Privacy SOS

VIDEO: “COINTELPRO: The FBI’s War on Black America”

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The clip above is an excerpt from "The FBI's War on Black America," by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller. Click here to buy a DVD of the film and here to find info on their latest project.

Forty-seven years ago today, the young, ambitious, fiercely dedicated and intelligent Malcolm X was assassinated. The circumstances surrounding his murder remain murky and the subject of intense debate. But history has clearly revealed that the famous Black rights leader was one of many civil rights and political leaders targeted by the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO, or "Counter-Intelligence Program," an extensive infiltration and monitoring scheme directed at political opponents of the federal government and at Black and Indian American radicals.

After the excesses of COINTELPRO were revealed in the 1970s, Congress responded by implementing some of the most restrictive and successful privacy statutes ever legislated, including the landmark 1974 Privacy Act. Congress formed the Church Committee, which extensively studied the FBI's political monitoring and counter-intelligence programs. These investigations led to the institution of clear rules requiring the agency to provide suspicion of specific criminal activity before opening investigations.

Unfortunately, the Patriot Act and a number of other post-9/11 statutes and executive decisions have weakened the privacy protections won after COINTELPRO was exposed. We are now back to the ways of the bad old days: the FBI once again needs no justification whatsoever to spy on us. This has opened the door once more to investigations and spying based on political affiliation, religion and ethnicity.

We are repeating many of the mistakes we made during the COINTELPRO era. In order to right them, we will need a 21st century Church Committee to comprehensively study and expose what's really going on in the intelligence world behind the thick curtain of state secrecy.

Given that society-wide, vacuum style surveillance has been authorized by Congress, we have a serious battle before us to turn back this tide.

Watch the above video to learn about what can happen when we allow the FBI to engage in political and racially motivated investigations.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.