Thursday, April 3, 2014

How the FBI Goes After Activists

Tom Burke was driving through a sleepy part of Grand Rapids, Michigan—an empty neighborhood full of abandoned warehouses—when he first noticed the vehicle tailing him. “I was like, Why is this car turning left whenever I turn left?” he recalled. “I figured out I was being followed.”

Tom, a 49-year-old who has been active in antiwar and labor circles for decades, had been monitored for months by the FBI, and that morning, September 24, 2010, the Bureau was moving against him and his fellow activists. Agents had raided the homes of some of Tom’s friends, seizing computers and tearing apart rooms as part of an investigation into whether they were planning an armed revolution and providing aid to terrorist organizations. In response, Tom was on his way to an internet cafĂ© to issue a press release telling the world what was happening, which was about all he could do given the circumstances.

That same morning, he and his wife were served with subpoenas demanding they testify before a grand jury. By December, 23 activists across the Midwest were subpoenaed and asked to answer for their activism. Among other things, they were accused of providing “material support” for terrorism, a charge that can mean anything from providing guns to a terrorist group to providing any sort of “advice or assistance” to members of such a group, even if that advice is “lay down your arms.” (Former president Jimmy Carter warned a few months before the raids that the threat of a “material support” charge “inhibits the work of human-rights and conflict-resolution groups.”)

Nearly four years later no one has been charged with a crime, and an unsealed affidavit, which the FBI used to get a federal judge to sign off on the 2010 raids, even notes that this group of mostly middle-aged peace activists explicitly rejected the idea of providing arms to anyone. The document, released by court order last month in response to requests from the activists, shows that an undercover special agent was intent on luring people into saying ominous things about “revolution” and, sometimes, some of these people indulged her, which provided the pretext for legally harassing a group known to oppose US policy at home and abroad.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Document Deep Dive: Richard Nixon’s Application to Join the FBI

Fresh out of law school, the future president first hoped he could be one of J. Edgar Hoover’s agents

The abridged biography of Richard Nixon, as most know it, goes something like this. Born the son of a grocer and housewife, Nixon grew up in southern California and attended Whittier College, a small liberal arts college less than 20 miles from Los Angeles. He graduated from Duke University’s law school, moved home to California and started practicing law. He was first elected as a U.S. congressman in 1946 and then a senator in 1950, then served as vice president and eventually the president, before resigning in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

The National Archives, however, adds a surprising little insert into that timeline. That is, a 24-year-old Nixon applied to be a special agent in the FBI in 1937.

Submitted on April 23, Nixon’s application, once part of the FBI’s files, is now in the holdings of the National Archives. For likely the first time ever, the document is on display to the public in “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” an exhibition featuring more than 100 signed artifacts at the archives through January 5, 2015.

“It is a nice window into a moment in Richard Nixon’s life that people probably don’t think about,” says Jennifer Johnson, the exhibition’s curator. “He has just finished law school, and like everyone, he is clearly trying to figure out what he wants to do.”

As the story goes, Nixon attended a lecture by an FBI special agent while studying at Duke. Just before he graduated with his law degree in June, 1937, he formally applied to the bureau. He was contacted for an interview, which he did in July of that year, and completed a physical exam at the request of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. But, after that, it was radio silence. He never received a response.

On June 11, 1954, the then-Vice President Richard Nixon spoke at the FBI National Academy’s graduation. Hoover actually introduced him, saying that he took special pleasure in doing so, because Nixon had once applied to the bureau. “Having already embarked upon the practice of law, the FBI’s loss ultimately became the country’s gain,” remarked Hoover. Nixon, in a later address to the academy, said, “he never heard anything from that application.”

In his memoirs, Nixon describes being at a party during his vice presidency, when he approached Hoover and expressed an interest in knowing what had happened. The exchange prompted the FBI to open Nixon’s file. Apparently, Nixon was accepted, but his appointment was revoked in August 1937, before he was ever notified. The details are murky. According to Nixon, Hoover told him that he was ultimately not hired due to budget cuts made to the bureau that year. But, it has also been said that Nixon’s plan to take the California bar exam in September didn’t jibe with the FBI’s hiring schedule.

Either way, it is an interesting game of “what if,” says Johnson.

See Nixon's application:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How the FBI Routinely Breaks the Law and Endangers Lives

If you or one of your close friends were the possible target of a sniper assassination, and if law enforcement knew about it, shouldn’t law enforcement have an obligation to tell you? And if they deliberately didn’t tell you, wouldn’t you be legitimately concerned that your potential assassin may be part of law enforcement?
In November of 2011, I arrived at Tranquility Park in downtown Houston about 15 minutes late for Occupy Houston’s nightly general assembly. I was having trouble finding a parking place when I noticed that the park was bathed in the flashing red and blue lights of the Houston PD's cars surrounding the park, and there were television news trucks adjacent to the park broadcasting live. I thought we were being evicted, and ran to the scene.
Just moments before I arrived, a 21-year-old man named Joshua Anthony Twohig had walked into the park, dressed in a suit and carrying a .40 caliber assault rifle. He pointed his gun at several of my Occupy Houston comrades, fired several shots into the air, and was shot by police before being taken into custody. As someone with a history of mental illness, Twohig was ruled incompetent to stand trial in January of 2012. The incident spooked a lot of people at the camp, many of us wondering if any of us were targets of a larger plot.
In December 2012, documents revealed by a FOIA request from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund showed that the FBI was investigating the Occupy Wall Street movement – a movement that explicitly operated on principles of nonviolence and direct democracy – for “criminal activity” and “domestic terrorism.” Those documents also revealed the FBI’s knowledge of a November 2011 assassination plot in which leaders of the Occupy Houston movement were targeted. In these public documents the FBI redacted the names of the individuals and/or groups plotting the assassination with high-powered rifles, and never approached anyone at Occupy Houston alerting them that their lives were in danger.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Unsealed search warrants targeting activists reveal FBI 'obsession' with socialist organization

Back in September 2010, FBI agents conducted coordinated raids on homes and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Durham, North Carolina, seizing electronics, personal papers, address books, and even clothing. The raids targeted anti-war, labor, and international solidarity activists doing work with Colombians and Palestinians. Using warrants indicating that they were seeking evidence of "material support for terrorism," armed agents seized computers, cell phones, t-shirts with slogans, photos, files and even any documents containing the word 'Palestine.' Eventually, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would issue Grand Jury subpoenas to 23 people; one after another, all 23 refused to submit to what they deemed a political witch-hunt.

When the raids first happened, activists working with targeted organizations including the Anti-War Committee and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization assumed they were linked to the activities of an alleged secret government informant with a Boston accent. She called herself 'Karen Sullivan'.

Now, a lawsuit has revealed that the activists were right. According to formerly sealed documents newly public because of the suit, an informer was indeed sent to infiltrate their organizations.


Monday, January 27, 2014

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI

On March 8, 1971, eight American citizens led by mild-mannered Haverford College physics professor named William Davidon stole secret records from the offices of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania. It was perhaps the most powerful single act of nonviolent resistance in American history. These burglars kept their role silent for over forty years:

"On the night of March 8, 1971, the eight burglars carried out their plan. Under the cover of darkness and the crackling sounds in nearly every home and bar of continuous news about the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier world heavyweight championship boxing match taking place that evening at New York's Madison Square Garden and being watched on television throughout the world, the burglars broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, a sleepy town southwest of Philadelphia. ...

The F.B.I. field office in Media, Pa., from which the burglars stole files that showed the extent of the bureau's surveillance of political groups.

"The files stolen by the burglars that night in Media revealed the truth and destroyed the myths about Hoover and the institution he had built since he became its director in 1924. Contrary to the official propaganda that had been released continuously for decades by the FBI's Crime Records Division -- the bureau's purposely misnamed public relations operation -- Hoover had distorted the mission of one of the most powerful and most venerated institutions in the country.

"The Media files revealed that there were two FBIs -- the public FBI Americans revered as their protector from crime, arbiter of values, and defender of citizens' liberties, and the secret FBI. This FBI, known until the Media burglary only to people inside the bureau, usurped citizens' liberties, treated black citizens as if they were a danger to society, and used deception, disinformation, and violence as tools to harass, damage, and  -- most important -- silence people whose political opinions the director opposed.

"Instead of being a paragon of law and order and integrity, Hoover's secret FBI was a lawless and unprincipled arm of the bureau that, as Davidon had feared, suppressed the dissent of Americans. To the embarrassment and frustration of agents who privately opposed this interpretation of the bureau's mission, agents and informers were required to be outlaws. Blackmail and burglary were favorite tools in the secret FBI. Agents and informers were ordered to spy on -- and create ongoing files on -- the private lives, including the sexual activities, of the nation's highest officials and other powerful people.

"Electoral politics were manipulated to defeat candidates the director did not like. Even mild dissent, in the eyes of the FBI, could make an American worthy of being spied on and placed in an ongoing FBI file, sometimes for decades. As the authors of The Lawless State wrote in 1976, the FBI 'has operated on a theory of subversion that assumes that people cannot be trusted to choose among political ideas. The FBI has assumed the duty to protect the public by placing it under surveillance.'

"Until the Media burglary, this extraordinary situation -- a secret FBI operating under principles that were the antithesis of both democracy and good law enforcement -- thrived near the top of the federal government for nearly half a century, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. The few officials who were aware of some aspects of the secret FBI silently tolerated the situation for various reasons, including fear of the director's power to destroy the reputation of anyone who raised questions about his operations. ...

Farmhouse, near Pottstown, Pa., where the burglers spent 10 days sorting through the documents.

"This historic act of resistance -- perhaps the most powerful single act of nonviolent resistance in American history -- ignited the first public debate on the proper role of intelligence agencies in a democratic society. Perceptions of the bureau evolved from adulation to criticism and then to a consensus that the FBI and other intelligence agencies must never again be permitted to be lawless and unaccountable. By 1975, the revelations led to the first congressional investigations of the FBI and other intelligence agencies and then to the establishment of congressional oversight of those agencies.

"For more than forty years, the Media burglars have been silent about what they did on the night of March 8, 1971. Seven of the eight burglars have been found by this writer, the first journalist to anonymously receive and then write about the files two weeks after the burglary. In the more than forty years since they were among the most hunted people in the country as they eluded FBI agents during the intensive investigation ordered by Hoover, they have lived rather quiet lives as law-abiding, good citizens who moved from youth to middle age and, for some, now to their senior years. They kept the promise they made to one another as they met for the last time immediately before they released copies of the stolen files to the public -- that they would take their secret, the Media burglary, to their graves.

"The seven burglars who have been found have agreed to break their silence so that the story of their act of resistance that uncovered the secret FBI can be told."
The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI
Author: Betty Medsger 
Publish: Knopf
Date: Copyright 2014 by Betty Medsger
Pages: 6-10

If you wish to read further: Buy Now

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"It Was Time to Do More Than Protest": Activists Admit to 1971 FBI Burglary That Exposed COINTELPRO

Democracy Now:

One of the great mysteries of the Vietnam War era has been solved. On March 8, 1971, a group of activists — including a cabdriver, a day care director and two professors — broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They stole every document they found and then leaked many to the press, including details about FBI abuses and the then-secret counter-intelligence program to infiltrate, monitor and disrupt social and political movements, nicknamed COINTELPRO. They called themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. No one was ever caught for the break-in. The burglars’ identities remained a secret until this week when they finally came forward to take credit for the caper that changed history. Today we are joined by three of them — John Raines, Bonnie Raines and Keith Forsyth; their attorney, David Kairys; and Betty Medsger, the former Washington Post reporter who first broke the story of the stolen FBI documents in 1971 and has now revealed the burglars’ identities in her new book, "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI."

Part 2:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How the COINTELPRO papers were exposed

So on a night nearly 43 years ago, while Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier bludgeoned each other over 15 rounds in a televised title bout viewed by millions around the world, burglars took a lock pick and a crowbar and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in a suburb of Philadelphia, making off with nearly every document inside.
They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups...
“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the F.B.I. was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” said one of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement. “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”