21 October 2002

The Art of the FBI

The FBI’s “counter intelliegence” program COINTELPRO was created in 1956 to neutralize political dissidents in the United States. Although the FBI’s COINTELPRO’s officially ended in 1971, there have been many examples of counterintelligence-type operations against political dissidents since. The 1976 investigation led by Senator Frank Church officially brought COINTELPRO’s mission to light:

“‘to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ such groups and their ‘leadership, spokesmen, members, and supporters.’ The larger objectives were to ‘counter’ their ‘propensity for violence’ and to ‘frustrate’ their efforts to ‘consolidate their forces’ or to ‘recruit new or youthful adherents.’ Field offices were instructed to exploit conflicts within and between groups; to use news media contacts ridicule and otherwise discredit groups; to prevent ‘rabble rousers’ from spreading their ‘philosophy’ publicly; and to gather information on the ‘unsavory backgrounds’ of group leaders.

One of their techniques was the use of “black propaganda,” bogus information that conceals or fakes its source. This included faked letters, poems, and satirical comic books to pit activists against one another.

Stay Free Magazine’s article “Fake Letters and Bad Poetry: Highlights from the FBI’s Secret War on Dissent” lists several examples:


Coloring Books

Previously mentioned here, the Black Panther Coloring Book was designed by the FBI to appear as if created by the Panthers. The books contained inflamatory pictures, some of which featured young black kids shooting pigs dressed as policemen. From the Church report:

Click here for more images from the FBI's Black Panther Coloring Book“One of the Bureau’s prime targets was the BPP’s free ”Breakfast for Children” program, which FBI headquarters feared might be a potentially successful effort by the BPP to teach children to hate police and to spread ‘anti-white propaganda.’ In an admitted attempt ‘to impede their contributions to the BPP Breakfast Program,’ the FBI sent anonymous letters and copies of an inflammatory Black Panther Coloring Book for children to contributors, including Safeway Stores, Inc., Mayfair Markets, and the Jack-In-The-Box Corporation.

On April 8, 1976 in Executive Testimony a former member of the BPP Central Steering Committee stated that when the coloring book came to the attention of the Panther’s national leadership, Bobby Seale ordered it destroyed because the book ‘did not correctly reflect the ideology of the Black Panther Party.’”


Posters and Flyers

Paul Krassner writes in “The FBI and Me — An American Story”:

“In 1969, the FBI attempt to assassinate my character escalated to a more literal approach. I discovered this, not in the file kept by Cointelpro, the FBI’s counterintelligence program, but as part of a separate project calculated to cause rifts between the Jewish and black communities.

The FBI produced a ‘WANTED’ poster featuring a large swastika. In the four square spaces of the swastika were photos of Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, SDS leader Mark Rudd, and myself. Under the headline ‘Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades!’ the copy referred to ‘the only solution to Negro problems in America’ as being ‘the elimination of the Jews,’ listed in the following order: ‘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 [Kartha] DeLoach and [William] Sullivan [J. Edgar Hoover’s top two assistants]: ‘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 if some overly militant African American had obtained that flyer and ‘eliminated’ one of those ‘New Left leaders who are Jewish,’ the FBI’s bureaucratic behind would be covered: ‘We said it was a facetious suggestion, didn’t we?’”


Cartoons

sds.pngIn their chapter on COINTELPRO and the New Left in The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall reproduce an FBI memo [pages 1, 2] which lays out the Bureau’s plan to disrupt the New Left:

“Consider the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters which will have the effect of ridiculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.”

A further memo [pages 1, 2] details the plan to disrupt Students for a Democratic Society at Temple University through the use of cartoons, pamphlets and anonymous letters.

The cartoon displayed here was produced and distributed by the Philadelphia FBI office as part its plan to subvert SDS at Temple University. The caption, in a parody of the rhetoric of Sen. Joseph McCarthy reads, “I have in my hand a list of 200 names of people who don’t advocate the violent overthrow of the government.”


Mail Art

From Stay Free:

The Siberian Beetle is Black“The FBI believed that many New Left leaders had a weakness for spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, so a 1968 memo suggested mailing them anonymous cartoons such as the one pictured here. Subsequent mailings (from increasingly closer locations) could say ‘The Siberian Beetle is Black’ or ‘The Siberian Beetle Can Talk.’ Other proposed characters included ‘The Chinese Scorpion’ and ‘The Egyptian Cobra’ — anything with a sinister meaning open to mystical interpretation. According to FBI documents, the messages were intended to cause concern, mental anguish, suspicion, and distrust among their recipients.”


Poetry

From Stay Free:

“Socialist Workers Party leader George Weissman became the first subject of an FBI poem in 1964, shortly after being framed for stealing from a civil rights leader. According to an internal memo dated 4/10/64, the FBI mailed out an anonymous letter, along with this verse, to radical publications. The purpose was ‘to discredit the Party in the Negroe civil rights field.’”

Poem


Spoken Word

From Stay Free:

“In a 1963 internal memo, counterintelligence specialist Charles D. Brennan stated that civil rights agitation represented a clear threat to ‘the established order’ of the U.S. and that ‘King is growing in stature daily as the leader among leaders of the Negro movement.’ COINTELPRO head William C. Sullivan responded in a letter: ‘We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security... it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.’

Instead of sticking to the law, then, the FBI aimed to discredit King by any means necessary. Agents tapped his phone, bugged his rooms, trumpeted his supposed commie connections, and his sexual proclivities, and sicced the Internal Revenue Service on him. When it was announced in 1964 that King would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI grew desperate. Hoping to prevent King from accepting the award, the Bureau mailed him a package containing a tape of phone calls documenting King’s extramarital affairs and an anonymous, threatening letter (shown here in censored form). In barely concealed language, King was told to commit suicide before the award ceremony or risk seeing his ‘filthy, abnormal fraudulent self’ exposed to the nation. Fortunately, King ignored the FBI’s advice. He accepted the award and lived four more years until his assassination.”

Read more in Ward Churchill’s The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States.