THERE'S NO END, apparently, to the hideous stories of how and where the FBI planted snoops. You read about its attentions to famous American writers over the years. Here's one from the 1960s less concerned with snooping on world-class celebrities, but which should be especially near and dear to those of you who spent any of that time in the public high schools of Montgomery County: according to bureau documents obtained by one such student under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI maintained informants in the Montgomery highs and kept track of activities of students as young as 14. The investigation centered on a group called the Montgomery County Student Alliance, which in 1969 was a 1,000-member, nonviolent organization highly critical of county education policies. The documents, though heavily censored, also show that FBI agents attended a meeting held in 1969 with activist employees of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
A spokesman for the FBI said the other day that this investigation would have been conducted under the agency's COINTELPRO program. That's the same infamous program that was disclosed in the mid-1970s as having been directed at a disturbingly broad spectrum of antiwar, student and black organizations. Neither the spokesman nor anyone else so far has offered an explanation of why this snooping was undertaken in the first place, but it appears from the documents that the FBI was looking at between 15 and 30 students individually, with at least 12 county schools being monitored, including Montgomery Blair, Walt Whitman, Winston Churchill, Springbrook, Wheaton and Northwood.
Now, it's all starting to come back, isn't it? Remember the kid in the bow tie and penny loafers who was always borrowing your notes for tests? And that 12th guy in the huddle at varsity football games? And what about the creep with the headset, the one everyone thought was a shortwave-radio nerd? Or the boys at the prom who kept muttering into their carnations. While you're at it, take another look at that dogeared yearbook for anyone "pictured but not listed above," particularly if he seems to be cleaning out his locker.
"COINTELPRO" was -- and still is -- a name to remember in what was a singularly terrible period in the history of the FBI.