Saturday 19 May 2012

How the FBI Tried to Destroy Progressive Movements

Screening of COINTELPRO 101, hosted by Newham Monitoring Project and Stratford Picturehouse - Thursday 21 June 2012, 8pm

On 8 March 1971, activists from a group called 'Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI' broke into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania and stole over 1000 classified documents, which they sent anonymously to a number of American newspapers. Most refused to publish what these documents revealed: the existence of COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program), a series of covert and often illegal projects conducted by the FBI, who had spied on, infiltrated, discredited and disrupted a huge range of US political organisations included anti-Vietnam war protesters, Native American groups and especially the Black Panther Party.

But by 1976, what had been initially ignored by the mainstream media had been investigated by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the 'Church Commission'), which concluded:
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 Bureau conducted 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 revealed, in the words of Noam Chomsky, "a program of subversion carried out not by a couple of petty crooks but by the national political police, the FBI, under four administrations... aimed at the entire new left, at the women's movement, at the whole black movement, it was extremely broad. Its actions went as far as political assassination." US government counter-intelligence agencies had sought to deliberately destroy these movements for self-determination and liberation for Black, Asian, and Indigenous struggles, as well as attack the allies of these movements and other progressive organisations. 

Although the programme was 'officially' terminated in 1971, widespread surveillance and 'intolerable techniques' have continued, both in the US and in Britain and especially since the start of the ‘War on Terror’. So too have tactics designed to disrupt the right to protest, such as the use of agents provocateurs, entrapment, the misuse of stop and search powers and the creation of secret databases on known activists.

On Thursday 21 June, Newham Monitoring Project is hosting the screening of a documentary at Stratford Picturehouse, which examines the history of COINTELPRO and its legacy. Claud Marks, the director of 'COINTELPRO 101,' is over from San Francisco and will join a panel to discuss the experiences of the 60s and 70s and what lessons we can learn for the present - particularly the intensive surveillance of campaigners and activists as part of the massive security crackdown planned for east London during this summer’s Olympics.

Tickets are available directly from Stratford Picturehouse, Salway Road, E15 1BX - box office number: 0871 902 5740

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