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The War at Home

Excerpts from The War At Home:
Covert Action Against U.S. Activists And What We Can Do About It
- By Brian Glick
Excerpts from The War At Home:
Covert Action Against U.S. Activists And What We Can Do About It
- By Brian Glick
Essential Precautions
1. Check out the authenticity of any disturbing letter, rumor, phone call, or other communication before acting on it. Ask the supposed source if he or she is responsible.

2. Keep records of incidents which appear to reflect COINTELPRO-type activity. Evaluate your response and report your experiences to the Movement Response Network and other groups that document repression and resistance around the country.

3. Deal openly and honestly with differences within our movements (race, gender, class, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, personality, experience, physical and intellectual capacities. etc.) before the FBI and police can exploit them.

4. Don't try to expose a suspected agent or informer without solid proof. Purges based on mere suspicion only help the FBI and police create distrust and paranoia. It generally works better to criticize what a disruptive person says and does, without speculating as to why.

5. Support all movement activists who come under government attack. Don't be put off by political slander, such as recent attempts to smear some militant opponents of government policy as "terrorists". Organize public opposition to all FBI witchhunts, grand jury subpoenas, political trials, and other forms of government and right-wing harassment.

6. Cultivate relationships with sympathetic journalists who seem willing to investigate and publicize domestic covert operations. Let them know when you are harassed. Since the FBI and police thrive on secrecy, public exposure can undermine their ability to subvert our work.

7. Don't try to tough it out alone. Don't let others fret and suffer by themselves. Make sure that activists who are under extreme stress get the help they need (talk with someone, rest, therapy, etc.) It is crucial that we build support networks and take care of one another.

8. Above all, do not let our movements be diverted from their main goals. Our most powerful weapon against political repression is effective organizing around the needs and issues which directly affect people's lives.

Coping with infiltration

1. Be careful to avoid pushing a new or hesitant member, or one facing personal, financial, or legal problems, to take risks beyond what that person is ready to handle, particularly in situations which could result in arrest and prosecution. People in positions of legal or other jeopardy have proven especially vulnerable to recruitment as informers.

2. Deal openly with the form and content of what anyone says and does, whether the person is a suspected agent, has emotional problems, or is simply a sincere but naive or confused person new to the work.

3. Establish a process through which anyone who suspects an infiltrator (or other covert intervention) can express his or her fears without scaring others. Experienced people assigned this responsibility can do a great deal to help a group maintain its morale and focus while, at the same time, consolidating information and deciding how to use it. This plan works best when accompanied by discussion of the danger of paranoia, so that everyone understands the reasons for following the established procedure.

4. Take steps to alert other activists anytime an agent or informer admits their role or you have a concrete and verified basis for certain knowledge. (Make sure you have not been taken in by a snitch jacket.) Act immediately and use every available means, including photographs, aliases, identifying traits, and a description of methods of operations. In the 1960's, some agents managed, even after their exposure in one community, to move on and repeat their performance in others.

5. Be very cautious in attempting to expose a suspected, but unadmitted, agent or informer. The best approach depends on the nature of your group. A close-knit, self-selecting group of experienced activists, especially one which contemplates illegal activity, should exclude anyone who is not fully trusted by everyone involved. If the stakes are high, don't be afraid to trust your intuition.
An open, public organization trying to reach out and involve new people faces a very different situation. Here, an attempted exposure caries enormous risks. The suspect may claim to be the victim of discrimination and may be turned against one another and lose the mutual trust and respect which is vital to any successful organization. New members and potential recruits may be scared away. The group's attention and energy may be so diverted that it is no longer able to move effectively towards its main goals.
Activists who suspect infiltration of a public political organization should evaluate alternatives to attempted exposure. The appropriate response depends on the kind of agent or informer you think you are dealing with.
A suspect who seems to play a passive, or even a constructive role may secretly be undermining a group's work or passing information to the FBI and police. In this situation, it often is most effective to limit the suspects opportunities without making your suspicions public. Take steps to deny access to organizational funds, financial records, mailing lists, office equipment, planning and security committees, discussions of illegal activity, and meetings that plan criminal defense strategy. Go public if you later catch the person in the act (but not merely with incriminating evidence which could have been planted or forged).
A different approach is required if the suspect is an active disrupter or provocateur. In this case it is most effective to confront the form or content of what the suspect says or does, without making an issue of why he or she says or does it. Start with a discrete talk since the subject could merely be naive or misguided. If harmful behavior persists, you will probably have to take it on in an open group discussion. Plan in advance how to limit the risk of disruption and demoralization. If you need to exclude or expel the suspect, be sure to inform other activists of your decision and reasons.

Psychological Warfare

1. Verify and double check arrangements for housing, transportation, meeting rooms, and so forth. Don't assume movement organizers are at fault if something goes wrong.

2. Don't believe everything you hear or read. Check with the supposed source of information before acting on it. Use a neutral third party if necessary. Personal communication among estranged activists, however difficult and painful, could have countered many FBI operations which proved effective in the 1960s.

3. When you discover bogus materials, false media stories, or forged documents, publicly disavow them and expose the true source, in so far as you can.

4. When you hear a negative, confusing, or potentially harmful rumor, don't pass it on. Instead, discuss it with a trusted friend or with the people in your group who are responsible for dealing with such matters.

5. Don't gossip about personal tensions, rivalries, and disagreements. This just feeds and amplifies rumors. Moreover, if you gossip where you can be overheard, you may add to the pool of information that the FBI and police use to divide our movements. (Note that the CIA has the technology to read mail without opening it and that telephones, including payphones, can be tapped by a computer programmed to record conversations in which specified words appear.)

6. Be sure to make time in meetings for "personal" as well as "political" issues.
This is the best way to reduce tensions and hostilities and the urge to gossip about them.

7. Warn your parents, friends, and neighbors, and others who may be contacted by government agents. Consider telling them what you are doing before they hear the FBI's version. Provide them with materials which explain their legal rights and the dangers of talking with the FBI. Offer to connect them with lawyers and support groups.

Harassment through the legal system

1. Don't talk to the FBI. Don't let them in without a warrant. Keep careful record of what they say and do. Tell others that they came.

2. If an activist does talk, or makes some other honest error, explain the serious harm that could result. Be firm, but do not ostracize a sincere person who slips up. Isolation only weakens a person's ability to resist. It can drive someone out of the movement or even into the hands of the police.

3. If the government agents start to harass people in your area, alert everyone to refuse to cooperate. Warn your friends, neighbors, parents, children, and anyone else who might be contacted. Set up community meetings with people who have resisted similar harassment elsewhere. Contact sympathetic reporters. Consider wanted posters with photos of the agents, or guerilla theater which follows them through the city streets.

4. Community education is important, along with child care and legal, financial, and other support for those who protect the movement by refusing to divulge information. If a respected activist is subpoenaed for obviously political reasons, consider trying to arrange sanctuary in a local church or synagogue.

5. If your group engages in civil disobedience or finds it self under intense police pressure, start a bail fund, train some members to deal with the legal system, and develop an ongoing relationship with sympathetic local lawyers.

6. If you anticipate arrest do not carry address books or any other materials which could help the police or FBI.

7. While the police and FBI are entirely capable of fabricating criminal charges, your non-political law violations make it easier for them to set you up. Be careful with drugs, tax returns, traffic tickets, and so forth. The point is not to get paranoid, but to make a realistic assessment based on your visibility and other relevant circumstances.

8. When an activist has to appear in court, make sure he or she is not alone. The presence of supporters is crucial for morale and can help influence jurors.

9. Don't neglect jailed activists. Organize visits, correspondence, books, food packages, child care, etc. Keep publicizing their cases.

10. Publicize police and FBI abuses through sympathetic jornalists and your own media (posters, leaflets, and public access cable television, etc.) Don't let the government and corporate media be the only ones to shape public perceptions of FBI and police attacks on political activists.

Extralegal force and violence

1. Establish security procedures appropriate to your group's level of activity and discuss them thoroughly with everybody involved. Control access to keys, files, letterhead, funds, financial records, mailing lists, etc.

2. Keep duplicates of valuable documents, records, files, computer disks, etc. in a safe place separate from your home or office.

3. Remember that cars are easily broken into (especially trucks) and that trash can easily be rifled and searched.

4. Make a public issue of any form of of crude harassment. Contact your local congress person. Call the media. Demonstrate at your local FBI, police, or right-wing organization's office. Turn the attack into an opportunity for explaining how domestic covert action threatens fundamental human rights.

5. Keep careful records of break-ins, thefts, bomb threats, raids, brutality, conspicuous surveillance, and other harassment. They will help you discern patterns and to prepare reports and testimony.

6. Share this information and your experiences combating such attacks with the Movement Support Network and other groups which document and analyze repression and resistance country wide.

7. If you experience or anticipate intense harassment, develop contingency plans and an emergency telephone network so you can rapidly mobilize community support and media attention. Consider better locks, window bars, alarm systems, fireproof locked cabinets, etc.

8. Be sure that some members are well trained in first aid. Keep medical supplies up-to-date and know how to contact sympathetic doctors and nurses and get to the nearest hospital.

9. Make sure your group designates and prepares other members to step in if leaders are jailed or otherwise incapacitated. The more each participant is able to think for himself or herself and take responsibility, the greater the group's capacity to cope with the crises.