One of the FBI’s Most Illegal Hoover Era Operations: COINTELPRO — Put on Steroids by LBJ and Hoover

~ Hat’s Off to William Auth, (1942-2014)
Editorial Cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer ~


Unbeknownst to the public – or, initially in the 1950s, even the higher-level officials of the Department of Justice – the FBI’s home-grown COINTELPRO (Code for “Counterintelligence Program”) created an official policy to use illegal forms of surveillance such as bugging devices and wiretapping.  By the mid-1960s, it was subsequently expanded to allow the use of other illegal tactics, solely on the whims of J. Edgar Hoover.  As will be demonstrated below, it would soon adopt the most horrid, inhumane types of torture normally associated with Hitler’s Gestapo or Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago, though these operations were mostly “sub-contracted” to local thugs for execution, as we will shortly describe.  That these highly illegal and unconstitutional acts took place under Lyndon B. Johnson’s regime should not go unnoticed, as it should be clear that his well-known propensity for micromanaging all such activities means that the order more than likely came from him, just as his calls to “Kill More Cong” ultimately resulted in Operation Phoenix and the series of atrocities against innocent Vietnamese civilians that produced the 1968 My Lai 4 Massacre that killed 504 women, children and old men. LBJ: The Mastermind of... Nelson, Phillip F. Buy New $10.20 (as of 09:15 UTC - Details)

The use of these devices under such loose methods went well beyond “legal” constraints – they even vaulted over the higher threshold of the Fourth Amendment[1] of the Constitution – and continued, essentially unnoticed and/or uncontrolled by all of Hoover’s superiors, at least until Robert F. Kennedy finally attempted to establish control, with limited success.  Hoover, it seems, had conferred unto himself, rather than the judicial system, the authority to issue “warrants” under the amendment, where it delineates the conditions under which they may be properly issued. Perhaps it was under that leap-of-logic that he had taken the liberty of renaming his office as the “Seat of Government” (S.O.G.) as a means of justifying, to himself, the arrogated gravitas of his rarified position of paramount authority.

The FBI’s secret COINTELPRO had begun in 1956, just as Martin Luther King Jr. had become a national figure as the most famed civil rights activist.  It continued to secretly grow – propelled to a Gestapo-like leviathan during the 1960s Johnson administration – until it was exposed in March, 1971 when the FBI’s field office in Media, Pennsylvania was burglarized. It was merely one of the many secrets discovered in that break-in and passed to the news media.  The burglars belonged to an activist group called the “Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI.” The burglary occurred on a night when a large part of the population was distracted due to a boxing match called “The Fight of the Century” between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (Ali himself was one of the thousands of people targeted by the program because of his support for the anti-war movement).

Among other celebrities caught up in Hoover’s net were ex-Beatles singer John Lennon,[2] other early rock stars such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, folk singer Pete Seeger, painter Pablo Picasso, comic actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, comedian Lenny Bruce and poet Allen Ginsberg.  The early deaths of many of the rock musicians of the period, including Jim Morrison, were long-suspected to be related to the general paranoia suffered by many political leaders in those days. Mae Brussell had begun tracking the litany of such names in the late 60s and continued through the 1970s, stating what is now generally accepted by all: “the United States is secretly run by powerful groups that will stop at nothing to maintain control,” a statement she made which was published by the Monterey (California) Herald, Oct. 4, 1988.[3]

Still another entangled star, the child-actress Jean Seberg — “discovered” by Otto Preminger at age 17 in 1956 – was also targeted by the FBI in 1968 for her financial support of the Black Panthers. She spent a decade in turmoil over the harassment – including being repeatedly characterized as “the alleged promiscuous and sex-perverted white actress.” She was falsely accused of being impregnated by one of the Panthers (the white baby, whose father was Jean’s husband, diplomat Romain Gary, was stillborn); her friends said she never recovered from that experience, and continued to be harassed by the FBI until, at age 40, Jean Seberg committed suicide in Paris, in 1979.[4]

The FBI Sets up a Nationwide Targeting Program Aimed at Student Protestors and “The New Left” Generally, And Thomas Cahill Specifically

Among the many thousands of lesser-known people around the country who were similarly targeted was a San Antonio writer, photographer, magazine editor and anti-war protestor named Thomas Cahill. Cahill wrote the following passages to a friend, explaining his early life:[5]

  • I grew up in New Jersey where I was born in 1937. While in the Air Force in 1955, I fell in love with Texas where I was stationed awhile.  Upon discharge from the service, I studied journalism at the University of Texas in Austin and afterward got a job on a statewide magazine during which time I was assigned to photograph Pres. & Mrs. Kennedy at a Democratic Party Fundraiser in Austin the night of Nov. 22, 1963.  I had a White House press pass and a friend of Vice-Pres. Johnson was going to set-up a photo op for me.  To say this 26-year-old was “excited,” is an understatement.
  • Of course the Kennedy’s never made it to the Party-party.  And this was the second or third major trauma of my life, the first having grown up in a dysfunctional family, and the second my service time in Germany for which in January 2013 I received a 100 percent, service-connected disability pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This is how I’m now able to live abroad.

In the first few years after President Kennedy was murdered on Elm Street in Dallas, Cahill watched as the country became divided by the new president’s manipulations to put it on a warpath that made no sense to him, and millions of others who were also aghast at the horrors his policies portended.  By 1967-68, most people paying minimal attention to the growing numbers of American boys killed or wounded began realizing that they had been lied to by President Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the generals running the war, about how “successfully” his war was going.

As did so many others watching it unfold, America stumbled into a particularly senseless war and Tom Cahill’s name, as a disillusioned veteran who had begun participating in anti-war demonstrations, thus appeared in underground newspapers.  That caused his life to be abruptly turned upside down because he had unwittingly become caught up in a “perfect storm” of events colliding around him.

It was in January, 1968 when the Tet Offensive by North Vietnam taught the nation that “the light at the end of the tunnel” was, metaphorically, an out-of-control runaway train with loose cannons on the flatbeds, driven by a drunken engineer called “LBJ”.  By February, a sea-change in American attitudes toward the war began which triggered reactions throughout Washington and the nation as both sides – the “Doves and the Hawks” in the parlance of the times – solidified their positions; even CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, generally considered to be “the most trusted man in America,” finally decided the misbegotten war was doomed to fail.  But not the President, who continued his quest to defeat the Communists, at one point telling one of his military briefers, Colonel John Downie, who had urged him to get out of Vietnam, “I cannot get out of Vietnam, John, my friends are making too much money.”[6]

The elements of the perfect storm gathering in early 1968, which would change Tom Cahill’s life forever, included these subparts:

  • During mid-1967, President Lyndon Johnson had ordered Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Richard Helms to begin spying on the anti-war movement. The exact date of the meeting is not known, but August 15, 1967 was the date of the first official CIA memo on the program. Although Helms told LBJ that such a program would be illegal, LBJ ordered him to do it anyway, and he complied, apparently in fear of losing his prestigious and well-paid job.[7]
  • The CIA delivered four reports on the anti-war movement, none of which reported any evidence of foreign involvement.  LBJ rejected the conclusions of all four of them and remained convinced that the anti-war movement was influenced or controlled by foreign governments, either China, “Hanoi” or the Soviet Union. The reports were delivered on November 15, 1967, December 22, 1967, January 5, 1968, and September 4, 1968.[8]
  • In May, 1968, clearly in an act directly related to the actions noted above, the FBI’s “intelligence” gathering program COINTELPRO – previously used by the FBI to track Martin Luther King Jr. and assorted other targeted civil rights activists and suspected communists – was extended widely, to track anti-war and civil rights protestors under a comprehensive, country-wide and highly illegal program that had already been growing in breadth and depth throughout the turbulent 1960s.  All field offices were sent a memorandum describing their responsibilities under the program, including identifying potential subjects and reporting results of their surveillance activities on a three-month interval.  The FBI memorandum describes the program thusly: General instructions are being furnished to all offices relating to the purpose and administration of this new program.  Briefly, these instructions require all offices to submit an analysis of possible counterintelligence operations on the New Left and on the Key Activists on or before 6/1/68, including any specific recommendations for action.  Thereafter, all offices will submit a 90-day status letter setting forth a summary of their accomplishments and future plans . . . “
  • In the meantime, Tom Cahill had become the publisher of Inferno, a San Antonio, Texas underground newspaper, printed in English and Spanish.  His use of this medium to express his dissenting views of the war would have made him an easy target, even for lazy FBI agents acting from their desk chairs, who were then being enlisted by FBI HQ officials to search for “new left” candidates to add to their lists of designated malcontents protesting LBJ’s war.  FBI files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), presented below, show that Cahill had been targeted by that agency’s field personnel (apparently after merely reading his reports in the Inferno) following instructions from “S.O.G.” – Hoover’s term for the “Seat of Government.”  Cahill’s reportage, unfortunately for him, appeared concurrently with that new COINTEL program, and the following additional developments occurring in the CIA and FBI.


The Attack on Tom Cahill

Thomas Cahill’s troubles with “the law” began – still unbeknownst to him — in late May, 1968, after three years of his being involved in ever more frequent, but futile, protests of the Vietnam War.  It came at a time, unfortunately for Mr. Cahill, when Lyndon Johnson had decided – in a last-ditch effort, knowing it was his last year of his presidency — to wage all-out war on his critics.  Some of them (Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Thomas Merton) would die for their efforts to end the senseless war Johnson had wrought.

Cahill was among those selected for that next-worst level of retribution, for his defiance of LBJ’s war, though it was his constitutional right according to the First Amendment, a point that had become lost in the rush to fulfill the orders from above. Someone, as it will become clear, with considerable power to do so, issued the orders to set Cahill up to be beaten, gang-raped and otherwise severely tortured while jailed for “civil disobedience” (protesting the senseless war) for the purpose of neutralizing him due to his insubordination as a veteran who was supposed to continue to “follow orders.” Cahill explained the vicious treatment given him on the secret but now-proven orders of the FBI:[9]

  • By 1967, I was totally involved in the “zeitgeist,” publishing an “underground” newspaper in San Antonio, Texas (possibly America’s most fascist city then AND now).  While jailed for civil disobedience in October 1968, I was beaten, gang-raped and otherwise tortured for twenty-four hours, then kept in the same cell for two weeks until I looked presentable.  A guard or trustee had told my cell mates (mostly black and Hispanic) that I was a “child-molester” and, “If you take care of him, you might get an extra ration of Jello.”
  • Two memos from my FBI files indicate COINTELPRO (the Bureau’s Counter Intelligence Program against the “New Left”) set me up.  FBI “dirty tricks,” the term used by the media back then, was common in the late 60s and early 70s and my treatment might have been one of the more gentler.

Cahill’s name was added to a “Security Index” file by the San Antonio field office of the FBI.  A document, copied below, from the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) with a corrected date of 9/10/68 was released, through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request (though his name was redacted in the primary section, it was not redacted in another section on page 2, evidently in error).  The document indicated that the SAC had sent a recommendation to FBI Headquarters on May 28th that: “a rumor be started” about Cahill being a “Narcotics Agent” because it was felt doing so would disrupt the “New Left” and tend to “isolate [Cahill’s] influence.”   It further indicated that a response from HQ on June 11th disapproved that suggestion but proffered a replacement “possible disruptive measure that if recent narcotics arrests had been made in Austin, a leak through New Left sources that (Cahill) is a police informant might be used.”

FBI Memo #1 [9/10/68] Re: Tom Cahill – page 1

FBI Memo #1 Re: Tom Cahill – page 2

On the second page of this document, above, between two redacted “pending action items” a statement with an unredacted reference to Cahill appears: “San Antonio pointed out that the net result of these two situations would be to neutralize any effect that CAHILL would have in the anti-Vietnam activities.”  LBJ: From Mastermind t... Nelson, Phillip F. Buy New $14.49 (as of 05:15 UTC - Details)

Cahill’s 1968 prison rape was described in a 1999 article published in Salon magazine, where it was reported that “Six of Cahill’s 30 cellmates beat, tortured and raped him for two days. And like thousands of other survivors, his life was never the same“:[10]

Thirty years ago, as a young political activist in San Antonio, Texas, he was set up by prison guards and gang-raped. “I was put in a gorilla cage. That’s a cell organized by guards for a ‘turning out party,’” says Cahill. “They told everyone I was a child molester.”

“It’s the ultimate humiliation, and it works on you for the rest of your life,” says Cahill, his voice raising with anger. “I still feel mistrustful of people, and even among my friends I feel stigmatized. I still have flashbacks and bouts of incredible, consuming rage.”

Cahill’s inner turmoil led to the destruction of his marriage. He ended up on the streets, and got involved in political fights that often landed him back in jail.  Cahill explained the daunting challenge of eliminating the problem: “Prison rape continues because it’s a management tool. It benefits the guards and wardens. There’s no way around that fact.”

Soon after his release, in February, 1969 Cahill and his sister moved to California.  One month later, the SAC from San Antonio sent the following multiple page letter to HQ (or “S.O.G.”) boasting about how they had driven the Cahills out of their city: “San Antonio feels that this is another excellent accomplishment to curtail two New Leftist activities in the San Antonio Division.”

FBI Memo #2 [3/18/69] Re: Tom Cahill – page 1

FBI Memo #2 Re: Tom Cahill – page 2 (orig. p.5)

A Presumptive Conclusion: The Source of Tom Cahill’s Persecution

It was during 1968 – the point at which LBJ was forced to “sacrifice” the presidency he had always cherished – that Johnson’s mania drove him to proceed with the planned murders of his primary enemies, the men he feared might eventually expose his crimes, thus preserving his “legacy” as a great and magnanimous president: Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and Thomas Merton.  He feared those men due to their national prominence, but Johnson also had always been just as paranoid about his stature “back home,” which enveloped the entire state of Texas, especially that area around Austin and San Antonio and everything in between, all of which he monitored like a hawk over its terrain.  A man who knew him well as a cable TV business competitor, John Campbell, explained how Johnson felt about “his” territory: “LBJ owns this part of Texas and we were trespassing on his territory, so don’t expect any favors or fair play from him . . . This is just the way they do business.”[11]  It goes without saying that this attitude was not merely one felt by competitors in the cable television business: it was a pervasive theme throughout the region: “LBJ owns this part of Texas.”

It must be understood that Lyndon Johnson’s ego required absolute loyalty from everyone, especially anyone connected to governmental entities as employees who owed the most deference of all, and that would include military veterans like Cahill.  Examples of that point abounded: One such was described by Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson, regarding how he expected the same kind of loyalty as “a toy poodle is to a woman with a large lap,” and another by Anthony Summers, about how he liked to say, “he wanted men around him who were ‘loyal enough to kiss my ass in Macy’s window and say it smelled like a rose.’”[12]  He even had that expectation from foreign leaders, if they dared criticize him on American soil: When Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson criticized his bombing of Vietnam in the earliest days of his war in a speech in Philadelphia, Johnson was furious: Pearson was immediately summoned to Camp David to meet with Johnson. When he arrived, he was practically assaulted by President Johnson, who grabbed Pearson by the lapels and shouted, “Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug!”[13]

There can be little question how Johnson would regard the news of a military veteran protesting his war from his own backyard. Thus can it be reasonably posited that Lyndon Johnson, through his direct connection to Hoover, knew all about the people caught in the FBI’s surveillance web within his “territory” and indubitably knew all about Tom Cahill and his “unpatriotic” (to LBJ) acts of defiance.  The fact that Johnson had a long history of ordering deadly retribution to people who had crossed him must be factored into this exercise of deductive reasoning in determining from whom the order came.

Likewise, there can be little doubt that the person who decided to subject Cahill to the torture and humiliation that would haunt him forever-after was not merely the SAIC of the San Antonio field office of the FBI; nor William J. Sullivan, the assistant director at FBI HQ who oversaw the program; not even J. Edgar Hoover, who referred to himself as the “S.O.G”, the titular head of the FBI.  There was nothing about this subject that would have provoked any of them to order that extreme level of torture; Tom Cahill was not notably unlike the other many thousands who were being surveilled and harassed, but were not set up for the most horrid torture treatment imaginable — just short of being murdered. What made him different was his military service and location, in Lyndon Johnson’s backyard.

The accumulated evidence summarized above, subjected to rigorous examination and logical deductive reasoning processes, leads directly to an inescapable conclusion:

That it was none other than Lyndon B. Johnson who ordered the worst possible torturous treatment to be administered to Tom Cahill in retaliation for his disloyalty to “his president.”


[1]  Viz: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

[2] “Years after Lennon’s assassination it would be revealed that the FBI had collected 281 pages of files on him, including his song lyrics.   J. Edgar Hoover . . . directed the agency to spy on the musician. There were also various written orders calling on government agents to frame Lennon for a drug bust. For instance, in December 1971 at a concert in Ann Arbor, Mich., Lennon took to the stage and in his usual confrontational style belted out “John Sinclair,” a song he had written about a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing two marijuana cigarettes. Within days of Lennon’s call for action, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered Sinclair released. What Lennon did not know at the time was that government officials had been keeping strict tabs on the ex-Beatle they referred to as “Mr. Lennon.” Incredibly, FBI agents were in the audience at the Ann Arbor concert, “taking notes on everything from the attendance (15,000) to the artistic merits of his new song.”  The U.S. government, steeped in paranoia, was spying on Lennon.  (See:

[3] Cahill, Tom “Mae Brussell Lives!” at Nov., 26, 2003 (See: ).

[4] Ostrow, Ronald J. “FBI Probe of Actress Jean Seberg Found More Extensive Than Reported” The Washington Post, January 9, 1980 (See Weisberg Collection, Hood College archives: 45.pdf)

[5] “Tom Cahill Forgives the FBI,” We Are The Future Generations, January 2, 2016 (See:

Cahill has written extensively about prison sexual assaults, the ironically-named War on Drugs (the irony being the paradox of one governmental hand futilely attempting to contain a problem being simultaneously exacerbated and facilitated by another [CIA] hand); the 1960s assassinations; the use torture to control and subjugate prisoners; the deployment of radioactive munitions; and, spiritual insights he has observed as a self-ordained syncretist priest. Cahill moved from Northern California to France in May 2013.  He travelled to Baghdad in early 2003 during the invasion of Iraq to volunteer as a “human shield” at a water treatment plant near Baghdad.  Later that same year, he traveled to Washington to witness President George W. Bush sign the Prison Rape Elimination Act into law; his invitation recognized the fact of his long-term work as an activist on the issue, and the fact that he was one of the survivors.    Tom Cahill has received numerous awards for his work in bringing the subject of prison rapes to the world’s attention.

[6] Pepper, William F., The Plot to Kill King, p. xxxiv.) It was during this same time frame that Johnson repeatedly explained to the American people how well things were going there, though he admitted that they would have to carry “perhaps for a long time the burden of a confusing and costly war in Vietnam.”

[7] Today in Civil Liberties History, “August 15, 1967: CIA Begins Spying on Anti-Vietnam War Movement – Under LBJ’s Orders,” (See:

The following excerpt (from Who Really Killed Martin Luther King Jr.? [pp. 85-86]) expands on this point:

In August 1967, a series of meetings took place at the White House; Fort Holabird, Maryland; Langley, Virginia (CIA HQ); and the Pentagon, which, at Lyndon Johnson’s order, led to the formation of a “Special Operations Group” developed—clearly in defiance of the statute that created the CIA, as well as constitutional limitations—to penetrate and undermine the domestic protest movement. It consisted of three divisions:

  1. OPERATION MHCHAOS, which eventually spied on over 7,500 US citizens;
  2. PROJECT MERRIMAC, to infiltrate ten major peace and civil rights organizations; and
  3. OPERATION MUDHEN, dedicated to spying on syndicated columnist Jack Anderson.

The brazenly illegal operation MHCHAOS (the “MH” designation signified its worldwide area of operations, even though it was primarily directed to domestic operations) became commonly known as Operation CHAOS. The Johnson-appointed Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Richard Helms, went along with it, setting up the program to detect and monitor foreign influences within the student antiwar movement despite the fact that there weren’t any, as they would eventually determine. It was all done to assuage Johnson’s paranoia. Helms certainly knew that it was outside the scope of the CIA’s charter, and anyone should have known it was highly illegal and unconstitutional, yet he directed his chief of counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, to establish the program, which Richard Ober was chosen to head. Ober had worked directly for Angleton for over twenty-five years at that point and was the number-two man in the CIA’s Office of Counterintelligence.  President Johnson’s orders to DCI Helms that created Operation CHAOS gave the CIA’s Richard Ober (and thereby the FBI’s liaison to the CIA, Sam Papich) the tools to monitor any US citizen they chose to deem a “person of interest” and allowed them to examine every detail of that person’s life. No limitations were made to their quest for information, including “personal, medical, financial, political, social, religious, educational, sexual or business information,” because the CIA decided that they needed every single detail they could find to perform their presidentially decreed function. The FBI, in their secret COINTELPRO operation, had already been doing that kind of surveillance on certain people for years, persons selected by J. Edgar Hoover (Dr. King, for example), but Johnson’s order effectively extended the same kind of intrusive harassment previously focused on a few dozen to, potentially, the entire population; it was limited only by the resources available to Ober’s and Papich’s crew, and at their whim it could be directed at whoever might come into their radar. Ultimately, the program raised the number of people under intense surveillance from a handful to at least 7,500 citizens, up to 10,000 in some reports, in what can only be described as a major assault on the Constitution and the statutory limitations on the CIA’s restricted authority.  President Johnson was never held to account for this or any other of his numerous crimes, unlike his successor Nixon, whose own crimes paled in comparison to Johnson’s.

[8] Ibid. (The CIA domestic spying program grew in size and was later renamed Operation Chaos. It was exposed by The New York Times on December 22, 1974, although later investigations revealed that the Times’ story covered only part of the spying program).

[9] Op. Cit. (#1 “Tom Cahill Forgives the FBI”)

[10] Parenti, Christian, “Rape as a disciplinary tactic” Salon, August 23, 1999.

[11] Campbell, John. How CATV Came To Texas – “LBJ Country.” North Charleston, SC:

BookSurge, LLC., 2005, p. 118

[12] Pearson, Drew and Jack Anderson. The Case Against Congress – A Compelling Indictment of Corruption on Capitol Hill. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968, p. 90; Summers, Anthony, Official and Confidential—The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993., p. 338

[13] FitzGerald, Frances. “The View From Out There,” The Washington Post, August 8, 2004.

Reprinted with the author’s permission.