The twentieth century has been marked by a succession of different forms of restraint on political expression: criminal anarchy statutes, sedition laws, deportations, Congressional anti-subversive probes, loyalty oaths, enforced registration. These and related measures still survive. But in recent years new, more formidable ways of responding to political and social movements on the left have emerged. The most important of these is the system of political intelligence, which is rapidly coalescing into a national network.1

Despite the efforts of intelligence officials to keep intelligence operations secret, reliable information about our intelligence system is steadily accumulating. We now have a clearer picture of the methods and targets of political surveillance. As a result, we can no longer seriously doubt that the main purpose of such activity is political control of dissent or that the frequently advanced justifications of law enforcement or national security are often no more than a “cover.”

On March 21, 1971, a group calling itself the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI mailed or delivered to a congressman and senator as well as to the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times a packet containing fourteen documents, selected from over 1,000 stolen from a small FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. The fourteen documents, all of them of recent date and undisputed authenticity, show that the FBI concentrates much of its investigative effort on college dissenters and black student groups. According to a memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover such groups “pose a definite threat to the Nation’s stability and security,” a conclusion that he has not been able to support and that both the Washington Post and The New York Times have challenged.

When conducting surveillance of a Swarthmore College philosophy professor regarded as a “radical,” the FBI enlisted the assistance of the local police and postmaster, as well as a campus security officer and switchboard operator. In one of the documents, the FBI agent in charge of the Philadelphia bureau instructs his agents at Media that more interviews are

…in order…for plenty of reasons, chief of which are it will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox. In addition, some will be overcome by the overwhelming personalities of the contacting agent and will volunteer to tell all—perhaps on a continuing basis.

Dramatic disclosures of this sort as well as the recent Senate hearings on Army intelligence will undoubtedly help to cure the surviving skepticism about these practices. Until fairly recently even the targets of surveillance were reluctant to credit the existence of police activities which violate the most deeply held premises of their society. But political surveillance has become so obtrusive and its targets so numerous that it can no longer be easily ignored or justified. A sharper awareness of intelligence has, in turn, opened up new sources of data about a field which I have been researching since the McCarthy era.2

Of course dossiers, informers, and infiltrators are hardly new. But since the early Sixties, when attorneys general in the South formed a rudimentary intelligence network in order to curb the integrationist activities of students, political surveillance and associated practices have spread throughout the nation.

Surveillance has expanded largely because of the scale and militance of the protest movements that erupted in the Sixties. Policy makers and officers of intelligence agencies were then faced with the need to identify and control new actors on a new political stage—no easy matter in view of the anarchic radical milieu, characterized by highly mobile and anonymous young people, who tend to be hostile to formal organization and leadership. The social remoteness of new radicals concentrated in “tribal,” self-contained groups made it all the more difficult to identify them.

Most of the existing intelligence agencies at that time were no more effective than other institutions in our society. Their techniques were as out-moded as their notions of subversion dominated by an old Left composed of “Communists,” “fellow travelers,” and “fronts.” Intelligence files were choked with millions of dossiers of aging or dead radicals. At the same time, new gadgetry—miniaturization, audio-electronics, infrared lens cameras, computers, and data banks—gave intelligence possibilities undreamed of by the most zealous practitioners of the repressive arts of the nineteenth century.

According to the herald of the “technetronic” society, Zbigniew Brzezinski, new developments in technology will make it “possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date files, containing even personal information about the…behavior of the citizen, in addition to the more customary data.” Full access to critical data, he adds, will give the undercover agent and the roving political spy greater flexibility in planning and executing countermeasures.3


Twenty federal agencies are engaged in intelligence activities. The most important are:


—the FBI, with an estimated 2,000 agents on political investigative assignments in charge of thousands of undercover informers,

—the Army, which concededly had at one time 1,200 agents in the field, together with a huge staff operating a dossier bank of 25 million “personalities,”

—the CIA,

—the Internal Revenue Service (for several weeks in 1970 its agents requested access to the circulation records of public libraries in a number of cities in order to learn the names of borrowers of books on explosives and other “militant and subversive” subjects, a practice which it defended as “just a continual building of information”),

—the Intelligence Division of the Post Office,
—the Secret Service (where names of 50,000 “persons of interest” are on file),

—the Customs Bureau of the Treasury Department,

—the Civil Service Commission (15 million names of “subversive activity” suspects),

—the Immigration and Naturalization Service,

—the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard,

—the Passport Division of the State Department,

—the Department of Justice Community Relations Service which feeds information into its computerized Inter-Divisional Intelligence and Information Unit,4

—civil rights and poverty projects sponsored by the Department of |Health, Education and Welfare and the Office of Economic Opportunity. The Executive Department agencies cooperate with and are supplemented by the Congressional anti-subversive committees.

Intelligence operations are also flourishing in states and counties. A typical state intelligence agency is the Massachusetts Division of Subversive Activities which conducts investigations in response to complaints by private citizens and acts as a central repository for information about subversion. The Division’s Annual Report for 1969 is revealing:

A file is kept of peace groups, civil rightists and other such groups where, due to their enthusiasm, they might have a tendency to adopt or show a policy of advocating the commission of acts of force or violence to deny other persons their rights under the Constitution. These files are kept up-dated by communications with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the House Internal Security Committee, Subversive Activities units in other states and decisions of the United States Supreme Court.

The files in this Division have grown to such an extent that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Defense, U.S. Army Intelligence, Federal Civil Service Commission, Treasury Department, several departments of the Commonwealth, Industrial Plants and Educational Institutions now clear with this Division on security checks.

Requests for investigations, or assistance in investigations, received from various police departments, Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Subversive Activities Control Board, complied with such requests [sic].

Members of the Division attended demonstrations conducted in the area by various groups. Note was made of the leaders and organizations participating, occasionally photographs are taken, the persons identified, and a file was made.

The Division is continuing to compile and tabulate a check on new organizations in the Civil Rights area so as to be sure of any inclinations toward communist-front activities or the infiltration into these organizations of known communists or communist sympathizers.

During the past year, as a result of the increased activity of the Communist and Subversive Groups in racial demonstrations throughout the country, this Division has kept a watch on these developments so as to note any trend toward that end in Massachusetts.

During the past year, this Division continued to submit information relative to subversive organizations and individuals to several local police departments who are in the process, or have started, Intelligence Units within their respective departments.

Sometimes state intelligence agencies operate under concealed or obscure auspices. For example, the Ohio Highway Patrol runs an intelligence unit which claims to have recruited student informers on every campus in the state. According to the head of the unit, “We have actually had informers who are members of the board of trustees [sic] of various dissident groups.” State intelligence units are also at work in several universities in Maryland and Illinois.

Urban intelligence units (“red squads”) have multiplied greatly and are becoming a standard tool in local police practice. Increasingly powerful, they operate under a variety of names (Anti-Subversive Squad, Intelligence Unit, Civil Disobedience Unit); in some cases they use a “Human Relations” or “Community Relations” cover, which is considered an efficient means of penetrating the ghetto.5

Black communities swarm with urban intelligence agents and informers, as do university and peace groups; invitations to young people to defect or to sell information at high prices are becoming routine. Young college graduates—black and white—are offered “career opportunities” in urban intelligence; courses in intelligence and surveillance are being taught to municipal police units and campus security police.6

In fact, the campus constabulary is spreading throughout the country’s higher education community. Its functions are expanding to include clandestine intelligence activities such as undercover work and wiretapping and are meshed with the work of other intelligence agencies. We get a glimpse of this new collaboration in one of the recent Media documents, dated November 13, 1970.


On 11/12/70 MR. HENRY PEIRSOL, Security Officer, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa. advised that DANIEL BENNETT is a Professor of Philosophy at that School and in charge of the Philosophy Department. He has been there about three years having previously taught at University, of Mass. MRS. BENNETT is not employed and there are two small children in the family ages about 8 to 12 years.

The BENNETTs reside in a semi-detached house located near PEIRSOL’s residence although he does not have any social contact with them. PEIRSOL has noted that there does not appear to be anyone other than the BENNETTs residing at their home but that numerous college students visit there frequently. BENNETT drives a two tone blue, VW station wagon, bearing Penna. license 5V0245. There are no other cars in the family and no other cars normally parked in their driveway.

PEIRSOL was funished [sic] with the wanted flyers on the subjects and he stated he would remain alert in his neighborhood for their possible appearance. Also he will alert in his sources at the college for any information about the subjects particularly any information that subjects might be in contact with the BENNETTS.

(Those who are familiar with the quality of FBI reporting will not be surprised to learn that some of this report is not true. As Professor Bennett has pointed out, he is unacquainted with the subject of the “wanted flyers,” has one child not two, and owns two cars not one.)

Many of the red squads run by city police are growing so fast that they are hard put to find enough agents. The permanent intelligence staffs are frequently augmented by detectives and plainclothesmen—as Chicago’s regular intelligence unit was doubled for the SDS convention in 1969. There are also many informer recruits and trainees who report to intelligence units but are not counted as employees or officers. The official membership of Detroit’s intelligence unit, which was formed in 1961, grew by 1968 to seventy members. In 1968, Boston had forty agents, New York had at least sixty-eight on its intelligence staff (ninety as of 1970) and fifty-five more line agents planted undercover; Chicago had more than 500, Houston fourteen. The Los Angeles Police Department doubled its Intelligence Division personnel from eighty-four in 1969 to 167 in 1970.

Intelligence is not a wholly public |function. Political surveillance has been routinely practiced by private detectives since the nineteenth century, when objections to a political police force left the Pinkerton and Burns agencies free to engage in these activities without official competition. Today the private agencies are an important channel for political intelligence. Often they recruit employees with access to official files from government intelligence agencies and sell such information to private industry.7

Local and national intelligence agencies are beginning to coalesce into an “intelligence community.” For example, the young demonstrators who came to Chicago in 1968 encountered red squad operatives from their home towns. The overheated reports of these visiting local agents led Mayor Daley’s office to conclude that a plot to assassinate Johnson had been hatched. The urban agents cooperated with their federal counterparts, as well as with the Army and Navy secret operatives at the Chicago demonstrations. During the subsequent conspiracy trial no fewer than thirty of about forty substantive prosecution witnesses were police agents or infiltrators associated with governmental surveillance at various levels.

The FBI plays a central role in coordinating the intelligence system; it exchanges information with other agencies, performs investigative work for intelligence groups with limited jurisdiction, and trains intelligence agents for service in other agencies. Its intelligence techniques and political standards serve as a model for local operations. It compiles albums of photographs and files of activists which are transmitted to agencies throughout the United States.8

Congressional anti-subversive committees have also expanded their intelligence activities beyond the passive compilation of dossiers available only to government investigative personnel. They now provide a forum for local intelligence agencies, publish dossiers, mug shots, and other photographs of subjects obtained by surveillance and supplied by police witnesses.9 They also independently engage in intelligence activities.


The changing role of the police in carrying out surveillance was described a few years ago by Inspector Harry Fox of the Philadelphia police. In his Senate testimony, he said:

Police now have become “watch-dogs” and “observers” of vocal, subversive and revolutionary minded people. This function has been institutionalized in Philadelphia in a “civil-disobedience unit” composed of selected and highly trained plainclothesmen. They cover all meetings, rallies, lectures, marches, sit-ins, laydowns, fasts, vigils, or any other type of demonstration that has ominous overtones….

These officers know by sight the hard core men and women who lead and inspire demonstrations. They know their associates, family ties, techniques, and affiliations with organizations leaning toward Communism both on and off the Attorney General’s list. They see them day in and day out recruiting, planning, carrying signs, and verbally assaulting the principles of democracy.

Yes, the police role has become one of…surveillance, taking photographs, identifying participants, and making records of the events. On this basis, local police are able to piece together this jigsaw puzzle and see the widespread activity of the hard core demonstrators and instigators.

This account naturally omits the harassing and “guerrilla warfare” aspects of police tactics. To the policeman, public protest is an unwelcome disruption of the tranquillity which he regards as natural and proper. His response to antiwar activities is particularly hostile because he sees himself as a beleaguered defender of “patriotic” values, which he tends to protect by abusing his power, harassing demonstrators, and intimidating suspects. His resentment and anger are provoked in the same way by the nonconformity and personal style of many young people, who are now the principal targets of heavy surveillance and who are constantly subjected to detention and arrest on flimsy charges.

Protest activities have inevitably served to draw the police into politics and to expand their intelligence functions. Especially ominous is the widening use of photographic surveillance by intelligence units. Police in communities throughout the country systematically photograph demonstrations, parades, confrontations, vigils, rallies, presentations of petitions to congressmen and senators, and related activities. The photographers attached to the Philadelphia intelligence unit, for example, cover more than a thousand demonstrations a year. Any “incident” considered “controversial” is a predictable subject for the police photographer. Protest demonstrations against the Vietnam war are automatically considered “controversial,” but not those in favor. In the South, photographing integrationist protesters is given top priority.

Subjects are often photographed from as close as three to five feet. Sometimes police photographers openly ridicule the demonstrators. Children who accompany their parents are photographed as are casual bystanders and nonparticipants. To convey and conceal photographic equipment, panel trucks are sometimes used, occasionally camouflaged to look like the equipment of a television station (referred to by veteran surveillance subjects as “WFBI”). Surveillance photographers acquire spurious press credentials; bona fide cameramen often moonlight as police or FBI informers.10 Supplementary photographic data are occasionally obtained from cooperating newspaper and television stations.

Photographs are sometimes covertly taken by unobtrusive plainclothesmen when a “respectable” group is involved—for example, parents picketing a school. Usually, however, policemen, sometimes in uniform, do not bother to conceal their activities: they either man the cameras themselves or direct their aides by pointing out individuals or groups to be photographed. The deterrent effect of open photography is not lost on the police but is justified on the ground, among others, that it “cools” the “subversive agitator” and prevents potential lawlessness.11

Photographs of individuals not already known to the police are submitted to informers and undercover agents for identification. Sometimes tentative identifications are verified by automobile license numbers which the police systematically collect at meetings and rallies and in front of the houses of “known militants.” Then they ask other agencies, urban, state, and federal, to help to identify the subjects.

Once the individual is identified, his name is entered in an index. The local intelligence unit then sets out to obtain information about the subject—solely on the basis of his or her attendance at a single “controversial” event—from other intelligence sources, state and federal. In addition, the contents of the file are passed on, as Captain Drake, Commander of the Intelligence Division of the New Orleans Police Department, has explained, to “every conceivable authority that might have an interest in causing any prosecution or further investigation of these persons….”


Photography describes the subject. But other techniques must also be used to obtain political data. These include interrogation of associates, employers, landlords, etc., collection of data about financial resources, bank deposits and withdrawals, and about the subject’s background. Where meetings are held publicly, whether indoors or out, the speeches are monitored by portable tape recorders, a practice which is common in large cities but which also is growing in smaller communities, especially in college towns.

Wiretapping and electronic bugging are also common, in spite of judicial restraints on their use.12 Local police specialists use these devices not only for their own purposes but also on behalf of the FBI. The 1968 Crime Control Law has authorized electronic eavesdropping in certain criminal cases; twelve states have passed similar legislation, while six others are now considering it. A variety of electronic devices is now being offered by commercial supply houses to state and local police departments to implement this legislation. Once they become available for even limited purposes, it is extremely unlikely that they will not be used for political surveillance as well.

Still, personal surveillance is necessary in those areas where technology cannot—at present anyway—replace human beings. Thus infiltration of dissident groups by informers remains a common procedure. Ironically, the Warren Court’s limitations on wiretapping and bugging have themselves led to a heavier reliance on informers as a substitute. Moreover, these limitations encourage the use of informers because they can supply “probable cause” of a crime and so justify a wiretap order.13

Informers are indispensable to political intelligence systems. Electronic eavesdropping and wiretapping are ill-suited to the slow pace, confusion, ambiguity, and factionalism of the dissenting political activities that are the targets of intelligence. Besides, wiretaps can be circumvented once the subject becomes aware of them. Indeed, nothing can quite take the place of the classic tool of intelligence, the informer. But in addition to the moral stigma attached to informing in Western culture,14 informers have always been regarded anyway as unreliable and treacherous observers, reporters, and witnesses. Most of them become informers for money. Their income, tenure, and future usefulness depend on their capacity to produce material useful to the police.15 Others are “hooked” because of previous involvements with the law, or are recruited for ideological reasons—either as police plants or as defectors.

Both the pressures and the inducements, along with the sense of guilt that requires the betrayer to find some justification for his betrayal, tend to produce tainted information. All too frequently it is inaccurate, highly selective, and based on sinister and unwarranted inferences. Where a literal version of a target’s utterances would seem innocent, the informer will insist on stressing the connotations; conversely, where the language is figurative or metaphysical the informer reports it as literally intended. Most important of all, he seizes on the transient fantasies of the powerless—rhetoric and images not intended to be acted upon—and transforms them into conspiracies whose purpose and commitment are wholly alien to their volatile and ambiguous context.

It need only be added that the hazards inherent in the testimony of political informers are especially great in conspiracy cases. The vague, inchoate character of the conspiracy charge and the atmosphere of plotting and hidden guilt which accompanies it make it a perfect foil for the undercover agent who surfaces on the witness stand, a hero returned from the dark wood.16

The informer is not only a reporter or an observer, but also an actor or participant, and he frequently transforms what might otherwise be idle talk or prophecy into action. Professor Zachariah Chafee, Jr., once remarked, “The spy often passes over an almost imperceptible boundary into the agent provocateur.” The purpose of such provocations, as Allen Dulles wrote in The Craft of Intelligence, is to “provide the pretext for arresting any or all of [the group’s] members. Since the agent report[s] to the police exactly when and where the action is going to take place, the police [have] no problems.”

There are powerful reasons for viewing provocation as the handmaiden of infiltration, even when it is not part of a planned intelligence strategy. A merely passive, “cool” infiltrator-observer cannot hope to play more than a lowly “Jimmy Higgins” role in the target group, if he gains entry at all. In order to enhance his usefulness he must penetrate planning circles by becoming highly active. Moreover, the pressure to produce results in the form of concrete evidence of illegal activity often drives the infiltrator into provocative acts, regardless of the official cautionary advice which he may be given when he receives his assignment. Such advice is routinely conveyed by the agent’s “handler” for the record, as a defense against a possible charge of entrapment.

Convincing evidence of provocation has emerged in a number of recent cases.17 But the motives of the agent provocateur are frequently complex and difficult to reconstruct from the materials available. The most common provocateur is simply a professional police agent who coldly engineers a single provocative act designed to “set up” leaders for roundup and arrest.

Another type (of which Tommy the Traveler is an example) is the ultra-rightist who becomes a spy in order to destroy the target group. He is often driven to act out his paranoid fantasies with bombs and guns when his delusions about the group’s sinister goals fail to conform to reality.

On the other hand, as the FBI student informer William T. Divale has disclosed in his recently published confessions, I Lived Inside the Campus Revolution, a planted informer may come to share the values of his victims, with the result that his newly acquired convictions carry him far beyond the call of duty—a form of conversion characteristic of infiltrators of black and youth groups. The infiltrator’s secret knowledge that he alone in the group is immune from accountability for his acts dissolves all restraints on his zeal. He does, of course, take the risk of exposure and punitive reprisal, but this possibility itself encourages him to disarm suspicion by acting as a supermilitant. This almost schizoid quality of the behavior of informers seems inherent in political surveillance and has recurred throughout its history.

Many student informers who have surfaced or recanted have been revealed as operating for two intelligence agencies at the same time—usually a local and a federal one. Several informers commonly penetrate a single organization; indeed this is prescribed as sound intelligence practice, because each surveillance report can cross-check the others.18 Attempts to recruit young leftists as police spies have also recently become common: For example, in the fall of 1969, young volunteers for the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam were solicited to become informers by FBI agents. “Will you work for us?” they were asked as they entered the elevator on their way to the Committee’s office. The FBI has recently acquired official jurisdiction on college campuses, which will result in even more extensive subsidy of student informers.

As the FBI Media documents make clear, Bureau agents now have formal authority from Washington to recruit informers as young as eighteen, including those attending two-year junior and community colleges. This authorization of September, 1970, made official a practice which long preceded the issuance of the directive but was consistently denied for public relations reasons. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover repeated this denial as recently as February of this year.

Moreover, local police—especially in university communities—have lately been given special funds to hire secret informers. For this purpose at least one state, Wisconsin, has made available the sum of $10,000.19


In the past the police agencies (whether federal or local) preferred to act as the informer’s “handler,” “controller,” or “contact.” Police officers themselves only rarely resorted to impersonation, dissembling loyalties, the fabrication of false cover identities—techniques made familiar by foreign intelligence practice and regarded as abhorrent to our traditions. It was one thing to hire an agent as an independent contractor to do the dirty work of political snooping, but quite another for a public servant to do it himself.

Today, however, the police themselves often go underground. In New Orleans an intelligence division officer gained access to the Black Panther headquarters by impersonating a priest. At least six agents of New York’s Special Service Division infiltrated the Black Panthers, and appeared as witnesses in their current trial.

Three members of Chicago’s intelligence unit infiltrated the Chicago Peace Council. One of them, in order to enhance his credibility, exposed another to Council leaders as a policeman. According to Karl Meyer, the Council’s chairman, “At our meetings they invariably took the most militant positions, trying to provoke the movement from its nonviolent force to the wildest kind of ventures.” “They were,” he concluded, “about our most active members.” The Peace Council became suspicious of possible spies when it and other Chicago groups—the Latin American Defense Organization, Women Strike for Peace, the Fellowship of Reconciliation—suffered a number of burglaries of files and records. (Office machines and small amounts of money were also stolen but subsequently returned.)

Agents of the Chicago intelligence unit are scattered throughout Illinois, and sometimes do not report to their superiors for days or even months. Their real identities are concealed even from their colleagues. Their methods include disguises, wiretapping, and the creation of elaborate “covers,” such as dummy businesses. In numerous cities, including San Diego, Houston, Oakland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Columbus, the agent-informer is becoming a familiar phenomenon. We are moving toward the classic European model of political infiltration, in which the planted police agent lives a double life for years if necessary, clandestinely reporting to his superiors. This kind of intelligence requires skill and training; so one should not be surprised to see the emergence of schools of instruction in the deceptive arts, similar to those run by the CIA for indoctrination in foreign intelligence and guerrilla activity.


At an ever increasing rate the activities of antiwar, anti-Establishment, civil rights, black militant, student, and youth groups are being recorded and compiled. Lists and dossiers are coded, computerized, stored, and made accessible to all branches of the intelligence network. Here is how Lt. George Fencl, head of Philadelphia’s civil disobedience unit, describes its filing system:

We’ve been acquainted with quite a number of people throughout the years we’ve been handling demonstrations. We have made a record of every demonstration that we’ve handled in the city of Philadelphia and reduced this to writing, first by report and then taking out the names of persons connected with the different movements.

We have some 18,000 names and we’ve made what we call an alphabetical file. We make a 5×8 card on each demonstrator that we know the name and so forth that we handle. This card shows such information as the name, address, picture if possible, and a little rundown on the person…which group he pickets with and so forth.

Also on the back of the card, we show the different demonstrations, the date, time and location and the groups that the person picketed with. We have some 600 different organizations that we’ve encountered in the Philadelphia area.

This new intelligence system concentrates more on compiling names than on the content of speeches or other activities. For example, a report submitted to the Detroit Criminal Investigation Bureau by two undercover agents reads as follows:

At 8:00 P.M. on Thursday, November 11, 1965, the WEST CENTRAL ORGANIZATION held a special meeting which was comprised primarily of executives, delegates and clergy. The meeting was called for a briefing by MR. SAUL ALINSKY of the INDUSTRIAL AREAS FOUNDATION, Chicago, Illinois, who was in the Detroit area on November 10 and 11, 1965. Thirty-seven persons attended this meeting.

The following persons were identified as being in attendance at the above meeting, identifications being made by surveilling officers as well as by Confidential Informant 059. [A list of twenty-one names follows.]

The following vehicles were observed parked in the immediate vicinity of 3535 Grand River, occupants entering same. [There follows a list of eleven automobiles together with the names and addresses of eleven individuals who are presumably the title registrants.]

There is nothing in the report which suggests the reason for the surveillance or what took place at the meeting.

Experience with other official record systems suggests that it is only a matter of time before the intelligence now being collected by thousands of federal and local agencies will be codified and made accessible on a broad scale. Indeed, we are not far away from a computerized nation-wide system of transmittal and storage.


While the recent bombings and the hunt for fugitives have supplied justification for some surveillance practices, the emerging system as a whole is oriented toward the future and is justified as preventive: the security of the nation against future overthrow is said to require the present frenzy of surveillance. In cases where such an argument makes no sense, surveillance is justified on grounds that it is necessary to prevent local violence and disorder in the future.

Political intelligence indiscriminately sweeps into its net the mild dissenters along with those drawn to violence; when the national security is at stake, so the argument runs, it is folly to take risks. The quarry is pursued long before expressions or associations of radicals are likely to incubate into violent or revolutionary acts. The fear of waiting “until it is too late” conditions the intelligence mind to suspect all forms of dissent as signs of potential “subversion.”20

Thus peaceful, moderate, lawful organizations—from the NAACP to the Fellowship of Reconciliation—become intelligence targets on the theory that they are linked to communism or subversion.21 This lack of selectivity, a familiar phenomenon to students of intelligence, has now been abundantly documented by the Senate testimony of former Army Intelligence agents and the recent Media documents.

To equate dissent with subversion, as intelligence officials do, is to deny that the demand for change is based on real social, economic, or political conditions. A familiar example of this assumption is the almost paranoid obsession with the “agitator.” Intelligence proceeds on the assumption that most people are reasonably contented but are incited or misled by an “agitator,” a figure who typically comes from “outside” to stir up trouble. The task is to track down this sinister individual and bring him to account; all will then be well again.

Since the agitator is elusive and clever, one never knows who he will turn out to be or where he will show his hand. Indeed, the striking characteristic of the agitator, according to the rhetoric and testimony of the intelligence people, is not his views nor his actions but his persistence. A subject who keeps coming to meetings or rallies or is repeatedly involved in “incidents” is soon marked as an agitator22 (more sophisticated terms: “militant,” “activist,” sometimes preceded by “hard core”).

The outside agitator is a descendent of the “foreign agitator” or the “agent of a foreign power,” as he came to be called. The thesis that domestic radicals are either tools or dupes of foreign manipulation provides intelligence agencies with their most effective way of exploiting popular fears, one which is also cherished by legislators. All movements on the left—and especially groups such as the Panthers—have come under attack as agents for foreign powers.23

Such ideological stereotypes give intelligence a powerful bias against movements of protest from the center leftward. To be sure, a handful of ultra-rightist groups such as the Klan and the Minutemen are also under surveillance, but for political intelligence, the presumption of innocence is largely confined to the defenders of the status quo. For individuals and groups committed to social or political protest, the presumption is reversed:24 Peaceful, nonviolent activity must be constantly scrutinized because it may turn out to be a vital clue to a vast subversive conspiracy.


While intelligence is developing new clandestine activities, it is also becoming highly visible. American political activity is plagued by an intelligence “presence” which demoralizes, intimidates, and frightens many of its targets—and is intended to do so. And it is not merely a “presence.” A variety of sanctions are improvised to punish politically objectionable subjects. These include “information management” (such as inclusion on the “ten most wanted” list), press leaks, harassment, prosecution on drug charges, legislative inquisition, physical violence, the vandalizing of cars, black-listing, the refusal to give police protection when needed, illegal searches and raids on pretexts.

One prevailing assumption of intelligence officers is that “subversion” is financed and supported by respectable “front” institutions (churches, foundations, and universities, for example) and individuals (such as lawyers). Special pressures are brought by intelligence agencies to cut off such suspected subsidies—for example, J. Edgar Hoover’s attacks on white contributors to Black Panther defense funds and the listing by the House Internal Security Committee of honoraria paid to liberal and radical campus speakers.

Intelligence is thus becoming an end in itself, rather than an investigative means—a transformation all too clearly reflected in the encouragement of FBI agents to confront subjects in order to “enhance” their “paranoia,” as one of the Media documents states. But its claim to be conducting a never-ending investigation into some future unspecified threat to the national security is consistently used to legitimize its expansion. Few want to shackle the police in their hunt for wrongdoers, especially those who threaten the safety of the Republic. Why should one question a “mere” investigation, even if tons of constitutional ore may have to be excavated in order to find a single subversive nugget?


What are the standards that intelligence agencies must follow for selecting subjects of surveillance, for the techniques they use or the data they develop? In fact, there are no effective standards, and there are no effective authorities in this country to insist on such standards. Every surveillance unit claims its own authority to deal with “subversion” or “subversive activities,” terms which mean whatever the agency wants them to mean. The head of the Chicago intelligence unit, Lt. Joseph Healy, summed up the matter when he testified at the conspiracy trial that his squad maintained surveillance over “any organization that could create problems for the city or the country.” That Army Intelligence took the same view is shown by recent disclosures that it was snooping into a virtually unlimited range of civilian activity.

In most cases, the jurisdiction to engage in political intelligence activities is wholly improvised. This is true not merely of many local agencies but of the FBI itself. The authority the FBI claims it has to stalk nonconformists can be justified neither by its law enforcement powers nor by its domestic spy-catching jurisdiction. The latter, in fact, is based on an obscure 1939 directive which J. Edgar Hoover has interpreted as conferring upon the FBI the power, in his words, “to identify individuals working against the United States, determine their objectives and nullify their effectiveness.” Who are these “individuals”? Those whose activities involve “subversion and related internal security problems.”

The unlimited scope of their jurisdiction and their virtual autonomy encourage intelligence institutions to consolidate and expand. Intelligence thus constantly enlarges its operations by exaggerating the numbers, power, and intentions of the subversive enemy.25

Ironically, this exaggeration is further stimulated by the need to develop some plausible political and constitutional justification for violating democratic rights. Intelligence not only continually expands the boundaries of subversion in its operations, but inevitably generates a stream of fear-mongering propaganda in its evaluation of intelligence data. A troubled period such as the present intensifies this process: the number of surveillance subjects increases greatly as the intelligence agencies circulate propaganda dramatizing their life-and-death struggle with subversion.


The link between drug use and political radicalism has also served to expand the scope of political surveillance. In the past, narcotics law enforcement and the policing of political crimes have drawn on similar surveillance techniques. This was so because both involve conduct to which the parties consent and both frequently leave little proof that any crime was committed. Today the “nark” and undercover intelligence operatives are frequently in pursuit of the same prey. The same agents sometimes function in both areas and political militancy is a common cover for the “nark,” especially on college campuses.

Similarly, students under surveillance for drug use are frequently selected for their political nonconformity, a link manifest in the background of both the Kent State and Hobart College cases, as well as in the conviction of Dr. Leslie Fiedler of the State University of New York at Buffalo for maintaining premises where marijuana was used. The pot bust has become a punitive sanction against political dissent and the threat of prosecution is a favorite method of “hooking” student informers. Lee Otis Johnson, former head of Houston’s Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, is now serving a thirty-year jail term for the sale of a single marijuana cigarette to a Houston undercover policeman.


Many young radicals are finding ways of evading undercover surveillance of their political activities. Intelligence inevitably generates countermeasures (“security”), driving its targets into protective secrecy and sometimes underground even though they are usually engaged in legal protest. Such furtiveness is then cited as further proof of subversion and conspiracy (“What have they got to hide?”) and reinforces the justification for surveillance.

Radicals in the past few years have tried to protect themselves by rigorously checking the backgrounds of possible infiltrators, isolating a suspected agent or feeding him bogus information, giving him test assignments, banning the use of drugs, cars, and private phones, and forming affinity groups. The radicals themselves sometimes use disguises and false names. The ultimate response to intelligence is counterintelligence, including the penetration of intelligence institutions to thwart their effectiveness. Some groups are beginning to boast about their double agents, counter-spies, and pipelines to police sources. One Berkeley police officer has already complained (and not very convincingly): “I’m afraid they do a better job spying on us than we do on them.”

The pilferage and circulation of the Media FBI documents seem to suggest an escalation in counterintelligence tactics. The group responsible for the action has already announced, as a follow-up measure, a planned exposure of a “first group” of FBI informers whose names appear in as yet unreleased stolen documents. This listing of a “first group” is presumably to be followed by publication of lists of others.

Such a tactic will not only create a painful dilemma for present Philadelphia area informers but may vastly complicate the FBI’s problems in future recruitment. Because political spies are the keystone of the entire federal political intelligence system, the FBI goes to extraordinary lengths to shield their identities and stresses these protective practices as an inducement for recruits. A breach in the FBI security system may well scare off potential informers not only in the Philadelphia area, but everywhere—Who knows where the Citizens’ Commission will strike next? The increased risk is bound to boost the price of the informers’ services. At the very least, it will “enhance” among the hunters the same “paranoia” now “endemic” among the hunted.


Our political intelligence apparatus has begun to exert a dangerous influence on the exercise of political power. The attempt by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to use intelligence data to discredit and destroy a group of Los Angeles poverty agencies is a dramatic example of a spreading phenomenon. A candidate for public office learns that he has been made an intelligence target by orders of his opponent, the incumbent. A lawyer for a victim of police brutality is threatened with being disbarred as a “subversive” because of leaks in the police department’s intelligence files.

Mayor Alioto of San Francisco discovers that unevaluated intelligence files compiled by federal and urban agencies, full of smears and unverified rumors, are opened up to the press for an article which threatens his political ruin.26 A check of the California Un-American Activities Committee files discloses dossiers on many legislators, including the Senate president, with notations reflecting intensive surveillance. A courageous Chicago newsman, Ron Dorfman, who has vigorously attacked intelligence practices in that city, is confronted with a detailed dossier on himself in a session with the Illinois Crime Commission.

It is chilling enough to learn that in this country literally millions of people are systematically suffering invasions of privacy, and, what is worse, are forced to exercise their rights of free expression and assembly under the fear of surveillance. But when a secret political police begins to play an important role in political decisions and campaigns, the democratic process is in grave danger.

Nor is there much comfort in the notion that our current intelligence mania is only a transient response to a particular emergency. History—and for that matter the annals of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI—painfully teaches that once a political intelligence system takes root, it is almost impossible to eradicate it. Fear and blackmail ensure its autonomy and self-perpetuation. How many of us can be expected to challenge a system which has such power to do injury to its critics?27

Americans will now have to answer the question whether the risks that we face—and some of them are real enough—outweigh the danger of a national secret police. One can hardly question the right of the government to inform itself of potential crimes and acts of violence. The resort to bombing as a political tactic obviously creates a justification for intelligence to forestall such practices. But the evolving intelligence system I have been describing clearly exceeds these limited ends. Before it is too late we must take a cold look at our entire political intelligence system: not to determine whether one aspect or another is repressive—whether, for example, it is possible to keep a dossier confidential—but to decide whether internal political intelligence as an institution, divorced from law enforcement, is consistent with the way we have agreed to govern ourselves and to live politically.

Eighteen cases have now been filed throughout the country, with American Civil Liberties Union support, to challenge various surveillance and filing practices by police agencies as violating constitutional rights of free expression, assembly, privacy, and the protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The constitutional issues imbedded in these cases will undoubtedly be presented ultimately to the Supreme Court. These challenges are important if for no other reason than that they will drag undercover surveillance out of the shadows.

But the political intelligence system cannot be controlled by piecemeal attacks in the courts. If our past experience is a guide, even successful litigation may leave unchecked the particular abuses involved by limiting surveillance in ways that are readily ignored or circumvented by a bureaucracy which is a law unto itself.

Political intelligence is both a symbol of a dying politics and the means of keeping it alive through powerful myths and constraints. A truly effective attack on the evils of intelligence cannot be mounted apart from the political process. A legislative investigation, more sharply focused and more searching than Senator Ervin’s investigation, is vital in order to scour this area as thoroughly as Senator LaFollette’s investigation scoured labor espionage in the Thirties. Such a probe could develop a fuller understanding of political intelligence and might lay the basis for dismantling a system which, if it is allowed to grow, may choke all possibility of real change in this country. But it is illusory to talk of an effective investigative and statutory attack on the powerful intelligence system at present. The elimination of the evils of political surveillance and dossiers is yet another reason why we need a new politics.

This Issue

April 22, 1971