Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

Hillary Clinton Isn’t the First Government Official to Send Secret Messages

From Hoover’s FBI to George W. Bush’s White House, officials have been hiding their communications for decades. 

Recent revelations that, during her tenure as secretary of state, ­Hillary Clinton maintained a private e-mail server separate from the State Department’s official one raise a question that transcends the current debate over whether she compromised national security: Was the former secretary’s decision exceptional, or did it reflect what had been (and conceivably remains) the practice of senior White House and intelligence-agency officials to preclude, or at least minimize, the exposure of controversial, even illegal policy decisions?

Clinton’s reliance on a private e-mail account ensured that, because her communications were not logged into the State Department’s records system, she alone could determine which of them would be destroyed and which would be saved. A further issue involves the inadvertent discovery of her actions—that is, as the by-product of Congress’s narrow inquiry into the Benghazi matter. This inadvertent revelation raises an additional query: Did other senior administration and intelligence officials, unwilling to rely solely on classification restrictions, devise special procedures to prevent the discovery of their actions? For, as we belatedly learned through the congressional investigations of the 1970s and ’80s and the release of records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, senior intelligence officials involved in controversial and politically sensitive operations had purposely and covertly instituted a series of separate procedures to keep and destroy records.

Dating from the early 1940s, for example, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover maintained especially sensitive records in two secret office files that were separate from the FBI’s central records system. Those records documented the FBI’s illegal investigative techniques and the collection of derogatory information on prominent Americans. Hoover also instituted a series of special records and record-destruction policies (“Do Not File,” “June Mail,” and blue, pink, or informal memorandums), and he authorized senior FBI officials to regularly purge the contents of their own secret office files.

In 1973, responding to the creation of the Senate Watergate Committee, CIA director Richard Helms ordered the destruction of all the tapes and transcripts of his office and telephone conversations. CIA officials also authorized the use of “soft files” and “privacy channels” to send (and then destroy) sensitive communications—and specifically authorized the destruction of the agency’s records on its infamous drug program, MK-ULTRA; on Chile’s Manuel Contreras (head of the country’s murderous secret police under dictator Augusto Pinochet); and on the CIA-engineered 1953 coup that overthrew President Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran.

The National Security Agency similarly created special records and record-destruction policies involving two illegal programs: Project Minaret (running from 1967 to 1973, it intercepted the international communications of anti–Vietnam War and civil-rights activists) and Project Shamrock (running from 1947 to 1975, it intercepted telegraph messages in transit to and from the United States). And Oliver North, a National Security Council aide in the Reagan administration, created a “do not log” procedure to manage communications to his boss, John Poindexter—and then, when the Iran/Contra scandal broke, destroyed those records (although North’s ignorance that the NSC computer system maintained a backup memory allowed investigators to reconstruct some of those records).

At a time when the public and Congress are exploring how the George W. Bush administration, by classifying records on national-security grounds, was able to secretly authorize the NSA’s Terrorism Surveillance Program and the CIA’s rendition and torture programs, it is equally important to explore whether the secret procedures employed in the past continue. Bush White House officials created special e-mail accounts for their communications with the Republican National Committee—and it was subsequently revealed that many of those e-mails had been destroyed or were missing. More seriously, attorneys from the Office of Professional Responsibility found, in the course of their investigation into legal rulings by Justice Department attorneys John Yoo, Patrick Philbin, and Jay Bybee, that many of their e-mails were missing and that “most of” Yoo’s and Philbin’s e-mail records covering the period from July to August 2002 “had been deleted and were not recoverable.” In addition, forewarned of Congress’s intent to convene hearings on CIA interrogation practices, agency officials in 2005 destroyed 92 videotapes of the CIA’s brutal treatment of Al Qaeda detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

These recent practices not only confirm that Hillary Clinton’s actions were notexceptional; they underscore the need for a broader examination of the US government’s practices for keeping records to ensure the effectiveness of congressional and judicial oversight.

 Athan G. Theoharis, a professor of history at Marquette University, is the author, most recently, of The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (Kansas).

Read Full Post »

The Security State, COINTELPRO, and Black Lives Matter

Excerpt of letter sent to MLK from FBI

Excerpt of letter sent to MLK from FBI.(Photo: NYT/NARA)

The revelations reported over the last several weeks that various federal, state, and local authorities have been regularly monitoring individual organizers and protest activities associated with the Black Lives Matter movement may seem unsurprising in light of the expansive American state security infrastructure developed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Such covert operations nonetheless remain deeply disturbing. They are embedded in a long history of government officials equating civil rights activism with subversion and of a mindset that understands black leaders and black citizens as dangerous when they demand an end to the racism underpinning the socioeconomic and political order of the United States.

Arguably that mindset dates back to the era of slavery, when whites patrolled for and snuffed out signs of potential unrest among the enslaved, understood black churches and ministers as possible agents of dissent, and tried to embargo word of international events like the Haitian Revolution and British abolition lest enslaved people get any ideas. But nothing in recent memory more clearly demonstrates how concerns about threats originating abroad can bleed into government efforts to contain black domestic activism than the project known as COINTELPRO.

Shorthand for Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO formally began in 1956 as a secret program led by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Its goal was to infiltrate the Communist Party USA, disrupt its activities, and monitor its members for signs that they agitated against the American government or even fed intelligence to the Soviet Union. Within months, however, Hoover had begun widening the purview of COINTELPRO, and by the late 1960s the FBI’s targets included a large number of individuals and groups Hoover and his agents considered “subversive.” These sometimes included white supremacist and hate groups on the far right, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the National States’ Rights Party, and the American Nazi Party. But far more frequently, domestic organizations targeted by COINTELPRO were leftist groups associated with socialism, the student movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s rights movement.

None of the activities falling under the COINTELPRO umbrella, however, were more notorious or extensive than those directed at the black civil rights movement. The FBI had been monitoring black leaders of the burgeoning movement long before 1956, claiming that they harbored communists in their ranks. But over the course of the ensuing fifteen years, agents of the COINTELPRO program trained their sights on almost every organization and individual working on behalf of black civil rights. Suspicions of communism gradually became little more than a pretext for clamping down on protest, and in 1967 COINTELPRO undertook an operation entirely focused on black activism. Ostensibly created in response to growing black nationalist and black power movements in the United States, the operation not only targeted groups willing to countenance relatively radical ideas and activities such as the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the Black Panther Party, and the Nation of Islam, but also mainstream groups like the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the NAACP.

The directive creating the “racial intelligence” operation made no pretenses about its aims, which were to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities” of civil rights organizations and to frustrate the “efforts of the various groups to consolidate their forces or to recruit new or youthful adherents.” Although the directive claimed that the organizations most heavily targeted were “hate-type organizations and groupings” with a “propensity for violence and civil disorder,” few people came under greater scrutiny than Martin Luther King, Jr. Prior to King’s assassination in 1968, the FBI bugged King’s home and every hotel room in which he stayed, sent him audio recordings that supposedly captured his adulterous liaisons along with a blackmail letter urging him to commit suicide, and smeared him publicly as a communist and a “notorious liar.”

These tactics, nasty as they were, barely begin to capture the range of COINTELPRO’s activities, which included rooting through people’s mail and trash, breaking into organizational offices and the homes of individuals to conduct searches, planting false rumors and informants to turn activists and groups against one another, creating false documents and correspondence, attempting to get people fired from their jobs, fabricating evidence and perjured testimony at trials, carrying out acts of vandalism, soliciting beatings and sometimes assassinations, and otherwise engaging in a campaign of nearly unrestrained harassment, psychological warfare, and violence.

COINTELPRO might have continued indefinitely had it not been for a group of citizen activists who broke into an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania early in 1971, stole a number of incriminating documents, and released them to the press. The ferocity of the ensuing criticism led Hoover to announce several months later that COINTELPRO had ceased to exist. But resignations, lawsuits, and investigations followed for years, and in 1976 a Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church investigated the FBI generally and COINTELPRO specifically. Its report blasted the entire American intelligence community for engaging in domestic activities that went well beyond the boundaries of what was either acceptable or legal. Senior intelligence officials, the report concluded, sanctioned operations that routinely violated Americans’ constitutional rights and failed entirely to control field agents, who often neglected to consider the law and sometimes purposefully violated it.

With regard to COINTELPRO in particular, the Church Committee concluded that “many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that.” The FBI, the Committee reported, had been less involved in legitimate counterintelligence than it had been conducting “a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.”

The exposure of COINTELPRO substantiated legitimate and accurate accusations about government abuses that had been floated for years. If it also lent credence to some wilder claims about government surveillance and repression that likely amount to conspiracy theories, the FBI has only itself to blame. Moreover, while public knowledge of COINTELPRO helped produce some reforms of American intelligence agencies, a number of the tactics used under COINTELPRO to investigate domestic activists and their organizations continued long after the program formally ended. Today, government officials scrutinizing those in the Black Lives Matter movement who stand on the front lines of the battle against white supremacy might be wise to direct more of their time and resources toward monitoring right-wing racist and antigovernment extremists, who have carried out nineteen lethal attacks resulting in the deaths of nearly fifty people since 2001. That is what a genuine domestic threat looks like.

About the Author

Joshua D. Rothman

Joshua D. Rothman is Professor of History and Director of the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South at the University of Alabama. He is the author, most recently, of Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (2012), and is currently working on a book about the slave traders Isaac Franklin, John Armfield, and Rice Ballard.

Read Full Post »

The FBI vs. Martin Luther King: Inside J. Edgar Hoover’s “Suicide Letter” to Civil Rights Leader

Democracy Now   November 18, 2014

It was 50 years ago today that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover made headlines by calling Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the “most notorious liar in the country.” Hoover made the comment in front of a group of female journalists ahead of King’s trip to Oslo where he received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest recipient of the prize. While Hoover was trying to publicly discredit King, the agency also sent King an anonymous letter threatening to expose the civil rights leader’s extramarital affairs. The unsigned, typed letter was written in the voice of a disillusioned civil rights activist, but it is believed to have been written by one of Hoover’s deputies, William Sullivan. The letter concluded by saying, “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. … You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.” The existence of the so-called “suicide letter” has been known for years, but only last week did the public see the unredacted version. We speak to Yale University professor Beverly Gage, who uncovered the unredacted letter.

Read Full Post »

Part 2: Eric Lichtblau on “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men”

Democracy Now    October 31,  2014

We continue our conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Lichtblau about his new book detailing how America became a safe haven for thousands of Nazi war criminals. Many of them were brought here after World War II by the CIA, and got support from then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Click here to watch part 1 of this interview. Read the prologue to The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our conversation with investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau, author of a new book that unveils the secret history of how America became a safe haven for thousands of Nazi war criminals. Many of them were brought here after World War II by the CIAand got support from the FBI’s director, J. Edgar Hoover.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Lichtblau’s book is called The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men. You can read the prologue on our website at democracynow.org.

Eric, we left the first part of the interview by you talking about those held in the concentration camps under the Nazis. Once the Allies won, the U.S. and Allies took over these camps.


AMY GOODMAN: And the Jews and others were kept there, often under the supervision—if you could call it that—of the Nazi POWs who were put in these camps, as well.


AMY GOODMAN: The people who had killed and murdered and maimed them.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you take it from there and talk about General Patton and, ultimately, President Truman, as well?

ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure, yeah, yeah. It’s a remarkable saga and a fairly shameful period in postwar history. We sort of think of the concentration camps, you know, being liberated at Dachau, at Bergen-Belsen, at Auschwitz, by the U.S. and Britain and Russia. But liberation for the survivors who were left in the camps meant staying in those same camps, behind barb wire, under armed guard. And remarkably, sometimes they were supervised by the same Nazis who had lorded over them when the Germans were still in charge.

And there was a report to Truman from the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a guy named Earl Harrison, that compared the camps to the Nazi concentration camps, except that, Harrison wrote, the only difference is we’re not exterminating the Jews. And General Patton, who ran the camps as the supreme Allied commander for the United States after the war, was furious when he read Harrison’s findings to Truman. And he wrote in his own journal—and I looked at these. I found the remarks so troubling and so jarring, I thought maybe at first they were a forgery, but it turned out to be true. He wrote in his own journal that what Harrison doesn’t understand, he thinks that the displaced persons in the camps are human, and they’re not. The Jews, he wrote—this is General Patton speaking—are worse than human, they’re locusts, and they have no respect for human dignity. And he recounted taking General Eisenhower, soon to be President Eisenhower, on a tour of the displaced person camps, and he said that Eisenhower didn’t really understand how loathsome the displaced persons were, and he thinks that they have some human dignity, when really they don’t.

Patton, it turns out, was not only a virulent anti-Semite, but also held the Germans in a weird sort of place of respect. I also tell the story in the book about, in those displaced person camps, Patton went to the holding cells for the German POWs, the German scientists, and he sought out one in particular, General Walter Dornberger, who oversaw the production of Hitler’s V-2 rockets, which had been phenomenally successful and destructive in bombing London and Antwerp. And Patton brings him out of the cell and says, “Are you Dornberger? Are you the guy who ran the V-2 program?” And Dornberger said to him, “Jawohl, Herr General.” And Patton pulled out three cigars from his pocket and handed them to the Nazi general and said, “Well, congratulations. We couldn’t have done it.” And it sort of epitomized this attitude that he had towards the Nazis. He even defied an order from Eisenhower at one point, General Eisenhower, and maintained the Nazis as supervisors in the DP camps, because he saw them as the most competent group that the Allieds had. So, I think you need to understand how horrific the conditions were for the survivors to understand how it was that so many Nazis made it into the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the—

ERIC LICHTBLAU: I think there was—yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —the V-2 factories, just to explain the significance of what happened—


AMY GOODMAN: —in these rocket factories.

ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure. These rocket factories were basically torture chambers. These were places where 10,000 prisoners—not most of them Jews, but most of them POWs from France, Poland, Russia and elsewhere—were building on an assembly line—an assembly line of death, basically—hundreds of rockets each month for Hitler. And if they did not meet their quotas, if they did not work up to standards, if they were suspected of sabotaging the rockets, as some tried to do, they were hanged from a giant crane, and all the other prisoners would be gathered around to watch them. And those who weren’t intentionally killed, thousands of them died just from disease and malnutrition and exhaustion, kept in these horrible, horrible conditions literally inside a mountain in Nordhausen, where the factory was held.

So, this was the production facility that Dornberger and Wernher von Braun, who went on to become even more famous, ran. And there was a guy who—physically at the mountain factory, named Arthur Rudolph, who was the production head at the Mittelwerk Nordhausen plant, he came to the United States, along with Wernher von Braun and Dornberger and the others, and Rudolph became almost as famous, as one of the geniuses behind the Saturn space program. And their Nazi legacies were basically erased.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Eric, the government files and records that tell this story were kept, obviously, from the public for decades. Could you talk about the importance of those files finally being released to be able to put together this story?

ERIC LICHTBLAU: Sure, sure. Well, the CIA, especially, and other intelligence agencies really went to enormous lengths to conceal their ties to the Nazis. They had had all these relationships, beginning immediately after the war through the ’50s, the ’60, in some cases even the ’70s, with Nazi spies and informants and scientists. And they went to great lengths to cleanse the records of a lot of the Nazis who came to the United States, removing material that showed their links to Nazi atrocities. Now, I found cases even in the 1990s, believe it or not, where you had the CIA actively intervening in investigations. By the 1980s and 1990s, the Justice Department was going after a number of these guys, was trying to deport them, for their involvement in war crimes, belatedly, I think.

And the CIA—in the case of a Lithuanian security chief who was involved in the massacre of about 60,000 Jews, the CIA tried to kill that investigation in 1994 and ’95. And they told Congress, yes, this guy was a CIA spy for us, this former Nazi collaborator, but we knew nothing of his wartime activities, is what they said. And, in fact, in their own files, in their own postwar files, it showed that they knew that this Lithuanian was under—quote, “under the control of the Gestapo and was probably involved in the murder of Jews in Vilnius.” So, this was—again, this is not the 1950s we’re talking about; this is the 1990s, where people at the CIAwere actively trying to conceal their ties.

And some of these documents, as you suggested, only became available beginning in the 1990s, the late 1990s, when Congress ordered the declassification of war crime files. The CIA really resisted that at first. It took years for the historians to get at the war crime files. But beginning in around 2003, 2004, a lot of these files became declassified, and they really painted a pretty troubling picture.

AMY GOODMAN: But even the piece that started you on this journey, Eric Lichtblau, in 2010 was about a report coming out that had been censored right until most recently.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain why right through until these last few years the U.S. has refused to give this out? And the man who had campaigned to his death bed to have it released—it was aCIA report?

ERIC LICHTBLAU: True. No, it was a Justice Department report. But as you say, it was kept under wraps for about five years. It was written in the mid-2000s. And I first got onto this, and really what started the book was that I got a tip that there was this exhaustive internal report at the Justice Department that looked at the efforts to go after the Nazis, and the Justice Department was sitting on the report. They had refused to release this publicly for very mysterious reasons. And I was able to get a hold of it and did a story on that. And I think even before I finished writing the story, I thought, you know, the material was so rich and so troubling that I wanted to try and do a book on it, because it really—it exposed both the successes of prosecutors in later years in going after these guys, but also really the just perverse relationships that the government had with a lot of these guys going back to the 1950s and 1960s. And that was something that the Justice Department did not want out there publicly.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the anti-Semitism also of President Truman and then this issue of the scientists? What, 1,600 scientists were brought into the United States, many others, but at the same time, how many Jews were held in these camps, millions of them, not allowed to come into the United States? This is after the war.

ERIC LICHTBLAU: Right, right. You know, I think the anti-Semitism really did play a part in the immigration policies after the war, which had the dual effect of both keeping out Jews—I mean, there were documents that I looked at from Senate immigration lawyers who actively said they didn’t—they thought Jews were lazy and not hard-working enough and didn’t belong in America. And so, it was very difficult. Only a few thousand Jews got into the United States in the immediate aftermath of the war.

And you had something like 400,000 Eastern Europeans who, because of the, quote, “immigration quotas,” were allowed in in those years from places like Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia and Ukraine. And many of those, probably the vast majority of those 400,000, were in fact legitimate war refugees. These were people who were victims of Nazi occupation and were about to be taken over by the Soviet Union and were exiles. They really were. But among those 400,000 were many, many, probably several thousand or more, Nazi collaborators, and they came in with the group as—disguised basically as refugees and POWs. I mean, these were people who ran, for instance, a Nazi concentration camp in Estonia. There was—the head of that camp lived on Long Island for about 30 years. There were people who were prison camp guards. There were people who were the heads of Nazi security forces all throughout Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. And it was very easy for them to basically fade into the larger group of war refugees and become Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Eric Lichtblau, we want to thank you very much for being with us

ERIC LICHTBLAU: Thank you. Appreciate your interest.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. The new book, out this week, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men. You can read the prologue at democracynow.org. Thanks so much.

Read Full Post »