Spying On America

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COINTELPRO. An acronym for Counterintelligence Program, this is the code name the FBI gave to the secret operations aimed at five major social and political protest groups—the Communist party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Ku Klux Klan, black nationalist hate groups, and the New Left movement. Spying on America, the first book to chronicle all five of the operations, tells the story of how the FBI, from 1956 until COINTELPRO's exposure in 1971, expanded its domestic surveillance programs and increasingly employed questionable, even unlawful, methods in an effort to disrupt what amounts to virtually our entire social and political protest movement. Violations of citizens' constitutional rights were rampant, and the secret operations actually resulted in a number of deaths. At the time, neither the public nor the news media knew anything about COINTELPRO. In vivid detail, Spying on America demonstrates that the system of checks and balances designed to prevent such occurrences was simply not functioning—until an illegal act uncovered the secret activities.

The book opens with the daring raid of a Media, Pennsylvania FBI office by a group that adeptly used its booty—about 1,000 classified documents—to make COINTELPRO operations public. The burglars, who called themselves the Citizen's Commission to Investigate the FBI, used sophisticated methods (the FBI never caught up with them), releasing copies of incriminating documents to the media at carefully timed intervals. Spying on America draws on newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with many of the people involved, and FBI memos to trace the historical beginnings and operating methods of COINTELPRO efforts against each of the five targeted groups. In vivid detail, the author re-creates the reactions of the bureau—including the subsequent policy changes—as well as the response of the news media and the resulting shift in public attitudes toward the FBI. Finally, Davis looks at the possibility of similar operations in the future. In the context of our current, heightened state of socio-political awareness, it is difficult to comprehend how so many unlawful deeds could have been committed without the public's knowledge. Spying on America makes us aware of how easily such activities can occur—and in doing so, helps us prevent them from happening again.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Davis—coauthor of Kelley (1987), the autobiography of former FBI director Clarence M. Kelley—delves into the FBI's secret counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), which from 1956 to 1971 aimed to stifle dissent among domestic radical groups. J. Edgar Hoover, Davis explains, obtained a vast charter for the FBI to monitor domestic intelligence when FDR signed a special directive just prior to WW II, and managed to get the National Security Council to expand the FBI's portfolio in this arena in 1956. The author documents the Bureau's war against extremist groups of both the left and the right, such as the Communist Party U.S.A., the Socialist Workers Party, the KKK, and the Black Panthers, and shows how Hoover also employed extensive surveillance against New Left organizations like SDS. He pays particular attention to the FBI's virtually obsessive campaign to destroy the reputation of Martin Luther King. The lid was blown on these activities when, in 1971, an illegal break-in occurred at the FBI's Media, Pennsylvania, office. The perpetrators, believed to be anti-Vietnam War activists, proceeded to release to the press stolen classified documents that revealed the FBI's secret operation. To research his text, Davis interviewed FBI agents, former agents, and people who were subject to illegal surveillance or harassment. He recognizes the need for an organization like the FBI, but argues that the Bureau got out of control with COINTELPRO and severely damaged American civil liberties in the process. And Davis notes that, although congressional committees investigated the FBI in the mid-1970's, the Bureau was still committing abuses in the 1980's, particularly against groups opposed to US policy in Central America. A fair-minded and balanced report, backed by extensive research.


Kirkus Reviews

The work's merit is that its descriptions of the bureau's brutal methods and of the real people whose lives were affected and some-times destroyed by Hoover's secret policy may shock the undergraduate or general reader into serious consideration of the problem of civil liberties in this country.


Journal of American History

Aided by the declassification of many internal FBI documents and his relationship with former director Clarence Kelley, with whom he cowrote Kelley: The Story of an FBI Director, Davis provides information on FBI operations to watch, disrupt, and control the activities of groups (on the left and the right) that were perceived as being dangerous. One theme running through his book is how the FBI was able to use the news media to further its aims. Although these programs were instituted under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the paranoia of the late J. Edgar Hoover was a strong force behind them. Full of interesting details, Davis's book is more focused than Athan Theoharis's similarly titled Spying on Americans: Political Surveillance from Hoover to the Houston Plan, or Joan Jensen's Army Surveillance in America, 1775-1980. Suitable for the intelligence/criminal justice collections of all libraries.


Library Journal

. . . an informative account of the FBI's domestic surveillance activities . . . The author summarizes in individual chapters five COINTELPRO operations, giving clear pictures of the crude but apparently effective techniques used against the American Communist Party, the Socialist Workers' Party, white hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, radical African American organizations like the Black Panther Party, and the New Left movement, comprised primarily of antiwar activists.


Publishers Weekly

…a great record on this shameful episode in intelligence history.


Outpost 2

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275934071
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/1992
  • Pages: 208
  • Lexile: 1410L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

JAMES KIRKPATRICK DAVIS is President of Davis Advertising Agency Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. A student of American history for 30 years, Mr. Davis worked directly with Clarence Kelley, former Director of the FBI, as co-author of the book Kelley: The Story of an FBI Director.

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Table of Contents

1 The Media Office Raid: Secret FBI Counterintelligence Becomes Public 1
2 The Communist Party U.S.A. COINTELPRO 25
3 The Socialist Workers Party COINTELPRO 55
4 The White Hate Group COINTELPRO 73
5 The Black Nationalist Hate Group COINTELPRO 97
6 The New Left COINTELPRO 129
7 The End of COINTELPRO? 161
Bibliography 185
Index 189
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