Monday, January 26, 2009

Hoover personally ordered FBI to initiate COINTELPRO dirty tricks against Black Panthers in 'Omaha Two' case

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January 23, 2009

J. Edgar Hoover personally ordered FBI to initiate COINTELPRO dirty tricks against Black Panthers in 'Omaha Two' case

By Michael Richardson

Confidential memorandums from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's secret and illegal Operation COINTELPRO against domestic political organizations and activists in the 60's and 70's reveal dirty deeds by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

The archives of Political Research Associates offer up long-held secrets of FBI misdeeds from one of the nation's largest collections of COINTELPRO documents. Hoover had targeted the Black Panthers for the full fury of his clandestine war on political activists he disliked. Directives were sent out nationwide with orders to "disrupt" the group and each field FBI office was to develop proposals targeting local Panther chapters and leaders.

In Omaha, Nebraska, the chief FBI targets were Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) who were leaders of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, also known as the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism.

Omaha was not on the initial list of 23 FBI field offices ordered to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize" the Black Panthers in a COINTELPRO directive of August 25, 1967. Marching orders for Omaha FBI agents came on March 4, 1968 in the form of a memo from George C. Moore, head of the Racial Intelligence Division, to William Cornelius Sullivan, head of the Domestic Intelligence Division.

"In view of the tremendous increase in black nationalist activity, and the approach of summer, this program [COINTELPRO] should be expanded."

The Omaha SAC (Special-Agent-in-Charge) responded to Hoover in a confidential memo dated April 3, 1968. The heavily redacted document discusses one "militant Black Nationalist" but concludes there is no organized activity in Omaha. "There are no organizations or individuals in the Omaha Division presently considered of potential danger as to be considered for Counterintelligence action."

"Omaha has no suggestions to offer at the present time regarding the over all Counterintelligence Program or administration of this program. It is felt, however, that this program can be very beneficial to the Bureau in helping to prevent the coalition of militant Black Nationalist Groups and violence on their part."

On May 31, 1968 the Omaha SAC reaffirmed, "There continue to be no organizations or individuals in the division currently considered of potential danger as to be considered for counterintelligence actions." Making quarterly reports, the message was again repeated to Hoover by the Omaha SAC that there was no activity to disrupt.

On September 6, 1968, the Omaha office finally had something to tell Hoover. "It is anticipated that in the near future [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] might be targets of counter intelligence action as well as the organizations of which they are leaders. The Black Panther group in Omaha has vaguely discussed in general terms creating violence, however, it has taken no positive action in this regard to date."

An October 6, 1968 COINTELPRO memo from the Omaha SAC to Hoover expressed concern about the "revolutionary and criminal nature" of the Black Panthers and proposed a plan to contact "Leaders of the Negro community". The memo went on to describe actions of the local police.

"It should be noted that the Omaha Police department has instigated an harassment campaign against the BPP [Black Panther Party] members by stopping vehicles registered to these individuals at every opportunity. This activity has become of great concern to those members involved. In addition, this campaign has resulted in identification of additional persons associated with the BPP movement and its leadership."

Hoover replied on October 23, 1968. "Proposals for counterintelligence measures against the Black Panther Party…have merit and are worthy of more detailed consideration."

"The utilization of your sources and informants to spread gossip in the ghetto area concerning BPP leaders and members must be done on a selective basis so as to preclude tracing the origin of the gossip to the FBI. This is an effective but risky maneuver and you must insure that your informants are not compromised. Prior to undertaking such maneuvers, you must identify your informants you intend to use in this program and the rumors they will spread."

"Although these recommendations have merit, they are so broad and nonspecific that authority is not being granted at this time to implement them. Omaha is being instructed to submit specific recommendations after which an independent decision can be made at the Bureau as to whether or not they should be authorized."

By December 2, 1968 there were developments Omaha could share with Hoover. "[REDACTED] of the Black Panther Party in Omaha, was interviewed on 11/27/68 by Special Agents of the Omaha Office in connection with an Antiriot Laws matter."

"In view of the present status of the BPP in the Omaha Division, it is not felt that intelligent recommendations can be made at this time regarding counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling the BPP. This matter will continue to be closely followed by Omaha."

By now, the Omaha FBI office was ordered to make status updates every two weeks to headquarters and continued filing reports without proposing any new COINTELPRO actions. The Omaha SAC reported to Hoover on January 8, 1969 that the Panthers had not been meeting regularly at the party headquarters located at 3120 North 24th Street. Further, "None of the known members of the BPP in Omaha Office are considered to have a propensity for violence."

Finally, after months of no COINTELPRO proposals, Hoover sent a brusque note to the Omaha office. "Omaha advises in its letter of 1-13-69 that no recommendations concerning captioned program will be submitted until such time as more information is received concerning the activities of the Black Panther Party in Omaha and Des Moines. Omaha is being instructed to continue submitting the biweekly letter under captioned program."

The regular reports from the Omaha FBI to Hoover continued. On March 10, 1969, the Omaha SAC was able to report "a former lieutenant in the Omaha chapter of the BPP considered this chapter to be almost out of existence."

In the April 21, 1969 report to Hoover the Omaha SAC noted that "there have been recent indications that this group is attempting to reorganize." A warning was also given that in Iowa "the Des Moines mayor and some other civic officials look upon this organization as merely another underprivileged minority group worthy of community assistance."

The May 19, 1969 memo to Hoover contained some alarming news, the Panthers were organizing in the high schools. "This matter will continue to receive close attention."

"The BPP in Omaha, as noted in referenced letter, recently sponsored the organization of Black Association for Nationalism Through Unity (BANTU) at Technical High School, Omaha….At a BPP rally held 5/18/69 in an Omaha public park BPP and BANTU officials called on the Negro community to observe 5/19/69 as a holiday. [Omaha was birthplace of Malcolm X] Approximately 60 percent of the Negro student body at Tech High School complied with this request and were absent from school on that date."

On June 2, 1969, the Omaha SAC added BANTU to the list of COINTELPRO targets. "This matter will continue to receive close attention and suggestions for counterintelligence activity against the Black Panther Party, BANTU and the leadership of these organizations at a future date."

July and August 1969 memos addressed the lack of meetings, small membership and eviction from party headquarters for non-payment of rent. The Omaha SAC noted it looked like the local party chapter was being reorganized and linked with Des Moines and Kansas City chapters.

The September 22, 1969 memo to Hoover gave details on the reorganization of the Black Panthers. "In late August, 1969, an organization known as United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) was formed in Omaha and this organization has been described as a replacement for the BPP. The activities of this group are being closely followed."

No activity was reported to Hoover in the fall of 1969. In December, there was a development. "The United Front Against Fascism (UFAF), the successor to the BPP in Omaha, Nebraska, is composed of approximately 8 to 12 members and its only activity to date has been the sale of "The Black Panther," the BPP newspaper, and the publication of a UFAF newsletter."

Hoover had enough of the inaction from the Omaha FBI office. On December 10, 1969, Hoover sent orders for Omaha to do something against the Panthers.

"While the activities appear to be limited in the Omaha area, it does not necessarily follow that effective counterintelligence measures cannot be taken. As long as there are BPP activities, you should be giving consideration to that type of counterintelligence measure which would best disrupt existing activities. It would appear some type of counterintelligence aimed at the disruption of the publication and distribution of their literature is in order. It is also assumed that of the eight to twelve members, one or two must certainly be in a position of leadership. You should give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders in an effort to weaken or destroy their positions Bureau has noted that you have not submitted any concrete counterintelligence proposals in recent months. Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results. Handle promptly and submit your proposals for approval."

The Omaha FBI office stepped up efforts against Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa. The campaign against the two Panther leaders came to a head in August 1970 when they were charged with the murder on an Omaha police officer. Hoover ordered a lab report withheld on a tape recording of a 911 call that lured officer Larry Minard to his August 17, 1970 death. Both men were convicted of murder without the jury knowing they were targets of the FBI clandestine operation. Nor did the jury know about the withheld evidence ordered by Hoover.

Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were sentenced to life imprisonment and are confined at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to proclaim their innocence. Poindexter has a new trial request pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court over the withheld evidence. No date for a decision has been announced.


Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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