Official Misconduct in Indian Country:
The U.S. Department of Justice
PART 1. COINTELPRO & AIM
Most if not all of the tactics identified in exhibit 2 were used against the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. With AIM, however, the tactics used took unique twists & turns.
Malicious or Vindictive Prosecution
Records show that activists in the 1960s & 1970s were repeatedly arrested “on any excuse” until “they could no longer make bail”.
In the case of AIM, however, virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in either state or federal prisons since (or even before) the organization’s formal emergence in 1968, some repeatedly. Organization members often languished in jail for months as the cumulative bail required to free them outstripped resource capabilities of AIM & supporting groups.
After the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee in South Dakota (Part 2), the FBI caused 542 separate charges to be filed against anyone thought connected with the Wounded Knee occupation. This resulted in only 15 convictions. Most charges were dismissed because of court rulings that the U.S. military was illegally used to suppress the occupation. Organization members were tied up in criminal prosecutions that were intended to destroy the Movement. This in part caused Amnesty International to call for investigations into the use of the criminal justice system by the FBI for political purposes.
The most pervasive surveillance technique traditionally used by the FBI is the informant.
In a random sample of domestic intelligence cases in 1976, as reported to the Church Committee, 83 percent involved the use of informants. Informants often were used against peaceful, law-abiding groups; they collected information about personal & political views & activities. Not surprisingly, the FBI also used informants in their domestic intelligence operation against the American Indian Movement.
However, as revealed by the Church Committee & subsequent congressional inquiries, there were concerns about the conduct of informants & their FBI handlers.
FBI informants, often quite violent & emotionally disturbed individuals, were used to present false testimony to the courts & frame COINTELPRO targets for crimes the FBI knew they did not commit. In some cases the charges were quite serious, including murder.
In addition, to maintain their credentials in violence-prone groups, some informants involved themselves in violent activity. This phenomenon is well illustrated by informants in the Ku Klux Klan. One such informant was present at the murder of a civil rights worker in Mississippi & subsequently helped to solve the crime & convict the perpetrators. Earlier, however, while performing duties paid for by the FBI, he had previously “beaten people severely, had boarded buses & kicked people, had [gone] into restaurants & beaten them [blacks] with blackjacks, chains, [and] pistols”. Although the FBI requires agents to instruct informants that they cannot be involved in violence, it was understood that in the Klan, “he couldn’t be an angel & be a good informant”.
This misuse of informants wasn’t limited to the FBI?s investigations & surveillance of political dissidents, however. For example, in November 20, 2003, a congressional report issued by the House Committee on Government Reform detailed misconduct by agents of the FBI & their supervisors (right up to former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), in the 1965 murder of Edward “Teddy” Deegan. Evidence had emerged that showed that the FBI cultivated a Mafia hit man as a star informant & government witness, & then silently watched as he falsely accused four innocent men of the Deegan murder. Internal FBI documents showed that agents & their supervisors knew the identities of the real killers. Not only did the FBI & federal prosecutors fail to prevent the wrongful conviction of the four innocent men, but they also took “affirmative steps” to make sure that they “would not obtain post-conviction relief & that they would die in prison”. As a result, murderous government informants were protected over a 38-year period and, tragically, two innocent men died in prison. When asked by the congressional committee how he felt about the wrongful imprisonment of one of the four men, i.e., Joseph Salvati, for more than 30 years, retired FBI agent H. Paul Rico replied, “What do you want? Tears?”
The Agent Provocateur
As with many dissident groups, the FBI relied on the use of informants to “neutralize” AIM, but also used a different type of informant, the agent provocateur, to cause disruption within the organization & by so doing render it ineffective.
These informants played a wider & more insidious role within organizations the Bureau investigated. At the direction of FBI handlers, agent provocateurs raised controversial issues at meetings to take advantage of ideological divisions; promoted enmity with other groups; or incited the group to violent acts, even to the point of providing them with weapons. More importantly, over the years, this type of informant repeatedly urged & initiated violent acts such as forceful disruptions of meetings & demonstrations, attacks on police, bombings, etc.
Douglass Durham ? who showed up at the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973 (see page 11) claiming he was of Indian descent (one-quarter Chippewa) & carrying press credentials from a leftist newspaper ? was one such agent provocateur.
Durham was immediately suspected by many AIM members of being an informant. This was largely a matter of style, but also because he had what was considered unusual contacts & methods. He also was familiar with airplanes & electronics, as well as firearms & cameras.
However, Durham proved useful & even invaluable on a number of occasions to AIM co-founder Dennis Banks who came to rely on Durham’s resourcefulness. Durham then was able to isolate Banks from the rest of the AIM members & slowly interject himself to the activities of & policy decisions made by AIM.
Durham often encouraged rash & inflammatory acts that might have destroyed AIM. Failing this, given the opportunity, Durham created what bad press that he could for AIM, & also disrupted fundraising efforts.
As AIM?s first security director & the coordinator of the WKLDOC (Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee, see Part 2) office during the trial of Dennis Banks & Russell Means for charges stemming from the Wounded Knee takeover, Durham had been the only person besides the defendants & their lawyers who was privy to stratagems of the defense ? information that made its way into the hands of government prosecutors. It is believed that the FBI, in appreciation, raised Durham’s salary from $900 to $1,100 a month; this money was in addition to the $100,000 that AIM people estimate he stole from the Movement while in charge of all incoming contributions.
As it happened, rampant FBI & prosecutorial misconduct led not to a mistrial in the Banks-Means case, but to Judge Nichols? dismissal of all remaining charges against the defendants. The judge chastised the prosecutor for over an hour, & voiced his bitter disappointment at the behavior of FBI agents.
During the Banks-Means trial, federal prosecutors & FBI agents had steadfastly denied the presence of an informant. In late 1974, however, irrefutable evidence (a report signed by Durham related to another WKLDOC case) was discovered by one of the WKLDOC attorneys.
In 2003, attorneys for Leonard Peltier discovered ? amongst documents withheld by the FBI for 26 years ? evidence that, despite Durham’s presence, the FBI in fact had another informant (as yet unidentified) who was a member of the actual WKLDOC legal team.
AIM leaders watched Durham very carefully during the next several months, even following him to a FBI debriefing in Miami during December 1974.
In March 1975, AIM leaders confronted Durham who eventually admitted to working for the FBI. He was then publicly exposed as an FBI informant by the AIM leadership at a press conference on March 12, 1975.
Durham had a history of being a blackmailer, thief, & cheat. A former police officer in Iowa, Durham had been dismissed from the force when a police psychiatrist diagnosed him as a “paranoid schizoid” personality with “violent tendencies” & termed him “unfit for employment involving the public trust” after the unexplained death of his first wife, in 1964. Durham also had been the major culprit in a police corruption scandal in 1972, according to the findings of a Des Moines grand jury.
Durham’s public exposure as an agent provocateur attracted the attention of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, headed by Senator Frank Church. The Church Committee staff questioned Durham on May 2, 1975. Durham was then subpoenaed to appear before the full committee, but he never did so. Events during the summer of 1975 suddenly ended the Committee’s investigation of COINTELPRO & AIM.
Another COINTELPRO tactic was “snitch jacketing” where the FBI intentionally made the target look like a police officer, federal agent, or an informer. This served the dual purposes of isolating & alienating important leaders, often, as well as increasing the general level of fear & factionalism in the group. “When a member of a nonviolent group was successfully mislabeled as an informant, the result was alienation from the group. When the target belonged to a group known to have killed suspected informants, the risk was substantially more serious. On several occasions, the Bureau used this technique against members of the Black Panther Party (BPP); it was used at least twice after FBI documents expressed concern over the possible consequences because two members of the BPP had been murdered as suspected informants.”
Effects of COINTELPRO Tactics
Any one of these three approaches (standard informant, agent provocateur, or “snitch jacketing”) alone might have been effective in “neutralizing” AIM. But the concurrent use of these COINTELPRO tactics had a particularly deleterious effect on the Movement.
External oppression, i.e., the unjust exercise of authority & power by one group over another, was (and some would argue, still is) a fact of life for American Indians. The belief systems, values & life ways of the dominant U.S. population were imposed on Native Americans daily over the course of their lifetimes, generation after generation. In psychological terms, over time, external oppression became “internalized oppression” when the Indigenous people came to believe & act as if the dominant culture’s beliefs, values, & way of life were reality. “Internalized oppression” ? or “internalized racism” (also known as “self-hatred”) ? resulted in shame & the disowning of individual & cultural reality.
Despite the cultural reawakening that AIM represented to Native peoples in the U.S. during the 1970s, on an individual level, “internalized oppression” meant that the government often had to exert only minimal pressure to achieve the desired effect. The FBI discovered that Native Americans would readily destroy themselves & each other. Why? Divide & conquer worked. The FBI understood this all too well.
“Snitch jacketing” was a particularly effective device when combined with “internalized oppression” & produced severe paranoia among some AIM members. The discovery of FBI operatives, informants, & agent provocateurs in their midst intensified that fear. This fear led to tragic events that all but destroyed the American Indian Movement. The impact of such events is still felt today.