1968 May 9

J. Edgar Hoover Memo Orders COINTELPRO Action Against New Left Organizations


FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover on this day ordered the Bureau’s program to attack New Left political organizations. The New Left included a variety of anti-Vietnam War groups, some radical African-American organizations, and other politically radical groups that emerged in the 1960s. The “new” left defined itself in contrast to the “old” left, which was seen as dominated by socialistic and communist ideologies. (The definition of who was “new left” and a danger to the U.S. was, for the FBI, solely its own decision.)

COINTELPRO involved break-ins, thefts, wiretapping, forging of documents, and other actions designed to disrupt and destroy targeted organizations.

COINTELPRO (for COunterINtelligencePROgram) was one of the most notorious secret and illegal FBI activities. Authorized on March 8, 1956, by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, it was initially directed only at the Communist Party. Later, it was later extended to cover the Ku Klux Klan, on July 30, 1964, and, on this day, was extended to New Left organizations.

The details of COINTELPRO first came to light after a group of activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, on March 8, 1971, and stole about 1,000 FBI documents, which they then released to the public through the media. Only one of the stolen documents contained the word COINTELPRO, but the news stories based on the documents, which began in March 1971, spurred further inquiries that revealed the nature and extent of the program (see the book by Betty Medsger, below).

Read: Betty Medsger, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (2014)

Read the Church Committee report on COINTELPRO (pp. 1–79): http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports.htm

Learn more: John McMillan and Paul Buhle, The New Left Revisited (2003)

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