to talk out their differences, agentsdid their best to reopen the conflict. Four Panthers wereultimately killed by US members, two on the UCLA campus. In Chicago, the FBI office forged and sent a letter to theBlackstone Rangers gang leader saying the Panthers had a "hitout" on him. The FBI's stated hope was that he "take reprisalsagainst" the Panther leadership. Although that plan failed, Chicago Panther chief FredHampton (age 21) was killed months later in a predawn policeassault on his apartment. Hampton's bodyguard turned out to be anFBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered anapartment floorplan to the Bureau -- with an "X" markingHampton's bed. Most bullets were aimed at his bedroom. Theinfiltrator received a $300 bonus; according to an FBI memo, "Oursource was the man who made the raid possible." Among the hundreds of schemes detailed in FBI memos wereplans to contaminate the Panther newspaper's printing room with anoxious chemical; to inject a powerful laxative into fruit servedto kids as part of the Panthers' free breakfast program; and totarget smear campaigns at various Hollywood celebrities whohad come to the Panthers' defense.* CENTRAL AMERICA ACTIVISTS: Many recent news accounts saythat FBI abuse pretty much ended with J. Edgar Hoover's death in1972, and that the Bureau has been in check since the JusticeDepartment issued new guidelines in 1976. Not true. FBIdisruption of lawful dissent has continued -- though theterminology has changed, from counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) to"counterterrorism." During the 1980s, groups critical of U.S. intervention inCentral America were surveilled, infiltrated and disrupted by theFBI. Political break-ins occurred at churches, offices and homes-- and material from the burglaries ended up in FBI files. In theguise of monitoring supporters of foreign terrorists, the FBIcompiled files on clergy, religious groups and thousands ofnonviolent anti-intervention activists. The investigationproduced not a single criminal charge. The whole sordid story isdetailed in "Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI," a book byformer Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan.At the center of this spying was FBI official Oliver "Buck"Revell. Today, Revell (now retired) makes the rounds of TV newsshows, complaining that the FBI is too hamstrung to trackterrorists. But the FBI has always had the power to infiltrate terroristgroups. The problem has been the Bureau's diversion of resourcesto monitor and harass activists whose only "crime" was workingfor social change.