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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Implications of COINTELPRO study

A study of this nature is limited in focus in order to understand the effects of one factor;  in this case, the factor was limited to Hoover's use of political tactics, as in the bureaucratic politics model, to promote and protect the interests of the Bureau.  However, starting from this narrow focus leads to the extrapolation of it's application to other factors and from there to wider implications of COINTELPRO as a concept.

Further research could involve exploring the relationship between other factors and the efficiency of COINTELPRO;  the other factors including the internal culture of the FBI, personality conflicts between Hoover and sitting Presidents (in particular, Hoover's conflict with Nixon), personality conflicts within the Bureau (such as the one between Hoover and Sullivan), public opinion shifts, the focus of Hoover on leftism as a result of foreign agency rather than as a threat of its own accord, the possibility that Hoover's advanced age left him relatively incompetent to keep using such tactics, in the timing of Hoover's death and the almost simultaneous legal trouble that the Nixon White House put itself into, and possibly that the liberal block of politicians that supported COINTELPRO against the KKK withdrew that support when those methods were directed at leftists.  The exploration of issues surrounding the efficiency of COINTELPRO can in turn shed light on cultural, leadership, and political issues that affect domestic security issues in general.

However, the nature of COINTELPRO itself has leads to a debate on the merits of using these methods in a free society. Wilson (1978) defends the use of such tactics although the majority of opinion finds such tactics undemocratic, illegal, and/or immoral.  The resolution of this question lies partly in these questions, which in turn raise additional questions:
What is the relationship between effective security operations and the rights of individuals in a Republic?
What is subversion?
How does a Republic define a security threat?
Is leftism/socialism an ideology that is inherently hostile to liberty?
Is Islam an ideology that is inherently hostile to liberty?
At what point does organized crime move from a criminal threat to a security threat?
Is there a conflict between security and freedom, or is there a method to balance these concerns?

Obviously, these are not simple questions, and highly subject to politics in study and in application.  In the history of the domestic security of the United States, from the original Alien and Sedition Act through the mass NSA surveillance of Americans today, there develops a clear pattern of overreaction and failure.  An initial overreaction to security concerns that lead to abuses of liberty that lead to a curtailment of the ability of security agencies to perform their function that lead to a spectacular failure that result in overreaction.  One example of this involves COINTELPRO.  The Nixon administration felt that anti-war protestors as a whole were subversive, and that FBI efforts (including NEW LEFT) were not enough.  The White House then developed the Huston Plan targeted at the anti-war movement (which was not completely a New Left action, although New Left members often led segments of the anti-war movement). The methods used under this plan were clearly illegal, and the public was made aware of these abuses at roughly the same time as other programs such as the COINTELPRO operations were exposed.  The Church Committee was the catalyst for overreaction in the restriction of security agencies.  Powers (2004) contends that the reforms that were born as a result of that overreaction caused a hesitation to act in FBI agents that may have been a factor in the intelligence failure to anticipate the 9/11 attacks.  In the "Homeland Security" reforms that were a response to those attacks, the PATRIOT ACT was composed.  We see the wheel make the complete turn as the mass surveillance of the public in general by the NSA was justified on the basis of the PATRIOT ACT.

The failure to make sound policy decision based on honest and full research leads to overreaction and extremes in operational guidelines that cyclically lead to the abuse of liberty and the failure to protect the country.  The investigation of the bureaucratic politics model in relation to efficient domestic security policy is simply the first step in examining all factors that affect domestic security.  Certainly, the underlying justice of security operations plays a part in their efficiency.

Powers, R. G. (2004). A bomb with a long fuse. American History, 39(5), 42–47.

Wilson, J. Q. (1978). The investigators: managing FBI and narcotics agents. New York: Basic Books.


You have chosen a topic that has been debated over a long period of time.  Wilson (2013) states that people on both sides of the rehabilitation issue have misinterpreted Martinson's 1974 “nothing works” study.  Wilson suggests that rehabilitation works for SOME people, SOME of the time, and that was the conclusion people should have drawn from Martinson's study. 

Wilson also postulates that a review of research shows that repeat offenders, especially violent offenders, tend to have a history of repeat juvenile delinquency offenses.  Which is fortunate, because the literature also suggest that juveniles have a better chance to respond to rehabilitation efforts than adults, although this might also be due to the “aging out of crime” phenomenon. So perhaps it would be best to identify “what works” in keeping juveniles from delinquency.  Turner et al (2007) look at this issue from the perspective of non-delinquent youth in a “resilience” lens.

Huebner (2009) presents a bibliographic overview of rehabilitative literature. You should be aware of bias when one particular approach is being defended. If one is thinking about policy, it might be best to stay away from a “one approach fits all” viewpoint, or a “this OR that” perspective.  The rehabilitative method may indeed work best when combined with a punitive mode.


Huebner, B. (2009, December 14). Rehabilitation. Retrieved September 10, 2015 from http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396607/obo-9780195396607-0046.xml

Martinson, R. (1974). What works? questions and answers about prison reform. Public Interest 10:22–54

Turner, M. G., Hartman, J. L., Exum, M. L., & Cullen, F. T. (2007). Good kids in bad circumstances: a longitudinal analysis of resilient youth. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 46(1-2), 81–111.

Wilson, J. Q. (2013). Thinking about crime (Revised edition). New York: Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group.

We are all off to the next step, whether that is the study of justice or the application of justice.

What have y'all learned from the program?

For me, I started with the viewpoint that the way to reduce crime optimally was to decriminalize anything that wasn't a property crime or a personal crime and then to jail or execute those that wouldn't learn to keep their hands off other people and their things. For the most part, my view hasn't changed that much.

But I have learned the importance of public order criminal enforcement in some cases...
I have learned that there are limitations to the application of classical criminology...
I have been surprised that the bell curve can accurately represent so many populations...
And I have learned that there are many more factors to any given situation than are usually considered in a study;  while we probably shouldn't "pick at" any given research attempt for minor contributors to the problem that weren't included in the study  (I dropped a LOT to get my paper into 10 pages lol), we should always attempt to ascertain bias, and to identify major factors that weren't considered in the study...whether we agree with the results or not.

Good luck!

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