is an acronym for a series of FBI counterintelligence
programs designed to neutralize political
Although covert operations have been
employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO's
of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against radical
In the early 1950s, the
Communist Party was illegal in the United States.
The Senate and House of
Representatives each set up investigating committees to
prosecute communists and publicly expose them. (The
House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Senate
Internal Security Subcommittee, led by Senator Joseph
When a series of Supreme Court rulings in
1956 and 1957 challenged these committees and questioned
the constitutionality of Smith Act prosecutions and
Subversive Activities Control Board hearings, the FBI's
response was COINTELPRO, a program designed to
"neutralize" those who could no longer be prosecuted.
Over the years, similar
programs were created to neutralize civil rights,
anti-war, and many other groups, many of which were said
to be "communist front organizations."
As J. Edgar
Hoover, longtime Director of the FBI, put it
The forces which are most anxious to weaken our internal
security are not always easy to identify. Communists
have been trained in deceit and secretly work toward the
day when they hope to replace our American way of life
with a Communist dictatorship.
They utilize cleverly
camouflaged movements, such as peace groups and civil
rights groups to achieve their sinister purposes. While
they as individuals are difficult to identify, the
Communist party line is clear.
Its first concern is the
advancement of Soviet Russia and the godless Communist
It is important to learn to know the enemies of
the American way of life.
The FBI conducted more than 2000 COINTELPRO operations
before the programs were officially discontinued in
April of 1971, after public exposure, in order to
"afford additional security to [their] sensitive
techniques and operations."