Remembering COINTELPRO

In times when the government seems to bungle everything, a common conclusion drawn by many is that the government is incapable of producing “results.”  The recent spate of governmental ineptness and inadequacy (Iraq, Katrina, the economy) is not only a spicy combination of ideology, bureaucracy, and nepotism, it is dangerous in the sense that it decreases the average person’s fear of the government.  Why fear a group of individuals and institutions which don’t know their elbow from their asshole?

And then we reflect back on history and the ability of small groups of individuals hidden within the government’s bureaucratic layers to get their results.  For instance, COINTELPRO, the FBI counter-counterculture unit that engaged in a wide variety of criminal activity in the 1960s and 70s.  Those of the “left” were the target, and they were pursued with determination.  Breaking up any “subversive” activity was their goal, which necessitated infiltration, burglary, and violent aggression (to assassination if you ask some).  Should you win a Pulitzer writing about the Vietnam war, get tracked by the FBI for two decades.  The FISA court that came to our attention in the last year came into being as a direct result of the investigations into COINTELPRO’s activities.

For all those who readily agree that the government wants us stupid, we should also realize that the government does not lose anything if we come to the conclusion that it is inept.  The government does not have to fear a radical overhaul led by the citizenry.  The institutions of government and those who staff them have nothing to fear from the bovine American populace.  Thus what does it matter if the stupid cows make themselves feel better by ruminating on the stupidity of government?  It grants the people a false sense of security, which is something entirely useful for those in power.  In short, this is a caution to those who smirk at the ineffectiveness of our government.


2 thoughts on “Remembering COINTELPRO

  1. That’s the paradox of the Bush Administration. They can’t tie thier shoes if the country depends on it, but they’re somehow masters of opinion manipulation. They can’t catch Bin Laden, but they can keep Mandela on the no fly list.

    Maybe it isn’t that they “couldn’t,” say, evacuate a city. Instead they just wouldn’t, because improving basic functions of government isn’t what they’re there to do. When it comes to something they do care about, like concentrating power in the hands of the White House or redistributing income to the top, they somehow manage to find the knowhow.

  2. I agree, that’s the (Grover Norquist) ideology that I was referring to. And it doesn’t seem to be something particular to this administration. Large projects are bungled, small targeted operations are successful. This isn’t surprising, but it is important to keep in mind that there are some things the government is effective at doing.

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