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Cointelpro as a Family Business
L IKE MOST THINGS, the old adage “like father, like son” takes on some very curious characteristics in the twisted and secretive netherworld of counterin- telligence operations. Take, for example, the case of the FBI’s two Richard Helds—Richard G. (the father) and Richard Wallace (the son)—both of whom have been prime movers in the sort of political repression the Bureau used to call COINTELPRO. Their combined careers form a virtual narrative history of many of the FBI’s ugliest practices in curtailing domestic dissent.
Richard G. Held
T HE OLD MAN, Richard G., joined the FBI in 1941 and seems to have spent his formative years assigned to what J. Edgar Hoover contended were counterintelligence operations aimed at combating German agents functioning within the U.S. By the end of the Second World War it had become apparent that much of the Bureau’s commitment of resources in this regard had gone not to fending off America’s wartime enemies, but to suppressing those thought to be aligned with an ostensible ally, the USSR. By 1944 at the latest, subsequently released records show, the bulk of the FBI’s counterintelligence energies were focused not only upon the uprooting of alleged “Soviet Espionage Rings” in the U.S., but on domestic entities such as the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Whatever Richard G. Held’s beliefs and priorities ultimately proved to be, they must certainly have been forged and tempered by his experiences during the early 1940s.
It would appear he showed a certain aptitude for such “political work” insofar as he was rostered, in 1946, to the group of agents devoted to providing “investigative services” to the emergent House Un-American Activities Committee and, a bit later, to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunting subcommittee. These were the agents most closely involved in developing the “evidence” utilized in anti-communist extravaganzas such as the Hiss and Rosenberg cases.
By 1953, the FBI was engaged in the consolidation of a new programmatic entity endowed with what it considered to be the most successful methods pioneered over the preceding three decades with regard to combating both foreign and domestic “subversion.” This consolidated and highly secret effort was staffed with an odd amalgam of personnel drawn from both the Bureau’s Counter-intelligence Division (mandated to deal with “foreign agents”) and its Internal Security Section (devoted to constricting the parameters of domestic political activities), and was acronymically designated as COIN- TELPRO (for Counter-intelligence Program). It was this structural confluence of the FBI’s counterintelligence and internal security “missions”—legally separate by statute—that rendered COINTEL- PRO patently illegal from the outset, a matter which was sidestepped by the mantle of secrecy which attended both its formal origin and its subsequent evolution. In any event, it appears that one of those assigned to the development of COIN- TELPRO from its early stages—assisting in the “brainstorming” and articulation of its scope, focus, and tactics—was Richard G. Held, by now a seasoned veteran on both the domestic and foreign fronts of the FBI’s political warfare.
O VER THE NEXT decade, COINTELPRO was steadily expanded to include a range of individuals and organizations resident to the FBI’s ideological enemies list. By 1960, moreover, fresh targets had begun to be identified and the major preoccupation of the Bureau’s stable of counterintelligence specialists had become the growing civil rights movement in the South, notably in the form of the Reverend Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). While Held’s precise role up to this point in developing COINTELPRO’s repressive arsenal is unclear, he was shortly rewarded —presumably for services rendered—by being promoted to serve as SAC (Special Agent in Charge) of the Bureau’s Minneapolis field office. He was definitely on his way up in the FBI hierarchy.
During Held’s stint as SAC in Minneapolis, U.S. domestic dissent virtually exploded, both in numbers of oppositional organizations and in the form and depth of opposition. The FBI, in its quest to enforce political orthodoxy and maintain the societal status quo, was confronted with a challenge of unprecedented proportions. Devising a comprehensive strategy by which to contain or crush movements for social change as diverse as Another Mother for Peace, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panther Party required every ounce of expertise and innovation the Bureau could muster. At this juncture Richard G. Held was designated to head the Internal Security Section, under which COINTELPRO nomi- nally fell within the FBI’s system of organization.
Target: BPP & AIM
I T IS TELLING that at this point COINTELPRO, which had always by definition been replete with dirty tricks and illegality, became virulently lethal. For instance, during the period of Held’s tenure as national COINTELPRO chief—from 1968 until the effort was “terminated” in 1971 (read: the point at which the acronym—not the programs it defined— was suspended)—the FBI launched its concerted campaign to destroy the Black Panther Party, an effort that involved the orchestration of “shooting wars” between the Panthers and other black community organizations, the systematic “bad- jacketing” and liquidation of Party members, and outright assassinations. The classic example of the latter occurred in the early morning hours of December 4, 1969 when a special Chicago State’s Attorney’s weapons team murdered Panther leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton in their sleep. It turned out that an FBI COINTELPRO team had set up the whole thing, provided the raiders with a floor plan to Hampton’s apartment (including information as to who would be sleeping where), had an infiltrator named William O’Neal slip Hampton a mickey prior to the raid, and even devised the covering rationale by which the assault might be “justified.” The result of such tactics being applied nationally was, of course, literally scores of dead Party members within a very short period of time. Scores of others went to prison for long stretches, based on evidence fabricated by the FBI.
While most Panther assassinations went essentially unremarked, the cover story concerning the Hampton-Clark murders threatened, for a number of reasons, to unravel, exposing the true nature of COINTELPRO. Hence, Marlin Johnson, the Chicago SAC who had overseen the operation there, was quickly retired. Johnson was replaced by Richard G. Held who, while continuing to serve as head of the Internal Security Section, managed a full scale cover-up of the Bureau’s role in the affair. This involved the denial of the existence of some 100,000 documents concerning the COINTELPRO actions directed against Hampton and the Chicago Panthers more generally, as well as the orchestration of systematic perjury by agents in court. It took more than a decade before the truth of what had happened finally came out and by then Held was safely retired.
In early 1973, while he was handling the FBI’s Chicago Panther COINTELPRO operations, Held was dispatched as a “consultant” to the Bureau contingent participating in the federal siege of the Wounded Knee hamlet on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Of particular concern to the FBI was the involvement of a radical organization, the American Indian Movement (AIM), in defending the village against federal attack. While there, Held seems to have been instrumental in establishing an arrangement with a vigilante group on the reservation known as the “Guardians of the Oglala Nation” (GOONs). These “private” thugs would act as surrogates for the Bureau in exchange for weapons and other equipment, as well as non-prosecution for any crimes committed against members and supporters of AIM. Held returned to his post in Chicago as the Wounded Knee confrontation wound down, but during the next 3 years the GOONs physically assaulted more than 300 AIM people on or near Pine Ridge, approximately 70 of whom died as a result. The Bureau’s Rapid City resident agency—under which jurisdiction Pine Ridge falls and which at the time was enjoying the highest agent-to-citizen ratio in the country, pled “lack of manpower” as the reason why it failed to solve any of these violent crimes.
By contrast, when AIM finally responded with a policy of armed self-defense in 1975, a circumstance which resulted in the deaths of agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler near the village of Oglala on June 26 of that year, Held immediately returned to Pine Ridge, bringing some 200 SWAT-trained agents and a number of counterintelligence specialists with him. He spent the remainder of the summer orchestrating a comprehensive disinformation COINTELPRO campaign against AIM, as well as massive paramilitary sweeps of the reservation (including at least two “air assaults” by helicopter). Doors were kicked in during warrantless searches while spurious warrants were sworn out to cause the false arrest of a number of “key AIM leaders.” At least one older man, James Brings Yellow, was frightened into having a fatal heart attack when Held’s roving agents charged into his home without knocking. Held also oversaw the construction of contrived cases against AIM members Bob Robideau, Dino Butler, and Leonard Peltier in the deaths of Williams and Coler, as well as the fabrication of “eyewitness” affidavits for use in obtaining Peltier’s extradition from Canada, before cabling the FBI headquarters that his work in South Dakota was “finished” and that he was returning to Chicago.
He was barely given time to check in on his ongoing cover-up in the Hampton-Clark matter before being promoted, again undoubtedly on the basis of the “quality” of his COINTELPRO services, and assigned to Washington, DC as assistant director of the FBI under his long-time friend Clarence Kelly. It was in this capacity that he met with Kelly and several Justice Department prosecutors in early 1977 to strategize how to conjure a thoroughly bogus case against Leonard Peltier after Butler and Robideau were acquitted—on the basis of having acted in self-defense—in the deaths of Coler and Williams. Held is also thought to have handled the withholding of nearly 18,000 pages of Bureau documents concerning the case from Peltier’s defense team, a matter that weighed heavily in Peltier’s conviction and unsuccessful appeals.
In his final years with the FBI, Held served as a sort of “grey eminence,” the “grand old man” of COINTELPRO. He served as a “senior adviser” to the Bureau’s ongoing effort to “neutralize” the Republic of New Afrika, saw to it that a coherent program was effected through which to “de-stabilize” emerging U.S. support organizations for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was instrumental in creating the so-called “Joint Terrorist Task Force” (JTTF) in New York, a federal/local combine aimed at destroying the Black Liberation Army, Puertor- riqueo independentista groups such as the FALN, the remains of the Weather Underground, and other Third World and anti-imperialist formations. The JTTF operations were used, in turn, as a vehicle on which to launch lower-level coun- terintelligence operations (e.g., “black bag” burglaries and infil- tration and flagrant abuse of grand jury procedures) against the U.S. opposition in general.
Target: LA & San Diego
T HE ELDER HELD’S son, Richard Wallace Held, joined the FBI during the 1960s. By 1967, he was assigned to the Bureau’s Los Angeles field office as a specialist in “black extremist” matters and headed of the local COIN- TELPRO section. In this capacity, he was the moving spirit behind the sustained series of atrocities visited on the Black Panther Party in southern California. For instance, he devised and released a series of cartoons and forged in the names of the Panthers and a nationalist organization known as United Slaves, in which the rival groups appeared to be viciously and publicly ridiculing one another. When this led directly to armed assaults on LA Panther leadership, resulting in the deaths of Jon Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, Held quickly took “credit” for the killings and recommended sending more cartoons. This was duly approved and resulted in the wounding of several more Panthers and the death of yet another, Sylvester Bell. In the aftermath, Held once again patted himself on the back for such “success” via internal memoranda. Perhaps his “crowning achievement” in anti-Panther work was accomplished in conjunction with a colleague, Richard Bloesser, when the pair stage-managed the railroading of LA Panther leader Geronimo Pratt into prison on a thoroughly trumped up murder charge in 1971—and then “lost” wiretap evidence that would have cleared their victim on appeal.
The younger Held also assumed a leading role in destroying the Panthers’ white supporters and is known to have written the false accusation that actress Jean Seberg, an outspoken advocate and fundraiser for the Black Panthers, had been sexually unfaithful to her husband and was pregnant by “a prominent Panther leader.” This bit of poison pen prose found its way into print on May 19, 1970 in the syndicated column of a “cooperating journalist,” Carol Haber, and caused predictable complications in Seberg’s marriage. The actress, whom Bureau profiles had already described as being “mentally unstable,” became very emotionally distraught at such disinformation, suffered a spontaneous abortion, and subsequently attempted suicide on the anniversary of this event each year. After several tries, she was successful. According to former agents, who were there, Held was gleeful at the “effectiveness” of the Seberg gambit.
Despite official discontinuance of the acronym COINTELPRO in 1971—once its cover had been irrevocably blown by release of secret documents obtained by the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI during its break-in at the Media (Pennsylvania) resident agency during that year—there is no doubt that Richard W. Held continued to stage his political repression operations in southern California. As one of his agents at the time, Wesley Swearingen (who quit), put it in a legal deposition: “They continued with business as usual. They only changed the name.” Held, for his part, seems to have been so proud of his achievements in COINTELPRO that he refused to abandon the term even after receiving clear instructions to do so. In late 1973 he received a mild reprimand from FBI headquarters for having put “through channels” the suggestion that COINTELPRO operations might prove “productive” if employed against AIM on Pine Ridge. Headquarters appears to have been upset, not that he was recommending use of tactics the Bureau claimed to have disavowed, but that he had been so indiscreet as to utilize the forbidden term. In 1975 he was allowed to put his ideas about how to handle AIM into practice, being sent to Pine Ridge for a period of 60 days to implement the reign of terror his father was commanding on the reservation.
In any event, as de facto LA COINTELPRO section head (regardless of what euphemism was used to cover his activities), Richard Wallace Held undoubtedly played a significant role in the establishment of the Secret Army Organization (SAO) in southern California during the early 1970s. This group of former Minute Men was almost wholly funded by the Bureau during the period 1971-1973 and headed by an FBI operative named Howard Godfrey. Among its “accomplishments” on behalf of the Bureau’s sense of political “law and order” was the destruction of the offices of the San Diego Street Journal and the Movement for a Democratic Military. On January 9, 1972, the SAO attempted to assassinate San Diego State University professor Peter G. Bohmer, a radical economist, severely wounding an associate, Paula Tharp. This was followed, on June 19 of the same year, by the “successful” bombing of the Guild Theater, a progressive black community undertaking in the same city. By the time the SAO was finally unmasked for what it was, it had obtained an active membership in 11 western states, stockpiled nearly $100,000 worth of illegal weapons (underwritten by the Bureau), and had developed a formal hit list of “key activists” on the west coast.
Target: Puerto Rico
S UCH AMBITIOUS EFFORTS were, as always, not without their rewards. Shortly after his father was promoted to serve as Clarence Kelly’s number two man, Held-the-younger was moved from LA to begin a stint as SAC in San Juan (Puerto Rico). There followed a marked escalation in the level of virulent COINTELPRO-type operations aimed at the indepen- dentistas, such as the July 25, 1978 murders of Carlos Soto Arrive and Arnaldo Dario Rosada during a police ambush near Cerro Maravilla. The two activists were shot to death after having surrendered and being forced to kneel before their executioners. They had been lured into the trap by an FBI infiltrator, Alexander Gonzales Molave. Held’s stint in Puerto Rico culminated in the early morning hours of August 30, 1985, when he stage-managed an island-wide raid involving more than 300 SWAT-equipped agents working out of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base. Marked by the systematic employment of warrantless searches, the destruction and impounding of private property, and the wholesale arrest of known activists on baseless charges, Held’s grand finale was designed and intended to “send a message” to those pursuing independence for the colony of Puerto Rico. Insis- tence on such things as freedom and democracy are judged to be criminally deviant and will not be tolerated by the FBI.
As a result of this spectacle, Held was again promoted and reassigned, this time to serve as SAC in San Francisco where he might put his particular skills to work keeping a lid on the incipient rebirth of Bay Area activism, and where he might be better placed to assist in keeping a few of his earlier victims—such as Geronimo Pratt—safely behind the bars of prisons like San Quentin. At present, he remains in charge of the San Francisco field office and, like his father, serves as a sort of “troubleshooter” or “senior consultant” in COINTELPRO operations nationally.
Perhaps the only thing unique in the saga of the Helds, father and son, is that they are father and son. Aside from that, Richard G. Held does not appear especially different from scores of other senior FBI officials—Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, to name but one prominent example—each of whom has been exposed as having been responsible for all manner of COINTELPRO illegality (including clear complicity in first degree murder) and each of whom has been rewarded with honors and promotions and allowed to enjoy a comfortable retirement. In the same sense, Richard Wallace Held does not seem appreciably worse or different in kind from his counterintelligence associate in Los Angeles, Richard Bloesser, or any of a number of other members of COINTELPRO’s second generation—agents like David Price, William Wood, J. Gary Adams, Norman Zigrossi, Thomas H. Green, and O. Victor Harvey, to list but a handful. Each of these individuals, although long exposed (in varying degrees) for having engaged in some of the worst crimes of COINTELPRO, have never received so much as a slap on the wrist as a result of their activities. To the contrary, they have continued to reap the various rewards of what, to them, seem to be entirely satisfying career paths.
The fact is that, although virtually all sectors of the government and judiciary publicly agree that the FBI has repeatedly and systematically undertaken programs that have been illegal, no agent or official of the Bureau has ever gone to prison as a result. Even when two senior agents—W. Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller—were convicted of burglary in 1983 as a result of offenses committed against the families and friends of “Weatherman fugitives” in New York more than a decade before, they were immediately pardoned by Ronald Reagan. This, in combination with the Reagan administration’s legitima- ting through executive orders and other means precisely what is and always was most anti-democratic and illegal about COINTELPRO, should eliminate all doubts as to whether the FBI’s penchant for acting as a national political police has ever been “brought under control.” It hasn’t, and the situation appears unlikely to change under the Bush administration.
The Helds are emblematic of Bureau reality. Their story serves as a near-perfect analogy to the whole multi-generational dynamic which is COINTELPRO. Although the names may change from time to time, the functions, actions, and attitudes remain exactly the same. And there is, as the younger Held would put it, “a message there” for all of us who pursue positive political, social, and economic change in the United States.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.