Return of COINTELPRO: ICE, CBP Target Immigration Attorneys, Activists, and Journalists


Photo by Adam Theo, published under Creative Commons license

Remember COINTELPRO? According to official records, “The FBI began COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party.” According to its targets, COINTELPRO was a (sometimes literally) lethal weapon aimed mostly at the civil rights and anti-war movements, with covert operations frequently violating U.S. laws and the U.S. Constitution, as well as the civil rights of its targets. Now ICE and the Border Patrol are targeting activists, attorneys, and journalists.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is investigating protests. It compile and circulated a four-page document titled “Anti-Trump Protest Spreadsheet 07/31/2018.” The Nation’s exclusive report, is based on official records obtained via a Freedom of Information request:

“Among the protests the agency tracked were several promoting immigrants’ rights and opposing the administration’s deportation policies, as well as one protesting the National Rifle Association. One event [a protest against white supremacy] was organized by a sitting member of Congress….

“The document, which covered protests that occurred between July 31 and August 17 last year, also contained the names of the groups sponsoring each protest and the number of people who had signed up on Facebook to attend them.”

In another story of overreaching authoritarian government, NBC has acquired a copy of the Border Patrol’s list (complete with photos) of 59 attorneys, activists, and journalists who will be stopped for questioning if they try to cross the border.

Customs and Border Protection has compiled a list of 59 mostly American reporters, attorneys and activists for border agents to stop for questioning when crossing the U.S-Mexican border at San Diego-area checkpoints, and agents have questioned or arrested at least 21 of them, according to documents obtained by NBC station KNSD-TV and interviews with people on the list….

“The documents confirm what many people who report on immigration or provide humanitarian aid and legal counsel to asylum seekers at the southern border have reported anecdotally. They say that CBP is focused on them and increasingly pulling them aside for what is known as a “secondary screening.”

“During that screening, journalists and lawyers describe being told that they are being interviewed as part of a national security investigation and that they must give officers access to their cell phones. Many do not know their rights as American citizens to refuse to answer such questions or request a lawyer….

“One lawyer from the list who was recently stopped at a San Diego-area crossing, Nicole Ramos, refugee director for Al Otro Lado, a law center for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, learned from NBC News that CBP had compiled a dossier of information on her. The dossier included personal details such as her mother’s name, her social media pictures, the car she drives and her work and travel history.

“The document…appears to prove what we have assumed for some time, which is that we are on a law enforcement list designed to retaliate against human rights defenders who work with asylum seekers and who are critical of CBP practices that violate the rights of asylum seekers,” Ramos said.”

The U.S. Senate’s investigation of COINTELPRO (“the Church Committee”) concluded, in part, that “Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that … the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association…”

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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