“Expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate”: sound familiar?

But this is not from the infamous Bill C-51, which will give broad new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to “disrupt” so-called “terrorist” activities in Canada. (We already know that the definition of terrorism is so impossibly broad in C-51 that it could include trade unionists, Aboriginal groups and environmentalists.)

The quoted words are actually from a memorandum penned in 1967 by J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, formally expanding the COINTELPRO program to include the civil rights movement.

COINTELPRO was a broad, extra-legal initiative to weaken dissent in the US, initiated in 1956 to contain the Communist Party. Hoover greatly expanded this in the 1960s, and eventually disruptive (and highly illegal) activities were directed against civil rights organizations and the women’s movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, for example, which played a pivotal role in the Selma marches in 1965, was listed by the FBI as a “Black hate” group. Ditto the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and numerous other organizations fighting for Black equality at the time. COINTELPRO’s methods included infiltration, psychological warfare, legal harassment, and illegal use of force.

COINTELPRO was unmasked in 1971, and allegedly dissolved. A Senate Committee under Senator Frank Church investigated and published a devastating report that details the thousands of illegal operations carried out under this program. In the words of the Committee:

While the declared purposes of these programs were to protect the ‘national security’ or prevent violence, Bureau witnesses admit that many of the targets were nonviolent and most had no connections with a foreign power. Indeed, nonviolent organizations and individuals were targeted because the Bureau believed they represented a ‘potential’ for violence.

The Committee described COINTELPRO’s dirty methods thus:

Groups and individuals have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views and their lifestyles. Investigations have been based upon vague standards whose breadth made excessive collection inevitable. Unsavory and vicious tactics have been employed—including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths. Intelligence agencies have served the political and personal objectives of presidents and other high officials.

Bill C-51 creates a quasi-legal form of the COINTELPRO program; “quasi,” because CSIS agents will have the explicit right to violate the law. Of course, we are assured, this power will only be used against the bad guys—terrorists, however defined. And CSIS will need a warrant to undertake its lawbreaking activities, although the execution of such warrants will not be subject to much, if any, scrutiny. There is no oversight of CSIS at present: the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) does not oversee but merely reviews, and the Office of the Inspector General of CSIS, which did provide a limited oversight role, was abolished by Harper in 2012.

The Harper government has quite the enemies list. The now-Minister of Finance Joe Oliver has referred to environmentalists as foreign-funded radicals. Progressive charities have been singled out for punitive, costly audits by the Canada Revenue Agency. First Nations rights groups have already been the target of high-level meetings among oil and gas company representatives, government officials from the Department of National Defence and the National Energy Board, The Communications Security Establishment, and CSIS.

Now CSIS will effectively be unleashed.

COINTELPRO: it can’t happen here? How could it not?