As anti-black racism protests have spread across America, police and governments have highlighted alleged protest infiltrators in an attempt to turn down the sincerity and legitimacy of the protests and to justify the use of force against protesters. But an honest look at history reveals that the infiltrators have not historically been law breakers but law enforcers.
By 1967, there was not a single demonstration that the CIA wasn’t helping security forces to police. That, in itself was illegal, as the surveilling gaze of the CIA, by law, must always be cast outside American borders. Its prying eyes can never be bent within those borders on its own citizens.
But providing security against the demonstrators, it turned out, was not the worst thing the CIA was doing. They weren’t just policing the demonstrations; they were participating in them. The CIA had infiltrated the antiwar movement.
At least four CIA projects that included infiltrating the antiwar movement rose to a high enough level to receive their own cryptonym.
The earliest domestic surveillance operation may have been Project Resistance. Resistance didn’t start as a project of infiltration. But its already illegal plan of studying campus antiwar movements quickly metastasized into the even more illegal infiltration of the movements. According to CIA expert John Prados, Project Resistance indexed thousands of Americans and opened files on six or seven hundred of them. But they didn’t just put movements in files, they put infiltrators in movements. Though the job was to watch, the CIA couldn’t resist offers from police and police informants to infiltrate the movements they were watching.
Around the same time Resistance was easing the CIA into the illegal activity of infiltrating the antiwar movement, another project named Merrimac was being born in February of 1967. With Merrimac, the CIA first infiltrated its own agents into the antiwar movement. Merrimac was spying on civil rights and antiwar organizations. In September of 1967, for the first time, an order came from Langley to break the law and infiltrate peaceful American organizations. Directorate of Operations Chief Thomas Karamessines told Merrimac agents to infiltrate the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Project Merrimac also infiltrated the African American movement. In 1968 and 1969, the CIA infiltrated agents into the Resurrection City encampment and into a rally for Malcolm X day, according to reporting by the Washington Post.
And these early infiltrations turned out to just be warm ups. In 1967, CIA Director Richard Helms, acting under pressure from the White House, ordered Counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton to establish MH/Chaos. Chaos was established to spy on leaders of the antiwar and African American movements and to suffocate antiwar editorials in the American press. So important was Chaos to the Johnson White House that the CIA prioritized it as equal in importance to operations against Soviet and Chinese spies.
MH/Chaos specialized seven CIA agents for infiltrating the antiwar movement, according to Prados. It would also plant agents into the movement for the purpose of establishing resumes and credentials for future infiltration operations. No longer an accidental growth of a project, MP/Loadstar was the branch specifically tasked with infiltration of the antiwar movement. Prados tells the story of Vietnam Veterans Against the War organizer Mike McCusker, who in 1971 warned his colleagues to "Take a look at your own antiwar movement. You’ll find the CIA in there somewhere."
McCusker wasn’t exaggerating. Over the course of Chaos’ six year life, it would infiltrate the entire antiwar movement, according to CIA expert and Angleton biographer Jefferson Morley.
American intelligence infiltration of peaceful protests and peaceful movements is not just part of America’s history. According to Prados, a wide assortment of activist groups has currently been infiltrated either by local police, the military or the FBI. Agents from the Rumsfeld Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity infiltrated a university gay and lesbian rights group and Quaker antiwar groups who protested against military recruitment.
After 9/11, Prados reports that the NYPD officers monitoring Muslim groups attended local events.
Little is known yet about infiltration of more recent peaceful protests. FBI and local police are known to have actively watched the Occupy Movement. According to reporting by The New York Times, documents contain "no references . . . to agency personnel covertly infiltrating Occupy branches." Although there is no conclusive evidence yet of infiltration, documents do "indicate . . . that the F.B.I. obtained information from police departments and other law-enforcement agencies that appear to have been gathered by someone observing the protesters as they planned activities," suggesting the possibility, according to Joel Whitney, author of Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, that the Occupy movement was infiltrated by undercover FBI informants.
It is important not to forget history. As police and governments attempt to divert the focus from the anti-black racism protesters to alleged protest infiltrators, it is not unimportant to remember that history reveals that the infiltrators have not historically been the law breakers but the law enforcers.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.