The FBI are supposed to be the good guys, the ones protecting the public from evil. They’ve got none of the crazy skeletons in the closet that the CIA suffer from, and aren’t as generally mistrusted as the ATF. Yet we’re deluding ourselves if we think the FBI really has our best interests at heart. Over the decades, they’ve committed plenty of crimes that stretch all the way from ‘ordinary, everyday evil’ to ‘cartoon supervillain evil’.
10. Trying to Force Martin Luther King Into Suicide
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever given. It’s a stirring plea for equality that can still move even the most flinty-hearted of us to tears decades later. Yet at the time, not everyone thought it was such a success. The FBI, in particular, thought it was dangerously subversive. Their solution? To write King an anonymous letter telling him to commit suicide.
Posing as a black citizen, an FBI agent penned a letter to the man they considered “the most dangerous negro.” Reading it now, it sounds like a furious internet commenter freaking out in the worst possible way. It calls King an “imbecile” and a disgrace to black people everywhere. It suggests he is evil, taking orders from Satan, involved in homosexual affairs, and lower than a beast. More chillingly, it ends on a reference to King’s extramarital affairs. The original letter included a tape of his liaisons the FBI made while illegally spying on him.
Finally, the author signs off by telling King to commit suicide within 34 days or have his affairs exposed. King, thankfully, declined to comply.
9. Framing Innocent Men for Murder
If you were a two-bit crook in the 1960s, the last name you would want to hear was that of Joseph “the Animal” Barboza (the less-than-pleasant looking gentleman above). A vicious mob hitman, the Animal had a reputation for committing brutal, sometimes random murders for which he never showed remorse.
Despite this, the FBI retained him as an informant, considering his information invaluable. They considered it so invaluable that when the Animal went wild and slaughtered someone in 1965, the Feds decided they couldn’t let him go to prison. But sweeping the case under the rug would be too difficult. Instead, the FBI decided to frame four innocent men for the killing. Using the Animal as their ‘star witness’, they ensured all four of them went down for life.
Although the Animal himself was murdered in the mid-’70s, the FBI’s underhand tactics in the 1965 case didn’t come to light for decades. By the time the four framed men were cleared in 2001, two of them had died in prison. The others had lost nearly their entire lives to a crime they didn’t commit.
8. Spying on the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of law in the United States. As such, its justices are meant to be free from pressure applied by government organizations. Evidently the FBI didn’t get the memo. In the mid-1930s, only a couple of decades after it was created, the bureau was caught wiretapping the Court’s conference room.
This is particularly important, as the conference room was where the justices met to pass judgement on cases. It’s not the sort of place you’re meant to be listening in on. Yet according to Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, that’s exactly what J. Edgar Hoover did.
To be fair to Hoover, he claimed it was related to a case involving the leaking of Supreme Court decisions. Yet bugging the court itself was clearly a step too far. When you’re collecting dirt on a supposedly-independent branch of government, it sure as hell doesn’t bode well for a little thing called ‘democracy’.
7. Organizing Terror Plots
In the years since 9/11, the FBI has done a fantastic job of stopping terror plots before they can claim any lives. According to the bureau, its men and women have unraveled dozens of attempts to massacre innocent civilians. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has a different take. In a report released in 2014, they claimed that far from stopping terror plots, the FBI was actually organizing them at an unprecedented rate.
All those ‘plots’ the Feds claimed they solved? It turns out many of them were suggested in the first place by FBI informants. Of 27 high profile cases HRW studied, it found around 23 of them were potentially created by informants, who then had a huge hand in convincing the rest of the ‘cell’ to go for them. When they’d finally talked them around to committing the attacks, the Feds arrested them. One of the most infamous of these incidents was when an undercover FBI agent convinced 18-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud (pictured above) to set off a car bomb at a Portland, Oregon Christmas tree lighting.
Basically, it was entrapment. Or even radicalization, if you’re feeling bullish. The undercover FBI agents convinced the patriots, Islamists, and sovereign citizens they were working with to carry out attacks, got them to admit this sounded like a good idea on tape, and then jailed them for it.
6. Blackmailing People With the No-Fly List (Allegedly)
The no-fly list is exactly what it sounds like: a list handed out to airlines of people they should refuse to let onboard their craft. The reason for this is that those on the list are considered terrorists or terrorist-sympathizers who could pose a real danger to their fellow passengers. At least, that’s the official version. According to multiple accusations made recently, the FBI are using the list to blackmail innocent people into becoming informants for them.
At this point, we should make it clear that these accusations haven’t yet been proven. However, they are coming thick and fast at the moment. Supposedly, the FBI has detained prominent Muslim community leaders at airports and told them they’re now on the no-fly list. They will be removed so long as they agree to spy on members of their local community.
One case from 2015 went even further. A Portland Muslim claimed his refusal to cooperate led to the FBI detaining him in the UAE and having local security forces torture him.
5. Planning a Terror Attack on American Soil
To be fair, not all the nefarious deeds of government come courtesy of the FBI. Sometimes, other branches like to get involved too. In the early 1960s, the military decided to try its hand at this whole “evil” thing. Desperate to get the newly-installed Castro out of Cuba, the Joint Chiefs of Staff concocted a plan to carry out a terror attack on American soil, blame Cuba, and use it as a pretext for starting a war.
The plot was known as Operation Northwoods, and you better believe it involved US casualties. One early version involved docking a ship in Guantanamo and bombing it, killing American sailors. The casualty list would supposedly help get public support for an invasion of Cuba. A later version even called for using a rocket to shoot down and kill NASA astronaut John Glenn as his ship headed for orbit.
Scariest of all, one version of the plan involved orchestrating a ‘Cuban’ terror campaign in American cities, targeting American civilians. Thankfully, President Kennedy got wind of the crackpot scheme and put a stop to it before anyone could get hurt.
4. Spying on People it Knew Were Innocent
As the whole NSA/Edward Snowden thing showed, sometimes governments like to spy on people. How much leeway they should have is up for debate, but no one seriously thinks the government should be unable to keep tabs on known terrorists. But what about when the people involved are known to not be terrorists? In the early ’70s, it came out that the FBI had been spying on huge numbers of black activist groups. Crazily, it kept some of them under surveillance even when it knew they were innocent.
The Black Student Union’s file, for example, literally calls them an incompetent, dormant group that displays “no radical or militant ideas.” Nonetheless, the file then suggests the bureau should spy on them some more, perhaps infiltrating the group and getting dirt on leaders. In other words, they were treated like a terrorist group, despite the FBI itself admitting that they weren’t radical or dangerous in any way, shape or form.
We know all this because in 1971, a group of activists broke into FBI headquarters and released their surveillance files. It was a major scandal back in the day, and one of the main reasons the FBI’s powers were curtailed following the death of J. Edgar Hoover.
3. Covering Up the Murder of Black Panthers
Although the Black Student Union were shocked to discover they were being spied on, things could have been a whole lot worse. When it came to truly radical black groups, the FBI deployed a ‘shoot first, make up a justification later’ approach. In December of 1969, the Chicago Police Department stormed a Black Panther safe house. They executed party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in cold blood. Rather than investigate the cops, the FBI helped them cover the whole thing up.
Those were the days of COINTELPRO, an FBI program aimed at eliminating black leaders through violent means. The raid that killed Hampton and Clark was set up by the program, as were the lies that came afterwards. It was claimed the Panthers had started a shootout that the police were forced to respond to. It wasn’t until much later that the truth was established. The police had fired over 100 shots. The Panthers had fired only one. The shootout had been an assassination. And the Feds had helped cover it up.
2. Giving Allies Free Reign to Torture and Murder
We couldn’t get through an article like this without at least one mention of the CIA, so consider this one sort of a ‘bonus’ to all of the FBI misdeeds. The FBI’s secretive brother, the Agency has a long, long list of famously evil deeds to its name. To that list, we’d like to add the Phoenix Program.
A response to Viet Cong terror tactics during the Vietnam War, the program was dreamt up by the CIA as a way of striking back. Using South Vietnamese volunteers, it arranged for mercenaries to enter villages, locate Viet Cong and then assassinate them. Unfortunately, the CIA decided the best way to motivate the South Vietnamese volunteers would be to pay them for every corpse. Sensing an opportunity, their assassins began torturing and killing as many innocent people as they could get their hands on.
At the same time, volunteers used their status on the CIA payroll to settle old scores, conducting campaigns of revenge against their local enemies. Before long, the program had turned into a bloodbath. And none of it mattered in the end. The US lost the war and Vietnam turned a deep shade of red.
1. Allowing James ‘Whitey’ Bulger to Get Away with Murder
Boston Irish mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was one seriously bad dude. In his career of crime, he was involved in around 19 murders, multiple counts of extortion, racketeering, and innumerable cases of assault. He was the sort of mob figure you don’t want to mess with, the kind of guy Joe Pesci (or Johnny Depp, or Jack Nicholson) would play in gangster movies. He was also an FBI informant. One the Feds considered so valuable that they literally let him get away with murder.
At the same time as Bulger was leaving a trail of devastation across Boston, he was dropping tidbits of information to the FBI on his rivals. Somehow, he managed to convince the Bureau that he was too valuable to be hampered in his own activities. When a low-level informant went to the FBI and offered to testify that he’d seen Bulger murder someone, the Feds turned him out onto the street and refused to offer protection. They then passed his name on to Bulger. Unsurprisingly, the informant turned up dead not long after.
By the time Bulger was finally caught, it was estimated he’d gotten far more out of the FBI than they got out of him. In the late ’80s, they were basically acting as protection for his crime racket. The Feds tipped him off, helped him take out his enemies and facilitated his murders. The whole thing turned into such a scandal that it led to Congress imposing new restrictions on the FBI, including a duty to report how often their informants break the law in any given year.