Under any other name… COINTELPRO is alive and well in 2024

Graphic courtesy of AE911Truth.

Sunstein called for the infiltration of 9/11 truth groups 

(This article was written for Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. You can read the original post here.)

March 17, 2024

Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. … We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. – Edward Bernays, Propaganda

By Craig McKee

They say it ended more than half a century ago. Ancient history.

COINTELPRO (which stands for Counterintelligence Program) was a covert and illegal FBI operation started by J. Edgar Hoover in 1956. It ended in 1971 after its existence was revealed to the world.

But did it really end?

According to Wikipedia, COINTELPRO was aimed at “surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting American political organizations that the FBI perceived as subversive.” In the 1960s, the program was used particularly against groups like the Black Panthers and other “black power” groups as well as civil rights organizations. Other targets included the Communist Party of the United States, the American Indian Movement, Puerto Rican independence groups, feminist groups, the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, the Nation of Islam, and opponents of the Vietnam War. Individuals – including Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali – were also singled out for COINTELPRO “disruption.”

While it may be true that a program under that name was mothballed more than half a century ago, the government war on dissent is going stronger than ever. In fact, one could argue that this effort has only expanded and intensified in recent decades. And if this is true, what would make a bigger target for government surveillance, harassment, and disruption than the movement that seeks to expose the lies of September 11, 2001?

Webster Tarpley, the author of 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA, gave a presentation at the 2016 Left Forum called, “COINTELPRO Stalking: What Assange and Snowden Never Told You,” in which he makes the case that the program never went away, whatever the intelligence agencies claim.

In his talk, Tarpley gave a history of the use by governments of covert means to disrupt and undermine challenges to their power going back to the 1600s, through the East German secret police (the Stasi), to today’s “COINTELPRO 2.0,” which targets, among other efforts, the 9/11 Truth Movement.

“The surveillance state really ballooned after 9/11,” Tarpley said.

But before we get into what the program is doing today, let’s look at why the first incarnation of COINTELPRO came to an end. Officially. It’s quite a story…

The program was exposed when a group of activists calling themselves The Citizens’ Committee to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, (a suburb of Philadelphia) in March 1971 and stole more than a thousand documents. The objective of this non-violent act of civil disobedience was to expose government spying on Americans and suppressing their constitutional right to dissent.

The burglars succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

The operation was timed to go ahead while millions were glued to their radios, listening to the fight of the century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (the fight was not televised live). The documents taken exposed numerous illegal and unconstitutional activities by U.S. intelligence agencies, with COINTELPRO being just one of the programs that came to light. These revelations would shake the public’s confidence in government – as well as its perception of the U.S. intelligence establishment – at a time when the Vietnam War had already brought confidence to an all-time low.

This group of eight activists sent copies of the stolen documents to numerous media outlets, although most declined initially to publish them. Only after the Washington Post agreed to report on their contents did other media follow suit.

Journalist Betty Medsger, who was the first to receive the documents, covered the story for the Post and continued to research the event long after leaving the paper. She eventually succeeded in convincing seven of the eight burglars to come forward and tell their story, which led to her publishing a book called, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI in 2014.

On page 8 of the book, Medsger writes:

“This historic act of resistance – perhaps the most powerful single act of nonviolent resistance in American history – ignited the first public debate on the proper role of intelligence agencies in a democratic society.”

And here she describes what this act exposed:

“The Media files revealed that there were two FBIs – the public FBI Americans revered as their protectors from crime, arbiter of values, and defender of citizens’ liberties, and the secret FBI. This FBI, known until the Media burglary only to people inside the bureau, usurped citizens’ liberties, treated black citizens as if they were a danger to society, and used deception, disinformation, and violence as tools to harass, damage, and – most import – silence people whose political opinions the director opposed.” (Page 7)

The release of these documents set the stage for Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking three months later of a 7,000-page top-secret report on U.S. decision-making regarding the Vietnam War that would become known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg, who died in 2023 at the age of 92, was a political activist, economist, and military analyst who was working for the RAND Corporation, which had been commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to do the study.

Senator Frank Church.

The Pennsylvania FBI break-in led to the creation of the Church Committee in 1975 (full name: the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities), chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church. The committee investigated abuses of citizens’ rights by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

From the committee’s final report: “Intelligence agencies have undermined the constitutional rights of citizens primarily because checks and balances designed by the framers of the Constitution to assure accountability have not been applied.”

While the committee called for greater oversight and control of the intelligence community, it appears that these unconstitutional activities never stopped.


9/11 and propaganda protecting the official story

It’s hard to imagine a subject more likely to prompt a government “counterintelligence” response than 9/11. In fact, disinformation was being peddled literally within minutes of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated that Osama bin Laden was a likely suspect in the “attacks.”

One of the public ways that truth has been subverted is through blatant propaganda disseminated by establishment institutions (including governments and media). One of the most important examples of this is the proliferation over the past 60 or so years of the term “conspiracy theorist.”

This weaponization of the term (in other words the mocking and ridiculing of doubts  raised about any official narrative) really began when the CIA issued dispatch #1035-960 to all its media assets, suggesting ways they could counter criticism of the Warren Report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The memo was distributed in 1967 but not released to the public until 1976 following a Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times. (I wrote about the memo in this article on Truth and Shadows.

In his book Conspiracy Theory in America, Lance DeHaven-Smith explains that the effort to popularize the conspiracy theory label was a psychological warfare tactic by the CIA that was aimed at deflecting accusations that the high-level government officials were complicit in JFK’s murder.

“The CIA’s campaign to popularize the term “conspiracy theory” and make conspiracy belief a target of ridicule and hostility must be credited, unfortunately, with being one of the most successful propaganda initiatives of all time.” (Page 25)

No one quite embodies the cynical use of the “conspiracy theory” label, and the demonization of those who challenge official narratives, like former Obama administration appointee Cass R. Sunstein. Along with fellow Harvard Law School professor Adrian Vermeule, Sunstein wrote an infamous 2008 paper titled, “Conspiracy Theories,” which analyses the “phenomenon” and offers recommendations for combatting it. (Sunstein’s collected essays have been published in a book titled, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas.)

In the abstract to the paper, the authors offer this:

“Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined.” (Emphasis added)

Talk about saying the quiet part out loud…

And then: “Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a ‘crippled epistemology,’ in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in [sic] cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.” (Myriam Webster defines epistemology as “the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge, especially with reference to its limits and validity.”)

What, you might wonder, do Sunstein and Vermeule mean by “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”? They write that cognitive infiltration is “designed to introduce informational diversity into such groups and to expose indefensible conspiracy theories as such.” (9/11 researcher David Ray Griffin dissects the piece in his book Cognitive Infiltration: An Obama Appointee’s Plan to Undermine the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, lifting the term “cognitive infiltration” right from the paper.)

How would this informational diversity be introduced? On page 23 the authors write: “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”

They describe conspiracy theories as problems to be solved, possibly by changes to government policy and possibly by the actions of law enforcement. They also seek to paint conspiracy theorizing as being the product of a lack of access to good information:

“For most of what they believe that they know, human beings lack personal or direct information; they must rely on what other people think. In some domains, people suffer from a ‘crippled epistemology,’ in the sense that they know very few things, and what they know is wrong. Many extremists fall in this category; their extremism stems not from irrationality, but from the fact that they have little (relevant) information, and their extremist views are supported by what little they know.” (Page 10)

This is a wonderful example of projection. The authors state as it if is fact that “conspiracy theorists” believe what they do because they lack correct information. In fact, it is this group that actually does research to become informed about the topic in question. This often means that they know the official story better than those who believe the official story.

And, of course, Sunstein and Vermeule trot out the familiar claim that “conspiracy theorists” imagine all sorts of dark machinations by unseen and powerful forces because they can’t deal with random chaos and the unpredictability of life.

 “A conspiracy theory posits that a social outcome evidences an underlying intentional order, overlooking the possibility that the outcome arises from either spontaneous order or random forces.” (Page 7)

At the heart of the paper is the notion that some ideas, and some forms of dissent, are harmful – even dangerous. The idea that speech can be dangerous, which has taken hold of society in recent years, is an increasingly insidious one. The fear-mongering about the supposed harms of “disinformation” is just an example of this.

The paper refers to the “spread” of conspiracy theories as if they are some kind of political contagion. In fact, the authors use the extreme word “virulent” to emphasize their claim that questioning the 9/11 official story is akin to spreading a disease. This theme has been repeated in hundreds of media articles and video reports. (In a previous article I wrote for AE911Truth titled, “Hundreds of articles dismissing ‘conspiracy theories’ read like they follow a single script,” I list 18 tactics used in mainstream media articles and reports to crush dissent by discrediting and marginalizing “conspiracy theorists.” Many of those same tactics are used in the Sunstein/Vermeule paper, which seems to mirror how the media has treated the 9/11 Truth Movement from the beginning.)

Another establishment mouthpiece, Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay, is also worth mentioning here. Kay wrote the 2011 book Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground. In an interview I did with Kay for my website Truth and Shadows, he offers this blanket condemnation of “conspiracy theories”:

“As I argue in my book, every conspiracy theory is different but they tend to follow the same basic pattern in the way that racists tend to follow the same basic pattern and other forms of toxic “isms” follow the same pattern. The details are different but the basic structure of the ideology is the same. And I think you should teach kids, especially in the context of the Internet where they receive all kinds of propaganda, you should teach them how to recognize the basic ingredients of a conspiracy theory.”

Racist? Toxic? I would argue that it’s people like Kay and Sunstein, and dozens of mainstream journalists, who “follow the same basic pattern” when they attempt to discredit anyone who dares to question any official narrative.

As DeHaven-Smith explains in Conspiracy Theory in America, the demonizing of anyone who draws connections between different conspiracies has a chilling effect.

This aversion is learned. Americans know that voicing suspicions about political elites will make them objects of hostility and derision.” (Page 19)


It’s about anything but the evidence

If we take the words of Sunstein and Vermeule at face value, we might be lulled into thinking that operatives working to discourage support for the 9/11 Truth Movement would merely be doing so by presenting solid evidence on websites and through social media to encourage activists to accept official narratives. But then we read this from page 13, which suggests a higher level of subterfuge:

“As we will explore below, these circumstances imply that direct government rebuttals of the reigning conspiracy theory will prove ineffective; government will instead do best by using various tactics of cognitive infiltration to break up the polarized information cluster from within.”

In his 2016 talk, Tarpley laid out what today’s version of COINTELPRO actually looks like. He says it combines the original tactics with an assortment of new online measures. He describes how information is gathered, and covert disruption tactics coordinated, through “fusion centers,” located across the U.S. In these centers, information about citizens and activist groups gathered by various agencies is combined and can be used to surveil and disrupt the efforts of activists.

Tarpley states that the primary strategy is to keep activists isolated from each other. As he explains it, the ruling class wants to prevent a competent opposition from emerging. It wants to stop competent leaders from emerging. And it wants to eliminate free speech while causing pessimism, degradation, and demoralization.

The Department of Homeland Security achieves this, he explains, by recruiting “surveillance role players” whose job it is to “harass and destroy individuals – to prevent the coalescence of individuals and organizations into a common front.”

“It wants to destroy attempts at organization. Because if you want to do anything to counter the ruling elite … you need organization.”

Another tactic that Tarpley illuminates is one that members of the 9/11 Truth Movement should take careful note of – the creation of new groups and organizations that are very similar to existing ones. He calls this “gang and countergang.” The purpose of creating the mirror group is to weaken the original one by syphoning off members, contacts, funding, and media attention from the original group.

Frank Church (right) with then CIA director George Bush in 1976.

Based on the Sunstein/Vermeule template and the Tarpley description of today’s COINTELPRO, it is possible to suggest some of the tactics that 9/11 truth activists might want to be on the lookout for:

  • People who claim to be truthers who make deceptive claims about the 9/11 evidence;
  • People who claim to be truthers who tell lies about other truthers or their positions;
  • People who claim to be truthers – particularly those who claim some kind of scientific “expertise” – who relentlessly push important elements of the official story under the guise of protecting the movement’s “credibility”;
  • People who claim to be truthers who push elements of the official story while rarely ever focusing on what they admit is false in that story;
  • People who claim to be truthers who just ignore any strong point that contradicts their position;
  • People who claim to be truthers who contrive “controversies” and create “doubts” about strong evidence that disproves the official story;
  • People who claim to be truthers who deceptively trade endorsements with each other while pretending to be independent of each other;
  • People who claim to be truthers who attempt to insert themselves into every group so that they can exert control over the position being taken (usually in support of elements of the official story);
  • People who claim to be truthers who pounce on new arrivals to the cause to pre-emptively convince them to support their position, which often involves supporting key elements of the official story;
  • People who claim to be truthers who warn newcomers to stay away from researchers they don’t like;
  • People who claim to be truthers who pressure 9/11 truth organizations to disassociate themselves from certain employees or members;
  • New organizations that seem to be trying to replace the most established and effective ones that have been around for a long time. (In doing so, these “countergangs” would poach contacts and funding from the original, legitimate, group as well as taking media attention away from it);
  • Toxic trolls who constantly ridicule and attack genuine truth activists, creating toxicity and division, on social media like Facebook, X, blogs, and podcasts (These trolls often speak in support of the group mentioned in point 3);
  • People who claim to be truthers who protect suspicious truthers from criticism by accusing those raising concerns of being “divisive” or “destructive” or harming “unity”;
  • People who claim to be truthers who distract from good evidence by pushing extreme and unfounded theories;

These things are going on every day in the Truth Movement. And yet, many genuine truth seekers seem to be unwilling to recognize them. Instead, they conflate strong criticism of the behavior of some truthers with “personal attacks.”

In other words, they laud the disruptors, infiltrators, and agents while reserving their anger for the very people who are trying to warn them of this danger.

This unrealistic quest for “unity” effectively gives dubious researchers a kind of veto power over what is discussed. Evidence deemed “controversial” is often taken off the table in an ill-advised attempt by genuine truthers to keep things “civil.” These well-meaning activists and researchers bend over backwards to defend the very people who are trying to harass, provoke, divide, and ultimately destroy the efforts of the Truth Movement. Meanwhile, they react with outrage at the notion that anyone is not what they claim.

How ironic is it that the very people who possess the intelligence, insight, and courage to see through the 9/11 lies are often the ones who are most blind to the tactics being used against them?

This is how COINTELPRO works. And it works best when we let it.


Craig McKee has been a journalist in Canada for more than 35 years, including 10 years as a writer for AE911Truth. He is the creator of the blogs Truth and Shadows and Thought Crimes and Misdemeanors.

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