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COINTELPRO is an acronym ('COunter INTELligence PROgram') for a program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at attacking dissident political organizations in the United States.

The program was initially targeted at the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA). After its initial success, it was expanded to include many other organizations. Some of the largest COINTELPROs targeted the Socialist Worker's Party, the "New Left" (including several anti-war groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee[?]), Black Liberation groups such as the Black Panthers, Puerto Rican independence groups, and American Indian Movements. There were also attacks against other organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (whom the FBI sometimes collaborated with in other COINTELPROs).

The program was secret until 1971, when an FBI office was burglarized and many secret documents were stolen. The crime was never solved, and the group responsible slowly leaked the documents to various members of the media and Congress. Within the year, Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO program was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis. He did not promise that the FBI would stop using COINTELPRO tactics.

Further documents were revealed in the course of separate lawsuits filed against the FBI by NBC correspondent Carl Stern and by the SWP, and in 1976 by the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United States Senate, commonly referred to as the "Church Committee[?]" for its chairman, Senator Frank Church[?]. However, millions of pages of documents remain unreleased, and many released documents are entirely censored.

The Church committee documented a history of the FBI being used for purposes of political repression as far back as World War I, through the 1920s, when they were charged with rounding up "anarchists and revolutionaries" for deportation, and then building from 1936 through 1976.

Today, FBI programs in the spirit of COINTELPROs target groups like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador[?] and the Anti-Globalization Movement.


The COINTELPROs used a broad array of methods, including:

  • Infiltration: Both by informants and agents provocateur, who would waste time, sabotage campaigns, suggest or carry out dangerous, illegal, or divisive activities, or seduce and blackmail leaders.

  • Intimidation: Sending threatening letters and packages, breaking and entering into houses and offices, etc.

  • Propaganda: Feeding damaging information to friendly journalists, writing anonymous leaflets against organizations, or writing damaging leaflets or letters claiming to be from the organization.

  • Framing: Framing activists for crimes which the FBI committed, prosecuting them for genuine crimes they didn't commit, or "bad-jacketing," planting falsified documents or other "evidence" which made it appear that they were FBI informants.

  • Lawsuit harassment: Tying up organizations or individuals in court with frivolous prosecution of every imaginable offense, real or imagined.

  • Murder: Directly assassinating or hiring rival groups to assassinate prominent leaders.


  • Assault on the Left. James Kirkpatrick Davis. 1997, Chapters 1 & 8
  • The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States by Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall

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