Part 2: The making and unmasking of informants

 

Part 1 is called "Straight talk about the New Cointelpro."

by Mike Ely

This week, in Part 1, I suggested some basic aspects of necessary security culture for any serious political movement.

I'd like to probe a little more into the problem.

I have heard a formula repeated (far too often) that essentially pooh-poohs the issue of infiltration.

It says:

"We can just get more work out of informants than they can do damage."

There are a number of wrong, largely-socialdemocratic ideas compressed into that phrase:

  • First is the assumption that there is basically nothing that can be done about infiltration anyway. There is (it is said) no way to "keep them out," so why worry? Taking infiltrators seriously will just lead to paranoia, bad-jacketing, and distraction.
  • Second, it implies that, since our political work is legal at this time, there is nothing that agents can really do or uncover. The government infiltration is seen as a kind of irrational hysteria that wastes their money and violates our privacy, but doesn't really threaten our political work.
  • Third, it sets up a strange "accounting" system: where we try to measure the "contributions" of infiltrators against their "damage."

I'm not sure where this line of thinking got started, but i think we should reject it. This is a potentially dangerous illusion, and a wrong way to measure things.

 

We will never actually know what "the authorities got" from this or that operative. And what they "get" may not unfold for years. But history suggests that well-placed agents can have a truly deadly impact on movements: alienating them from potential allies, disrupting them from within, getting key leaders killed or jailed.

Further, the last years of experience show that these infiltrators hardly confine themselves to outrageous surveillance of legal political activities -- over and over again they manufacture bogus legal case to railroad their targets into prison. There are many cases now when police informants (seeking information) have gone over to being agent provocateurs (plotting legal entrapment). This has become a repeated police M.O. in the U.S. today.

Finally: We should not suggest that even a lifetime of faking radical commitment might (somehow, somewhere, by some standard) counterbalance whatever the authorities “get” from that informant. It is not true.

Not a place of nuance: Informants are informants

It sharpens up this up when Morning asks (skeptically) whether it is possible for someone to be an informant and also a sincere revolutionary at the same time.

Someone even wrote today:

"More than one snitch to play their handlers. To make revolution on the government's dime. For some people it doesn't get better than that."

That's really starting at a low and basic level of ABCs -- but it is worth stating anyway: No, it is   not possible to be an informant and a sincere revolutionary at the same time. The rule of the radical movements is "Don't talk" to the authorities -- and certainly for a supposed activist to act as a regular informant is not some accidental breach of morality. It is a complete and utter betrayal.

 

At a moral level, in the evaluation of right and wrong, there is no balancing of any ledger here: If someone is an informant, they are an informant, period. There is no “other side of that” (in terms of alleged radical activities and so-called contributions).  There are no justifications or excuses. I know of a situation where a teenage political newbie, active politically in their housing project, stammered “I had to tell them — they had a gun to my head.” Uh, no you didn’t.

The main point at this moment in regard to Richard Aoki personally (as several people have said, including SKS) is that we have no definitive evidence here against him. And we have great reason to be suspicious of claims arising (precisely!) from that ugly old sewer of Cointelpro (with its documented history of disinformation and snitch-jacketing).

However.....

If it were proven that Richard Aoki (or anyone else) worked as an informant — then there is no “on the other hand.” It is wrong for people to act as informants. Supposed participation or "contribution" in politics doesn’t ever make that right.

There is no penance or working off that crime. There are no mitigating circumstances. No statute of limitations. There is no 40 percent condemnation for being an informant, but 60 percent off for otherwise being a "good person.”

The notorious Tsarist agent Malinovsky (after repeatedly betraying secret Bolshevik networks in waves of roundups while serving as head of the communist Duma faction) tried to return to the Soviet Union after the revolution. He claimed he had made some genuine conversion to communism while in POW camp. In that historical case, Manilovsky was shot as a traitor. The revolutionary court did not say “Ah, but he made other contributions while working for the Okhrana” or “Well, he was once an agent, but now says he has seen the light.”

[I urge everyone to get and read the short eye-opening book: Ralph Carter Elwood, Roman Malinovsky, a life without a cause, Oriental Research Partners, 1977, Hard to find, but worth the effort.]

Pigtails peep out

There are different  profiles of informants, but there is not one single profile.

Some tell-tale signs are hard to hide

Raw undercover cops entering a radical movement (after being trained in narc operations, for example) often seem like square pegs in a round hole. They have historically shown their “pig tails” in many little ways (that they often just can’t conceal):

  • in their low level of curiosity and critical thinking,
  • in how they treat women (since many are male),
  • in how they blurt out revealing spontaneous views on peripheral matters,
  • on how their commitment seems so much greater than their understanding, etc.

Sometimes they have become notorious for suggesting half-baked illegal schemes or demanding a culture filled with gossip and personal details.

 

And in those cases, a movement of serious people around them often goes "WTF?"

Sometimes, agents arrive as a "gift horse" magically providing some needed resource -- money, transportation, access to key media, skills, equipment, etc. Sometimes they just work hard, in a movement that values hard work.

And precisely because of their (apparent) usefulness, genuine radicals are sometimes sincerely taken in, overlook tell-tale signs, and generally unwilling to "look a gift horse in the mouth."

It is quite possible for someone to be just quiet, just keep their head down and "work hard" at movement tasks, building credibility and trust, while listening and taking notes. The recent example from Minneapolis involved some of these features.

Minneapolis FBI infiltrator "Karen Sullivan" (right) with her associate "Daniela Cardenas"

I have had friends on the left simply dismiss their own suspicions (when discussing a bizarre person with nosy behavior on the fringes of our scene), "That person is just too fucked up to be a cop."

But, in fact, police regularly exploit people who are broken, or junkies, or socially borderline in many ways -- and they refine these techniques during their "street" activities. Somebody just busted for breaking-and-entry may agree to hang out around you to get a reduced sentence (and future probation for some chronic lumpen shit).

Often in the 1960s, police cadre were sent in pretending to be “radicalized vets” — and were able to gain some initial acceptance because radicals were so eager to encourage GI resistance, and to overlook the some things that came with a military experience. But these infiltrators often betrayed themselves by their sheer backwardness — by saying or doing things that a genuinely radical person would not.

The value of an inside job

For those reasons, the most successful and valuable informants have historically been actual activists of a movement who are “turned” in various ways.

There have (unfortunately) been informants who fit no particular profile -- who seemed part of radical communities because they are part of those communities: It is quite possible for  someone who reads deep theory, or who had risked their life, or who seemed committed, or smoked weed and broke the law in other ways, or fell in love with a revolutionary, or was LGBT to be a secret informant.

Manilovsky was famous as the "worker intellectual" within a movement with many  middle class activists -- the "talented organizer" with impeccable class credentials.

There are cases of informants who got hooked up with sincere revolutionaries romantically — adding the cover a profound personal betrayal to the larger political betrayal.

Morning writes:

This is, of course, true — from the first betrayal such people are “hooked,” and subject to more blackmail, and “can’t back out.”

Of course, they can, in reality, “back out.” And should. They can just stop and if necessary go away.

It requires an ugly inexcusable blend of selfishness, cowardice and basic amorality to do it, and continue doing it.

Dig in.

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People in this conversation

  • Guest (jfsp)

    Any articles on snitches who were exposed? How they got exposed? What gave them away?

  • Guest (PatrickSMcNally)

    Here's one:

    www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/19/undercover-police-law-men-there

  • I would recommend Ward Churchill's <a href="/http://www.amazon.com/Agents-Repression-American-Movement-Classics/dp/0896086461" rel="nofollow">Agents of Repression</a>. It documents "The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement "

    I have political issues with the book (largely that it completely disappears the Cointelpro actions against the Maoist political trend I was part of) -- but it is genuinely valuable for every revolutionary to read. We need to understand what this book reveals -- methods and processes.

    Here on Kasama we have been publicizing the danger of infiltrators and agent provocateurs, and you wil find case studies drawn from recent events:

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/05/01/agent-provocateur-an-outrage-and-a-warning-on-may-first/" rel="nofollow">Agent provocateur: An outrage &amp; a warning on May First</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/02/03/secret-intelligence-report-how-cia-and-nypd-spied-on-thousands-of-muslims/">http://kasamaproject.org/2012/02/03/secret-intelligence-report-how-cia-and-nypd-spied-on-thousands-of-muslims/" rel="nofollow">Secret intelligence report: How CIA &amp; police spied on 1000s of Muslims</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/10/22/how-to-identify-an-agent-provocateur/" rel="nofollow">How to Identify an Agent Provocateur</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/02/03/secret-intelligence-report-how-cia-and-nypd-spied-on-thousands-of-muslims/">http://kasamaproject.org/2012/02/03/secret-intelligence-report-how-cia-and-nypd-spied-on-thousands-of-muslims/" rel="nofollow">Secret intelligence report: How CIA &amp; police spied on 1000s of Muslims</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2012/02/29/enemies-within-on-occupy-and-infiltration-part-1/" rel="nofollow">Enemies Within: On Occupy and Infiltration, Part 1</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/05/22/know-your-enemy-fbi-plans-and-instructions-discovered-after-raid/" rel="nofollow">Documents: FBI targets socialists &amp; international solidarity</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/23/anti-infiltration-vigilance-without-paranoia-getting-it-right/" rel="nofollow">Vigilance Without Paranoia: Confronting Infiltration</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/21/minnesotas-karen-sullivan-piecing-together-a-police-agent/" rel="nofollow">“Karen Sullivan” in Minnesota: Piecing Together a Police Agent</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/10/know-your-enemy-case-study-of-an-infiltrator/" rel="nofollow">Britain: Case Study of an Infiltrator</a>

    <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2011/01/14/british-case-study-second-police-infitrator-revealed/" rel="nofollow">British Case Study: Second Police Infitrator Revealed</a>

  • Guest (Pham Binh)

    PSM's article is an interesting case of a cop snitching on the system or informing in reverse, so to speak. Had he not cracked, the activists would have been none the wiser.

  • Guest (b_y)

    <blockquote>"I have political issues with the book (largely that it completely disappears the Cointelpro actions against the Maoist political trend..."</blockquote>



    i've been wondering about state infiltration ad counter-intelligence in the maoist milieu ever since i began learning about the NCM. i was wondering if anyone has written about this? if there are stories of especially destructive and/or long-sustained infiltration among party-building sects, agents rising to leadership? although i imagine folks of that time not needing any help in establishing a fractured polemical culture, i wonder if and how state intervention might have amplified that.

  • Guest (Otto)

    We have to be careful of the informants who try to divide the movement by casting suspicion on those revolutionaries who are innocent. I understand this is one of their favorite tricks.
    Also, I hope by now most people realize that any one trying to sell you explosives or similar materials that are hard to get are 90% likely to be FBI agents. The tricked 5 anarchists last year and they have used the same tactic against Muslim groups.

  • B_y:

    First, i have not known of anyone who wrote about this cointelpro action against the NCM -- it is kind of a major gap in the historical record (one of several). And there is undoubtedly a lot of madness to document and tell

    Second, I suspect that a lot of the agents sent into the early RU went with Venceremos... so the split (in which a guerrilla group left the Revolutionary Union) gave the RU some breathing room when it came to serious infiltration. There were early agent activities in the early RU that came into light (a couple of gunsmithes who wormed their way into the org's gun accumulation etc. and testimony related to that in Congress).

    Third, the Cointelpro actions around the RU/RCP certainly had to do with surveillance and disinformation (and less to do with agent provocateur activity of the kind you are talking about). I thnk our organization was more tightly knit and conscious than some groupings -- and so some of the worst set-up activity didn't get far.

    In one collective I belonged to our phone records appeared in the local press (along with false claims that we planning exteme acts at the local high school). In another incident, police taped heroin in our storefront -- seeking to have a raid in which we could be portrayed as drug dealers using our radical work as merely a cover.

    When my partner and I disappeared from view for a few months, in order to make it into the coalfields in 1972, the response of the federal authorities was quite aggressive: they looked for me in three different states (just that I know of), and were determined to learn where we had gone.

    We managed to get to West Virginia and into the mines without them successfully tracking us and preventing our implantation... so their methods were far from foolproof in those days, and a lot of their surveillance suffered from their lack of infiltrators inside the RU -- which was quite disciiplined and quite carefully built on "need to know."

    I don't personally have an overview of the cointelro campaigns against the RU/RCP as a whole. Our internal secrecy meant that many things did not become commmon knowledge .

    But it clear to me that our operations in West Virginia were repeatedly the target of massive federal disinformation campaigns (often involving renegade groups like the Moonies and the LaRouchies) -- with waves of red-baiting hysteria planted in the press, and the organization of hostile forces to inform on us and (in various ways) to physically attack us. We experienced several explicit assassination threats, an explosion at one comrades house, and more.

    By the end of the decade, the climate around the NCM had become extreme: The Communist Workers Party (who we called WVO) was hit by a double whammy: they were the target of the Greensboro Massacre in 1979 -- there some of their cadre were assassinated. Then, only a few months later in 1980, some of their more naive cadre got caught up in an agent provocateur plot during the Nassco strike in California.

    There was (at this time around 1979-80) also a targeting of RCP members who were involved in very militant (some might say agro) activities around first the anti-Deng Demo in Washington and then the May Day 1980 campaign (which went on, literally over a year, nationwide). One outcome of this, in addition to hundreds of cadre arrests, was a targeting of the RCP leadership (on federal charges etc.) and the departure of Avakian into exile in France.

    These are brief and very sketchy examples of the kinds of things that went down, and that would be included in any reporting.

    I know that when I moved to Chicago from the coalfields, I was immediately stopped by a roadblock, and searched by police in Chicago -- who were clearly gathering information on who this new communist arriving in their city was. So the surveillance and fishing expeditions of the authorities were aggressive.

    If someone wants to work on such a project (gather the FOIA materials, interview various players from those times, etc.) I would be willing to particupate and share what I know and experienced.

    But my scene was only one of many different ones... and there are more, and different things to say about the attacks on the remainder of the Black Liberation movement, the Puerto Rican communists, and so on.

  • Guest (demize!)

    #1 Just go on twitter and follow Brandon Darby to see how an outed snitch rationalizes his behaviour. Insult him , he and his sycophants will engage you.

  • Guest (Giovanni)

    The evidence does seem to point to Aoki being an informant. But its not definitive. Its not something that we want to be true, and we must always be critical about allegations, but I do find the convincing, on its face. Not only the FOIA papers, but the fact that Aoki has no main FBI file at all, which would not be possible for a well known radical unless he was an informant (or they are not releasing his file). The fact is that all radicals around the BBP would have a big file. His lacking one is consistent with being an informant.

    My question is this: once and informant, always an informant? Could he have changed and stopped, and would that be acceptable for revolutionaries to accept as a possibility? Or is there no redemption possible. Such people if they truly changed and became revolutionary...too bad, you passed the line of no return. Its an unforgivable crime. The best you can now do is just go away. This seems to be Mike's stance, and I think its a valid one. Generally, I firmly believe in allowing people the space to change and learn,and thus join the right side of the fight, to fight for justice instead of injustice, etc. Mao certainly embraced this in the Civil War and Revolution. But these are for soldiers. Informants are a special category, so the analogy may not hold. In any case, I agree that this hard line stance is better (and safer!) than the position that he could have been both a committed revolutionary and an informer, and we should and can balance his positive with his negative, etc, as some have been arguing.

    Here is the Democracy Now debate on this issue: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/8/23/was_bay_area_radical_black_panther#transcript

  • Giovani writes:

    <blockquote>"Not only the FOIA papers, but the fact that Aoki has no main FBI file at all, which would not be possible for a well known radical unless he was an informant (or they are not releasing his file). The fact is that all radicals around the BBP would have a big file. His lacking one is consistent with being an informant."</blockquote>

    Or consistent with the FBI wanting him to look like an informant.

    I don't understand how you can look at evidence that all <em>comes solely</em> from the FBI disinformation bowels -- and say it seems convincing. do you dismiss (out of hand) that it could be fabricated?

    Is there any convincing evidence that isn't based on FBI statements, FBI papers, FBI claims?

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
    On your larger question: If someone has proven they are capable of secretly serving the authorities as an informant -- what possible basis is there to trust them as a born-again revolutionary? What reason is there?

    Again only if people really don't think informants do damage, or think that people with such counterrevolutionary inclinations should be given access to a movement?

    <b>Put another way:</b> Should priests who molest children be given access to altar boys? Or was it a serious crime (on top of lapse of judgement) to redeploy them after verbal promises "not to do it again"?

    To be candid, i am rather shocked by the idea that informants should be given a chance to make some (proforma) self-criticism, and then "be given another chance" if they declare that they really are "revolutionary in their hearts."

    Such an approach seems extremely naive and liberal in its view, and would be incredibly destructive in its impact.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    There was an interesting historical debate within the Chinese revolution:

    Imprisoned revolutionaries were asked (by the japanese or the GMD) to denounce the revolution (publicly, in court and in writing) as the price of release.

    The line of Liu (who ran the underground urban aparatus) was to allow such denunciations of revolution and welcome the released prisoners back into the underground work.

    The line of the Maoists (sharply surfacing again during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) was that turncoats and capitulators be identified, removed from the party, repudiated and never readmitted.

    And among their arguments was the simple point that once you allow capitulation and informing (under pressure) there is no way to maintain integrity of an underground organization (which becomes riddled with proven capitulators, and becomes weakened by liberal attitudes toward situational capitulation.)

    So it is one thing, as Giovanni points out, to welcome people who "come over" from other politics (like the many prisoners of war in the Chinese civil war who volunteered to become fighters for the Peoples Liberation Army).

    But it is quite another thing to be liberal toward <em>revolutionaries</em> (and communists) who secretly (or openly) betray the cause.

    A movement that is liberal to that kind of betrayal will be riddled with betrayal -- it will be encouraged and accepted. And it will be very destructive (even fatal).

    And again, part of the issue is whether such infiltration is dangerous (or even fatal) for radical movements.

    * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * **

    My view is that a movement should take great care not to falsely tag innocent people with labels ("counterrevolutionary," "informant," etc.)

    We should critique and reject the methods of the 1930s standards adopted by the communist movement (which was often cynically indifferent to facts and investigation, and routinely smeared political opponents and dissidents as agents). We should carefully avoid paranoid witchunts and destructive bad-jacketing.

    But with cautious collective methods, we should seek to prevent entrance to infiltrators, and we should be alert to people in and around radical movements who work for hostile forces (and who often reveal themselves to the observant).

    Those who have served the authorities in extreme ways should be prevented from having access or credibility ever again.

  • Guest (giovanni33)

    I don't dismiss that it could be fabricated. In fact FBI papers have been known to also contain false information, even if in error. However, in this case, there has to be an intentional effort to name Richard A. look like an informant, i.e. a snitch jacket attempt, but there is no evidence supporting that supposition. Zero. Even if its a practices that has occurred with others in the past, and with evidence proving this (also from FBI files). But it still is a possibility, however, when I weight the actual existing evidence for an against, it tilts towards my believing these revelations, which raises a number of questions. And, again, as I said, this is not definitive. Its just that I found it persuasive, based on what is known.

    And, no, its not solely based on the FBI files. What I found particularly compelling is that Richard A himself did not clearly deny this allegation when confronted with it. It was wish-washy. He is asked: "Would you say that its untrue that you ever worked for the FBI or got paid by the FBI?" He responds: "I would say it." However, then he goes on to say how its complex. Layer upon layer. So this answer suggests otherwise. Its either true or not true. What is complex about it? What does that mean? It should be a white and black issue: You are either got money as an informant for the FBI or you didn't. When you talk about it being complicated to that kind of question, I found that as tantamount to an almost confession.

    Could the complexities about which he speaks refer to the fact the it looks like he was a-political, not aware or politically conscious at the time when he was recruited by the FBI while a high school student at Berkeley High to spy on his friends communist parents? And maybe getting involved in these political groups that he joined to spy on, actually started to changed him as he become politically aware, even as he was being paid as an informant, and then later changed completely, resulting in him being ashamed of how he was corrupted before he was politically aware? If this narrative is true, what is the correct thing to say to him if he came clean about his past? I'm not tying to be liberal on the question, as security is paramount, but there is no doubt that Richard Aoki did a lot of work that we do know and can see has been very important and instrumental to the movement. Maybe that is what Richard meant when he said its complex.

    The priest analogy is an interesting one and makes your point, but I wonder if its an accurate analogy. Child molestation is not a question of political consciousness, it's a mental sickness, a pathological disorder. Those people need to be kept away from children, and treated for pedophilia, to protect children. Its not a question of them not understanding, not knowing, or promising not to do it again. However, if the point of the analogy is make a point about a practical consideration, then I think it's valid, because once we have an activist who has become an informant, they lose all trust, and for safety, should not be trusted again. It's better to err on the side of caution.

    So I agree to that extent, but beyond that its not the same. A kid can be brainwashed by anti-communist propaganda, and think he is doing good, like so many in the US imperialist armed forces believe they are doing what is right, etc, because they are ignorant about basic realities (welcome to the power of ideology to blind oneself to basic reality!), and trained not to think critically, are lied to (WMD, etc), and so are led astray. Yet, the potential exists with these people, for real transformation, for becoming aware, for turning the guns around, etc. This is because its a question of political consciousness. I don't see how its not possible for someone like Richard to have started out as kid who had backward ideas, and thus became and informant, but then later changed. I think we have to acknowledge that is is. And that he could have done much good after changing, which is why its so painful and hard for us to accept this possibility. My point that this is possible (unlike say a someone who is attracted to and sexually abuses children), but that even so, with your stance, which I did say I thought was valid, but from the standpoint of the practical considerations of protecting radical movements. I also think its different if someone is already aware, and conscious, and already knows better, but then betrays their comrades by being an informant vs. someone who was not aware, not politically conscious, and then only later becomes so. The former is a betrayal and beyond contempt. No excuses. The later, though, is a different case, at least for me. We might not be able to trust them anymore, but in some ways they were a victim of the FBI too (preying on kids to do their dirty work, before they knew better about what they were doing). Some may say at High School age he should have known better, but in reality, many don't awaken until much later.

  • Guest (jfsp)

    Thanks to mike and Patrick for the links to the articles. Very interesting reads. Wonder if info will ever come out on "Mo and Gloves" here in Chicago.

  • Guest (Miles Ahead)

    To Giovanni--If you haven't already read the post by Fred Ho "Richard Aoki was not an FBI informant" I suggest you do so. Not only does Fred Ho help debunk the allegations and accusations, he also lays out the motivation (and timing) and message of the new "revelations" which are mainly based on the FBI's material or NON-material--or heresay. Also seems to me Seth R. has become their servant and mouthpiece, and Ho does make the case Seth R.'s motivation for his own aggrandizement.

  • Guest (ShawnT)

    Giovanni33, Aoki clearly denied that he was an informant. He never said "its complex layer upon layer" in the same sentence. It was Rosenfeld's article that misrepresented what was said. Aoki was responding to Rosenfeld's accusations. Also, the Center for Investigative Reporting added something Aoki did not say. Aoki did not say "people change" anywhere on the recording that was played in the video. Here's the recording:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A606oy_gEFo />
    The transcript with Aoki's little laughs and Rosenfeld's sighs added:

    Rosenfeld: Yeah. (pause) So, would you say it’s untrue that you ever worked with the FBI or got paid by the FBI?

    Aoki: I would say it.

    Rosenfeld: (huge sigh) (pause) And I’m trying to understand the complexities about it and I and I think…

    Aoki: It IS complex. (very slight laugh)

    Rosenfeld: I believe it is and…

    Aoki: Layer upon layer.

    IOWs, Aoki thinks Rosenfeld is an idiot for believing that line of bullshit. "it IS complex" can be more accurately interpreted as sarcasm and "layer upon layer" can be interpreted as "layers of bullshit stacked upon another". Pay attention to Aoki's little laughs when you listen to the recording. It's not even close to being an admission of guilt.

    And Seth Rosenfeld's own article claims that Aoki said "people change, its complex layer upon layer":
    http://cironline.org/reports/man-who-armed-black-panthers-was-fbi-informant-records-show-3753

    2 things wrong with that. Aoki never said "people change" It's not on the tape anywhere. The other problem is a lack of context when Rosenfeld leaves out what he said. All this comes from an award winning reporter who worked for the SF Examiner and SF Chronicle. Rosenfeld knows how to write and he knows what he is doing. The only evidence that's apparent is Rosenfeld's embellishment and twisting the facts to suit his faulty thesis. Combine that with Swearingen's dubious past and the only reasonable conclusion is that Aoki is being snitchjacketed as part of a latter day COINTELPRO operation.

  • Guest (Dante)

    "There are no justifications or excuses. I know of a situation where a teenage political newbie, active politically in their housing project, stammered 'I had to tell them — they had a gun to my head.' Uh, no you didn’t."

    I don't agree with this. The world isn't black and white. Yeah, I do think being a teenage newbie is an excuse and I would not have wanted him to risk getting shot over whatever that was about so many years ago. I'm not saying people shouldn't be held accountable but I don't like this harder than nails approach. I never liked the stories of the ultra righteous comrade. Context matters. We need to find ways to train ourselves and the newbies but I don't think this approach is it. It feels snarky and contemptuous. Not welcoming learning and growing.

  • Dante:

    I'll just repeat what I said: I'm honestly amazed (even shocked) that some people seem to see excuses for police agents. And if nothing else, these charges leveled at Richard Aoki are a time to revisit some basic matters of right and wrong.

    If someone is a police agent, they have deceived and betrayed everyone around them.

    They have <em>chosen</em>, deliberately and consciously, to serve the most sinister forces in history -- to do so in the despicable campaigns of undermining the fragile hopes of oppressed people.

    There is nothing lower or more wrong than a counterrevolutionary snitch. It is morally reprehensible in a way comparable to rapists, serial killers, child molesters and concentration camp guards.

    Such individuals need to be exposed, repudiated fiercely and removed from the movement for life.

    Dante writes:

    <blockquote>" Context matters."</blockquote>

    No it doesn't.

    It doesn't matter why they did it, or how conflicted they were about it, or whether they were blackmailed. Or whether they claimed they are "sorry."

    It doesn't matter.

    <blockquote>"[This approach] is snarky and contemptuous."</blockquote>

    If you think it is <em>merely</em> snarky and contemptuous, then you don't understand the approach. it is far more hostile than that.

    Dante implies that opposing police agents firmly is somehow macho or "ultra-righteous." This is (again) bizarre to me (and to any revolutionary movement in history).

    There is nothing "ultra-righteous" about condemning police agents. It is simply righteous.

    No one is establishing an impossibly high standard. These are very basic and very simple questions of morality: Informants are deceivers, snitches and traitors. Informers on progressive and radical movements are betraying something lofty and important.

    The word "rotten" is often applied and for good reason. Oppressed people despise snitches.And for good reason.

    Informing on radical movements is not ok when people are teenagers. It is not ok if people are facing blackmail. It is not ok if the authorities threaten people with prison and death. It is not ok, period. There are no justifications and no excuses.

    Dante writes:

    <blockquote>"[This policy is] not welcoming learning and growing."</blockquote>

    A movement for radical change is not concerned whether snitches "learn and grow." Their spiritual problems, their personal development do not matter.

    It is not about them <em>as individuals</em>, it is about preserving a movement in the midst of great conflict. The inner workings of snitches are not our concern. Fuck them.

    We do not want to help them "learn and grow." We want to prevent them from accomplishing their criminal goals, and get them as far away from the movement as possible. And we want to deter those twisted and weak individuals who are tempted to take that path.

    That requires being alert, avoiding denial, being firm, and maintaining high standards

    Everyone involved in a radical movement needs to understand <em>going in </em>what the expectations are. This should be part of any basic orientation of any serious movement.

  • Guest (Dante)

    Mike E:

    Are you confusing a newbie teenager as a criminal agent? Is that intentional? Nowhere did I say anything about "criminal agents learning and growing." The two are completely different in my opinion. I'm shocked, too, that you would take my statement out of context like that. I did not expect that from you. I see that you want to make a point about snitches and police agents, etc. That's fine. But I don't agree you should do it by misrepresenting my point. If you had questions about what I said you could have asked. I am afraid about movements and leaders so quick to denounce and judge. No, I don't think you need to put someone down or make them feel small when debating even challenging questions. I do not want to live in a world like that and I don't believe our revolution needs to treat people like that.

  • Guest (jp)

    so you can't BOTH care about the 'personal problems' of a teenager threatened with death who informs AND the movement of the masses? there is no equivalent of that teenager with an adult choosing to act as informer. you can't admit this?

    the informer absolutely out of the movement as foreseeable, made to know the magnitude of the crime, even to know the pain and anger of the victims, but do the remaining members of the movement have to engage in mental execution of the informer? Talk and act willfully ignorant, like an angry mob?

    you can't see these people as miserable examples of what humanity can produce? all that is good in humanity is our own reflection, as is all bad. willful ignorance of this is scary. while you may not choose their redemption as your life's work, and many are in fact nonredeemable, nothing human should be alien to you.

    '...check your wrath and scorn, for each needs help from every creature born'

  • [moderator note: This comment is being re-edited and will go up, perhaps as a post, in a day or two]

  • Guest (jp)

    I’ve seen ‘the wind that shakes the barley’ – very good film. Thanks for suggesting it as catechism, but not suggesting their policies as a model for us.
    I repeat that there is no equivalent of a teenager threatened with death and an adult choosing to inform
    [Parenthetically, if informers have ‘chosen, deliberately and consciously, to serve the most sinister forces in history — to do so in the despicable campaigns of undermining the fragile hopes of oppressed people’ you’ll have to enlarge your list of the morally reprehensible {why serial killers but not murderers?} to include all those who’ve joined the national guard, who’ve actually taken up weapons to back up their choice. But first stop to think about the hugely varying levels of maturity, of consciousness of choice, of need, of potential, among those enlistees.]
    attempts to understand, to find explanations, motives, are very simply not attempts at justification so why are they read that way? Mike seems to be ascribing to me an attempt to justify, and I have not done that. I have not said that it’s not clearly and unequivocally wrong. I’ve already signed off on ‘expose, repudiate fiercely and remove from the movement for life [as foreseeable] but in different words.
    you may not like the words I use– even ‘victims’ which is [frankly] absurdly challenged, since every description of the effects of informing leads directly to victims. And ‘mobs’ is now a word that can’t be used? The word implies thoughtless human herd behavior, and it’s only tied to a reactionary world view when used that way. your language, though, encourages people not to think - about the informer, his/her motives, age, anything: ‘fuck them’. “It doesn’t matter why they did it, or how conflicted they were about it, or whether they were blackmailed. Or whether they claimed they are “sorry.”The inner workings of snitches are not our concern. Fuck them.”
    do you get it that it is without doubt a great crime to inform, and at the same time it does matter why they did it? And that the inner workings of human beings are certainly and naturally our concern? What should we say about the subjects in millgram’s experiment who [were led to think they had] applied deadly shock to faceless fellow human beings? ‘fuck them’ ? How about if we know more about informing and can better deter those ‘twisted and weak’ from the path, is that ok? You know that there are scientists who study every sort of criminal at close hand? Unless we apply the barley sentence, this is going to be someone’s job. it does not have to be your job mike.
    Similarly, understanding that teenagers are in fact a special case does not [I’ll say it again but shouldn’t have to] justify informing – but it also does not disrespect teenagers, as has been implied. Many are capable of responsibly participating. And here’s a line I agree with: ‘If an individual is so immature that they can’t see that difference, then perhaps they should not be allowed farther than the periphery of any new radical movement anyway.’ Here at least is acknowledgment of differing levels of maturity. Sure it’s true of adults as well – but can we first give people a chance to become adults?
    I won’t address the ‘life and death’ vs ‘campus study groups’ except to say that I agree they require very different approaches and are very different, and that 1.studying something is not experiencing it and 2.experiencing something is not understanding it.

  • Guest (Seamus)

    Often in discussions like this Comrades have said No one should be accusation ''unless there's ''smoking gun'' documentation ''
    But what if the ''documentation '' is bogus ? One case in point was in New York in the early 1960's . A Couple who were in the CPUSA gane another Comrade a ride to work every day . Once the third Comrade noticed a paper jammed in the side of his back seat . He glanced at it and saw that it was a letter from The FBI sent to the couple in the front seats related to ther ''service ''as informants ! So he tucked it away , brought it to the party leaders and the couple was condemmed and expelled as traitors ! Good riddance right ? BUT years later it came out that the FBI forged that document and placed in it the car hoping what did happen would occur .
    ( Sorry but i forget the name of the couple in question . I believe the revelation about the case was in the NY Times .)
    So this adds another wrinkle to this question

  • Guest (giovanni33)

    If I may interject here, the discussion between Mike and Jp is an important one, I wonder if there is in fact agreement between the two and perhaps some misunderstandings due to the angle and emphasis being made. Mike is stressing the practical methodological stance, while Jp (and before myself) raised bigger philosophical questions, of humanism. I think we can't lose sight of either. The former is absolutely essential if any radical or revolutionary movement has a chance of succeeding as Mike describes. How can we deny the truth of that? We do have to put the overall needs of he movement first. However, in doing so we can't allow cruel necessity to cloud our larger compassion and morality for humanity, and our understanding and love for the people, and what kind of world we want--including for those who are broken, and who have made terrible choices, esp. as children. If a child makes a mistake, even a serious one, are they guilty in the same manner from a moral point of view as an adult? Most people agree there is a difference. This is also why I'm staunching against capital punishment (as Marx was himself). People do change. They do evolve. Everyone can become better and we have to allow them to do so, while taking into account practical considerations for safety and necessity, as paramount. To be clear, I"m not against taking a hard line stand. We must. It is life and death serious.

  • JP writes:

    <blockquote>"I repeat that there is no equivalent of a teenager threatened with death and an adult choosing to inform."</blockquote>

    I think that when people face death threats, they choose how to respond.

    I have heard people say "I had no choice, i was threatened" -- but that simply assumes that people must do what helps them avoid beatings or worse. It denies the actual decision -- which is how to respond to the threat.

    It is not OK if someone agrees to give information (or false testimony) about a radical movement.It is not ok if they finger leaders, or report on meetings. It is not ok if people turn on their community when threatened with prison. And the fact that they may have been threatened doesn't mitigate the fact that they <em>decided</em> to become an informant.

    If the revolutionary movement treats teenagers like respected and conscious fighters in the political struggle (and it historically has), it also holds them to that standard of accountability.

    All the more reason for clarity and training.

  • JP writes:

    <blockquote>"And here’s a line I agree with: ‘If an individual is so immature that they can’t see that difference, then perhaps they should not be allowed farther than the periphery of any new radical movement anyway.’ Here at least is acknowledgment of differing levels of maturity. Sure it’s true of adults as well – but can we first give people a chance to become adults?"</blockquote>

    Individuals have different levels of maturity, insight and consciousness. And a movement needs to be alert to those differences. This is not something that is mainly about age.

    Teenagers can be quite conscious and self-sacrificing -- often even in contrast to supposedly more mature adults.

  • Guest (jp)

    to moderator: comment 20 should be reinserted here - as it was posted. it appears in edited form in the new post and the thread here is made unclear by its removal. there is no reason it can't be here and noted that it has been re-posted and expanded elsewhere.

  • Sorry JP. It was moved and re-edited. There may be a few minor discontinuities, but mainly the post contains the same arguments and examples.

    If you want, you can just reinsert your comments (with any changes you want to make) after Part 3, and we can move the discussion there.

  • JP raises a valuable question:

    <blockquote>"if informers have

    <blockquote>‘chosen, deliberately and consciously, to serve the most sinister forces in history — to do so in the despicable campaigns of undermining the fragile hopes of oppressed people’</blockquote>

    you’ll have to enlarge your list of the morally reprehensible {why serial killers but not murderers?} to include all those who’ve joined the national guard, who’ve actually taken up weapons to back up their choice."</blockquote>

    We could enlarge the list a bit if we wanted.

    But the point i am trying to make is that those involved in directly infiltrating and betraying <em>liberation</em> movements have a <em>particularly</em> heinous spot in human affairs.

    And I would certainly not put all kinds of wrong deeds on the same level: becoming part of the National Guard is not conscious, despicable, or obviously reactionary -- compared with being a police spy. Many people join the National Guard and do nothing more than waste weekends and bring sandbags to levees (while also obviously providing a implied threat and potential backup for the stability of the government against strikes and uprisings). Many National Guardsmen don't confront (or realize) their state suppressive role until called on to perform it.

    By contrast, being an informant (from the first moment to the last) is enveloped in betrayal and counterrevolution. It deserves and gets a special condemnation -- much the way professional strike-breakers and gunthugs did in the period of union formation.

  • I want to acknowledge, btw, that JP and I have a great deal of unity -- I do not believe (nor will I allege) that JP somehow is excusing informants.

    JP reiterates above:

    <blockquote>"I’ve already signed off on ‘expose, repudiate fiercely and remove from the movement for life [as foreseeable] but in different words."</blockquote>

    There is no reason to exaggerate the differences -- while ignoring this level of agreement.

    Then there is a practical question of orientation: Is the goal of revolutionary movements to protect itself from infiltration and repression, or to tranform informants (as individuals) one by one.

    I think this is a valid question, and a larger issue. And is tied to the Gio's comment about " bigger philosophical questions, of humanism."

    I am making the point that these are not contradictions "among the people" -- these are what we Maoists call contradicitons between the people and the enemy. And they are basically resolved by antagonistic means (not mainly by non-antagonistic ones).

    There is a humanist view that there are on society <em>only</em> contradictions <em>among</em> the people -- that even our enemies are people (and that their social redemption and transformation should therefore be our main goal).

    I think our main goal should be their overthrow -- which in many ways and for many reasons often does not focus on patient individual transformation.

    It would be disastrous, naive and confused to think about infiltrators and informants (or war criminals and Klansmen) <em>mainly</em> from the point of view of "how do we redeem them?"

    Perhaps in some currently-non-existent future society, revolutionaries will go through the preserved police records, excavate who the police spies were and have to decide "what to do with newly exposed agents of the old order?"

    Perhaps those future revolutionaries would decide (after trial and examinations and consultations among the people) to seek to transform those agents -- because the conditions for organized rehabilitation had emerged and because they could no longer do damage -- or perhaps not (depending on their crimes).

    But really, that hypothetical is not relevant for the issues we are discussing. Revolutionary movements protecting themselves from disruption are not trying to redeem police agents -- they have other goals.

  • Guest (chegitz guevara)

    Different organizations have different expectations. I have been told of an organization which expects its members to hold out for 72 hours under torture before talking. The assumption is that all people have a breaking point. It's not rational to expect someone to hold out forever, though, clearly, some people do. I know of another organization which, facing much more difficult circumstances, only expected people to hold out 24 hours.

    Everyone has their own point at which they break. Some people, when confronted with a gun act as if its not even there, and are full of bravado. I had a co-workers like that, who was arguing with our boss after the boss pulled the gun on him. Others will crumble immediately. Everyone has their own response to imminent death, and often it isn't rational.

    Also, if you aren't expecting to be murdered over a situation, if it suddenly becomes a very real responsibility and you aren't prepared for it, it's likely your brain goes into panic mode.

    My point is, we know it isn't simply a matter of will. Hence shell shock, ptsd, depression, etc. To assume that it is simply a matter of choice not to talk is not consistent with what we understand about how humans work.

  • We are generally not talking here about people undergoing torture -- which as you say is a separate area (though something the U.S. government has always done, and more shamelessly after 9/11).

    Mainly I have been trying to address an assessment of people who become informants, go on a payroll, provide information, set people up, meet weekly with handlers and give reports -- and have the "excuse" that they faced blackmail, or the danger of prison, or were in some big personal bind.

    No one argues that doing the right thing (when under duress) is simply a matter of will -- but there is a matter of training. If a movement takes a confused approach to this, if it justifies the activity of informants or downplays the damage they do, I can guarantee you that fewer people will find the courage to do the right thing.

    Knowing that it is wrong, knowing what is expected of you, is part of what enables people to stand strong and do the right thing.

  • Guest (jp)

    i'd be happy to post a reprint of comment 20 in its original language. it was pivotal in the thread but is now apparently unavailable.

  • Not necessary, I will post a rewritten version of my comments.

  • Guest (jp)

    my comments are not now /will not be understood, then. how are website discussions to take place under these conditions?

    you have since made many comments in this thread which deserve response. why should anyone do so if those comments can disappear/be rewritten at any time?

  • they are rewritten at times. People ask to rewrite their comments, it is common. You can do it too, if you want to refine a point. Some issues are sensitive, and if pepole wasnt to rethink there presentation, that is fine.

  • Guest (jp)

    comment 20, which has been removed, has come and gone as a separate post more than once, in significantly edited form from this thread. as has been pointed out, my comment 21 has been mystified by this removal, since it was made specifically in answer to mike's original thread post. comment 20 could still be here while mike continues to revise his new post.

    there is a reason why they call these discussions 'threads' - it's all continuously connected. cut it, as mike has, and the garment has lost its integrity.

    it is true that there is substantial agreement on the informant issue, and chegitz' post was valuable intervention especially as reminder of what factors go into human behavior. in the unraveled thread [post-comment 20],mike's comment defending guard enlistees quotes me but leaves out my concluding idea and therefore my entire point, which he then agrees with. and mike's comment defending teenagers from an unmade attack, and saying maturity is not about age, misses the point that the teenager-threatened-with-death was the object of discussion.

    these aspects of the issue and more could have been thrashed out - if there was a 'thread' that had not been cut.

  • JP:

    1) I wrote comment 20. There were parts of it i need to rework. I withdrew it. When it reappears (if I have time to work on it) it will be quite different.

    2) That is OK to do. People write our moderators and want to modify or remove a comment. Often we accomodate people/ This seems quite reasonable (and even necessary at times.)

    3) It is true as you say (and it is unfortunate) that removing a comment can (in passing) momentarily disrupt a thread. So what? But there is sometimes more involved and more to consider than the coherence of threads.

    4) You have now written about this removal a few times. What are you proposing? Comment 20 is not coming back in that form. After a while, doesn't this back and forth disrupt an important discussion as well?

    5) If you have ongoing questions you could, perhaps, write our moderation team directly by email.

    6) Your contribution has been valuable to this discussion (and to this site over a long time!). If you feel your comments don't make sense without Comment 20, feel free to modify them slightly, and I'll help you by reposting them.