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NCJ Number: 202696 Find in a Library
Title: Patterning of Repression: FBI Counterintelligence and the New Left
Journal: Social Forces  Volume:82  Issue:1  Dated:September 2003  Pages:209-240
Author(s): David Cunningham
Date Published: September 2003
Page Count: 32
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study used memos from the FBI's counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) against the "New Left" between 1968 and 1971 to analyze the patterning of repression against protest groups.
Abstract: COINTELPRO is a unique data source, since it was independent from other government agencies and was established and organized solely to covertly "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of FBI targets. In a FBI field office, each COINTELPRO was assigned to a special agent, who in turn reported directly to the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the office. SAC's were direct links between field office activity and J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director throughout the entire COINTELPRO era. Virtually all activity and transfer of information within COINTELPRO occurred in the form of memos sent between the director's office in Washington and field offices located throughout the country. These memos are accessible to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Overall, the FBI has released 2,487 separate memos related to COINTELPRO activity against "New Left" targets. This study assessed three of the most common claims regarding this FBI activity; namely that level of repression was positively related to protest groups' level of activity, size, and association with previous acts of violence. The study tested the relative influence of each of the three propositions, along with a single proxy of endogenous organizational structure, i.e., whether or not targets were identified and monitored by multiple FBI field offices, suggesting that the FBI directorate had a broader range of information about that target's potential threat level. The study findings indicate that the level of tangible threat of a New Left group, based on its size, level of activity, or propensity for violence, did not directly impact the structure of FBI activity under COINTELPRO. Instead, the characteristics of targeted groups were mediated by organizational processes endogenous to the FBI itself. Specifically, central actors in the FBI manipulated organizational controls to ensure that visible (i.e., nonlocal) targets were repressed independent of the target's local activities. National-level protest organizations that initiated disruption were defined as targets, which created an expectation that these groups would be repressed wherever they were located, despite the FBI's ostensible focus on identifying threats on the local level. The directorate's connection to all field offices created a basis for ensuring that this repressive activity was implemented, even by field offices that reported an absence of activity by local chapters. 4 tables, 23 notes, and 49 references
Main Term(s): Police policies and procedures
Index Term(s): Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Intelligence acquisition; Investigative techniques; Organization studies; Police intelligence operations
Note: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2000 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
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