Short for Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO, was a program undertaken by the FBI in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States.[1] In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, the Black Panther Party, various New Left organizations, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other groups active in the Civil Rights movement. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued directives governing COINTELPRO, ordering FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate" the activities of these movements and their leaders.[2] In order to achieve the ends of COINTELPRO, the FBI arranged the assassination of certain individuals.

The Assassination of Fred Hampton

The project code-named “COINTELPRO–Black Extremist,” aimed to destabilize and undermine the burgeoning Black Power movement, in particular, the Black Panther Party.[3] One of the more dramatic incidents occurred on the night of December 4, 1969, when Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot to death by Chicago policemen in a predawn raid on their apartment. Hampton, one of the most promising leaders of the Black Panther party, was killed in bed. In early November, Hampton traveled to California on a speaking engagement to the UCLA Law Students Association. While there, he met with the remaining BPP national hierarchy, who appointed him to the Party's Central Committee. Shortly thereafter, he was to assume the position of Chief of Staff and major spokesman.

Depositions in a civil suit in Chicago revealed that the chief of Panther security and Hampton's personal bodyguard, William O'Neal, was an FBI infiltrator. O'Neal gave his FBI contacting agent, Roy Mitchell, a detailed floor plan of the apartment, which Mitchell turned over to the state's attorney's office shortly before the attack.[4] O'Neal's uncover work, which led to a 12 volume, 4,000 page FBI surveillance file on Fred Hampton, indicates a high-level of FBI interest in Hampton.[5] O'Neal admitted to slipping the powerful barbiturate sleep agent, secobarbital, into a drink that Hampton consumed during dinner, the evening of the raid, in order to sedate Hampton. At 4:45 a.m., a group of 14 heavily armed police officers stormed into Hampton’s apartment. After shooting Mark Clark in the heart while he sat in the front room of the apartment, the police proceeded to the bedroom where Hampton slept and opened fire. Hampton was lying on a mattress in the bedroom with his pregnant fiancée, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with their child.[6]

Officially, Hampton's death was ruled as a justifiable homicide, but given O'Neal's role as an FBI informant and his act of drugging Hampton, the event has the hallmarks of a politically-motivated assassination.[7] Jeffrey Haas documents the thirteen-year legal struggle led by the People’s Law Office against the FBI and their Justice Department lawyers to uncover and make public evidence showing the FBI’s leading role in setting up the raid.[8] This evidence included the floor plan of Hampton’s apartment, indicating where he slept, drawn by the FBI informant and delivered by his FBI control to the police raiders the day before the raid. Another FBI document indicated that a bonus was paid to O'Neal after the raid, because of its “success,” as the FBI termed it. In his 2016 book Unsolved Civil Rights Murder Cases, 1934-1970, Michael Newton asserts that Hampton “was murdered in his sleep by Chicago police with FBI collusion.”[9]

The Exposure of COINTELPRO

COINTELPRO was successfully kept secret until 1971 when the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI burglarized an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, took several dossiers, and exposed the program by passing this material to news agencies. Many news organizations initially refused to publish the information. Within a year, the FBI announced that the program had been officially terminated.[10]

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