Long time Freedom Fighter and former political prisoner Dhoruba Bin Wahad penned a serious history lesson for all of us to soak up and grow on… It covers the the case around the Panther 21, The BLA, the early merging of the FBI and local police departments and how they worked overtime to cause a split in the Black Panther Party… Read this and read it again… Reflect and then come back and read it again…
In 1966, the year the BPP was founded in Oakland California, the New York City Police Department commenced its own investigation of the Black Panther Party. Detective Ralph White of the New York City Police Department was directed to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and submit daily reports on the Party and its members. The NYPD regularly communicated with police departments throughout the country, sharing information on the BPP, its members and activities. The NYPD was also working with the FBI on a daily basis.
FBI Special Agent Henry Naehle
On August 29, 1968, FBI Special Agent Henry Naehle reported on his meeting with a member of an NYPD “Special Unit” investigating the BPP. SA Naehle acknowledged that the FBI’s New York Field Office (NYO) “has been working closely with BSS in exchanging information of mutual interest and to our mutual advantage.”
An FBI “Inspector’s Review” for the first quarter of 1969 shows that the NYPD, in conjunction with the FBI, had an “interview” and “arrest” program as part of their campaign to neutralize and disrupt the BPP.
The NYPD advised the FBI that these programs have severely hampered and disrupted the BPP, particularly in Brooklyn, New York, where, for a while, BPP operations were at a complete standstill and in fact have never recovered sufficiently to operate effectively. A series of FBI documents reveal a joint FBI/NYPD plan to gather information on BPP members and their supporters in late 1968.
During an unprovoked attack by off-duty members of the NYPD on BPP members attending a court appearance in Brooklyn, the briefcase of BPP leader David Brothers was stolen by the NYPD and its contents photocopied and given to the FBI. Rather than seeking to prosecute the police officers for this theft, the FBI ordered “a review of these names and telephone numbers [so that] appropriate action will be taken.”
That “appropriate action” included an effort to label Brothers and two other BPP leaders, Jorge Aponte and Robert Collier, as police informants.
On December 12, 1968, the FBI’s New York Office proposed circulating flyers warning the community of the “DANGER” posed by Brothers, Collier and Aponte. The NYO proposed that the flyers “be left in restaurants where Negroes are known to frequent (Chock Full of Nuts, etc.)”
BSS later told the FBI that its proposal was successful in that David Brothers had come under suspicion by the BPP.
An FBI memorandum dated December 2, 1968 captioned “Counterintelligence Program” lists several operations during the previous two-week period. It closes by stating that “every effort is being made in the NYO to misdirect the operations of the BPP on a daily basis.”
In August 1968, Dhoruba Bin Wahad, then known as Richard Dhoruba Moore, joined the BPP, and within a few months was promoted to a position of leadership. He was soon identified by the Bureau and by the NYPD as a “key agitator” and placed in the FBI’s “Security Index“, “Agitator Index,” and “Black Nationalist Photograph Album.” FBI supervisors instructed the NYO to “develop better liaison and closer working relationship with the NYCPD” in their investigation of Dhoruba Bin Wahad.
On April 2, 1969 Bin Wahad and 20 other members of the Black Panther Party were indicted on charges of conspiracy in the so-called “Panther 21” case. A NYPD memorandum notes that the Panther 21 arrests were considered a “summation” of the overt and covert investigation commenced in 1966.
In a bi-weekly report to FBI Headquarters listing several counterintelligence operations, the FBI reported that to date, the NYO has conducted over 500 interviews with BPP members and sympathizers. Additionally, arrests of BPP members have been made by Bureau Agents and the NYCPD. These interviews and arrests have helped disrupt and cripple the activities of the BPP in the NYC area. Every effort will be made to continue pressure on the BPP.
In July, 1969, the NYPD sent officers to Oakland, California to monitor the Black Panther Party’s nationwide conference calling for community control of police departments. An NYPD memorandum candidly acknowledged that community control of the police, “may not be in the interests of the department.”
Through its warrantless wiretaps of BPP telephones, the FBI learned that the BPP was trying to raise the $100,000 bail that had been set for Bin Wahad, whose release was considered by the BPP to be a priority over the other 20 defendants, due to his leadership role in the organization. Fundraising efforts were impeded by FBI/NYPD counterintelligence operations. For example, following a fund raiser at the home of conductor Leonard Bernstein, the FBI sent falsified letters to those in attendance in order to “thwart the aims and efforts of the BPP in their attempt to solicit money from socially prominent groups…”
Unable to raise bail, Dhoruba Bin Wahad spent the next year incarcerated. The FBI continued to target BPP community programs. For example, the FBI pressured several churches not to institute the BPP’s Free Breakfast for Children Program at their parishes. In September, 1969, an NYPD BSS representative told the FBI that the BPP was disintegrating in New York.
By March of 1970, the BPP had raised enough money to post bail for the most articulate leaders and chose Mr. Bin Wahad for release. The FBI ordered that he be immediately and continuously surveilled and that donors of bail money be identified. Director J Edgar Hoover reminded his New York Office that the activities of Panther 21 defendants were of “vital interest” to the “Seat of Government.“
Through their warrantless wiretaps of BPP offices and residences, the FBI became aware in May 1970 of dissatisfaction among New York BPP members, including Bin Wahad, with West Coast BPP members. A COINTELPRO operation prepared by the New Haven Field Office and submitted to the FBI’s New York Office consisted of an FBI-fabricated note wherein Bin Wahad accused BPP leader Robert Bay of being an informant. This successful operation resulted in Dhoruba Bin Wahad’s demotion within the BPP.
Aware of his disillusionment, the FBI disseminated information regarding BPP strife to the media and participated in a plan to either recruit Bin Wahad as an informant or have BPP members believe he was an agent for the FBI.
In August 1970, BPP leader Huey P. Newton was released from prison. A plethora of counterintelligence actions followed, which sought to make Newton suspicious of fellow BPP members, particularly those, like the Bin Wahad, who were on the East Coast.
By early 1971, the plan bore fruit. On January 28, 1971, FBI Director Hoover reported that Newton had become increasingly paranoid and had expelled several loyal BPP members: Newton responds violently… The Bureau feels that this near hysterical reaction by the egotistical Newton is triggered by any criticism of his activities, policies or leadership qualities and some of this criticism undoubtedly is result of our counterintelligence projects now in operation. This operation was enormously successful, resulting in a split within the BPP with violent repercussions.
In early January 1971, Fred Bennett, a BPP member affiliated with the New York chapter, was shot and killed, allegedly by Newton supporters. Newton came to believe that Bin Wahad was plotting to kill him. Bin Wahad, in turn, was told by Connie Matthews, Newton’s secretary, that Newton was planning to have Bin Wahad and Panther 21 co-defendants Edward Joseph and Michael Tabor killed during Newton’s upcoming East Coast speaking tour. As a result of the split and fearing for his life, Bin Wahad, along with Tabor and Joseph, were forced to flee during the Panther 21 trial.
Afeni Shakur, a Panther 21 codefendant of Bin-Wahad and pregnant with Tupac Shakur, declined to go underground with her comrades. On May 13, 1971, the Panther 21, including Dhoruba Bin Wahad, were acquitted of all charges in the less than one hour of jury deliberations, following what was at that time the longest trial in New York City history.
BSS Detective Edwin Cooper begrudgingly reported to defendant Michael Codd that the case “was not proven to the jury’s satisfaction.” Alarmed and embarrassed by the acquittal, Director Hoover ordered an “intensification” of the investigations of acquitted Panther 21 members with special emphasis on those, like Bin Wahad, who had become fugitives.
On May 19, 1971, NYPD Officers Thomas Curry and Nicholas Binetti were shot on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. Two nights later, two other officers, Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini, were shot and killed in Harlem. In separate communiques delivered to the media, the Black Liberation Army claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Immediately after these shootings, the FBI initiated the investigation of these incidents, called “Newkill,” as an extension of their long-standing program against the BPP. Before any evidence had been collected, BPP members, in particular those acquitted in the Panther 21 case, were targeted as suspects.
Hoover instructed the New York Office to consider [the] possibility that both attacks may be the result of revenge taken against NYC police by the Black Panther Party (BPP) as a result of its arrest of BPP members in April, 1969 [i.e. the Panther 21 case].
On May 26, 1971, J. Edgar Hoover met with then President Richard Nixon who told Hoover that he wanted to make sure that the FBI did not “pull any punches in going all out in gathering information…on the situation in New York.”
Hoover informed his subordinates that Nixon’s interest and the FBI’s involvement were to be kept strictly confidential. ”Newkill” was a joint FBI/NYPD operation involving total cooperation and sharing of information. The FBI made all its facilities and resources, including its laboratory, available to the NYPD. In turn, NYPD Chief of Detectives Albert Seedman, who coordinated the NYPD’s investigation, ordered his subordinates to give the FBI “all available information developed to date, as well as in future investigations.”
On June 5, 1971, Bin Wahad was arrested during a BLA raid of a Bronx after hours “social club,“ a NYPD protected after-hours “social” club for local drug merchants. Seized from inside the social club was a .45 caliber machine gun.
Although the initial ballistics test on the weapon failed to link it with the Curry-Binetti shooting, the NYPD publicly declared they had seized the weapon used in May 19. The NYPD now had in custody a well-known and vocal Black Panther leader and the alleged weapon linked to a police shooting.
His prosecution and conviction would both neutralize an effective leader and justify the failed Panther 21 case. But there was no direct evidence linking Bin Wahad to the May 19th or May 22nd police shootings.
Pauline Joseph, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, first introduced to Bin-Wahad by Edward Jamal Josesph (no family relation), became the State prosecution’s star witness. Ms. Joseph first surfaced when she made a phone call to the NYPD on June 12, 1971, supplying her name and address and stating that Bin Wahad and Edward Joseph (a Panther 21 defendant who also jumped bail with Bin Wahad) were innocent of the Curry-Binetti shooting.
She told the police that Bin Wahad “did not do it, either the Riverside Drive [Curry-Binetti] shooting or the 32nd precinct [Piagentini-Jones] shooting…” The first person to arrive at Ms. Joseph’s apartment was NYPD Lieutenant Kenneth Sauer, the head of the 24th precinct detective squad.
Contrary to her subsequent testimony at trial, Ms. Joseph continued initially to state that Bin Wahad was innocent of the Curry-Binetti shooting. Later that day, she was interviewed by BSS Detective Edwin Cooper. Joseph repeated that Bin Wahad was innocent. Ms. Joseph was arrested, and committed as a material witness.
For nearly two years, she remained in the exclusive custody of the New York County District Attorney’s Office. She was repeatedly interviewed by state and federal authorities. Ms. Joseph, while in the custody of the District Attorney, was recruited as a “racial informant” for the FBI. She was paid for her services and housed first in a hotel and then in a furnished apartment, paid for by the District Attorney. Pauline Joseph, despite her diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic, became the prosecution’s star witness in the case.
Dhoruba Bin Wahad was indicted for the attempted murder of Officers Curry and Binetti on July 30, 1971. Although the NYPD and FBI continuously interviewed Ms. Joseph, and prepared written memoranda of those interviews, the Assistant District Attorney represented that, except for a one paragraph statement made on the night of her commitment and her grand jury testimony, there were no prior statements.
The text of Ms. Joseph’s initial phone call was withheld by the prosecution through two trials. No notes of memoranda of the initial, exculpatory interviews by Lieutenant Sauer and Detective Cooper were ever provided to Bin Wahad. Neither were reports of subsequent interviews during the two years she was in custody.
After three trials, Dhoruba Bin Wahad was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced by Justice Martinez to the maximum penalty of 25 years to life in prison. Years later, In December 1975, after learning of Congressional hearings which disclosed the FBI’s covert operations against the BPP, Dhoruba Bin Wahad filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court, charging that he had been the victim of numerous illegal and unconstitutional actions designed to “neutralize” him, including the frame-up in the Curry-Binetti case.
In 1980, after documents with Bin-Wahad’s name on them turned up in the Fred Hampton law suit against the Chicago Police Department and FBI, the FBI and NYPD were ordered by Federal Judge Mary Johnson Lowe (the first Black Woman appointed to the Federal Bench, and a former member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund legal team that won 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision that struck down the Separate But Equal standard of segregation) to produce their massive files on Mr. Bin Wahad and the BPP that they had claimed did not exist.
The FBI and NYPD documents revealed that Mr. Bin Wahad was indeed a target of FBI/NYPD covert operations and, for the first time, depicted the FBI’s intimate involvement in the Curry-Binetti investigation. The “Newkill” file, which was finally produced in unredacted form in 1987, after 12 years of litigation, contained numerous reports, which should have been provided to Dhoruba Bin Wahad during his trial.
In a decision announced December 20, 1992, Justice Bruce Allen of the New York State Supreme Court ordered a new trial. The court exhaustively analyzed the prosecution’s circumstantial case, particularly the testimony of Pauline Joseph. The court found that the inconsistencies and omissions in the prior statements contradicted testimony “crucial to establishing the People’s theory of the case.“
The inconsistencies, said the Court, “went beyond mere details” and involve “what one would expect to have been the most memorable aspects of [the night of the shooting].”
On January 19, 1995, the District Attorney moved to dismiss the indictment, acknowledging that they could not prove their case. The indictment was dismissed. After more than 20 years in prison, Mr. Bin Wahad is at liberty today, residing in Accra, Ghana.
The COINTELPRO off-shoot “Newkill” and later “Chesrob” (an FBI acronym named after Assata Shakur, aka Joanne Chesimard) had other targets as well. Members of the Black Panther Party forced underground by Cointelpro-instigated violence were hunted down by local and federal law enforcement officials.
In the three years after the 1971 BPP split, BPP members, Harold Russsel, Woody Green, Twyman Meyers and Zayd Shakur were killed during confrontations with law enforcement. Others were captured and charged with crimes. All were tried at a time when the public (and juries) knew nothing of COINTELPRO.
During these trials, as in the trials of Dhoruba Bin Wahad and Geronimo Pratt, exculpatory evidence was withheld and other violations of the United States Constitution were committed. However, post-conviction motions on behalf of these former BPP members were unsuccessful and they remain in prison today. They include Anthony Jalil Bottom, Herman Bell, Robert Seth Hayes, Sundiata Acoli, Abdul Majid… Two of these former BPP members died while in prison: Albert Nuh Washington in 2000 and Teddy Jah Heath in 2001. Both spent over 25 years in prison, but were denied compassionate release even in their last days.
Why Racial Justice Always Hung in the Balance
Although COINTELPRO was first exposed during the Watergate period, and was incomparably more serious than anything charged against Nixon, it was virtually ignored by the national press and journals of opinion. A review of these programs demonstrates the relative insignificance of the charges raised against Nixon and his associates, specifically, the charges presented in the Congressional Articles of Impeachment.
In the early 1970s, there occurred a seemingly endless series of revelations about governmental transgressions. A “credibility gap” was engendered by the federal executive branch having been caught lying too many times, too red-handedly and over too many years in its efforts to dupe the public into supporting the U.S. war in Southeast Asia.
This had reached epic proportions when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” a highly secret government documentary history of official duplicity by which America had become embroiled in Indochina, and caused particularly sensitive excerpts to be published in the New York Times.
Then, on March 8, 1971, a group, calling itself the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI, broke into an FBI office in a small town called Media, Pennsylvania. They subjected the FBI to what the FBI has been habitually subjecting political dissidents to throughout the course of its history. That is, in Bureau parlance, a black bag job. The information they obtained was widely distributed through left and peace movement channels, and summarized the following week in the Washington Post.
An analysis of the documents in this FBI office revealed that 1 percent were devoted to organized crime, mostly gambling; 30 percent were “manuals, routine forms, and similar procedural matter”; 40 percent were devoted to political surveillance and the like, including two cases involving right-wing groups, ten concerning immigrants, and over 200 on left or liberal groups.
Another 14 percent of the documents concerned draft resistance and “leaving the military without government permission.” The remainder – only 15% – concerned bank robberies, murder, rape, and interstate theft.
Among the 34 cases [of infiltration] for which some information is available, 11 involved white campus groups, 11, predominantly white peace groups and/or economic groups; 10, black and Chicano groups; and two right-wing groups.”
Furthermore, “in two-thirds of the 34 cases considered here, the specious activists appear to have gone beyond passive information gathering to active provocation.”
One year later, the political scandal known as Watergate began to unravel, when five men were arrested for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate apartment and office complex in Washington, D.C. It was soon discovered that one of the men was employed by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP or CREEP) and that the break-in had been planned by two others with close ties to the White House.
In these peculiar and potentially volatile set of circumstances, a government-wide effort was undertaken to convince the public that its institutions were fundamentally sound, albeit in need of fine-tuning and a bit of housecleaning. It was immediately announced that U.S. ground forces would be withdrawn from Vietnam as rapidly as possible. Televised congressional hearings were staged to “get to the bottom of Watergate,” a spectacle which soon led to the resignations of a number of Nixon officials, the brief imprisonment of a few of them, and the eventual resignation of the president himself.
The ousting of Richard Nixon for his misdeeds on August 9, 1974 was described in the nation’s press as “a stunning vindication of our constitutional system.” Yet the Watergate affair — allegedly the media’s finest hour — merely demonstrated their continued subservience to power and official ideology. Until the dust had settled over Watergate, there was virtually no mention of the government programs of violence and disruption directed at the Black Liberation movement or Black organizations, nor comment concerning them, and even after the Watergate affair was successfully concluded, there has been only occasional discussion, and only then when the White press and pundits want to bestow Civil Rights Sainthood on a non-violent traitor of genuine Black empowerment and burnish his or her character as that of a “responsible Black spokesperson” or a “moral conscience” of a economically sordid and systemically amoral racist system.
Beginning in 1974, the Senate held hearings to investigate COINTELPRO and other intelligence agency abuses. No other congressional investigation into these types of matters has been so extensive, either before or since. The Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, commonly known as the Church committee, after Chairman Frank Church, produced a extensive series of reports entitled, “Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans,” encompassing not only COINTELPRO, but also a wide variety of other subjects, including electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, domestic CIA mail opening programs, the misuse of the IRS, the assassination of President Kennedy, covert actions abroad, assassination plots involving foreign leaders, and various topics related to military intelligence.
The Church Committee found that COINTELPRO, presumably set up to protect national security and prevent violence, actually engaged in other actions “which had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity. The unexpressed major premise of much of COINTELPRO is that the Bureau has a role in maintaining the existing social order, and that its efforts should be aimed toward “combating those who threaten that order.”
This meant that the Bureau would take actions against individuals and organizations simply because they were critical of government policy. The Church committee report gives examples of such actions, violations of the right of free speech and association, where the FBI targeted people because they opposed U.S. foreign policy, or criticized the Chicago police actions at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Reverend Dr Martin Luther King
The documents assembled by the Church committee “compel the conclusion that Federal law enforcement officers looked upon themselves as guardians of the status quo” and cite the surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of this. With regard to COINTELPRO, the Church committee’s report was based, it says, on a staff study of more than 20,000 pages of Bureau documents, and included depositions of many of the Bureau agents involved in the programs.
The FBI eventually acknowledged having conducted 2,218 separate COINTELPRO actions from mid-1956 through mid-1974. These, the bureau conceded, were undertaken in conjunction with other significant illegalities: 2,305 warrantless telephone taps, 697 buggings, and the opening of 57,846 pieces of mail.
This itemization, although an indicator of the magnitude and extent of FBI criminality, was far from complete. The counterintelligence campaign against the Puerto Rican independence movement was not mentioned at all, while whole categories of operational techniques – assassinations, for example, and obtaining false convictions against key activists – were not divulged with respect to the rest. There is solid evidence that other sorts of illegality were downplayed as well.
The FBI’s quid pro quo for cooperating in this charade seems to have been that none of its agents would actually see the inside of a prison as a result of the “excesses” thereby revealed. The result was that ”The Justice Department has decided not to prosecute anyone in connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 15-year campaign to disrupt the activities of suspected subversive organizations.”
J. Stanley Pottinger
J. Stanley Pottinger, head of the Civil Rights Division, reported to the attorney general that he had found “no basis for criminal charges against any particular individuals involving particular incidents.” The director of the FBI also made clear that he saw nothing particularly serious in the revelations of the Church and Pike Committees. There is as yet no public record or evidence of any systematic investigation of these practices.
The press paid little heed to the record that was being exposed during the Watergate period and ever since has generally ignored the more serious cases and failed to present anything remotely resembling an accurate picture of the full record and what it implies. The object of all this muscle-flexing was, of course, to create a perception that Congress had finally gotten tough, placing itself in a position to administer appropriate oversight of the FBI.
It followed that citizens had no further reason to worry over what the Bureau was doing at that very moment, or what it might do in the future.
In 1975, the Senate Select Committee concluded that in order to complete its (re)building of the required public impression, it might be necessary to risk going beyond exploration of the Bureau’s past counterintelligence practices and explore ongoing (i.e.: ostensibly post-COINTELPRO) FBI conduct vis a vis political activists. Specifically, at issue in this connection was what was even then being done to the American Indian Movement, and hearings were scheduled to begin in July. But this is where the Bureau, which had been reluctantly going along up to that point, drew the line.
The hearings never happened. Instead, they were “indefinitely postponed” in late June of 1975, at the direct request of the FBI. The Church committee cites the testimony of FBI director Clarence M. Kelley as indication that even after the official end of COINTELPRO, “faced with sufficient threat, covert disruption is justified.”