Fifty years ago, April 28, 1971, a clandestine, counterintelligence program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, code-named COINTELPRO, in secret operation from 1956 until 1971, was abruptly terminated. Assistant FBI Director Charles Brennan, head of the Domestic Intelligence Division, realized that release of stolen FBI memoranda from the Media, PA office would compromise the illegal undercover program.
“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.”
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.”
One of Brennan’s priority duties as head of the Domestic Intelligence Division, which he aggressively pursued, was directing counterintelligence operations under COINTELPRO. Brennan was determined to break the Black Panther Party which J. Edgar Hoover had declared was the number one threat to domestic security. Brennan no doubt hated having to pull the plug on his primary weapon, COINTELPRO.
The summer before, just two weeks after Brennan had been promoted to head Domestic Intelligence, he was ramrodding COINTELPRO operations. Brennan would later testify to a Senate committee. The Church Committee, with ten Senators present, convened to question Charles Brennan about illegal FBI activities. Brennan said he became chief of the Domestic Intelligence Division in August 1970. Brennan did not tell the Senators he was part of a conspiracy to withhold a report on the identity of Omaha Patrolman Larry Minard’s killer that same month in order to make a case against Poindexter and Rice.
Brennan was asked if there was “a program of intensification” of investigations beginning August 1970. Brennan admitted Domestic Intelligence did intensify counterintelligence operations.
Brennan was asked if the intensification concerned J. Edgar Hoover over abridgment of individual liberties. Brennan replied, “He hadn’t demonstrated a previous concern of this nature in the past.”
During Brennan’s intensification campaign, on August 17, 1970, at 2:07 a.m., Omaha police received a 911 emergency telephone call from a male who spoke in a deep gravely voice that a woman was screaming at 2867 Ohio Street, a vacant house. Eight policemen responded. While officers searched a tremendous, blinding flash and deafening blast shook the silent neighborhood and ripped through the walls of the vacant house killing Patrolman Larry Minard.
Two men, Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa), leaders of the Black Panther affiliate National Committee to Combat Fascism were COINTELPRO targets at the time of the murder and were blamed for the crime. A call was made to FBI headquarters in Washington from the Omaha office at 6:45 a.m. Charles Brennan, Assistant Directer, was informed by memorandum about the call concerning the death of Minard.
“Omaha Office offered assistance in covering out-of-state leads and FBI Laboratory facilities offered. Omaha advised it had notified military and Secret Service, was following closely, and alerted its racial informants in pursuit of investigation.”
Brennan was also assured, “Pertinent parts will be included in teletype summary to the White House, Vice President, Attorney General, military and Secret Service.”
Brennan stayed in the loop with letters and calls from Special Agent in Charge Paul Young to FBI headquarters keeping Brennan updated on the case. Two internal memorandums from William Bradley, a supervisor, detailed a plan to withhold a laboratory report on the 911 recording of the anonymous caller’s voice.
“Omaha Office has advised that the Omaha Police Department has requested laboratory assistance in connection with a bombing which took place in Omaha 8/17/70. This bombing resulted in the death of one police officer and the injuring of six other officers and is apparently directly connected with a series of racial bombings which the Omaha Police have experienced. The Police were lured to the bomb site by a telephonic distress call from an unknown male.”
“If approved, the results of any examinations will be orally furnished the Police on an informal basis through the SAC, Omaha.”
Poindexter and Rice were convicted by a jury that never heard the 911 recording and were sentenced to life at hard labor. Rice, who changed his name to Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, died at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in March 2016. Poindexter remains imprisoned at the maximum-security prison where he continues to proclaim his innocence. Poindexter has a pending commutation of sentence request with the Nebraska Board of Pardons but the Board has refused to set a hearing date for him ignoring a prayer vigil, a march, a demonstration at the home of Governor Pete Ricketts, and a billboard campaign.
Although the runaway train that COINTELPRO had become continued to barrel down the tracks and returned in partial form in different guises over the years, the formal counterintelligence tactics developed to combat foreign spy rings were terminated a half-century ago. Sitting in a tiny prison cell for that half-century is Ed Poindexter, COINTELPRO’s last victim.
This article is excerpted from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and available in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.