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FBI used United Airlines in planned COINTELPRO action against Black Panthers in 'Omaha Two' case

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In the late 1960's and early 1970's there was a fierce, illegal, and clandestine war being raged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation against the Black Panther Party.  FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had ordered agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize" the Black Panthers. 

The full scope of misdeeds under Operation COINTELPRO will never be known although some of the dirty tricks and actions have emerged piecemeal through Freedom of Information requests.  Political Research Associates maintains one of the largest collections of COINTELPRO documents and its copies of heavily redacted FBI memos tell part of the story. 

To keep the momentum of the secret operation going Hoover ordered field offices to make written reports to him every two weeks.  The Omaha, Nebraska FBI office had drawn criticism in late 1969 from Hoover for inaction against the leaders of Omaha's Panther chapter, Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice). 

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On December 10, 1969, Hoover ordered the Omaha field office to "give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders to weaken or destroy their positions."  Hoover told Omaha agents to make up a plan, "Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results." 

The Omaha Special-Agent-in-Charge responded to Hoover on December 29th with an update on the Panther group.  "United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) has been limited in activity to the sale of "The Black Panther", the official Black Panther Party (BPP) newspaper, the publication of a UFAF newsletter and making plans for starting a liberation school at its Omaha Headquarters in the near future." 

"Consideration is still being given by Omaha to some type of counterintelligence activity directed against leaders of this organization or aimed at the disruption of the UFAF newsletter or the planned liberation school." 

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"Close attention will be afforded this matter in order to produce effective results and proposals for counterintelligence activity will be supplied to the Bureau by separate communications in the very near future." 

Two weeks later on January 12, 1970, the Omaha FBI office informed Hoover they were still working on his request.  "Several counterintelligence measures aimed at this organization are presently under consideration and proposals for counterintelligence activities aimed at disruption of this organization or directed against its leaders will be submitted to the Bureau by separate communication in the very near future." 

The next two-week letter to Hoover from Omaha had a COINTELPRO plan which was signed off on by the Racial Intelligence Section.  The COINTELPRO actions were conducted by field agents under the direction William Cornelius Sullivan, head of Domestic Intelligence.  The proposals had to also secure the approval of George Moore of Racial Intelligence and were reviewed by Mark Felt, an inspector better known as 'Deep Throat' of Watergate infamy.  Hoover, however, had the final word and closely monitored COINTELPRO proposals each day. 

The Omaha Special-Agent-in Charge advised Hoover of the progress being made on his December order to be "imaginative" in crafting a COINTELPRO action.  On January 26, 1970, the Omaha office wrote to Hoover. 

"The United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) is the only BPP affiliated organization presently active within the Omaha Division.  At present the only known source of income of the UFAF is money derived through the sale of the Black Panther newspaper which arrives in Omaha weekly via United Airlines." 

"Contact is presently being maintained with United Airlines to ascertain if a regular pattern exists for the pickup of this newspaper by [REDACTED] a known UFAF member to whom these papers are consigned.  As soon as this pattern is established, Omaha contemplates initiating counterintelligence measures aimed at disruption of the distribution of this newspaper." 

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The operational details were worked out for the "disruption" of the newspaper distribution in a memo dated February 9, 1970, which is missing from the PRA archive.  However, the next regular report provided an update of the secret plan to interfere with the group's lawful activities. 

"As pointed out in re communication and prior letters in captioned matter the only known source of income of the United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) at the present time is money derived through the sale of the Black Panther Newspaper, which prior to the last week of January 1970, arrived on a weekly basis in Omaha via United Airlines Air Freight." 

"Since BPP Headquarters has changed its policy concerning the publishing of this newspaper to demanding that payment for these newspapers be received at BPP Headquarters prior to the time the newspaper goes to the printer, no papers have been received in Omaha from the San Francisco area.  In recent communications from San Francisco, it appears that arrangements are being made to have further shipments of the BPP Newspaper sent to Omaha and contact is being maintained with United Airlines Air Freight so that the Omaha office will be apprised when regular shipments of the newspaper to Omaha are resumed." 

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer living in Belize. Richardson writes about Taiwan foreign policy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Black Panther Party. Richardson was Ralph Nader's ballot access manager during the 2004 and (more...)
 

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