- Category: Repression
- Created on Monday, 20 August 2012 12:08
- Written by Mike Ely
Part 2 is called "The making and unmasking of informants."
by Mike Ely
Richard Aoki was an early supporter of the Black Panther Party. He was credited with providing their first weapons for anti-police "stalk the stalkers" patrols. Now reports are surfacing that claim he was an informant during all those years.
The last time Richard Aoki was discussed on Kasama, it was to honor him after his death.
Now we have a different task.
We will probably avoid making our own verdict on Aoki too quickly. He is dead and can't speak for himself. All we now have available are the accounts of others -- some by professionals of FBI disinformation. We may never know the full truth.
But this much can be said:
If Richard Aoki was once an inspiration in the past, let these charges be a warning for the present.
Many activists and revolutionaries are now confronting with forces they don't see (and too often, that they don't yet understand). And there is a need for people to become more sophisticated quickly. We need to deploy our embryonic collectivities to enable that.
We are living at a time when we can see the outlines of a New Cointelpro.
I repeat: The outlines of a New Cointelpro. If you don't yet understand what that means, please find out.
After 9/11, massive resources were unleashed by the U.S. government to infiltrate and observe all kinds of political and cultural groups. The recruitment and deployment of informants has (over and over) given rise to cases of agent provocateurs -- where naive or susceptible targets were drawn into entrapment by agents in their midst.
After the high tide of Occupy, police and FBI forces have clearly decided to target, isolate and break those they perceive as a hard-left edge of the Occupy movement. They are using both a classic media disinformation campaigsn and selected raids to intimidate and fish for "evidence." They try to associate the tactically militant with "terrorist" activities and also (ironically) with secret police activity. Their goals include isolation, division, and the "distancing" of one from the other.
We are at a new beginning -- our rupture with tired past practices should also include a new sophisticated approach to the political police. They are on the move. And we cannot allow our brothers and sisters to stumble into this unprepared.
Some guidelines for discussion:
- A revolutionary movement needs to be as open as possible to the people (especially in regard to its policies and goals), and as closed as necessary to its enemies.
- A revolutionary movement needs a sober assessment of its enemies and strategic confidence in its cause.
- A revolutionary movement cannot afford the illusions or methods of social-democratic forces -- we need a much more realistic sense of the viscousness of the state, the flimsiness of legal protections and the conflict inherent to any serious liberation struggle.
- Infiltration deploys all the ugly powertrips of a sick society, and all the vices of human beings: Bribery of the financially desperate, corruption of the disaffected, ego flattery of the pathetic, exploitation of the damaged, blackmail of the legally compromised, and intimidations of the selfish -- these are some of their methods for creating informants. Informants don't appear like police types -- they are recruited from both the weak and damaged, from the grandiose and slick. Some come from without (as infiltrators), some come from within (as turn-coats). Informers offer intimacy and flattery. They exploit trust within community. They thrive on gossip and promote a culture of gossip. They often come with money, resources, creds, or useful skills ("What a god-send" becomes the reason to overlook the suspicious). Sometimes they just show up regularly, work hard, and listen without saying much at all.
- Commitment that seems to surpass understanding is a warning sign. Consciousness is often hard to fake.
- Sleazy people do sleazy things -- so often informing is not the only game they play. Sometimes ugly behavior toward women is a marker of larger corruption.
- Combat liberalism: A revolutionary movement needs to hold each other accountable for behavior. Not look the other way when suspicious things happen. Don't tolerate behaviors that endanger the whole. Deploy the wisdom and judgement of collectivity. Speak candidly and truthfully about problems.
- Both laxness and paranoia are corrosive to our purposes. Both are encouraged and desired by our stalkers. Combat naiveté with consciousness. Use our rich history to overcome our current inexperience.
- A movement that doesn't have secrets and can't keep secrets will never survive or flourish under repression.
- Security is not about protecting each individual, but of protecting the survival and functioning of a movement. It is about taking care of the future within the present, the whole within the part.
- Security cannot be ignored until repression starts. Security culture is about preparing to detect, deflect, avoid and survive repression well before it is actually unleashed.
- Learn the laws: Know the legal limits of advocacy in the U.S. Understand how conspiracy laws, RICO, and the Patriot Act shaped government prosecutions. Study how police receive permissions to infiltrate and surveil. Be careful about money. Do not joke or talk loosely about potentially illegal things. Understand the hard legal constraints on international ties.
- The development of security extracts a cost from any network. Restricting the flow of protected information can restrict the flow of summation and accountability.
- We need to do better than was done in the past -- and learn from both positive and negative features from previous experience (not just dismiss it without a thought).
Some specific needs of this moment:
- To start to develop rudimentary, effective security cultures -- without falling into paralyzing paranoia or a cultish secrecy. This is a creative process, and a political process.
- To be suspicious of ugly rumor campaigns and efforts to inflame differences into hostilities. Mutual suspicion, inter-left tensions, paranoia and the demoralization of betrayal are all goals of Counter-Intelligence Programs (Cointelpro).
- To be protective of personal information within the movement.
- To make sophisticated assessments of people and behaviors -- in a systematic, collective and non-liberal way.
- To learn the basic profiles and behaviors indicative of infiltrators, informers and agent provocateurs -- and develop careful ways of investigating any troubling whiff of bacon -- without recklessly triggering witch-hunts or destructive snitch-jacketing.
- To deploy nuanced policies of "need to know" -- where the movement and the people are able to evaluate their own progress, while some matters are kept private.
- To practice elementary and substantive solidarity for those under attack -- in a way that distinguishes contradictions among the people from contradictions between the people and the enemy.
- To work on the strategic perspective that deep roots among broad numbers of increasingly conscious people is the key basis for successful survival.
There is much to say about each point above. Much to learn from history. Much to update for our current times -- because of the reactionary legal changes after 9/11, the power of electronic surveillance and also the positive conditions following the birth of new radicalism (following the exhaustion of an older left).
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This story was produced by the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting .
Activist Richard Aoki named as informant
by Seth Rosenfeld,
Updated 9:33 a.m., Monday, August 20, 2012
The man who gave the Black Panther Party some of its first firearms and weapons training - which preceded fatal shootouts with Oakland police in the turbulent 1960s - was an undercover FBI informer, according to a former bureau agent and an FBI report.
One of the Bay Area's most prominent radical activists of the era, Richard Masato Aoki was known as a fierce militant who touted his street-fighting abilities. He was a member of several radical groups before joining and arming the Panthers, whose members received international notoriety for brandishing weapons during patrols of the Oakland police and a protest at the state Capitol.
Aoki went on to work for 25 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator at the Peralta Community College District, and after his suicide in 2009, he was revered as a fearless radical.
But unbeknownst to his fellow activists, Aoki had served as an FBI intelligence informant, covertly filing reports on a wide range of Bay Area political groups, according to the bureau agent who recruited him.
That agent, Burney Threadgill Jr., recalled that he approached Aoki in the late 1950s, about the time Aoki was graduating from Berkeley High School. He asked Aoki if he would join left-wing groups and report to the FBI.
"He was my informant. I developed him," Threadgill said in an interview. "He was one of the best sources we had."
The former agent said he asked Aoki how he felt about the Soviet Union, and the young man replied that he had no interest in communism.
"I said, 'Well, why don't you just go to some of the meetings and tell me who's there and what they talked about?' Very pleasant little guy. He always wore dark glasses," Threadgill recalled.
Book details role
Aoki's work for the FBI, which has never been reported, was uncovered and verified during research for the book by this reporter, "Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power." The book, based on research spanning three decades, will be published Tuesday by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
In 2007, two years before he committed suicide, Aoki was asked in a tape-recorded interview for the book if he had been an FBI informant. Aoki's first response was a long silence. He then replied, " 'Oh,' is all I can say."
Later during the same interview, Aoki contended the information wasn't true.
Asked if this reporter was mistaken that Aoki had been an informant, Aoki said, "I think you are," but added: "People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer."
FBI code number
The FBI later released records about Aoki in response to a federal Freedom of Information Act request made by this reporter. A Nov. 16, 1967, intelligence report on the Black Panthers lists Aoki as an "informant" with the code number "T-2."
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on Aoki, citing litigation seeking additional records about him under the Freedom of Information Act.
Since Aoki shot himself at his Berkeley home after a long illness, his legend has grown. In a 2009 feature-length documentary film, "Aoki," and a 2012 biography, "Samurai Among Panthers," he is portrayed as a militant radical leader. Neither mentions that he had worked with the FBI.
Harvey Dong, who was a fellow activist and close friend, said last week that he had never heard that Aoki was an informant.
"It's definitely something that is shocking to hear," said Dong, who was the executor of Aoki's estate. "I mean, that's a big surprise to me."
Finding the informant
Threadgill recalled that he first approached Aoki after a bureau wiretap on the home phone of Saul and Billie Wachter, local members of the Communist Party, picked up Aoki talking to Berkeley High classmate Doug Wachter.
At first, Aoki gathered information about the Communist Party, Threadgill said. But Aoki soon focused on the Socialist Workers Party and its youth affiliate, the Young Socialist Alliance, which also were targets of an intensive FBI domestic security investigation.
By spring 1962, Aoki had been elected to the Berkeley Young Socialist Alliance's executive council, FBI records show. That December, he became a member of the Oakland-Berkeley branch of the Socialist Workers Party, where he served as the representative to Bay Area civil rights groups. He also was on the steering committee of the Committee to Uphold the Right to Travel, which worked to give students the right to travel to Cuba. In 1965, Aoki joined the Vietnam Day Committee, an influential antiwar group based in Berkeley, and worked on its international committee as liaison to foreign antiwar activists.
All along, Aoki met regularly with his FBI handler. Aoki also filed reports by phone, Threadgill said.
"I'd call him and say, 'When do you want to get together?' " Threadgill recalled. "I'd say, 'I'll meet you on the street corner at so-and-so and so on.' I would park a couple of blocks away and get out and go and sit down and talk to him."
'He had guns'
Threadgill worked with Aoki through mid-1965, when he moved to another FBI office and turned Aoki over to a fellow agent.
Aoki gave the Panthers some of their first guns. As Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale recalled in his memoir, "Seize the Time," the group approached Aoki, "a Third World brother we knew, a Japanese radical cat. He had guns ... .357 Magnums, 22's, 9mm's, what have you."
In early 1967, Aoki joined the Black Panther Party and gave them more guns, Seale wrote. Aoki also gave Panther recruits weapons training, he said in the 2007 interview.
Although carrying weapons was legal at the time, there is little doubt their presence contributed to fatal confrontations between the Panthers and the police.
On Oct. 28, 1967, Black Panthers co-founder Huey Newton was in a shootout that wounded Oakland Officer Herbert Heanes and killed Officer John Frey. On April 6, 1968, Eldridge Cleaver and five other Panthers were involved in a firefight with Oakland police. Cleaver and two officers were wounded, and Panther Bobby Hutton was killed.
M. Wesley Swearingen, a retired FBI agent who has criticized unlawful bureau surveillance activities under Director J. Edgar Hoover, reviewed some of the FBI's records. He concluded in a sworn declaration that Aoki had been an informant.
"I believe that Aoki was an informant," said Swearingen, who served in the FBI from 1951 to 1977 and worked on a squad that investigated the Panthers.
"Someone like Aoki is perfect to be in a Black Panther Party, because I understand he is Japanese," he added. "Hey, nobody is going to guess - he's in the Black Panther Party; nobody is going to guess that he might be an informant."