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COINTELPRO tactics of the Boston FBI included widespread spying on campuses and dirty tricks in the black community – BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON

May 10, 2009

Operation COINTELPRO was an illegal and clandestine war conducted secretly by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation against domestic political activists in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Larger than the Watergate operation that sunk Richard Nixon’s presidency, COINTELPRO was created by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

COINTELPRO was a ‘no holds barred’ operation that focused on results and secrecy, illegality was of no concern to the FBI plotters so long as Hoover approved. Hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals were targeted for improper snooping, harassment and other dirty tricks designed to ‘disrupt’ the activists.

The Black Panther Party was targeted by Hoover for the most lethal ferocity of the hidden war and FBI agents planted evidence, withheld evidence and falsified evidence to obtain false convictions of Panther leaders. Gun battles and shootouts became the norm until the FBI initiated the Chicago Police Department to shoot-ins with the 1969 deaths of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

As an academic center Boston, with its many outstanding universities, kept agents busy spying on the ‘New Left’ and infiltrating local campuses with informants. The full scope of FBI misconduct under COINTELPRO will never be known. Bits and pieces of the secret operation have emerged in litigation and with Freedom of Information requests.

Political Research Associates in Somerville has an archive of COINTELPRO documents and some of the long-held secrets of FBI misconduct are now available to extract from the heavily redacted documents.

The first COINTELPRO memos in the PRA archive are dated July 1, 1968 and discuss the status of infiltration at a number of schools. The Boston FBI office extended its reach to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A memo from the Boston FBI office to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. notes, “On December 10, 1967, a source who has furnished reliable information in the past, advised that the Dartmouth College SDS chapter has approximately 15 members.”

The Dartmouth informant monitored three events of the Students for a Democratic Society: a protest against a Dow Chemicals recruiter, an anti-war protest and a protest against the ROTC on campus.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge also had a reliable source on campus where the SDS had an active chapter. Actually, there were two FBI informants at MIT with one expressing an opinion on the school itself.

“A second source who has provided reliable information in the past also advised in June, 1968 that MIT is a rather unique educational institution in that most students in attendance are serious-minded young people who are all engaged in serious academic pursuits which leaves little time for outside activity. Those campus organizations that are active are usually run by a small group of activists and the membership number in attendance at meetings is usually very small and will fluctuate depending on the amount of class work each student has or the time of year.”

The Bureau identified the “ringleaders” by reading “The Tech”, a student paper. One student of interest had moved to Bogota, Columbia and was noted for his authorship of a study called “MIT and the Welfare State.”

Someone named Silverstone was alleged to be a Communist Party leader. Another SDS member was linked to the Boston Draft Resistance Group and had spoken at an anti-war rally. The SDS protest of an army recruiter on campus garnered an entry in the memo as did the protest of a Dow representative.

Tufts University in Medford had its own ‘source’ and a 50-member SDS chapter. The ‘ringleaders’ had already been identified in the “Tufts Weekly”, an undergraduate student newspaper. One of the leaders, name redacted, worked to keep military recruiters off campus. Further, “he has cited his career goal as being an outside agitator.”

Three protests at Tufts were monitored including “the first draft card burning in Tufts history during the annual Navy and Air Force ROTC Review” at Tufts Oval. A graduate philosophy student and 20 ‘sympathizers’ confronted the university president and demanded he accept their draft cards. “The president refused, [REDACTED] then tore the card up, placed it on Hallowell’s lap and left.”

The student then told the campus newspaper that the school head had to make a choice. “He can’t continue to be a moral coward. He can’t continue to play both sides. Hallowell must either renounce his obligations to the government or he must show his support of it by reporting my felony (of mutilating a draft card).”

The big news the FBI informant had was the support being given to the SDS chapter by one of the faculty, an assistant professor of biology. But all was well because the student body refused an SDS request to donate the cost of the senior class dinner to “the Negro cause.”

Brandeis University in Waltham was not left out. The FBI had two informants on campus spying on the SDS. The ‘ringleaders’ were a graduate couple, a sociology major, and a biology graduate student. There was also a reference to a Harvard law student that had studied in a Soviet city. The married couple were of particular interest because they “planned to give up their careers and work full time for the Progressive Labor Party.”

Four Brandeis students took part in a demonstration where 25 protestors renounced their draft deferments at the federal building in downtown Boston. There was also a sit-in at Brandeis protesting the presence of Dow Chemical recruiters on campus.

Brandeis also had a chapter of the May 2nd Movement. The May 2nd group organized at Yale University in 1964 following a ‘Socialism in America’ conference at the school. “The M2M was dominated and controlled by the Progressive Labor Party and had for its aim and purpose the embarrassment of the United States Government.”

Meanwhile the dreaded Progressive Labor Party “would have as its ultimate objective the establishment of a militant working class movement based on Marxism and Leninism.”

“The above mentioned sources on June 26, 1968, advised that the physical location of Brandeis university on the outskirts of Waltham, Massachusetts, away from the hub of other academic activities in the general Boston area, does not lend itself to major organized demonstrations occurring on campus.”

Harvard University in Cambridge had its FBI informant. The SDS was known as the Harvard-Radcliffe SDS Chapter. An organizational meeting held at Memorial Hall had 72 attendees. The ‘ringleaders’ were identified. One was associated with Labor Youth League, a purportedly subversive organization. Another was linked to the Harvard Draft Union. During the first half of 1968 the Harvard chapter had ten meetings. Another student leader had attended 26 meetings the prior year.

The FBI source concluded that the Harvard chapter was very close to the national leadership of SDS and might be tied to the Progressive Labor Party.

In October 1968, the Boston FBI office learned through an MIT informant of the National Mobilization Committee To End War in Vietnam meeting at Bush Hall. Speakers from New York and Baltimore were present at the gathering of 40 that included at least one Communist. The group was planning demonstrations at the January 1969 inauguration “Discussion included need for tight security against FBI investigations.”

By 1969, the spying on campus groups had turned uglier and now individuals were targeted for dirty tricks. One SDS leader had wealthy parents. The FBI sought to exploit the family money to embarrass the student with a bogus anonymous letter sent to the Black Panthers, the SDS headquarters, the Progressive Labor Party and known SDS members.

The FBI tract issued against the unaware student is contained in the PRA archive. The poison-pen mailing referred to the student as a ‘fraud’ and ‘big jerk’, a ‘millionaire’ and ‘son of an imperialist’. The letter urges the student “go back to your palace” calling him an “imperialist racist” and a “bastard imperialist.” The FBI closed the letter with, “Off the pig [REDACTED] the pig is you.”

By 1969, J. Edgar Hoover had focused his attention on squashing the Black Panther Party. The time for snooping was over, now it was time for action and field offices were ordered to produce results.

On November 19, 1969, the Boston FBI office requested permission from Hoover to send an anonymous letter to Black Panther Party headquarters in Berkeley, California. “It is anticipated that this letter will create additional friction between the Black Panther Party-Boston and Republic of New Africa-Boston.”

“The enclosed letter conforms with the style of memorandum prepared by [REDACTED] which is typewritten and unsigned. It will be posted from a mailbox in the vicinity of the Republic of New Africa office.”

“A carbon copy of the letter will be mailed to the Black Panther Party-Boston and the Black Panther Party-New Haven.”

The bogus letter is also located in the PRA archive. “I am beginning to believe the Connecticut ‘Pigs’ have done a service for the Black people when they arrested [REDACTED] of the Boston Black Panther party, now in New Haven. Anyone who is a faggot and homosexual does not deserve a position of leadership. We brothers and sisters have too much at stake. If [REDACTED] moral character should become public knowledge, it would prove embarrassing to all Black movements.”

In 1970, the Boston FBI office requested another anonymous mailing against the Black Panthers. Hoover sent the command on July 20, 1970 approving the COINTELPRO proposal. “This technique would appear to have extreme value” and “indicates your office is giving careful thoughtto this matter.”

“Copies of the postcard prepared by your office as reproduced at the Bureau are being forwarded separately for anonymous mailings as proposed by your office. Insure the postcards and their mailing are properly handled in order that this counterintelligence measure is not traceable to the FBI.”

“Boston is instructed to mail copies of these postcards from various locales in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area in order to obtain an additional possible counterintelligence benefit by virtue of the BPP and NCCF [National Committee to Combat Fascism] organizations’ current ideological and physical differences with the Progressive Labor Party located in that city.”

A note at the end of Hoover’s directive gives a hint about the postcard. “Boston Office being authorized to anonymously mail postcards to individuals and organizational fund contributors and potential contributors of funds to the extremist BPP and NCCF in their area showing these groups’ misuse of funds allegedly obtained for community action programs.”

A protest at Harvard that summer resulted in four non-student SDS leaders being banned from campus. The Boston FBI office proposed to have its informant at Harvard alert the “Intelligence Division of the Boston Police Department who will in turn make the arrests at NH [National Headquarters on Massachusetts Ave in Boston].”

“This will enable the Intelligence Division to observe the activities of the NH, conduct a search incidental to the arrest, disrupt the activities, and hopefully gain intelligence data.”

The last set of COINTELPRO memos in the PRA archive about Boston are dated December 15, 1970, and also directed at the Black Panthers. The Boston FBI was again asking permission for another bogus publication, this time a pamphlet to discredit the Panther call for a People’s Constitutional Convention. The pamphlet had purported commentary from Boston-area attendees to a nation Black Panther gathering in Washington, D.C.

The COINTELPRO actions revealed in the Boston FBI memos are mild compared to some of the tactics employed elsewhere. Also, significant gaps in the record of COINTELPRO actions in Boston exist thus leaving unknown the full scope of harm caused.

Permission granted to reprint. The author may be reached at

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