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Vol. 73/No. 30      August 10, 2009

Lessons from FBI’s secret
war on political rights
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for August. The book provides an in-depth look at the covert and illegal FBI counterintelligence program, code-named Cointelpro, which was directed at socialists and other activists in the fight for Black rights and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Many of these documents were forced to light through a lawsuit filed by the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance in 1973 against the FBI for decades of spying, harassment, and disruption. The suit was settled 13 years later when a federal judge ruled in favor of the SWP and YSA. Copyright © 1975 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

In late 1971 Donald Segretti was discharged from the army, where he had served as an attorney. He had a friend in the White House and he quickly landed a new job.

In the next few months strange things began to happen to some of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. During the New Hampshire primary the state’s major newspaper printed a letter accusing Edmund Muskie of making derogatory statements about French-Americans. Sometime later it would be discovered that the letter was a phony, but two weeks before election day it sparked quite a stir.

Later, there were fake press releases issued on the stationery of Muskie and Hubert Humphrey.

Then, on June 17, 1972, five men were discovered breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The story that eventually unraveled—including spying and political sabotage—had an unprecedented impact on American political life. It eventually forced the resignation of the president of the United States.

The Cointelpro documents reveal that none of the Watergate crimes were original. The FBI has for years been doing the same thing—and worse—to the Socialist Workers party. Every one of the plumbers’ “dirty tricks” had been used for years by the FBI against the SWP, civil rights leaders, and others on the government’s “enemies list.”

As this country’s political police, the FBI has been assigned the role of determining what ideas are fit for the American people to hear and what ideas are not. Socialism, in their opinion, is not fit.

The ruling class, which runs the government, is convinced that it would be better for them if socialism were considered illegitimate or “subversive.” The idea that the working people of this country should take over its wealth and resources and use them for their own welfare is a subversive idea—if you are a capitalist.

In the early 1960s the witch-hunt that had dominated American politics during the 1950s was giving way to a greater openness to radical ideas. Socialists began winning a place on the ballot—and were more and more being treated as legitimate candidates with a particular point of view. The FBI decided that they had a problem. Cointelpro was their solution.

The Cointelpro plot to disrupt socialist election campaigns was concocted not because of any illegal activities by the SWP, but because, as J. Edgar Hoover said, socialist candidates were “openly” talking to people about their ideas.

The documents at the end of this chapter show that the FBI attempted to wreck the 1961 campaign of a Black socialist for Manhattan borough president, waged a sustained drive against Clifton DeBerry, the SWP’s 1964 presidential candidate, tried to get socialists excluded from supporting an independent Black candidate in San Francisco in 1964, and incited an attack on Fred Halstead when he was the SWP presidential candidate in 1968.

These actions are only part of the record of FBI sabotage against socialist candidates. And there are operations that remain hidden in files the FBI is refusing to disclose.

One Cointelpro operation that has come to light through the socialists’ suit concerns the 1966 campaign of Judy White for governor of New York. This was during the period when the antiwar movement was beginning to have a major impact on the thinking of the American people. White was a leader of the antiwar movement.

A broad layer of opponents of the war—including many radicals who were not particularly close to the SWP—had endorsed White as the only antiwar candidate in the race.

Campaign supporters worked hard to get the signatures necessary to obtain ballot status, which brought a significant amount of attention from the media.

The FBI looked for a way to sabotage this campaign. They noticed that according to New York law White was formally not old enough to hold the office of governor. The FBI tried to get this fact reported in the media in an attempt to discredit the campaign.

According to the documents, the FBI decided to rely on the Daily News to do the job for them, but the New York City CBS television affiliate did it instead. A copy of the transcript of the editorial broadcast by the station immediately following the election is reproduced in the files.

White recently read the Cointelpro papers relating to her campaign. “It was the CBS editorial that started the whole controversy that led to the passage of what was called the ‘anti-Judy White law,’” she recalled.

As the documents show, the state legislature soon passed a law altering the election code to require that a candidate be old enough to assume an office in order to run for it.

“Even before the election, CBS was making effective use of the charge that I wasn’t ‘old enough.’ I’m sure the FBI must have planted this idea,” White said.

“We were getting many hours of broadcast time, which was uncommon then. But a few days before the elections it abruptly stopped.”
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Close all U.S. prison camps now!  
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