Following the end of the Second World War, the spread of communism was considered to be the #1 threat to the United States. The Soviet Union’s ability to secure a nuclear weapon, coupled with the communist ideology spreading across the globe, fueled a state of fear during this time. Even in the United States, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) was gaining traction as a legitimate political party. The CIA was tasked with combating this threat abroad, and the FBI at home.
In 1956, the FBI instituted a Counter Intelligence Program (CoIntelPro) which among its goals, was to maintain “the existing social and political order.” This initially meant targeting the CPUSA, who was implicated in the passing of nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union several years prior. However, operating in secrecy with very little oversight, CoIntelPro’s scope was later widened to include any group the FBI deemed “subversive.” Among these groups were the Womens’ Rights Movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the growing anti-war movement. Individual students demonstrating against the Vietnam War were targeted by the FBI, along with American luminaries such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein.
The assistant to the Director of the FBI, William C. Sullivan, described the methods employed during CoIntelPro as “rough, tough, and dirty.” The tactics ranged from selectively enforcing tax codes & government regulations, to fabricating evidence and using perjured testimony to illegally incarcerate Americans. The FBI conspired with local police departments to commit crimes ranging from illegal break-ins and vandalism, to assaults, beatings, and assassinations of American citizens.
The FBI’s actions were successfully kept a secret for over 15 years, until a group called the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI burglarized an FBI Field Office in Media, Pennsylvania. Several dossiers acquired during the burglary were passed to news agencies, who initially refused to publish the information. Within the year, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared that CoIntelPro was over. In 1976, the Church Committee conducted an investigation into the actions of the FBI during CoIntelPro. Despite Hoover’s statement, the Church Committee concluded that “...CoIntelPro-type activities may continue today under the rubric of ‘investigation.’”
Those taking part in political activity three decades after the official conclusion of CoIntelPro still find themselves under scrutiny by federal officials. The New York Times reported in 2004 that the FBI conducted interviews of 40 to 50 activists in the lead-up to the presidential elections. Several were tailed by federal agents, others had their friends and family interviewed, and some were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury. There were ultimately no arrests as a result.
In 2009, The Department of Homeland Security sent a confidential memo to law enforcement in Missouri that listed supporters of several political candidates and third parties as potential terrorists. Americans opposed to the bailout and the income tax were also listed in the same group as Neo-nazi’s and bombers of abortion clinics. After appearing on the Wikileaks website, letters of apologies were sent to Representive Ron Paul, Former Congressman Bob Barr, and Presidental Candidate Chuck Baldwin – all of whom were listed by name in the document.
In the same year, the ACLU discovered materials used to train Department of Defense personnel that listed protesting as a form of terrorism. In a multiple choice test for the annual Level 1 Anti-terrorism Awareness course, participants were asked, “Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorist activity?” To correctly answer, one must select “protests” among the options of attacking the Pentagon, committing hate crimes and using IED’s. In an interview with Fox News, the DoD stated that they have since removed the question.
In 2012, it was reported that FBI trained its agents that they can “bend or suspend the law” at will. The training materials were uncovered during a six-month internal review of the Bureau’s training policies. Despite its findings, the review has not resulted in any disciplinary action, nor did it require any re-training.
With the “terrorism” label being used so loosely, many are critical of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. Signed into law by President Obama, the 2012 NDAA is heavily criticized for declaring that American citizens can be held without trial indefinitely on the mere suspicion of supporting terrorism. It also contains provisions that allows citizens to be transferred to the custody of foreign nations for interrogation, trial, and/or imprisonment – an act known as “rendition.” While suspected enemy combatants found on the battlefield were already subject to these conditions since the Bush administration, this is the first time that these powers will apply American citizens on American soil.