The FBI's Cointelpro disruption program penetrated far into the Washington area antiwar movement of the late 1960s, crippling several "new left" campus organizations, especially the Students for a Democratic Society, according to FBI documents released yesterday.
The documents, providing the first extensive disclosure of local Cointelpro operations, paint a picture of campus organizations honeycombed with informants and of the Washington field office of the FBI systemically intent on confusing and intimidating the organizations and exploiting all political differences among them.
Disruption tactics, outlined in FBI memos and generally authorized by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, included:
Broadcasting misinformation on the citizen band walkie-talkie system used by organizers of the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam to coordinate its mass demonstration against the inauguration of President Nixon in January 1969. Agents not only tuned in on the "New Mobe's" frequency to give misinformation and counter orders but also to monitor the legitimate activity of the demonstrators.
Mailing New Mobe large numbers of "housing forms" with phony names and addresses of persons purportedly offering places to sleep for out-of-town demonstrators.
Informing university administrators of planned demonstrations against specific campus activities so that the activities could be changed or postponed.
Circulating an FBI-produced newsletter called "Chevara News" to create dissension between SDS and other campus groups with "contradictory" new left articles. "Chevara" is a contraction of the name Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary leader. Circulation of this newsletter was authorized by Hoover in March, 1969, but it is not clear from the documents whether the local field office followed through.
Distributing another newsletter called "The Rational Observer" on the American University campus designed to stimulate "conservative students" into nonviolent political activity against the New Left. The monthly newsletter was printed on unwater-marked paper for the "sake of security," according to the documents and distributed on the campus by a "source" using a "cut-out" to avoid detection of the FBI's role. FBI agents assisting reporters with the Cointelpro documents yesterday said they did not know what a "cut-out" is. In intelligence terminology, a "cut-out" is an intermediary used to conceal an intelligence agency's identity from a source.
The documents also said FBI agents developed a "close liaison" with several District real estate companies that kept the informed of suspected political dissidents living in "commune type dwellings."
The documents said the FBI had a general agreement with some of the real estate firms for "breaking up" the communes when it was "in the best interest" of the FBI and the firms to do so.
In the same way, local FBI agents developed a "confidential source" in the D.C. Department of Human Resources - a welfare employee who kept agents informed of the "background and whereabouts" of suspected dissidents on welfare. The employee also took steps to remove dissidents from the welfare rolls when the FBI provided information disqualify them for welfare, according to the documents.
In a Sept. 15, 1970, memo, Hoover rejected a proposal by local agents to sent annoymous letters to prominent university alumni decrying the "permissive attitude" on Washington area campuses in hopes of bringing pressure on college administrators to curb new left activity.
Hoover called the proposal "imaginative" but said that if the FBI was caught, "cries might erupt that the Bureau was infringing upon academic freedom."
Throughout the memos, the FBI stressed the need for its informants to exploit political differences among new left groups.
"Sources will be encouraged to undertake leadership roles in various factions and stimulate dissension among them," said an Aug 4, 1969, memo from the Washington field office to Hoover.