Springfield - For What It's Worth
FBI COINTELPRO in the 1990s
During the Clinton Administration
(This report was written by Noelle Hanrahan in
association with the Redwood Summer Justice Project, which pursues Judi Bari's and Darryl
Cherney's civil rights case against the FBI and Oakland Police.)
On April 22, 1970, as 22 million Americans
rallied across the country on the first Earth Day celebration, FBI agents in over 40
cities were ordered to spy on and infiltrate these events. Senator Edwin Muskie,
himself a victim, remarked from the floor of Congress that this surveillance was "a
dangerous threat to fundamental constitutional rights." The power of the
environmental movement and the challenge it posed to business-as-usual made it an instant
target for FBI suppression.
Twenty years later on May 24, 1990, a
shrapnel-wrapped car bomb went off under noted Earth First! activist Judi Bari's car seat,
nearly killing her and injuring fellow organizer Darryl Cherney. Even more frightening to
Bari, as she woke up in the hospital intensive care unit under armed guard, was the
realization that a major FBI "counterintelligence" operation against Earth
First! was underway.
Within minutes of their arrival on the scene of the
blast, the FBI was falsely characterizing nonviolent environmental organizers Bari and
Cherney as "terrorists". Within hours, the Oakland Police Department had
arrested and detained them for transporting explosives. It was not enough that the two
leaders had been physically blown up; the FBI immediately began to orchestrate a
disinformation campaign designed to discredit and imprison these activists and destroy
What could make nonviolent environmental organizers
the targets of repression? Back in May 1990, Earth First! in the redwood region was
gearing up for "Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods," a bold call that
would draw thousands of activists to Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Earth First!'s
fierce, grassroots, pro-labor campaign of mass nonviolent civil disobedience was
determined to stop corporate timber's liquidation of the old-growth forests. Even in the
face of the attempted assassination of the key organizers and a well-orchestrated FBI
disinformation campaign, thousands came to Redwood Summer, bringing national attention to
the destruction of the redwood forest ecosystem. It is a testimony to the power of the
movement mobilized by Judi Bari that today, eight years later, protests to save the old
growth forests are more dynamic than ever.
"It is absolutely foolish to suggest that
the FBI was involved in anything that would obstruct justice."
-- Richard W. Held, FBI
"These guys are professional liars, who
have raised selective memory loss to an art form."
-- Judi Bari, Earth First!
From the moment of its birth in 1908 as the Justice Department's
"Bureau of Investigation," a key part of the FBI's mission has been to suppress
political dissent. In the early years they used deportations and the career-destroying
Palmer raids to target union leaders and communists. Burglary, blacklisting, infiltration,
and disruption became standard operating procedure. Later, when the Supreme Court ruled
that the Smith Act specifically could not be used to target communists, the FBI took it
undercover, developing its "counterintelligence" program dubbed COINTELPRO. In
the words of then-director J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO was designed to "expose,
disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" groups whose views the FBI
deemed threatening to the status quo.
Richard W. Held: Constitutional Assassin
Richard W. Held was Special Agent-in-Charge of the
San Francisco FBI Office 1985-1993 during its extensive COINTELPRO operations against
Earth First! Of all the COINTELPRO operatives, Richard Wallace Held's past is particularly
brutal and haunting. Held began his career in 1968 in the Los Angeles office of the FBI. He
quickly became the lead agent in the "racial matters" squad which focused on
what the FBI called "black extremists". Just one year later he was involved in
targeting Los Angeles Black Panther Party leader Geronimo ji jaga (Pratt) for
"neutralization." Framed for a murder he did not commit, Geronimo spent 25 years
in state prison. He was released in 1997 after a judge overturned his conviction based on
prosecutorial misconduct. The key witness in the case, Julius Butler, was an informant for
the FBI, LAPD, and the L.A. District Attorney's office; that information was kept secret
during Geronimo's trial.
An uncanny ability to lie under oath, commonly
referred to as "testa-lying," is a trademark of rogue law enforcement
professionals. Under oath in a deposition for Geronimo's federal appeal, Held remarked on
his relationship with Julius Butler: "I think that it may have been relevant, your
honor, depending on what the contact was at the time and what else I knew, because I don't
recall really knowing much about the case at all anyway." In fact, Held was
coordinating COINTELPRO operations in L.A., and Geronimo was at the top of the "Key
Black Extremists" list.
Even more damning, Held was the control agent for
informant Julius Butler. In two-and-a-half years, Held recorded contact and meetings with
Butler 33 times. Contrast Held's repeated denials of knowledge and responsibility with the
cold, hard facts, including this from a 1/28/70 memo by Held to the FBI Director: "I
request Bureau approval ... to attack, expose, and ridicule the BPP... operation number
one is designed to challenge the legitimacy of the authority exercised by Elmer Gerard
After a few years in Washington, DC as a
headquarters intelligence supervisor, Held was back in the field on the Pine Ridge
Reservation three days after the firefight between federal agents and the American Indian
Movement (AIM) during which two FBI agents and an Indian man were killed. An FBI memo
dated 7/26/75 to the Washington Bureau's Intelligence Division notes,
"Supervisor Richard Wallace Held arrived at Pine Ridge, South Dakota Indian
Reservation Command Post on 6/29/75, to assist in the RESMURS investigation. He was
assigned three important phases of this investigation; namely, the correlation of
Bureau-wide informants into the investigation; the establishment of the confidential fund;
and the coordination of all intelligence information as it relates to the American Indian
Movement (AIM) and the RESMURS investigations... throughout the country ..."
Held's work contributed to the framing of
noted political prisoner
Leonard Peltier, and to covering up the truth about the agents' deaths and the still
unsolved killings of 70 AIM supporters on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the extensive
From 1979 until 1985, Held was Special
Agent-in-Charge of the San Juan, Puerto Rico office. There he presided over a
politically-oriented paramilitary campaign against the Puerto Rican Independence movement,
creating files on 74,000 individuals. In his last operation in Puerto Rico, Held led 300
FBI agents and U.S. marshals in raids all over the island, trashing office and homes and
arresting scores of activists. One advocate of Puerto Rican independence said the raids
made "even the desire for independence a crime." Held left Puerto Rico in 1985
to head the FBI's San Francisco, California field office.
Held Turns His Sights on Earth First!
In the year before the car bombing of Bari and Cherney, a shocking
and classic political disruption campaign was conducted against Earth First! in Northern
California. In the months just prior to Redwood Summer, the disruption was intense. Bari,
Cherney and other Earth First! organizers received over 30 death threats from March to
May, 1990. Fake Earth First! press releases were circulated in the community and to the
press, falsely connecting the Earth First!ers with violence and sabotage. Local law
enforcement refused to investigate the death threats, signaling their tolerance for
violence against environmentalists. "If you turn up dead, Judi," Mendocino
County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Satterwhite told Bari, "then we'll investigate."
The FBI's very act of blaming Bari and Cherney for
the bombing that nearly killed them, and their repeated feeding of damaging and bald-faced
lies to the press about evidence in the case, are both classic components of a
"counter-intelligence" campaign. The FBI's own files refer to the use of
informants, yet even now the full scope of their actions remains hidden.
Coincidence or COINTELPRO?
In depositions in Bari's and Cherney's civil rights lawsuit, FBI
agents repeatedly denied that there was an investigation against Earth First! in
California prior to the bombing. Yet, documents at first withheld and blacked out, then
later released, show that the FBI field reports written at the time of the bombing stated
Bari and Cherney were "subjects of an investigation in the terrorist field."
The Arizona FBI Sting Operation In 1988, a major FBI sting
operation was launched against Earth First! in Arizona. In a cynical attempt to discredit
and criminalize Earth First!, the FBI spent $3 million and employed over 50 FBI agents,
extensive wiretaps, body wires and overt entrapment in order to arrest Arizona Earth
First!ers for conspiracy to down power lines.
At the heart of Operation THERMCON (short for
"Thermite Conspiracy") were undercover FBI agent/provocateur Michael Fain and
informant Ron Frazier, who infiltrated a group of environmental activists in Prescott.
Though unsuccessful, the FBI worked long and hard to entrap these individuals into using
explosives to down power lines. Apparently the FBI sought to involve Earth First! with
explosives in order to create a sensational case against them. This would serve to
discredit Earth First! and provide justification to conduct illegal investigations and
operations against the political and First Amendment activity of the environmental
movement nationwide. Busted on May 30, 1989, in the Arizona desert, four people were
caught with a cutting torch attempting to disable a power transmission tower leading to a
pumping station of the central Arizona project (CAP). CAP is a billion dollar pork barrel
project to carry Colorado River water uphill across hundreds of miles of desert to water
the lawns of Phoenix and Tucson.
Judi Bari laughingly called this, "the only
joint FBI-Earth First! action ever to take place." Undercover FBI agents picked the
target, drove the truck, and taught the activists to use an acetylene torch. The FBI paid
informant Ron Frazier $54,000 cash in exchange for implicating the Earth First!ers, and
granted him immunity from prosecution for various crimes.
"The first lesson in activism is that the person that
offers to get the dynamite is always the FBI agent," joked Judi Bari.
FBI Lies Exposed
It was in the context of such a massive undercover operation against
Earth First! that the FBI terrorist squad responded en masse to the bombing of Bari and
Cherney in May of 1990. Special Agent John Conway, who was one of the main case agents
assigned to the bombing, had also handled the San Francisco FBI office's substantial field
work on the Arizona "THERMCON" sting.
It is striking that after failing in a major COINTELPRO operation
to tie Earth First! with explosives in Arizona, the FBI again tried to smear and defame
nonviolent environmental activists as terrorists by falsely charging Bari and Cherney with
transporting the bomb that was meant to kill them.
In his deposition in the Bari/Cherney lawsuit, Held insists that
he was completely out of the loop and unaware of the case, even though other FBI agents
contradict his testimony and have said that they briefed him on a regular basis.
Key Questions Remain
Were Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney or Earth First! subjects of an
ongoing investigation in "the terrorist field" as agents claimed in FBI reports?
If so, where are the files? Was this investigation authorized? Were they under FBI
surveillance when they were bombed? What does the FBI know about who bombed Judi
Bari and Darryl Cherney? And finally, why have they never made any attempt to catch the
In search of answers to these questions, the Redwood Summer
Justice Project will continue to expose secret FBI operations against Earth First! as we
pursue the civil rights lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland Police.
(This article refers to the actions of FBI Special Agent
Richard Wallace Held. For clarification, his father Richard G. Held was Associate Director
of the FBI.)
COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War Against
- Between 1987 and 1990, in a conspiracy to entrap and "pop
Dave Foreman [founder of Earth First!] to send a message," the FBI spent $3 million,
used 50 agents and conducted more than 1000 hours of wiretaps. A key informant was paid a
total of $54,000.
- 1981-1990, activists opposed to the U.S. foreign policy in Central
America (as well as a dozen U.S. Senators and Congressmen) were subject to FBI harassment.
The FBI's "investigation" of CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of
El Salvador) involved 59 field offices and 200 incidents of death threats, intimidation,
- In August 1985, Richard W. Held led 300 FBI agents and U.S.
marshals in raids throughout Puerto Rico, trashing offices and homes and arresting scores
of activists. The FBI's overall operations resulted in the creation of files on 74,000
- In 1975, Richard W. Held was involved in the FBI's cover-up of the
70 deaths of American Indian Movement supporters at Pine Ridge in South Dakota. On the
scene after an FBI operation which resulted in the deaths of two FBI agents and one Indian
man, Held helped lay the groundwork for the framing of AIM leader Leonard Peltier for
murder. Peltier remains wrongfully imprisoned to this day.
- On April 27, 1970, Richard W. Held requested and received
permission from J. Edgar Hoover to "neutralize" actress Jean Seberg. Held placed
an anonymous letter with a Hollywood gossip columnist regarding the parentage of Seberg's
unborn child. On August 7, 1970, Seberg, nearly 7 months pregnant, attempted suicide. On
August 23rd, she gave birth prematurely to a baby girl. Weighing less than 4 pounds, the
baby died. Seberg's transgression? Her support of the Black Panther Party.
- Beginning in 1970, FBI agent Richard W. Held, an architect of
COINTELPRO vs. the Black Panthers in L.A., helped orchestrate the 25-year false
imprisonment of Geronimo ji jaga (Pratt). Held and others engineered the frame-up of
Geronimo by withholding critical information that the prosecution's key witness, Julius
Butler, was an FBI operative.
- On Dec. 4, 1969, Chicago police and the FBI assassinated Black
Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Hampton, who was alive but wounded after the initial
assault, was then executed at close range. William O'Neal, an FBI informant, provided a
detailed floor plan of Hampton's apartment; he was paid $30,000.
- In 1963, the FBI turned their attention to Martin Luther King,
Jr., and sought to destroy him through a campaign of wiretaps and harassment. In one
incident, the FBI confronted King with a compilation of secretly recorded tapes,
threatening to release them to the press if King did not commit suicide before accepting
the Nobel Peace Prize.
- From 1943-63, the federal civil rights case Socialist Workers
Party v. Attorney General documents decades of illegal FBI break-ins and 10 million
pages of surveillance records. The FBI paid an estimated 1,600 informants $1,680,592 and
used 20,000 days of wiretaps to undermine legitimate political organizing.
Sources available on request. To order more
copies of "AMERICA'S SECRET POLICE" contact Redwood Summer Justice Project at the address below