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In early 1971, the FBI's domestic counterintelligence program (code named "COINTELPRO") was brought to light when a "Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI" removed secret files from an FBI office in Media, PA and released them to the press. Agents began to resign from the Bureau and blow the whistle on covert operations. That same year, publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Pentagon's top-secret history of the Vietnam War, exposed years of systematic official lies about the war.
Soon after, it was discovered that a clandestine squad of White House "plumbers" broke into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in an effort to smear the former Pentagon staffer who leaked the top-secret papers to the press. The same "plumbers" were later caught burglarizing the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee. By the mid-1970's Senate and House committees launched formal and lengthy inquiries into government intelligence and covert activities. These investigations revealed extensive covert and illegal counterintelligence programs involving the FBI, CIA, U.S. Army intelligence, the White House, the Attorney General, and even local and state law enforcement, directed against opponents of government domestic and foreign policy. Since then, many more instances of these "dirty tricks" have been revealed.
When congressional investigations, political trials and other traditional legal methods of repression failed to counter the growing movements of the 1950s, '60s and '70s, and even helped fuel them, the FBI and police moved outside the law. They used secret and systematic methods of fraud and force, far beyond mere surveillance, to sabotage constitutionally protected political activity. The purpose of the program was, in FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's own words, to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize" specific groups and individuals. Its targets in this period included the American Indian Movement, the Communist Party, the Socialist Worker's Party, Black Nationalist groups, and many members of the New Left (SDS, and a broad range of anti-war, anti-racist, feminist, lesbian and gay, environmentalist and other groups). Many other groups and individuals seeking racial, gender and class justice were targets who came under attack, including Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, the NAACP, the National Lawyer's Guild, SANE-Freeze, American Friends Service Committee, and many, many others.