...the world as I see it--book & movie reviews, history that's not taught in school
and anything else that moves me to speak my truth
Friday, August 21, 2015 Book Review and Related Musings
The Burglary by Betty Medsger.
I recently finished this book, which is where I heard about COINTELPRO for the first time. This previously secret
program was J. Edgar Hoover's "secret counterintelligence program" COINTELPRO, set up in 1956 to investigate and
disrupt dissident political groups in the United States in order to 'enhance the paranoia endemic in those circles,'
to make clear to all Americans that an FBI agent was 'behind every mailbox,' a plan that would discredit, destabilize,
and demoralize groups, many of them legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups that Hoover found
offensive-as well as black power groups, student activists, anti-draft protesters...
The FBI files that were stolen in 1971 (called the Media files because they were stolen from the Media, Pennsylvania
office), revealed this program to the general public but only some of the information became public. Supposedly it was
stopped in 1971, but in fact it only changed names. It is my belief (based on the history of the US government's
responses to dissent since then and up to the present year, 2015) that every aspect of the Black Lives Matter
movement, the anti-war/peace movement, of all whistleblowers and journalists and those who want to
expose corruption in the military-industrial-pharmaceutical-prison complex, are being targeted by the same
investigations and dirty tricks that the FBI practiced under J. Edgar Hoover.
The Media file burglars were never found, but 40 years later some revealed themselves to the reporter, Betty Medsger,
who broke the
story in 1971 (they had mailed her the files back then). Recently she published this book filled with not only information
from the past but much more info that has been revealed about the contents of Hoover's war against activists of
all kinds, uncovered due to the Freedom of Information Act and the dogged pursuit of the files using that act by a few
truth seekers who took years to finally get access and then only recently revealed more of the ugly truth that is
still so relevant today.
In this piece, I am going to focus on Hoover's war against the black community that he waged for so long that it
can be said to have contributed greatly to the subjugation and disenfranchisement of that community, pulling the
plug on the momentum of the fight for equal rights over and over again.
I am listing relevant quotes from this book with page numbers for reference. All of this information is documented
with extensive bibliography/footnotes for each chapter in the back of the book, which I got from my local public
library. This is only a tiny piece of the information in this book.
1) "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 all 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." (page 7)
2) "Blackmail and burglary were favorite tools in the secret FBI--agents 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." (page 7)
3) One document in the stolen files, signed by Hoover, on November 4, 1970, had two subject headings: "Black
Student Groups on College Campuses" and "Racial Matters." According to Medsger, "It was the first of numerous sets
of stolen documents I would receive over the next two months that revealed Hoover's preoccupation with surveillance
of black people and students, especially black students."
The memo stated: Effective immediately, all BSUs [Black Student Unions] and similar organizations organized to project
the demands of black students, which are not presently under investigation, are to be subjects of discreet, preliminary
inquiries, limited to established sources and carefully conducted to avoid criticism, to determine the size, aims,
purposes, activities, leadership, key activists in each group to determine background and if their activities warrant
All higher education institutions, including two-year colleges, throughout the country were to be included in this
plan to monitor black students and black student organizations. "The private records of Muhammad Kenyatta, the
leader of a national black rights organization based in Philadelphia, were collected without regard for whether they
were related to any potential criminal activity. An agent reported in one file that detailed confidential data on
Kenyatta and his wife, Mary--phone records, checking account records--had been given to agents without subpoenas. The
information was provided by sources with the agreement that if the bureau ever had an official need to use the
information in a court proceeding, it would be sought again--at that time with the legally required subpoena, and
as though the FBI had not already illegally received the information. Documents release later by the burglars provided
additional information about these cozy relationships, including ones between the FBI and employers and with government
employment agencies. It appeared that whatever information the FBI wanted, it was given, without regard to privacy
restrictions. Banks, credit card agencies, employers, landlords, law enforcement agencies, and military recruiters
all opened their confidential files and their mouths when the FBI appeared." Of course Attorney general John N. Mitchell
warned that disclosure of the contents of the stolen files "could endanger
the lives or cause other serious harm to persons engaged in investigative activities on behalf of the United
States...could injure the United States and give aid to foreign governments whose interests might me inimical to
those of the United States." (Page 169-170-171) Does this sound familiar???
4) More than anything, the Media files offered "the public and Congress an unprecedented glimpse of how the U.S.
government watches its citizens--particularly black citizens, "wrote Washington Post journalist William Greider
in an analysis of all the files the summer after the burglary... [The files] revealed details of the bureau's policies
and actions that made it clear that the FBI conducted massive spying on African Americans, most of it unjustified.
It did so in ways, he wrote, that were as unreasonable as it would have been for the bureau to spy on all lawyers who
engaged in politics because, "as everyone knows, some layers in politics turn out to be crooks."
...how the FBI regarded black people was that they were dangerous and must be watched continuously. To become targets
of the FBI it wasn't necessary for African Americans to engage in violent behavior. It wasn't necessary for them to
be radical or subversive. Being black was enough.
...evidence of Hoover's inability, or refusal, to differentiate people as individuals rather than as stereotypes of
either a race or an ideology. One of the results of that failure on his part was that any organization devoted to
racial equality risked being labeled as subversive by the FBI and becoming subject to infiltration by the bureau.
Local branch offices of organizations widely known to be constructive and nonviolent were infiltrated by the FBI:
the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP. That pattern, it was
learned later, was reflected in bureau behavior for years toward those and other nonviolent organizations throughout
the country. It was learned later that NAACP officials had been under continuous FBI surveillance since 1923.
As required by directives from headquarters, African Americans came under the FBI's watchful eye everywhere--in
churches, in classrooms, on college campuses, in bars, in restaurants, in bookstores, in their places of employment,
in stores, in any social setting, in their neighborhoods and at the front doors of their homes. Probably few people
suspected that the bill collector at their door was an FBI informer.
...New bureaucratic terms were created for these operations. Every field office was required to establish a "Racial Squad"
to coordinate coverage of what the bureau labeled "Racial Matters. "Ghetto" informers were a subset of the group the
bureau called "Racial Informants." These informants infiltrated groups the FBI considered to be black nationalist and
black revolutionary group...(page 226-227)
5) There are countless more examples given of specific people being targeted and spied on, including information
exposed in the documents from the Media Files, for example detailed reports and personal and other records of
Muhammad Kenyatta. If was finally revealed that "Kenyatta and his family moved to Philadelphia from Mississippi in
1968 because of a threatening letter that he thought at the time was written by a committee of students who
purportedly were his rivals in a student organization at Tougaloo College near Jackson. He learned the truth about
the letter in 1975: It had been fabricated by three FBI agents in a successful effort to force him to leave
Mississippi." (page 231)
6) One of the hidden purposes of COINTELPRO, which had the approval of many Attorneys General of the United
States during J. Edgar Hoover's almost 50 years in power, was that it contained a list of hundreds of thousands
of Americans they had on file who were considered to be in some capacity dangerous to the social fabric of America
and in case of martial law being declared in a national emergency, those on this list would be rounded up and placed
in detention. Once revealed, this program was ordered to be abolished, but in fact, it was only renamed and continued
in secret. One can only imagine a similar list kept by the NSA and Homeland Security in the present day political
climate where all dissidents, all journalists and all peace activists, human rights advocates etc. are considered
7) "In 1988, documents released to the Center for Constitutional Rights under the Freedom of Information Act
revealed that beginning in 1981, the FBI did assume that the 'impediments' on investigations had been lifted. That
year it opened a five-year investigation of individuals and organizations that opposed Reagan's policies in Central
America. The investigation--which included widespread use throughout the country of informers at political meetings;
break-ins at churches, members' homes, and organizations' offices; and surveillance of hundreds of peace
demonstrations--started under FBI director William Webster and continued under his successor, William Sessions,
both of them former federal judges. The massive five-year investigation involved fifty-two of the fifty-six FBI
field offices and included investigations of the National Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Maryknoll Sisters,
the United Auto Workers, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The focus was on the Committee In Solidarity
with the People of El Salvador, known as CISPES." (page 495)
8) This book of just under 600 pages has way more evidence of these deceptions and invasions of privacy and
social and political manipulations that are obviously still being maintained today, although with different names
and acronyms and government officials. But what is blindingly obvious today is the targeting of the black community
and the suppression of any dissent and/or attempts to promote basic human and civil rights by the systematic and
intentional discrediting of leaders and by putting a spin on media reporting of incidents of police interactions
with the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement is reminiscent of the Black Panther party's attempt to wrest
control of the narrative from those in power and give it back to the people.
9) Finally, there is a lot of information on the internet about COINTELPRO and also many videos on YouTube
about the FBI's war on Blacks, so I will end with this documentary from 1990 called:
COINTELPRO-The FBI's War on Black America
Entire contents of this website created by Kerry Rutherford, copyright 2006
Starbirth Consulting. All rights reserved worldwide. No form of reproduction,
including copying or saving of text, digital image files, or the alteration or
manipulation of said text or image files, is permitted, without permission.