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COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States. The FBI used covert operations from its inception, however formal COINTELPRO operations took place between 1956 and 1971. The FBI's stated motivation at the time was "protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order." 
According to FBI records, 85% of COINTELPRO resources were expended on infiltrating, disrupting, marginalizing, and/or subverting groups suspected of being subversive, such as communist and socialist organizations; the women's rights movement; militant black nationalist groups, and the non-violent civil rights movement" such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, the American Indian Movement, and other civil rights groups; a broad range of organizations labeled "New Left", including Students for a Democratic Society, the National Lawyers Guild, the Weathermen, almost all groups protesting the Vietnam War, and even individual student demonstrators with no group affiliation; and nationalist groups such as those "seeking independence for Puerto Rico." The other 15% of COINTELPRO resources were expended to marginalize and subvert "white hate groups," including the Ku Klux Klan and National States' Rights Party. 
The directives governing COINTELPRO were issued by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who ordered FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of these movements and their leaders.
COINTELPRO began in 1956 and was designed to "increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections" inside the Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA). However, the program was soon enlarged to include disruption of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party (1967), and the entire New Left socio-political movement, which included antiwar, community, and religious groups (1968). A later investigation by the Senate's Church Committee (see below) stated that "COINTELPRO began in 1956, in part because of frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the Government's power to proceed overtly against dissident groups..." Congress and several court cases later concluded that the COINTELPRO operations against communist and socialist groups exceeded statutory limits on FBI activity and violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and association.
The program was secret until 1971, when an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania was burglarized by a group of left-wing radicals calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI. Several dossiers of files were taken and the information passed to news agencies, many of which initially refused to publish the information. Within the year, Director Hoover declared that the centralized COINTELPRO was over, and that all future counterintelligence operations would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Further documents were revealed in the course of separate lawsuits filed against the FBI by NBC correspondent Carl Stern, the Socialist Workers Party, and a number of other groups. A major investigation was launched 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 of Idaho. However, millions of pages of documents remain unreleased, and many released documents have been partly, or entirely, redacted.
In the Final Report of the Select Committee, COINTELPRO was castigated in no uncertain terms:
The Church Committee documented a history of FBI directors' using the agency 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.
In an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, MIT professor of linguistics and political activist Noam Chomsky spoke about the purpose and the targets of COINTELPRO saying, "COINTELPRO was a program of subversion carried out not by a couple of petty crooks but by the national political police, the FBI, under four administrations...by the time it got through, I won't run through the whole story, it was 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." 
According to the Church Committee:
Examples of surveillance, legal and illegal, contained in the Church Committee report:
The COINTELPRO documents disclose numerous cases of the FBI's intentions to stop the mass protest against the Vietnam War. Many techniques were used to accomplish the assignment. "These included promoting splits among antiwar forces, encouraging red-baiting of socialists, and pushing violent confrontations as an alternative to massive, peaceful demonstrations." One 1966 Cointelpro operation attempted to redirect the Socialist Workers Party from their pledge of support for the antiwar movement.
The FBI claims that it no longer undertakes COINTELPRO or COINTELPRO-like operations. However, critics claim that agency programs in the spirit of COINTELPRO targeted groups like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, the American Indian Movement, Earth First!, the White Separatist Movement, and the Anti-Globalization Movement.
According to attorney Brian Glick in his book War at Home, the FBI used four main methods during COINTELPRO:
The FBI specifically developed tactics intended to heighten tension and hostility between various factions the black militancy movement, for example between the Black Panthers, the United Slaves and the Blackstone Rangers. This resulted in numerous deaths, among which were the United Slave assassinations of San Diego Black Panther Party members Jim Huggins, Bunchy Carter and Sylvester Bell.
The FBI also conspired with the police departments of many U.S. cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia, Chicago) to encourage repeated raids on Black Panther homes—often with little or no evidence of violations of federal, state, or local laws—which resulted directly in the police killing of many members of the Black Panther Party, most famously the assassination of Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969. 
In order to eliminate black militant leaders whom they considered dangerous, the FBI conspired with local police departments to target specific individuals,  accuse them of crimes they did not commit, suppress exculpatory evidence and falsely incarcerate them. One Black Panther Party leader, Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, was incarcerated for 27 years before a California Superior Court vacated his murder conviction, ultimately freeing him. Appearing before the court, an FBI agent testified that he believed Pratt had been framed because both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department knew he had been out of the area at the time the murder occurred. 
In 1969 the FBI special agent in San Francisco wrote Hoover that his investigation of the Black Panther Party (BPP) revealed that in his city, at least, the Black nationalists were primarily feeding breakfast to children. Hoover fired back a memo implying the career ambitions of the agent were directly related to his supplying evidence to support Hoover's view that the BPP was "a violence-prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means".
Hoover was willing to use false claims to attack his political enemies. In one memo he wrote: "Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the BPP and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge."
In one particularly controversial 1965 incident, civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo was murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen who gave chase and fired shots into her car after noticing that her passenger was a young black man; one of the Klansmen was acknowledged FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe. Afterward COINTELPRO spread false rumors that Liuzzo was a member of the Communist Party and abandoned her children to have sexual relationships with African Americans involved in the civil rights movement. FBI informant Rowe has also been implicated in some of the most violent crimes of the 1960s civil rights era, including attacks on the Freedom Riders and the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. In another instance in San Diego the FBI financed, armed, and controlled an extreme right-wing group of former Minutemen, transforming it into a group called the Secret Army Organization (USA)|Secret Army Organization which targeted groups, activists, and leaders involved in the Anti-War Movement for both intimidation and violent acts.
The final report of the Church Committee concluded:
While COINTELPRO was officially terminated in April 1971, suspicions persist that the program's tactics continued informally. Critics have suggested that subsequent FBI actions indicate that post-COINTELPRO reforms in the agency did not succeed in ending the program's tactics. The Associated Press reported in November 2008 that documents released under the FOIA reportedly show that the FBI tracked the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam for more than two decades.
“Counterterrorism” guidelines implemented during the Reagan administration have been described as undercutting these reforms, allowing a return to earlier tactics. Some radical groups accuse factional opponents of being FBI informants or assume the FBI is infiltrating the movement.
Several authors have accused the FBI of continuing to deploy COINTELPRO-like tactics against radical groups after the official COINTELPRO operations were ended. Several authors have suggested the American Indian Movement (AIM) has been a target of such operations.
A few authors go further and allege that the federal government intended to acquire uranium deposits on the Lakota tribe's reservation land, and that this motivated a larger government conspiracy against AIM activists on the Pine Ridge reservation. Others believe COINTELPRO continues and similar actions are being taken against activist groups.
Caroline Woidat argued that with respect to Native Americans, COINTELPRO should be understood within a historical context in which "Native Americans have been viewed and have viewed the world themselves through the lens of conspiracy theory."
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