Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt BPP [Black Panther Party] and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge. If facts are present, it aids in the success of the proposal but the Bureau feels that the skimming of money is such a sensitive issue that disruption can be accomplished without facts to back it up.
The directives against Hilliard and the two Omaha men were part of a massive but clandestine operation of the FBI devised by Hoover that was code-named COINTELPRO. Illegally directed against domestic political targets, COINTELPRO agents conducted a wide array of dirty tricks including both planting and withholding evidence.
Hoover's directive in the Omaha case, compromising the investigation into the murder of police officer Larry Minard killed in an August 17, 1970 ambush bombing, was documented by FBI Crime Laboratory director Ivan Willard Conrad. A tape recording of the killer's voice luring police to a vacant house with a report of a woman screaming was rushed to the crime lab for vocal analysis but Omaha Police Assistant Chief of Police Glen W. Gates did not want a formal report. Conrad spoke with Hoover over the phone and confirmed that he was to withhold a lab report in the case noting that Hoover said it was "OK to do" on his copy of the secret memo.
The plot against Hilliard was ordered in a secret COINTELPRO memo dated September 16, 1970 from Hoover. That confidential memo also addressed a proposal by the Los Angeles FBI office to send a false anonymous letter to Hilliard alleging an assassination plot against Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton. Hoover recognized the potential outcome of such a letter might result in violence against the purported assassins but he was only concerned with the possibility the Bureau might draw some liability. Hoover ordered the letter to be rewritten to avoid Bureau exposure to complicity in violence against innocent targets.
"With respect to two anonymous letters proposed by Los Angeles, Bureau concurs with San Francisco that to include the card of a member of a rival black extremist group in a letter to Hilliard indicating Newton is marked for assassination could place the Bureau in the position of aiding or initiating a murder by the BPP."
Hoover ordered: "Los Angeles should reword this letter to convey the same thought without directly indicating that it is from a specific member of a rival group. The letter could imply that the writer would soon get in touch with Hilliard to see what he would pay to have Newton eliminated."
Hoover's goal was to "disrupt" the Black Panthers by targeting the party leadership for removal by either violent means or prosecution and imprisonment. Although the blunt language of the Hilliard memo "it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge" spells out Hoover's disregard for the truth, his order to Conrad "OK to do" shares an equal disregard for actual facts.
In the Omaha case, the tape recording of the killer's voice was not that of either COINTELPRO target, Ed Poindexter or Mondo we Langa. Nor did the deep gruff voice of an older man match that of 15-year old Duane Peak, the confessed bomber. A FBI lab report indicating an unknown murderer would unravel the case being put together against the two Panther leaders and would have to be disclosed to defense attorneys.
Conrad followed orders and withheld a formal report on the tape recording. The jury that convicted Poindexter and Langa for Minard's death never got to hear the tape recording of the fatal caller. Authorities later destroyed the tape only to have a duplicate emerge years later. Finally, after many more long years the tape was submitted for sophisticated testing in 2006. In May 2007, expert witness Tom Owen, an internationally recognized vocal analyst, testified in an Omaha courtroom that the voice on the tape was not that of Peak leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose.
Poindexter now has a new trial request pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court over the new information about the tape recording, which J. Edgar Hoover had tried to bury back in 1970. Sworn conflicting police testimony about dynamite used in the bomb has since emerged that is also under review by the state high court. No date for a decision has been announced.
Convicted for the bombing murder, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa received life sentences and are imprisoned at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Both men deny any involvement in Minard's death.
Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.