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FBI agent in Pentagon Papers case ran COINTELPRO operation against 'Omaha Two'

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Charles D. "Chick" Brennan joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1948, fresh out of military service and college.  Brennan's early years with the FBI were in the field where he had been stationed in Seattle and Omaha, Nebraska.  By 1956, the ambitious lawman was in Washington and in 1970 had risen to be assistant to William Cornelius Sullivan, the third ranking FBI official. 

Brennan's chief duties at FBI headquarters under Sullivan were supervising the logistics of illegal activities against domestic political targets of director J. Edgar Hoover's clandestine Operation COINTELPRO.  A gung-ho warrior, Brennan approached his illegal surveillance and counterintelligence dirty tricks with enthusiasm.  COINTELPRO was a secret, nationwide assault on anyone Hoover deemed a threat and targeted hundreds of innocent political activists for snooping, harassment, arrest and even physical harm. 

COINTELPRO had five major divisions, including New Left and Black Nationalist, which Brennan worked.  It was under the Black Nationalist COINTELPRO directorate that Brennan prepared the work orders and directed agents against Hoover's most feared targets, the Black Panthers.  Brennan's pride and joy however was the New Left operation.  Brennan planned the COINTELPRO and first proposed it to Sullivan in a secret COINTELPRO memorandum dated May 9, 1968. 

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"Our nation is undergoing an era of disruption and violence caused to a large extent by various individuals generally connected with the New Left.  Some of these activists urge revolution in America and call for the defeat of the United States in Vietnam.  They continually and falsely allege police brutality and do not hesitate to utilize unlawful acts to further their so-called causes.  The New Left has on many occasions viciously and scurrilously attacked the Director and the Bureau in an attempt to hamper our investigation of it." 

Brennan continued with his proposal, "The purpose of this program is to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize the activities of this group and persons connected with it." 

Two men that Brennan wanted to neutralize were targets of the Omaha field office where he used to work.  Since 1968 the FBI and the Omaha Police had been engaged in tight surveillance of Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice).  The pair of activists were leaders in Omaha's Black Panther chapter, the National Committee to Combat Fascism, sometimes called the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism, where they were the city's leading critics of police brutality. 

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The August 17, 1970 ambush bombing murder of Omaha patrolman Larry Minard gave the COINTELPRO plotters a chance to prosecute Poindexter and Langa for the crime.  While detectives and crime scene technicians sifted through bomb debris for clues, FBI agents were meeting with assistant-Chief of Police Glen W. Gates and making plans to drop the investigation of Minard's actual killer. 

The newly installed 911 phone system had captured the anonymous caller's voice that lured Minard and other officers to a vacant house where a woman was reported screaming.  This voice stood in the way of convicting the Panther leaders of the crime.  A plan was made to send the tape recording to the FBI Crime Laboratory for analysis and keep it away from disclosure. 

When Ivan Willard Conrad, the FBI lab director, got the COINTELPRO memo requesting that no lab report be issued he talked with Hoover on the phone to confirm a formal report was to be withheld.  On August 19th, before Minard's broken body was even buried, the COINTELPRO operation to convict the two leaders was underway with Conrad noting Hoover's "OK to do" instruction on the memo. 

Brennan was on the distribution list of the COINTELPRO memos coming out of the Omaha case and his initials appear on the memo proposing the withholding of the lab report.  Brennan knew that the killer of officer Minard was going to walk free in order to put the crime on his two targets. 

Brennan's initials of approval appear on the 'Omaha Two' COINTELPRO memo but Sullivan's do not, even though he appears on the distribution list.  Sullivan was very busy at the time with national issues at the White House, the wire-tapping of Henry Kissinger, and development of the Huston Plan to reorganize intelligence operations in the United States. 

Sullivan did admit knowledge of the Omaha case in October 1970 at a speech to United Press International.  In summarizing the case for reporters, Sullivan misstated the day of the bombing by five days. Likely, his knowledge of the case came not from unread COINTELPRO memos but an oral briefing from his assistant who had been reading the memos, Chick Brennan. 

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When the Pentagon Papers scandal broke and the FBI was determined to know all it could about Daniel Ellsberg the outraged Hoover ordered Sullivan to get the case out of the news.  Hoover wanted results and Sullivan turned to his chief assistant to personally handle the case.  Brennan approached the matter with his usual enthusiasm and that was his undoing.  Brennan ordered the interviewing of Ellsberg's father-in-law, a friend of Hoover, and earned the wrath of the director for his efforts. 

Sullivan was fired in August 1971 following a move for Hoover's job over the Kissinger wiretaps.  Without his mentor and guardian, William Sullivan, the reprimanded Brennan finished out his career in a field office. 

Meanwhile, back in Omaha, the COINTELPRO operation worked and the tape recording was dropped and was never heard by the jury that convicted Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa.  Both men were sentenced to life imprisonment and remain confined at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to maintain their innocence. 

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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