Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"The purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the BPP (Black Panther Party) and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge."

--A 1969 memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to an agent in San Francisco who reported that the Black Panthers were doing nothing illegal.

The Four of Pentacles is the miser, the man of limitless wealth and limited imagination. The fours affirm stability but in the already earthbound Pentacles the Four sinks into the ground and will not, cannot, move. FBI Director Hoover had his own ideas about the Black Panthers, as well as other leftist and radical organizations, and threatened the careers of agents like the one in San Francisco whose investigation could reveal only that the Panthers' primary activity was feeding breakfast to schoolchildren. This was not what Hoover wanted to hear, any more than this Berkeley cop who, guarding a bank building after the People's Park riots of 1969, wanted to be photographed garlanded in flowers placed around his helmet and badge by heedless hippies who had him greatly outnumbered. Hoover, too, was outnumbered. But he still held enough power in 1969 to direct an illegal war against the Counterculture, one embodied as the secret Counterintelligence Project, or COINTELPRO, that until it was exposed in 1971 violated the Constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Such is the miser's reckless obsession with security that virtually everyone is a suspect.

Hoover used COINTELPRO to sustain the FBI's power to step over the line of investigation and fight New Left political groups with intimidation, arrest, control; even going as far as to assist with police assassinations of American citizens (notably the murder by Chicago police of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton). Hoover's assertion of extra-legal power was audacious, but not the first abuse in American history. In her book Army Surveillance in America historian Joan M. Jensen describes the unrestrained domestic spying conducted by Army intelligence officers during World War I. Army spies were permitted to gather information without restriction, using false identification to enter private homes as if they were employees of public utilities.

The Army's surveillance activities stopped after World War I, but returned again in the 1960s when federal troops were called up to quell domestic unrest during civil rights marches and anti-war protests. Gene Healy of the Cato Institute writes that the need to prepare for domestic confrontations led the army to spy on Americans once again. Army intelligence operatives accumulated dossiers on tens of thousands of citizens, most of whom had not committed a crime. The Senate Judiciary Committee later concluded that "comments about the financial affairs, sex lives and psychiatric histories of persons unaffiliated with the armed forces appear throughout the various records systems," maintained by Army surveillance. Thus, the Army took its place alongside the FBI as a gatherer of illegal intelligence and, along with local police departments, became part of a government-sanctioned conspiracy to curtail the freedoms of civil rights activists, anti-war demonstrators, and even celebrities like John Lennon, whose views and opinions were perceived as threats to American security. In one of his COINTELPRO memos, Hoover proposed that Lennon, known to take anti-depressants, be set up for a drug arrest and deported. Even feminist organizations were infiltrated by FBI saboteurs, so convinced was Hoover that women were being inducted into rebellion by "socialists."

A critical, and sadly acknowledged, legacy of the Counterculture and its New Left political wing is the contempt they generated from the dominantly conservative bosses of the nation's military and police establishments. More onerous were the covert actions planned and produced by this contempt; illegal assaults on freedom funded by huge taxpayer-supported security budgets. Committing official crimes against constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, only to acknowledge much later their occurrence and damage, has been for decades a strangely American tradition.