Adam’s Note: This is the 23rd chapter of a series for NorthOmahaHistory.com called Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO and the Omaha Two Story. Written by author Michael Richardson (San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com). I believe this series tells a vital story missing from Omaha’s history. Its the story of men convicted with malice; a Black neighborhood terrorized by white supremacy; and justice long-sought and not gained.
“Although successful over the years, it is felt they should now be discontinued for security reasons because of their sensitivity.”
—Charles Brennan, April 27, 1971
Ten days after the Omaha trial ended, Charles Brennan realized growing attention to MEDBURG documents endangered further counterintelligence operations. Brennan sent William Sullivan a recommendation.[i]
“To afford additional security to our sensitive techniques and operations, it is recommended the COINTELPROS operated by the Domestic Intelligence Division be discontinued.”
“These programs involve a variety of sensitive intelligence techniques and disruptive activities which are afforded close supervision at the Seat of Government. They have been carefully supervised with all actions being afforded prior Bureau approval and an effort has been made to avoid engaging in harassment. Although successful over the years, it is felt they should now be discontinued for security reasons because of their sensitivity.”
“In exceptional instances where counterintelligence is warranted, it will be considered on a highly selective individual basis with tight procedures to insure absolute security.”[ii]
The next day, J. Edgar Hoover sent out a short directive to FBI field offices. “Effective immediately, all COINTELPROs operated by this Bureau are discontinued.”[iii]
May Day anti-war protests filled Washington, D.C. with demonstrators. William Sullivan and an unidentified “Security Coordinating Supervisor” took to the streets to see what was going on. The supervisor prepared an affidavit for Mark Felt about Sullivan’s tour.
“One of the areas we visited was Dupont Circle….I observed a young male demonstrator on the sidewalk to the right of the car and standing about 15 feet from the car. He jeered at us and made noises which gave me the impression he felt we were police officers. I raised my camera in an attempt to secure a photograph of the man through the windshield of the car, during which time he continued to jeer and moved toward our vehicle. Mr. Sullivan removed a canister of mace from his pocket, rolled the window down and sprayed mace at the man who was then about 6 feet from the car. I did not secure a photograph; the signal light changed and we immediately drove out of the area.”[iv]
The next day Sullivan got another taste of action when he was surrounded by protesters outside the Justice Department building as he surveyed the scene of an angry protest. FBI agents arrested a man for writing on the walls of the building with red paint. As demonstrators moved toward the arrest, Sullivan found himself alone in a hostile crowd. An agent later provided a first-hand report in an affidavit. “The crowd surged forward and someone yelled that Assistant Director Sullivan was still out there. I saw Sullivan standing alone about four feet from the gate. The crowd was yelling at him and the obscenities continued. Suddenly his foot flew out as if to kick at a demonstrator.”[v]
“I did not see him make contact with his foot. Then to defend himself, I next saw Sullivan waving a blackjack in his right hand. He was still about four feet from the gate. The two agents rushed out and forced him back inside the entranceway. The crowd continued to throw objects and spit at all of us.”[vi]
In mid-May, the New York 21 were acquitted of conspiracy charges in less than one hour of jury deliberation following the longest criminal trial to that date in New York City history. J. Edgar Hoover was furious. Attorney Paul Wolf has; described Hoover’s response. “Alarmed and embarrassed by the acquittal, Director Hoover ordered an “intensification” of the investigations of acquitted New York 21 members with special emphasis on those, like Bin Wahad, who were fugitives.”[vii]
Hoover decided to compete with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division more aggressively. Hoover sent a directive to all FBI field offices on weapons violations by black extremists. A FBI inspection report summarized the communication. “As a result of the ever increasing information being reported by our informants regarding the acquisition of weapons by black extremist groups….The field was instructed that we have secondary investigative jurisdiction in such matters and that information developed by our informant coverage regarding gun law violations should be handled by us and vigorously pursued looking to the ultimate prosecution of the black extremists involved.”[viii]
In July, “well-known black extremist” Charles Knox of the Black Revolutionary Party was searched and questioned by Customs officials at the Canadian border. Knox had expanded his base of operation from Des Moines to Omaha to help fill the gap left by the demise of the Black Panther groups. The FBI was informed of the search of Knox’s automobile. A FBI inspection memorandum provided details. “Charles Knox and an additional Omaha black extremist were detained temporarily by United States Customs officials in Detroit while returning to the United States from Canada. Search of their vehicle by Customs officials determined Knox and his companion were in possession of numerous pamphlets and leaflets of a pro-communist nature.”
“Investigations of the BRP and its identified leaders and members are being aggressively pursued and, where necessary, closely coordinated with [REDACTED].”[ix]
The 1971 annual inspection report of the Domestic Intelligence Division noted a weapons seizure. “Omaha informants advised of the location of several weapons which were owned by members of the Black Revolutionary Party in Omaha and which were subsequently seized by the Omaha Police Department.”[x]
George Moore discussed COINTELPRO in the inspection report. “Prior to discontinuance, counterintelligence activity directed toward disruption of the BPP was carried out at an accelerated rate taking advantage of and exploiting any appropriate situation.”[xi]
At the end of August, J. Edgar Hoover interviewed the new Special Agent in Charge of the Omaha FBI office following Paul Young’s promotion to Kansas City. A memorandum to Clyde Tolson summarized the visit. “Today I saw Inspector Fletcher D. Thompson of the Inspection Division, who is under transfer to Omaha as Special Agent in Charge.”
“I stressed to Mr. Thompson the value of informant coverage in all fields of our work, noting that the Omaha Office [REDACTED] and the necessity for intensification of the development of top level informants.”
“I noted that the agents of the Omaha Office in July had averaged two hours and twenty-four minutes per day overtime and, while this is excessive, I know of no way to reduce in view of the volume of work and shortage of personnel.”[xii]
The next day William Sullivan visited Hoover’s inner office. For the next two and a half hours Hoover berated Sullivan for a litany of errors and faults. The meeting descended into a shouting match. Sullivan told Hoover that he should retire.
Hoover wrote to Sullivan and formally requested that he apply for retirement immediately and take accumulated leave. Sullivan had lost the struggle with Hoover for control of the FBI. “It has been apparent to me that your views concerning my administration and policies in the Bureau do not meet with your approval or satisfaction, and thus has brought about a situation which, though I regret, is intolerable for the best functioning of the Bureau.”[xiii]
Charles Brennan, a protege of Sullivan, was removed as Assistant Director of the Domestic Intelligence Division and transferred to an inspector position following Sullivan’s departure.[xiv]
Congressional repeal of the Emergency Detention Act forced Hoover to notify field offices that the Security Index was to be discontinued. The change, however, was in name only. The Security Index was replaced by the newly named Administrative Index keeping intact Hoover’s secret detention list.[xv]
At month’s end, Hoover had his last encounter with William Sullivan. Hoover shouted at Sullivan. Sullivan shouted back. The heated exchange between the two men drove Hoover to write again to Sullivan about forced retirement. “I deeply regret the occasion to take action such as this after so many years of close association, but I believe it is necessary in the public interest. Your recently demonstrated and continuing unwillingness to reconcile yourself to, and officially accept, final administrative decision on problems concerning which you and other Bureau officials so often present me with a variety of conflicting views has resulted in an incompatibility so fundamental that it is detrimental to the harmonious and efficient performance of our public duties.”[xvi]
Hoover replaced Sullivan with Alex Rosen before the day was over.
In November, facing public calls for his retirement, Hoover received a letter of support from Fletcher Thompson who had learned the art of pleasing Hoover with flattery. Hoover called Thompson on the phone with his thanks. A memorandum to Clyde Tolson and others summarized the conversation between the two men.
“Special Agent in Charge Fletcher Thompson, Omaha, returned my earlier call to him. I told him the reason I called was that I was very much pleased with the letter he wrote me a week or ten days ago about his contacts around his district and what he, Thompson, had to say in regard to the criticism being directed against the Bureau. I told Mr. Thompson that on Friday I issued a letter to all Special Agents in Charge setting forth the various questions that may be asked by an audience or newspapermen and the answers that might be given and these followed the line that he had furnished me, but I wanted him to know what a fine job he did and I wanted to see the other Special Agents in Charge doing the same thing.”
“Mr. Thompson said he thought that was an opportunity they have although he did not know that everybody has a friendly audience as he has for the most part out there, but they are confused and want us to level with them. I said that is the only way, I think, that we can dispel the misinformation thrown them by these “jackals” and “scavengers” of the press. Mr. Thompson said we have nothing to apologize for as we are just doing our job and he intends to keep on telling them so.”[xvii]
In December, Hoover sent Clyde Tolson a memorandum regarding an interview he had with Bill Williams, who was being transferred from FBI headquarters to Omaha to be second in command. The memo is partially redacted, leaving the contents of three portions unknown.
“Today I saw Special Agent Bill D. Williams, a Supervisor in the General Investigative Division, who is under orders of transfer to Omaha as Assistant Special Agent in Charge. [REDACTED].”
“I stressed to Mr. Williams the value of informant coverage in all fields of our work. [REDACTED] and the necessity for intensification of the development of top level informants.”[xviii]
“I noted that since January 1, 1971, the Omaha Office has recruited 19 Special Agents and supplied 96 clerical employees.”[xix]
A week later, Fletcher Thompson made a formal counterintelligence proposal ten months after COINTELPRO was officially terminated.
Thompson’s proposal to Hoover is heavily redacted and the specifics of the planned operation are unknown, still protected by FBI censorship. Thompson’s target was Charles Knox of the Black Revolutionary Party.[xx]
The few details that were released by the FBI are found in the only two sentences of the memorandum made public. “Bureau permission is being requested to initiate counterintelligence activities against CHARLES KNOX, head of the Black Revolutionary Party in Des Moines, Iowa. The purpose of this counterintelligence activity is to disrupt the activities of the BRP.”
Hoover’s response is unknown.
In April 1972, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld Robert Cecil’s conviction for a sawed off shotgun seized during a raid of the National Committee to Combat Fascism headquarters in Omaha. However, the court was critical of police search tactics which used Cecil as a human shield.
“Hartford pulled the screen door open, breaking the lock, and the officers entered in a rush….The search, subsequent to the seizure of the gun and the defendant’s arrest, is not pertinent here and we say no more in that regard than that we disapprove of the manner in which it was conducted.”
Circuit Judge Heaney dissented, arguing that police lacked probable cause to arrest Cecil and provided more details of the search which used Cecil as a human shield. “I fail to understand why a temporary seizure of the defendant and the weapon would not have sufficiently protected the officers.”
“Instead, the police handcuffed the defendant and used him as a human shield to protect them as they searched the house, on the theory that if any occupants of the house fired on the police, Cecil would take the brunt of it.”[xxi]
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- [i] MEDBURG was FBI jargon for the Media, Pennsylvania burglary
- [ii] Church Committee, Vol. VI, p. 605, April 27, 1971
- [iii] COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, Ed. by Cathy Perkus, Introduction, p. 27, 1975
- [iv] Archive.org, William C. Sullivan, Vol. 8, p. 20-21, October 5, 1971
- [v] Archive.org, William C. Sullivan, Vol. 8, p. 18, October 4, 1971
- [vi] Archive.org, William C. Sullivan, Vol. 8, p. 19, October 4, 1971
- [vii] COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story, Paul Wolf, p. 44, 2001
- [viii] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 3, p. 82, August 19, 1971
- [ix] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 3, p. 144, August 18, 1971
- [x] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 3, p. 82, August 19, 1971
- [xi] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 3, p. 81, August 19, 1971
- [xii] Archive.org, Clyde A. Tolson, Vol. 9b, p. 107, August 30, 1971
- [xiii] FBI, Sanford Unger, p. 310, 1975
- [xiv] Archive.org, Charles D. Brennan, Vol. 4, p. 183, September 13, 1971
- [xv] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 4, p. 104, August 22, 1972
- [xvi] Archive.org, William Sullivan, Vol. 7, p. 154, September 30, 1971
- [xvii] Archive.org, Clyde A. Tolson, Vol. 10, p. 62, November 22, 1971
- [xviii] Archive.org, Clyde Tolson, Vol. 10, p. 77, December 3, 1971
- [xix] Archive.org, Clyde Tolson, Vol. 10, p. 78, December 3, 1971
- [xx] Fletcher Thompson to J. Edgar Hoover, February 9, 1972, Reel 4 Black Nationalist Hate Groups, microfilm, 1978
- [xxi] United States v. Robert Cecil, 457 F. 2d 1178 (1972)
About the Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
- “Framed” Preface by Michael Richardson
- A Timeline of Race and Racism in Omaha
- A History of Racism in Omaha
- Black History in Omaha