Cointelpro as a Family Business


IKE MOST THINGS, the old adage “like father, like son” takes on some very
curious characteristics in the twisted and secretive netherworld of counterin-
telligence operations. Take, for example, the case of the FBI’s two Richard
Helds—Richard G. (the father) and Richard Wallace (the son)—both of whom
have been prime movers in the sort of political repression the Bureau used
to call COINTELPRO. Their combined careers form a virtual narrative history
of many of the FBI’s ugliest practices in curtailing domestic dissent. 

Richard G. Held 


HE OLD MAN, Richard G., joined the FBI in 1941 and seems to have spent
his formative years assigned to what J. Edgar Hoover contended were counterintelligence
operations  aimed  at  combating  German agents functioning within the
U.S. By the end of the Second World War it had become  apparent  that
 much  of the Bureau’s commitment of resources in this regard had gone not
to fending off America’s wartime enemies, but to suppressing those thought
to be aligned with an ostensible ally, the USSR. By 1944 at the latest,
subsequently released records show, the bulk of the FBI’s counterintelligence
energies were focused not only upon the uprooting of alleged “Soviet Espionage
Rings” in the U.S., but on domestic entities such as the Communist Party,
the Socialist Workers Party, and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Whatever
Richard G. Held’s beliefs and priorities ultimately proved to be, they
must certainly have been forged and tempered by his experiences during
the early 1940s. 

It would appear he showed a certain aptitude for such “political work”
insofar as he was rostered, in 1946, to the group of agents devoted to
providing “investigative services” to the emergent House Un-American Activities
Committee and, a bit later, to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunting
subcommittee. These were the agents most closely involved in developing
the “evidence” utilized in anti-communist extravaganzas such as the Hiss
and Rosenberg cases. 

By 1953, the FBI was engaged in the consolidation of a new programmatic
entity endowed with what it considered to be the most successful methods
pioneered over the preceding three decades with regard to combating both
foreign and domestic “subversion.” This consolidated and highly secret
effort was staffed with an odd amalgam of personnel drawn from both the
Bureau’s Counter-intelligence Division (mandated to deal with “foreign
agents”) and its Internal Security Section (devoted to constricting the
parameters of domestic political activities), and was acronymically designated
as COIN- TELPRO (for Counter-intelligence Program). It was this structural
confluence of the FBI’s counterintelligence and internal security “missions”—legally
separate by statute—that rendered COINTEL- PRO patently illegal from the
outset, a matter which was sidestepped by the mantle of secrecy which attended
both its formal origin and its subsequent evolution. In any event, it appears
that one of those assigned to the development of COIN- TELPRO from its
early stages—assisting in the “brainstorming” and articulation of its scope,
focus, and tactics—was Richard G. Held, by now a seasoned veteran on both
the domestic and foreign fronts of the FBI’s political warfare. 

Target: SCLC 


VER THE NEXT decade, COINTELPRO was steadily expanded to include a range
of individuals and organizations resident to the FBI’s ideological enemies
list. By 1960, moreover, fresh targets had begun to be identified and the
major preoccupation of the Bureau’s stable of counterintelligence specialists
had become the growing civil rights movement in the South, notably in the
form of the Reverend Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (SCLC). While Held’s precise role up to this point in developing
COINTELPRO’s repressive arsenal is unclear, he was shortly rewarded —presumably
for services rendered—by being promoted to serve as SAC (Special Agent
in Charge) of the Bureau’s Minneapolis field office. He was definitely
on his way up in the FBI hierarchy. 


During Held’s stint as SAC in Minneapolis, U.S. domestic dissent virtually
exploded, both in numbers of oppositional organizations and in the form
and depth of opposition. The FBI, in its quest to enforce political orthodoxy
and maintain the societal status quo, was confronted with a challenge of
unprecedented proportions. Devising a comprehensive strategy by which to
contain or crush movements for social change as diverse as Another Mother
for Peace, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panther Party
required every ounce of expertise and innovation the Bureau could muster.
At this juncture Richard G. Held was designated to head the Internal Security
Section, under which COINTELPRO nomi- nally fell within the FBI’s system
of organization. 

Target: BPP & AIM 


T IS TELLING that at this point COINTELPRO, which had always by definition
been replete with dirty tricks and illegality, became virulently lethal.
For instance, during the period of Held’s tenure as national COINTELPRO
chief—from 1968 until the effort was “terminated” in 1971 (read: the point
at which the acronym—not the programs it defined— was suspended)—the FBI
launched its concerted campaign to destroy the Black Panther Party, an
effort that involved the orchestration of “shooting wars” between the Panthers
and other black community organizations, the systematic “bad- jacketing”
and liquidation of Party members, and outright assassinations. The classic
example of the latter occurred in the early morning hours of December 4,
1969 when a special Chicago State’s Attorney’s weapons team murdered Panther
leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton in their sleep. It turned out that
an FBI COINTELPRO team had set up the whole thing, provided the raiders
with a floor plan to Hampton’s apartment (including information as to who
would be sleeping where), had an infiltrator named William O’Neal slip
Hampton a mickey prior to the raid, and even devised the covering rationale
by which the assault might be “justified.” The result of such tactics being
applied nationally was, of course, literally scores of dead Party members
within a very short period of time. Scores of others went to prison for
long stretches, based on evidence fabricated by the FBI. 

While most Panther assassinations went essentially unremarked, the cover
story concerning the Hampton-Clark murders threatened, for a number of
reasons, to unravel, exposing the true nature of COINTELPRO. Hence, Marlin
Johnson, the Chicago SAC who had overseen the operation there, was quickly
retired. Johnson was replaced by Richard G. Held who, while continuing
to serve as head of the Internal Security Section, managed a full scale
cover-up of the Bureau’s role in the affair. This involved the denial of
the existence of some 100,000 documents concerning the COINTELPRO actions
directed against Hampton and the Chicago Panthers more generally, as well
as the orchestration of systematic perjury by agents in court. It took
more than a decade before the truth of what had happened finally came out
and by then Held was safely retired. 

In early 1973, while he was handling the FBI’s Chicago Panther COINTELPRO
operations, Held was dispatched as a “consultant” to the Bureau contingent
participating in the federal siege of the Wounded Knee hamlet on the Pine
Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Of particular concern to the FBI
was the involvement of a radical organization, the American Indian Movement
(AIM), in defending the village against federal attack. While there, Held
seems to have been instrumental in establishing an arrangement with a vigilante
group on the reservation known as the “Guardians of the Oglala Nation”
(GOONs). These “private” thugs would act as surrogates for the Bureau in
exchange for weapons and other equipment, as well as non-prosecution for
any crimes committed against members and supporters of AIM. Held returned
to his post in Chicago as the Wounded Knee confrontation wound down, but
during the next 3 years the GOONs physically assaulted more than 300 AIM
people on or near Pine Ridge, approximately 70 of whom died as a result.
The Bureau’s Rapid City resident agency—under which jurisdiction Pine Ridge
falls and which at the time was enjoying the highest agent-to-citizen ratio
in the country, pled “lack of manpower” as the reason why it failed to
solve any of these violent crimes. 


By contrast, when AIM finally responded with a policy of armed self-defense
in 1975, a circumstance which resulted in the deaths of agents Ron Williams
and Jack Coler near the village of Oglala on June 26 of that year, Held
immediately returned to Pine Ridge, bringing some 200 SWAT-trained agents
and a number of counterintelligence specialists with him. He spent the
remainder of the summer orchestrating a comprehensive disinformation COINTELPRO
campaign against AIM, as well as massive paramilitary sweeps of the reservation
(including at least two “air assaults” by helicopter). Doors were kicked
in during warrantless searches while spurious warrants were sworn out to
cause the false arrest of a number of “key AIM leaders.” At least one older
man, James Brings Yellow, was frightened into having a fatal heart attack
when Held’s roving agents charged into his home without knocking. Held
also oversaw the construction of contrived cases against AIM members Bob
Robideau, Dino Butler, and Leonard Peltier in the deaths of Williams and
Coler, as well as the fabrication of “eyewitness” affidavits for use in
obtaining Peltier’s extradition from Canada, before cabling the FBI headquarters
that his work in South Dakota was “finished” and that he was returning
to Chicago. 

He was barely given time to check in on his ongoing cover-up in the Hampton-Clark
matter before being promoted, again undoubtedly on the basis of the “quality”
of his COINTELPRO services, and assigned to Washington, DC as assistant
director of the FBI under his long-time friend Clarence Kelly. It was in
this capacity that he met with Kelly and several Justice Department prosecutors
in early 1977 to strategize how to conjure a thoroughly bogus case against
Leonard Peltier after Butler and Robideau were acquitted—on the basis of
having acted in self-defense—in the deaths of Coler and Williams. Held
is also thought to have handled the withholding of nearly 18,000 pages
of Bureau documents concerning the case from Peltier’s defense team, a
matter that weighed heavily in Peltier’s conviction and unsuccessful appeals. 

In his final years with the FBI, Held served as a sort of “grey eminence,”
the “grand old man” of COINTELPRO. He served as a “senior adviser” to the
Bureau’s ongoing effort to “neutralize” the Republic of New Afrika, saw
to it that a coherent program was effected through which to “de-stabilize”
emerging U.S. support organizations for the Palestine Liberation Organization,
and was instrumental in creating the so-called “Joint Terrorist Task Force”
(JTTF) in New York, a federal/local combine aimed at destroying the Black
Liberation Army, Puertor- riqueo independentista groups such as the FALN,
the remains of the Weather Underground, and other Third World and anti-imperialist
formations. The JTTF operations were used, in turn, as a vehicle on which
to launch lower-level coun- terintelligence operations (e.g., “black bag”
burglaries and infil- tration and flagrant abuse of grand jury procedures)
against the U.S. opposition in general. 

Target: LA & San Diego 


HE ELDER HELD’S son, Richard Wallace Held, joined the FBI during the 1960s.
By 1967, he was assigned to the Bureau’s Los Angeles field office as a
specialist in “black extremist” matters and headed of the local COIN- TELPRO
section. In this capacity, he was the moving spirit behind the sustained
series of atrocities visited on the Black Panther Party in southern California.
For instance, he devised and released a series of cartoons and forged in
the names of the Panthers and a nationalist organization known as United
Slaves, in which the rival groups appeared to be viciously and publicly
ridiculing one another. When this led directly to armed assaults on LA
Panther leadership, resulting in the deaths of Jon Huggins and Alprentice
“Bunchy” Carter, Held quickly took “credit” for the killings and recommended
sending more cartoons. This was duly approved and resulted in the wounding
of several more Panthers and the death of yet another, Sylvester Bell.
In the aftermath, Held once again patted himself on the back for such “success”
via internal memoranda. Perhaps his “crowning achievement” in anti-Panther
work was accomplished in conjunction with a colleague, Richard Bloesser,
when the pair stage-managed the railroading of LA Panther leader Geronimo
Pratt into prison on a thoroughly trumped up murder charge in 1971—and
then “lost” wiretap evidence that would have cleared their victim on appeal. 


The younger Held also assumed a leading role in destroying the Panthers’
white supporters and is known to have written the false accusation that
actress Jean Seberg, an outspoken advocate and fundraiser for the Black
Panthers, had been sexually unfaithful to her husband and was pregnant
by “a prominent Panther leader.” This bit of poison pen prose found its
way into print on May 19, 1970 in the syndicated column of a “cooperating
journalist,” Carol Haber, and caused predictable complications in Seberg’s
marriage. The actress, whom Bureau profiles had already described as being
“mentally unstable,” became very emotionally distraught at such disinformation,
suffered a spontaneous abortion, and subsequently attempted suicide on
the anniversary of this event each year. After several tries, she was successful.
According to former agents, who were there, Held was gleeful at the “effectiveness”
of the Seberg gambit. 

Despite official discontinuance of the acronym COINTELPRO in 1971—once
its cover had been irrevocably blown by release of secret documents obtained
by the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI during its break-in
at the Media (Pennsylvania) resident agency during that year—there is no
doubt that Richard W. Held continued to stage his political repression
operations in southern California. As one of his agents at the time, Wesley
Swearingen (who quit), put it in a legal deposition: “They continued with
business as usual. They only changed the name.” Held, for his part, seems
to have been so proud of his achievements in COINTELPRO that he refused
to abandon the term even after receiving clear instructions to do so. In
late 1973 he received a mild reprimand from FBI headquarters for having
put “through channels” the suggestion that COINTELPRO operations might
prove “productive” if employed against AIM on Pine Ridge. Headquarters
appears to have been upset, not that he was recommending use of tactics
the Bureau claimed to have disavowed, but that he had been so indiscreet
as to utilize the forbidden term. In 1975 he was allowed to put his ideas
about how to handle AIM into practice, being sent to Pine Ridge for a period
of 60 days to implement the reign of terror his father was commanding on
the reservation. 

In any event, as de facto LA COINTELPRO section head (regardless of what
euphemism was used to cover his activities), Richard Wallace Held undoubtedly
played a significant role in the establishment of the Secret Army Organization
(SAO) in southern California during the early 1970s. This group of former
Minute Men was almost wholly funded by the Bureau during the period 1971-1973
and headed by an FBI operative named Howard Godfrey. Among its “accomplishments”
on behalf of the Bureau’s sense of political “law and order” was the destruction
of the offices of the

San Diego Street Journal

and the Movement for a Democratic
Military. On January 9, 1972, the SAO attempted to assassinate San Diego
State University professor Peter G. Bohmer, a radical economist, severely
wounding an associate, Paula Tharp. This was followed, on June 19 of the
same year, by the “successful” bombing of the Guild Theater, a progressive
black community undertaking in the same city. By the time the SAO was finally
unmasked for what it was, it had obtained an active membership in 11 western
states, stockpiled nearly $100,000 worth of illegal weapons (underwritten
by the Bureau), and had developed a formal hit list of “key activists”
on the west coast. 


Target: Puerto Rico 


UCH AMBITIOUS EFFORTS were, as always, not without their rewards. Shortly
after his father was promoted to serve as Clarence Kelly’s number two man,
 Held-the-younger was moved from LA to begin a stint as SAC in San Juan
(Puerto Rico). There followed a marked escalation in the level of virulent
COINTELPRO-type operations aimed at the indepen- dentistas, such as the
July 25, 1978 murders of Carlos Soto Arrive and Arnaldo Dario Rosada during
a police ambush near Cerro Maravilla. The two activists were shot to death
after having surrendered and being forced to kneel before their executioners.
They had been lured into the trap by an FBI infiltrator, Alexander Gonzales
Molave. Held’s stint in Puerto Rico culminated in the early morning hours
of August 30, 1985, when he stage-managed an island-wide raid involving
more than 300 SWAT-equipped agents working out of the Roosevelt Roads Naval
Base. Marked by the systematic employment of warrantless searches, the
destruction and impounding of private property, and the wholesale arrest
of known activists on baseless charges, Held’s grand finale was designed
and intended to “send a message” to those pursuing independence for the
colony of Puerto Rico. Insis- tence on such things as freedom and democracy
are judged to be criminally deviant and will not be tolerated by the FBI. 

As a result of this spectacle, Held was again promoted and reassigned,
this time to serve as SAC in San Francisco where he might put his particular
skills to work keeping a lid on the incipient rebirth of Bay Area activism,
and where he might be better placed to assist in keeping a few of his earlier
victims—such as Geronimo Pratt—safely behind the bars of prisons like San
Quentin. At present, he remains in charge of the San Francisco field office
and, like his father, serves as a sort of “troubleshooter” or “senior consultant”
in COINTELPRO operations nationally. 

Perhaps the only thing unique in the saga of the Helds, father and son,
is that they are father and son. Aside from that, Richard G. Held does
not appear especially different from scores of other senior FBI officials—Cartha
“Deke” DeLoach, to name but one prominent example—each of whom has been
exposed as having been responsible for all manner of COINTELPRO illegality
(including clear complicity in first degree murder) and each of whom has
been rewarded with honors and promotions and allowed to enjoy a comfortable
retirement. In the same sense, Richard Wallace Held does not seem appreciably
worse or different in kind from his counterintelligence associate in Los
Angeles, Richard Bloesser, or any of a number of other members of COINTELPRO’s
second generation—agents like David Price, William Wood, J. Gary Adams,
Norman Zigrossi, Thomas H. Green, and O. Victor Harvey, to list but a handful.
Each of these individuals, although long exposed (in varying degrees) for
having engaged in some of the worst crimes of COINTELPRO, have never received
so much as a slap on the wrist as a result of their activities. To the
contrary, they have continued to reap the various rewards of what, to them,
seem to be entirely satisfying career paths. 

The fact is that, although virtually all sectors of the government and
judiciary publicly agree that the FBI has repeatedly and systematically
undertaken programs that have been illegal, no agent or official of the
Bureau has ever gone to prison as a result. Even when two senior agents—W.
Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller—were convicted of burglary in 1983 as a
result of offenses committed against the families and friends of “Weatherman
fugitives” in New York more than a decade before, they were immediately
pardoned by Ronald Reagan. This, in combination with the Reagan administration’s
legitima- ting through executive orders and other means precisely what
is and always was most anti-democratic and illegal about COINTELPRO, should
eliminate all doubts as to whether the FBI’s penchant for acting as a national
political police has ever been “brought under control.” It hasn’t, and
the situation appears unlikely to change under the Bush administration. 

The Helds are emblematic of Bureau reality. Their story serves as a near-perfect
analogy to the whole multi-generational dynamic which is COINTELPRO. Although
the names may change from time to time, the functions, actions, and attitudes
remain exactly the same. And there is, as the younger Held would put it,
“a message there” for all of us who pursue positive political, social,
and economic change in the United States.