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The FBI Sets Goals for COINTELPRO

Under Director J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) was aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political groups within the United States. In the 1960's, COINTELPRO's targets frequently included civil rights activists, both those who espoused non-violence, like Martin Luther King, and those that Hoover referred to as "black nationalist hate groups," like the Black Panthers. This document outlines the program's goals in attempting to limit the effectiveness of such groups. In practice, the FBI used infiltration, legal harassment, disinformation and sometimes extra-legal intimidation and violence against King, the Panthers, and other black activist groups in its attempt to discredit and disrupt them.


For maximum effectiveness of the Counterintelligence Program, and to prevent wasted effort, long-range goals are being set.

1. Prevent the COALITION of militant black nationalist groups. In unity there is strength; a truism that is no less valid for all its triteness. An effective coalition of black nationalist groups might be the first step toward a real “Mau Mau” [Black revolutionary army] in America, the beginning of a true black revolution.

2. Prevent the RISE OF A “MESSIAH” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah;” he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism. Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way.

3. Prevent VIOLENCE on the part of black nationalist groups. This is of primary importance, and is, of course, a goal of our investigative activity; it should also be a goal of the Counterintelligence Program to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence.

4. Prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining RESPECTABILITY, by discrediting them to three separate segments of the community. The goal of discrediting black nationalists must be handled tactically in three ways. You must discredit those groups and individuals to, first, the responsible Negro community. Second, they must be discredited to the white community, both the responsible community and to “liberals” who have vestiges of sympathy for militant black nationalist [sic] simply because they are Negroes. Third, these groups must be discredited in the eyes of Negro radicals, the followers of the movement. This last area requires entirely different tactics from the first two. Publicity about violent tendencies and radical statements merely enhances black nationalists to the last group; it adds “respectability” in a different way.

5. A final goal should be to prevent the long-range GROWTH of militant black organizations, especially among youth. Specific tactics to prevent these groups from converting young people must be developed.

Source | Deborah Menkart, Alana D. Murray, Jenice L. View, eds., Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching (Teaching for Change & PRRAC, 2004).
Creator | J. Edgar Hoover
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | J. Edgar Hoover, “The FBI Sets Goals for COINTELPRO,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 1, 2016, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/814.

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