Our book is actually about two things: informants that have elevated themselves to the very top of radical organizations, and about counterintelligence. The FBI invoked that term as a proactive way to undermine forces, to destroy and neutralize those organizations. The big example of Cointelpro from our book is the Ad Hoc Committee for a Scientific Socialist Line, later called the Ad Hoc Committee for a Marxist-Leninist Party.
What most people know about counterintelligence is this program that was developed in the mid to late sixties, which targeted groups like the Black Panther Party, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the New Left and other forces. It involved a lot of dirty tricks and it’s really creepy stuff. There’s the famous example of sending a phony letter to Martin Luther King encouraging him to kill himself.
It’s appalling stuff but it’s a very small fraction of what the FBI actually does.
We set out to give people a better picture what this counterintelligence stuff is. We got all these documents after writing our first book, which was focused more specifically on the largest Maoist group in the United States, the Revolutionary Union. The second book [came from] looking at these documents.
What we saw was that these informants had gotten to the very top of leftist organizations.
A revelation we had while researching the book was that wiretapping comes when there isn’t human intelligence. If you and I are having a conversation, and I’m an informant, I can give a much better recreation to my handlers. I can also maneuver you in the conversation. I can testify in court, theoretically, although many informants won’t.
We realized there was a kind of methodology. When there are not live people, there’s a premium on electronic surveillance.