Monday, November 5, 2012

Damn it, Richard: The A-Files

By Belvin Louie & Miriam Ching Yoon Louie

On August 20, 2012 a reporter’s accusation that activist educator and revolutionary icon Richard Aoki was an FBI informant delivered a body blow to Richard’s friends, organizations and movements. Richard’s biographer, film producers and comrades, young and old, came out swinging.[1] They included former members of the Black Panther Party, Asian American Political Alliance and Third World Liberation Front, as well as Eastside Arts Alliance and many, many other groups.

Activists criticized Seth Rosenfeld of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) for lack of evidence and the racially exploitative way his exposé was timed to promote his new book. This household was among those trying to roundhouse kick the reporter.[2] After fierce community pushback to produce evidence substantiating his charges, on September 7, 2012, Rosenfeld released 277 pages of FBI documents to silence and discredit critics.[3] The documents had been tucked in the reporter’s back pockets.

While holding our nose at Rosenfeld’s “gotcha smart-assed white boy” methods, we believe the file release opened a new stage in the controversy. To paraphrase a folk saying: while we can kick the racist messenger’s butt, we must study his message—and check his pockets.

Doing so connects back to AAPA/TWLF roots. In the early days of Asian (American) Studies Department, we used to roll our eyes when Richard criticized sloppy work and berated us about the need for “academic rigor.” But that’s exacted what’s demanded— “critical thinking” that utilizes movement, work, school and street smarts.

Critical thinking will test not only analytical skills but also our mettle as human beings whose core beliefs about friendship, loyalty, leadership and betrayal have been bloodied. This household has lurched between the five stages of grief, often stuttering on the anger track.

Denial: (Monday)        Richard, an informer? No fucking way!

Anger: (Tuesday)        Fuck the FBI!

            (Wednesday)   Fuck the CIR!

            (Thursday)       Fuck you, Richard! For leaving us this pile of                                                            shit to clean up.

Bargaining: Maybe Richard was playing the Feds. Hope it backfired on their asses.

Depression: Fuck me. I don’t want to hear another word. Hand me that Bud Lite.

Acceptance: Hey, what are the Feds hiding? Back up. Check it out. “No                               investigation, no right to speak.” Crap.

We jacked ourselves up to crash course through FBI-speak and bureaucratic reporting procedures of the oppressor. While we got our individual FBI files with a lawyer friend’s help in the early 1980s, monitoring FBI dirty tricks is not our area of expertise. Movement folk experienced in investigating FBI malfeasance and sympathetic to our movements of color have yet to weigh in.

Nevertheless, we feel compelled to deal with this crisis because of the damage inflicted on our communities. We are grappling with this mess both as friends of Richard and as former members of organizations the FBI harassed. We see trauma. We see casualties. We see PTSD.  We see fight back.

Although the analysis advanced in this paper will not be popular, we feel obliged to step up and take the heat. We want to make it safe for Richard’s friends and movement activists young and old to apply “critical thinking” to the FBI documents—and to the political forces unleashed by the controversy. As OGs we want to empower our Young Bloods to feel safe searching for the truth no matter how ugly, painful or scary. We want our movements to turn this crisis into an opportunity, as wei-ji, the Chinese characters for “crisis” beckon us to do. Dare to struggle, dare to learn.

We need to loosen up minds in order to see possibilities that besieged fortress thinking may blinder us from as we adopt a readiness stance to deal with FBI bombs yet to explode. Rosenfeld has indicated that the FBI has admitted to having some 4,000 pages of FBI documents related to Richard. We have and examine only 277 pages here. This means an estimated 3,700 pages of FBI documents related to Richard are still not available for us to review.

The future of those documents is being fought over in court between the FBI and CIR. US Magistrate Maria Elena James is determining line by line which FBI redactions to approve or disapprove. Pending the judge’s speed and decisions, the remaining 2000 some pages of documents not already in Rosenfeld’s possession will be released to Rosenfeld any time beginning November 1, 2012.

To date this case (Case3:11-cv-02131-MEJ) has involved forty-one court motions. What is the FBI hiding? What is the low hanging fruit they’ve already surrendered to Rosenfeld? What is the high hanging fruit they are fighting so hard to keep secret—which occurred during the high tide of COINTELPRO (FBI Counterintelligence Program)?

The methodology, networks and unity in action we develop now will stand our movement in good stead for the storms to come.


Based on our initial scan of the documents, we developed a hypothesis to guide our closer examination. The hypothesis—“best guess hunch”—leads investigators to determine which questions and areas of focus on. We know that using this scientific method of inquiry can alter, debunk or deepen our hypothesis.

Our first hypothesis was: “Was Richard an informant or was he a revolutionary leader?” Based on the information available at the time, we concluded that he was a revolutionary, not an informant. The September 7, 2012 FBI document release forced us to change our first hypothesis. 

Our current hypothesis boils down to this:

Richard was a revolutionary and an informant; neither solely one nor the other, but much more.

·         Richard was recruited by the FBI in 1961 while still performing military service.

·         He became an FBI security informant gathering intelligence and reporting on such groups as the Socialist Workers Party, Young Socialist Alliance and Vietnam Day Committee during the early 1960s.  

·         To pursue his career objectives, he took classes at Merritt College, started working evenings and then transferred to UC Berkeley.  School and work led him to taper off his FBI-related activities. 

·         Richard’s thinking had been in motion all along, but his outlook and life qualitatively shifted when he came into direct contact with revolutionary nationalists (Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow.) He developed close and lasting friendships with these activists.

·         As a result of his participation in our movements, he “flipped.” We believe he joined groups like the BPP, AAPA and TWLF on his own initiative, not as an FBI assignment.

·         The FBI saw this as an opportunity in the developing priority area of COINTELPRO that they sought to exploit.

·         As his thinking and relationships evolved and matured, his FBI-related activities and reports tapered off more.

·         The FBI re-designated Richard as a racial informant and wanted more and more.  But Richard kept giving less and less.

·         His FBI handlers were frequently challenged by their superiors that unless Richard provided more intelligence, he risked being dropped from the rolls.

·         Richard finally quit completely in 1977, believing it was contrary to his career and community.

·         Given who he was—and who we were at the time—he could not divulge his relationship with the FBI without risk to his person, livelihood and rep. Richard had to live with the pact he’d made with the Devil as a young man. Richard knew he could never disclose his informant past to his friends.

·         So he spent the last 30 years of his life—and the vast majority of his adult years— living and upholding the values that he’d learned during the transformative 1960s and 70s as a servant of the people.

·         Unless proven otherwise, Richard’s work was not “50/50” informant and revolutionary, but more like “20/80” or “10/90”. As of this writing there has been no impact resulting from Richard’s relations with the FBI on his comrades and fraternal organizations, e.g., arrests, shootouts, etc.

Remember—this hypothesis is subject to change. We expect differences over such serious matters. Professor Diane Fujino has noted a “Rashomon effect” (from Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film) where diverse observations may produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of what each of person witnessed. We encourage YOU to chime in; every new set of eyes, voices and experiences will enrich the analysis—and the organizing imperatives that flow from that shared effort.

The main sources we draw from are: (1) a close read of the FBI documents released by CIR on September 7, 2012; (2) a feel for Richard’s life and impact as shared by friends at his 2009 memorial and in response to the current controversy; (3) Diane Fujino’s excellent auto/biography of Richard’s life, Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life[4], as well as the informative documentaries Aoki by Michael Cheng, Ben Wang[5] and Peralta News[6]; and (4) Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall’s must-read reference book on COINTELPRO.[7] Here we only focus on the A-File controversy; for in depth history about Richard’s life and impact, please check out Diane, Michael and Ben’s works. Though produced before the A-Files controversy, their works capture the trajectory of Richard’s life, often in the words of the man himself, deepened by their commentary and narrative as younger generation scholars, film producers and inheritors of the Third World liberation movements.

This paper is broken into three sections: Part I. The A-Files: Welcome to the Matrix; Part II. Players & Lessons; and Appendix:  FBI Matrix Tunnel 1—a reading guide to the FBI files.

We’re taking the liberty of using the shorthand “A-Files” to refer to the “Richard as FBI informant” controversy. If that calls up X-Files and popcorn memories—cool. And rather than quoting Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, we salt in sci-fi and crime thriller dialogue—because you’re going to need plenty butterfat carbs and drama to power you through the 277 pages of G-Man lingo.


Words of Caution:  FBI & Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

This examination takes the FBI files at face value, being fully aware that the files comes from the very agency that clearly stated its purpose was “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities, of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder.”[8]  To accomplish this, the FBI often fabricated false and/or inflammatory reports, leaflets, stories, etc. under the names of progressive organizations or individuals. Still, since the files have been presented as evidence justifying Seth Rosenfeld’s accusations, they must be examined closely. 

Rosenfeld obtained the files by court order after filing for materials through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson on July 4, 1966 and went into effect in 1967. FOIA is a federal law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act not only defines agency records subject to disclosure and outlines mandatory disclosure procedures; it also grants nine exemptions to the statute that are broadly interpreted the FBI.  In fact, the files released are heavily redacted (blanked out).  Entire sections of pages are consistently redacted based on specific FOIA exemptions, primarily exemptions b2 or b7d.[9]

So, while the FOIA requires disclosure of information, FOIA does NOT require FULL disclosure, and therefore, provides the FBI with many loopholes to decide what information to withhold, what information to release, and when to release information--even if forced by court orders. This gives the FBI much flexibility to shape the story the files tell.

As a result, the FBI can “spin” the interpretation of what is released, redacted, or withheld outright. The foot-dragging and obfuscation tactics must always be considered, given the repressive character of the FBI. When the FBI fights especially hard to block FOIA requests, we must look beyond the request and ask why. What might they be hiding? What’s the real story? 

So while it is true that the FBI was “forced” to release these files in response to Rosenfeld’s court motions, the FBI remains a totally conscious player.  The FBI knows the files will be viewed in an unfavorable light by a public already critical of the abuses made during the infamous COINTELPRO.  We would be naive to believe the FBI would not attempt to use this (and any future) court-ordered FOIA releases to further its historical purpose “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities” of the same individuals, organizations, and movements spied upon within these files.[10]   

Authenticity – These files contain what appears to be standard paperwork for an informant’s “134” file, such as background reports, quarterly informant progress reviews and authorization request, exchanges between local offices and national headquarters. Additionally, the formatting conventions used such as the transition from carbon copies to pre-printed standardized reports in 1969, the various date stamps applied, and the memorandum letterheads are consistent for the period. While there are some errors and typos, the information about Richard’s jobs, education and residencies seem to match what we know about Richard. We are obviously not FBI file forensic experts.  But frankly, if these documents are forgeries, the Feds did a pretty sophisticated job mapping out the intersecting layers of inter-agency correspondence and cross checks.

Regardless of their authenticity, the learning opportunities for our movement remain the same. As in scenario planning, like health, engineering and disaster preparedness, our approach is to consider worst case scenarios, which may end up being disproved through further evidence to the contrary. But dismissing the papers as an elaborate conspiracy by the FBI without hard evidence to substantiate that assertion disarms us politically to what these files may actually represent. So we take these files at face value as inter-Bureau communication re an informant until proven otherwise, which, if we turn out to be wrong, would be a relief.

FBI’s POV only - In either case, the files have many limitations. They only represent the FBI’s point of view and interpretation of the world. They originated as confidential internal communications between the local FBI office and the national Bureau headquarters, for FBI-eyes only.  They are written in FBI-speak, using phrases and code words that have more meaning to “insiders” than the rest of us. 

The files are not necessarily accurate nor do they describe a complete picture. In fact, FBI documents are notoriously unreliable and inaccurate since they tend to come from second hand sources and/or they represent their interpretation what they heard and understood from their informants, not necessarily what really happened.  In other words, these documents do not tell Richard’s story or our history.

Historical context – In fact, any historical context is strikingly absent. Because the files are so heavily redacted, no specific movements, organizations, individuals, demonstrations, events, activities, or meetings are left clearly spelled out. As a result, we must connect what is in the files with what we know about Richard and the organizations and movements he participated in, and the individuals he ran with. We must take into account the broader political developments and climate at the time.

To provide some historical grounding, here is a limited timeline of Richard’s activities during the period in question, 1961-1977. This is by no means a complete chronology of Richard’s life or even of the period.  We point the readers to other biographical resources such as Diane C. Fujino’s book, Samurai among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life; Mike Cheng and Ben Wang’s video, Aoki: A Documentary Film; and Peralta Community College District’s exclusive 2008 video interview, Richard Aoki Special.

Limited Timeline of Richard’s Activities

  • 1961—gets involved with the Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP) and the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA)
  • 1962-1963—works with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee
  • July 1963—quits his day job as a mail clerk at the California Department of Health and starts working evenings at California Ink, 4PM - 12PM, six days a week
  • September 1963—enrolls at Oakland City College (later renamed Merritt College, and a campus of the North Peralta Community College)
  • October 1964—receives his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army
  • 1964- 1965— gets involved with the Vietnam anti-war activities, including serving on Vietnam Day Committee’s International Secretariat charged with communication with overseas correspondents. 
  • September 1965—begins corresponding with Black liberation activist Robert F. Williams, during William’s exile in Cuba.
  • Fall 1966—transfers from Merritt College to UC Berkeley and majors in sociology.[11]
  • September 1966—attends the Black Nationalism Conference in San Francisco as a member of the SWP.  Richard writes a formal report about the conference, and presents it to a SWP debriefing for those who could attend (because they were white). His report stresses the importance of nationalism. The report does not go over well within the SWP.  He is asked to decide his allegiance to SWP or the Black Panther Party. Richard soon leaves the SWP in February 1967 over the political differences related to “Negro Question”[12]
  • October 1966—the Black Panther Party (BPP) forms, Richard becomes an early member within a month of its formation
  • February 1967—leaves the SWP over political differences related to “Negro Question”
  • Spring 1968—joins the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) at UC Berkeley (UCB)
  • Jan 1969—participates in the leadership of TWLF strike at UCB and later, the launching of Asian Studies/Ethnic Studies Department
  • Fall 1970—serves as an Asian Studies lecturer and program coordinator at UCB and Merritt College
  • Fall 1972—serves as counselor, administrator and department head at North Peralta Community College

Informant 134 files – What’s In / What’s Out

The particular files we are examining are formally known as FBI Classification 134 Foreign Counterintelligence Assets files. All FBI informants have these “informant 134 files” or their equivalent.[13]  As such, making sense of the FBI files necessitates some understanding of the Bureau’s specialized language and bureaucratic reporting requirements, which are mandated by law, the FBI Manual of Instruction (MOI), and/or internal FBI directives.[14] 

A Classification 134 file is composed of an administrative file and a subfile.  The administrative file contains the results of any background investigations conducted on the individual, records of the Bureau contacts with the person, records of payments, copies of status reports, and the real identity of the source.[15]  Quarterly informant status reports, or more formally the Informant Progress Review/Justification Letter (IPR) are written by the informant’s FBI handler.  The sub-file contains the actual intelligence reports written and submitted by the informant and are expected to be much more detailed and descriptive.

FBI agents from field offices (like San Francisco and Berkeley) submit their quarterly IPR reports to the National Bureau (aka “Bureau,” “Headquarters (HQ),” or “Seat of Government (SOG),”) addressed to the “Director,” requesting authorization from the “Bureau” to take specific course(s) of action such as recruiting a potential informant, requesting a change in status, paying for services, travel and/or expenses, broadening the focus of activities, and termination. (This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.)

Justifications are made by summarizing the informant’s most recent activities, highlighting players, networks, connections, and information furnished of unusual value, etc. Bureau responses range from granting authority (or not) to taking recommended course(s) of action, asking for more information, making specific follow up instructions, pointing out concerns, etc.  When information is deemed especially of value or interest, the reports are forwarded to other sections within the FBI and to higher level superiors.[16] 

For a brief description of how informants were handled by the FBI, refer to the excerpted “Section III, The Intelligence Informant Program –Size, Scope, and Standards, Subsection B. The FBI Administrative System for Intelligence Informants” of the 1976 Church Committee Hearings Report found in this endnote[17]. This describes the operating structure for the FBI reports and the back and forth letters and memos that we will be examining in this informant 134 file.

The earlier IPRs were signed off by a “BT.” We surmise that “BT” refers to Burney Threadgill, and BT was the informant’s handler.  According to Rosenfeld, Threadgill boasted to him in 2002, “I know that guy! Aoki was my informant! I developed him!”[18]  It appears that the last IPR submitted by Threadgill was dated 6/30/65 (A-157); the next IPR dated 10/29/65 was initialed by “PBN,” his new handler (A-160)  This coincides with when Threadgill transferred to Monterey in 1965.[19] 

Also keep in mind that while these IPRs contain information on how the informant was being supervised, these IPRs also reflect on his handler and the handler’s work in selecting, instructing, and handling his informants.  The IPRs are the handler’s main documentation to show the bosses what a great job he’s doing and how valuable he is to the team; thus, influencing his own personnel status and compensation. 

What’s Missing?

Subfile - What is missing from this informant 134 file—as of this writing—is the sub-file which contains the actual reports written and submitted by this informant, whom we believe, is Richard. The missing sub-file would definitely be much larger and provide us with a more detailed picture of what and who Richard may or may not have reported on.  The reports would tell us which movements, organizations, individuals, or activities were of interest and being watched, infiltrated, and/or disrupted and how closely and frequently. From the reports, we could determine if the reported intelligence was already common knowledge among those circles at the time vs. what could have only come from “insider” information. Importantly, it would give us a sense of the actual impact of any intelligence provided to the FBI by Richard. The subfile may be among the 3700 some pages the court ordered the FBI to turn over to Rosenfeld, past and future, that we are not yet privy to.

In addition, many letters referenced within the administrative files released were not included. Finally, as mentioned earlier, all the documents are heavily redacted. But on occasion, options regularly redacted were later unredacted, thus giving us a hint of their contents.

But despite what is missing, the FBI’s release of the 134 file in direct response to a specific FOIA request on a particular individual, in this case, specifically “Richard Masato Aoki,” already tips off those knowledgeable with FBI language and protocol that the person in question is an informant. Be aware that 134 files are quite different from those of the Classification 100 Domestic Security files on organizations and individuals that the FBI spied upon.

What do the files tell us?

I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door.

You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

--Morpheus, The Matrix

The table below is a synthesis of what can be observed from the A-files. For those wanting to go through the FBI files page by page to draw your own conclusions, go to the Appendix for a reading guide.

OK, ready to get into the synthesis of the A-files?  To download your electronic copy of the FBI files released by CIR on September 7, 2012, go to:

Chronological Stages

We grouped the released files generally chronologically around the quarterly IPRs.  The discussion below is separated into six stages representing the arc of Richard’s changing relationship with the FBI.  However, the precise dates of the various stages may not be exact due to the fact they are based on what is reported from the IPR assessments and designations.

1.      Recruitment (January/February 1961)

2.      Potential Security Informant/ Probation (July 28, 1961 to November 16, 1961)

3.      Security Informant (November 16, 1961 to Mid-1964)

4.      Security Informant with curtailed activities (Mid-1964 to Mid-1968)

5.      Racial Informant with curtailed activities (Mid-1968 to 1976)

6.      Informative Asset to Closure (1976 to October 13, 1977)


Jan/Feb 1961 to July 1961
-Looking for potential informants.
-Seeks out Richard to determine his willingness to serve his country
-Suggests some activities he can go to and report on
-Richard is patriotic, loyal and eager to serve his country
-Starts gathering and reporting intelligence voluntarily
Potential Security Informant July 1961 to Nov 1961
-Keeps in contact with Richard as a potential security informant
-Completes background checks on Richard
-Continues to provide intelligence reports to the FBI, possibly about the SWP/YSA.
Security Informant
Nov 1961 to Mid-1964
-Classifies Richard as a Security Informant November 1961
-Directs Richard’s intelligence activities
-Impressed by the thorough and type written reports submitted
-Pays Richard for the value of the intelligence provided
-Gets more involved with the SWP, YSA, Viet Nam Day Committee, anti-war and other activities
-Provides written intelligence reports to the FBI
-Receives regular payments based on the value of the intelligence he provides to the FBI.
Security Informant curtailed activities
Mid-1964 to Mid-1968
-Struggles to justify maintaining Richard as an informant as his “output” drops
-Curtails Richard’s FBI-related activities due to his heavy school load and full-time work schedule.
-Threadgill assigned to Monterey late 1965; new special agent assigned to handle Richard
-Curtails his FBI-related activities
-Pursues his education and career objectives at Merritt College during the day
-Works evenings full time at California Ink
-tapers off FBI-related activities
-While at Merritt, meets some people whom he immediately relates to given their common experiences growing up in West Oakland and serving in the military. They would become his friends and start influencing his life
-Transfers to UCB to continue his education and career objectives
-Joins the Black Panther Party (BBP) in October/November 1966 –and initiates the Berkeley branch of the BBP.
-Leaves the SWP in February, 1967 over political differences with the “Negro Question”.
Racial Informant with curtailed activities Mid-1968 to 1976
-Handlers continue to struggle to justify maintaining Richard as an informant since his FBI-related activities remains curtailed due to his studies and/or high profile position
-Richard is brought to the attention of high level FBI officials
-Richard’s membership and participation in the BBP, AAPA, TWLF, and Asian Studies in late 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1970 coincides with the FBI need to recruit more racial informants and observe campus student unrest
-Re-classifies Richard to be a racial informant October 1968
--Richard seen as being able to work easily across diverse racial and ethnic groups
-Richard’s positioning is seen as a golden opportunity “to gather unique and valuable intelligence that would not possible without him”
-FBI regularly notes that even after he completes his studies at UCB, his notoriety and high profile position at UCB and North Peralta Community College forces him to be less personally involved.
-His FBI-related activities remains curtailed
-Quits job at California Ink
-Transfers to UC Berkeley, pursues sociology program
-Joins the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA)
-Meets more people who would become his life-long friends and forever influence his life
-Joins the TWLF and helps lead the strike to establish a TW college
-Assists in building Asian Studies at UCB
-Completes his education and begins his career as a lecturer and program coordinator at Asian American Studies at UCB and Merritt College
-Leaves UCB and goes to North Peralta Community College as a lecturer, teacher, counselor, administrator, and Department Head
Informative Asset / Closure
-Re-classifies Richard to be an “informative asset” in January 1977
-Formally closes the relationship in October 1977
-Discontinues gathering intelligence for the FBI since he feels doing so was inconsistent with his career objectives as a student counselor and instructor at North Peralta Community College.
1977 - 2009
-BT reveals Richard’s past role as a former FBI informant to Rosenfeld in 2002, in direct violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Action that makes it a federal crime to disclose “any information that identifies an individual as a covert agent”[21]
-“Servant of the people”
-2007 Rosenfeld interview asking if Richard “remembered a guy named Burney Threadgill”, and telling Richard that Threadgill told Rosenfeld that Richard “actually worked for the FBI”.[22]
-Passes away in 2009

Bottom line:  Richard was a patriotic soldier, became an informer for the FBI, began his shift in the mid-60s, qualitatively transforming into a revolutionary by the late 60’s and early 70’s and remained so for the remainder of his life.


 “I've heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.”

-- Agent Scully, X-Files

Now let’s examine the controversy’s key political interests, our role in this drama and future lessons. Please note that movement activist quotes are indented and justified to the left and fictional character dialogue, to the right.

Wide Angle Shot: Reality Trumps Fiction

Either Richard used his knowledge of the system to game the system and fucked up an old and dead FBI agent who was trying to settle an old final score back in the day. (Maybe he was the ONE guy who successfully double-crossed the agent?)

Or was it an attempt to smear his name in the ‘60s that lay dormant as a document time bomb, only to be misunderstood 44 years later.

--Lee Lew-Lee, SF Bay View, August 23, 2012

“I’ll do what I can to help y’all. But, the game’s out there,

and it’s play or get played. That simple.”

--Omar, The Wire

Brother Lee nailed the dangerous dynamic while people were still reeling from the first blast. Indulge us by momentarily dropping the names of the players to emphasize function over personality. Here’s the players:

Recruit, Informant, Revolutionary—Richard

Handler—Burney Threadgill (1961-1965.) Note Handler “PBN” is not yet visible.



What if?

A survivor of federally mandated internment camps for “enemy aliens” is recruited by the then overwhelmingly white FBI to inform on left groups. Recruit is sought out on the basis of something he said a few years earlier during a military service interview when the majority of Americans had not yet come to question the virtue of the government or the FBI. Recruit is a patriot and weapons specialist who has considered enlisting in the Green Berets. Recruit is financially strapped and working hard to further his educational and occupational status. After recruitment, probation and designation as an FBI security informant, Informant spies on key left organizations during a period of rising student turmoil. He is paid for services rendered. This not only supplements his income, but may also allow him to enjoy his gun collecting hobby.

While attending school Informant runs into young men from his old neighborhood who launch a proud kickass organization backed with a show of force. The organization fuses Revolutionary’s neighborhood roots, developing intellect, incipient race pride—and his expertise with firearms. What is there not to love? He enlists.

However, very quickly these brothers and sisters turn out to be leaders of a national organization the FBI has vowed to destroy. FBI HQ soon realizes that “dumb luck” has provided them with an unbelievable opportunity of having an informant who had focused on a different sector—already inside the newly targeted group. Changing his status to include “racial matters” allows the FBI to add him to those already being seeded into the group. Meanwhile on his own initiative, Revolutionary joins Third World campus radicals, again because their groups give expression to his developing political consciousness, identity and friendships.

Handler “enhances” the value well-positioned Informant brings to FBI intelligence; the better Informant looks, the better Handler’s pay and career ladder look. The FBI pays Informant an undisclosed amount for supplying undisclosed information during the high tide of “internal security” and “racial matter” movements prioritized by the FBI’s massive COINTELPRO.

Revolutionary rises to prominence within those movements. He becomes friend and mentor to many. Revolutionary uses the money he earns from several sources, including as Informant, to augment his gun collection, possibly sharing hobby appreciation with friends. He may give Handler “Fast & Furious”-intensity migraines. Revolutionary eventually quits his job as Informer to concentrate on being full-time identity as Revolutionary Educator.

In 2002 Handler outs Revolutionary & Informant to Reporter after having made Informant swear periodically that he will not reveal his relationship to the FBI or do anything to embarrass the Bureau, violating federal law regarding the release of informant identities. Handler’s reasons for breaking the law to undermine Informant (aka Revolutionary) remain unclear.

Handler acts as a source for Reporter’s book on FBI’s dirty tricks against professors and students at a leading university. Reporter and his investigative institution use a number of former FBI agents as prime sources. Reporter writes the obit of Handler in 2005 for the city’s major newspaper. Reporter confronts Revolutionary with Handler’s boast that he was an informer trained by Handler in 2007. Revolutionary (aka Informant) denies the accusation thus, not violating the federal law as now dead Handler had done. Reporter later writes Revolutionary’s obit on in 2009. Reporter’s obits of Handler and Revolutionary (aka Informant) shape how the public views each man. A week and a half after publishing Revolutionary’s obit, Reporter submits FOIA request for all things related to Revolutionary.

When Reporter’s FOIA requests for his book on FBI dirty tricks on campus are not met, he and his lawyers sue the FBI and win some $600,000 in legal fees and the release of thousands of pages of FBI files to Reporter.

Reporter uses Revolutionary-Informant’s racy story to launch sales of his book, in which Revolutionary and his movements are actually bit players and negatively portrayed. Reporter’s sensationalist practices are roundly denounced by Black and Asian community activists, who doubt the veracity of charges given the sketchy evidence provided. Reporter responds by trying to discredit activists 2½ weeks later through the release of another 277 pages of FBI documents on Informer’s Classification 134 status records.

Up until this point the FBI has been working hard to manage Reporter, his FOIA requests, lawsuits and interviews with past FBI agents. They prepare for the embarrassment he will rain down on their heads when his book, articles and investigations are published. The Feds drag their feet via FOIA exclusions and disinformation about what they do and don’t have. They toss Reporter the lowest hanging fruit in order to protect the real goodies, perhaps having something to do with their pride and shame—COINTELPRO.

Reporter’s racial bungling treats the G-men to a two-fer and good laugh. First, they get to see their erstwhile opponent skewered and roasted by activists from the African American and Asian communities. Second, FBI agents who executed COINTELPRO against many of these same activists get to observe how they and up-and-coming young bloods interact with key players and each other. Although the Bureau is swamped with challenges in a hectic post-9.11 world, the landmine explosions give them an excellent opportunity to update intelligence on foes old and new.

“They fuck up, they get beat. We fuck up, they give us pensions.”

--Detective Ellis Carver, The Wire

Zoom: Community Response

Now let’s examine where our movements fit into this drama.

Being nearly 75 years of age, and having been in the Black Panther Party from 1966 to 1974, I know a lot about this government. I know that the mission is to spread disorder and mistrust amongst those of us who remain is alive and well and that now, as in the past, fools can be used as tools and pawns by them to foment chaos…Why do you think there are political prisoners still locked up decades later? Elderly men and women now, still threats to the power structure. The best of us, so many, still locked away in dungeons or in exile, thousands of mile away from their people.

--Elbert “Big Man” Howard, SF Bay View, August 24, 2012

Skepticism to Rosenfeld’s charges stems from trauma past and present. First and foremost is our communities’ negative—in some cases deadly--experiences with the FBI, particularly but not limited to COINTELPRO. Think we’re paranoid? Read Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall’s The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents From the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States for detailed, specific examples of how liberation organizations were targeted for destabilization and destruction. Talk to movement veterans who bear the scars of FBI disinformation, smear and division campaigns, fraudulent documents, getting bad-jacketed, infiltrated by informers and agents and set up to get jailed or murdered. Twenty-eight Panthers were killed and that’s just one organization. Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal remains in prison. Many others were wounded and jailed. Lives were wrecked.

Pam Tau Lee and Ben Lee, former members of the Red Guard/I Wor Kuen and active in Asian/Ethnic Studies student and anti war movements, recount the FBI’s chilling impact on Chinese progressives, pre-dating the movements of the 1960s:

Historically in San Francisco Chinatown the FBI jailed and ruined the lives of people such as Maurice Chuck, Lawrence Lowe the father of Dr. Rolland Lowe, Happy Lim a founder of the Chinese Progressive Association and others. They brought people in, harassed and beat them up, and also put them on the stand. The FBI also put the lives of hundreds of Chinese immigrants in limbo with the Confession Cases back in the 1950’s. See the documentary Chinatown Files.[23] These individuals could not leave the area and were under constant monitoring. This included Dr. Rolland Lowe’s wife Kathy. Harry Daih Wong’s status was put in “limbo” for over forty years because he and others confessed to being here without proper documentation. Now for us, these examples are how the FBI dramatically harmed the welfare of our leaders.

From our perspective the FBI comes out on top. They want to stir up shit and cause distrust…We do not want the same to happen to Richard and his legacy.

            --Personal communication, October 1, 2012

Here for example, is an FBI leaflet signed by J. Edgar Hoover posted on the walls of every large Chinatown during winter 1971-72.[24]

Now that you have settled in America, you are not only entitled to enjoy the various blessings of America’s free political system, but in addition will be able to shoulder the responsibilities of protecting these free traditions.
Since you have personally experienced the suffering and bondage which is perpetrated by tyrannical communist rule, you must by now certainly be able to realize in a profound way how valuable freedom is and how terrifying and detestable communism is.
Communist frequently engage in secret activities within America’s borders and plot to destroy the free traditions of America, and while our bureau is on constant alert and pays close attention to these matters, from now on you too may join in our defense against communism.  We hope you will note the following:
1.  If while in America you become aware of communists or Maoist spies who are engaged in intelligence work or destructive and subversive activities you are urgently requested to telephone the local branch of the FBI at once.  (The telephone number will be clearly listed in the first two or three pages of the regular telephone directory of any city.)
2.  You are requested to make your report based on hard facts known to you; do not become confused by hearsay.
3.  It will suffice for you simply to report what you know; do not carry out your own investigations.  You must realize that investigation is a specialized and sophisticated profession, and if ordinary people attempt it they not only risk their own safety but also risk startling the snake from his hiding place. 
Should you have anything to communicate, please inform the local branch of this bureau immediately.  Local branch telephone:  742-5533.
                                                --(J. Edgar) Hoover
                                                Director, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation

And the dirty tricks continue today in the case of the San Francisco Eight, former Black Panthers arrested in January 2007 for alleged involvement in a 1971 murder of a policeman in Ingleside and the imprisonment of all those lesser known political prisoners Grandma Yuri Kochiyama has folks writing letters to and signing petitions for. Despite the closure of COINTELPRO in name, it continues in practice in the surveillance, disinformation and harassment of Muslim, Palestinian, Arab, South Asian, Filipino and other communities. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, CIA and others are planting landmines in the normal execution of their job function that will harm communities for many decades to come.

Additionally, many activists were skeptical about the timing of the revelations. As Asian American Studies Professor and Richard’s biographer Diane Fujino warned:

Whether or not Richard was an informant, why is this coming out now?  Today, people are fed up with glaring social inequalities and problems of the Great Recession, and more than ever, liberalism becomes indistinguishable from conservativism. It is at this moment when people are open to radical analyses of society, we see an attack on a revolutionary who serves as a model of Asian American radicalism (the Asian menace as opposed to the model minority), as a major bridge of Afro-Asian and Third World solidiarities, and who continues, even in death, to inspire today’s activists. Given Rosenfeld’s framing of the TWLF strike and of his overall book, whether intended or not, his writings engage in “good 60s/bad 60s” historiography to denounce the late 60s as a turn to violence that overturned the gains of the early 60s.  This fails to contextualize the worldwide historical changes in the late 1960s, including the violence of US aggression and imperialism in Vietnam and the inspiration of the Vietnamese freedom fighters for many activists. This framework also represents White racial anxiety, in a period when Third World movements—Black Power, Chicano, Indigenous, and Asian American movements—were on gaining widespread support and promoting cross-racial solidarity. 

--Personal Communication, October 2, 2012

Community activists were also dubious of the charges because of the racial hype and lack of initial evidence delivered by the reporter. This was compounded by the way mainstream media has often vilified our communities and the FBI, CIA and DHS et al have planted disinformation in the media, in some cases turning over to the FBI information gathered through interviews of dissidents. After Rosenfeld detonated the first bomb, people turned to trusted sources of information like SF Bay View, Rafu Shimpo, Colorlines and many others to separate truth from hype.

Additionally, many of us have not worked together since those heady “storm the palace—or stage” and “stick it the man” days. Now we are joined by younger generations, too. Together, we do not enjoy a shared practice of how leadership manages a crisis—especially one that revolves around a respected leader.

A less tangible but just as powerful source of skepticism came from how we deal with trauma, grief and betrayal, both collectively and individually. The accusation attacked core beliefs about friendship, loyalty, leadership and betrayal. Those of us who knew Richard were forced to scrutinize our relationship to someone who was practically family at some point in our lives. Even younger generation activists who knew Richard only by rep, saw him as one of the few heroes the Asian American movement exalts given powerful pressures in Asian cultures to focus on the “we,” not the “me.” If our faith in this brother could be gunned down, who and what would be the next target?

Yet while community skepticism was justified, not confronting and getting to the root of the problem can fester and blow up later, claiming greater casualties. And while denial, anger and other coping skills have helped us survival trauma, they are fall short of an emergency response to this disaster.

Crossing Over to the Dark Side—Our Side

The possibility that Richard was recruitment material for the FBI in 1961, though appearing off the wall at first, seems plausible upon examining Richard’s history, what we know about ourselves, and the 180-degree transformations millions of people across the globe took during those years. We can almost hear Richard chuckling as he told Diane his biographer that he wanted to be in the Green Berets, seriously considered re-enlisting in the army after his military service was up and even voted for Nixon, given FDR’s party’s history of imprisoning him and his people. Indeed, many brothers (and sisters) of Richard’s age served in the military, some by choice like Richard and others by draft.

The patriotic moxie that made Richard strive to be the first Japanese-American army general (the path taken by Gen. Eric Ken Shinseki, four years Richard’s junior) could have also lead him to consider working with the FBI. Such an option makes even more sense taking into account how Japanese American radicals had been stomped, imprisoned and deported for decades before the 1960s. But Richard’s fate led him to pursue his life objectives in the radical tinderboxes of the Merritt and Berkeley campuses. Where students were buttoned down wannabes one quarter, but long haired, Afro sporting-protestors challenging racist genocide and neocolonialism the next quarter.

Many working class soldiers sent to “pacify gooks” in Vietnam came back totally changed. These vets served as leaders in emerging revolutionary organizations. Consider the miracle that is the Vietnam Vets Against the War—winter soldier survivors of racist wars, who dared speak out and hurl their bravery medals at the White House, opening the door for vets of later US military adventures to gather and speak out. In ways large and small, all of us who made the decision to swim against the current and cast our lot with the people had to confront a rupture point in which we could no longer “go along to get along.” We decided to eat the “red pill” of painful reality and shoulder the consequences, including dealing with FBI harassment.

We believe Richard’s embrace of revolutionary politics and “flip” came with the emergence of the BPP, then AAPA and TWLF. Other friends believe Richard was already “under the influence” during his work in with the SWP and Vietnam Day Committee. Whatever the case, “quantity goes to quality” Richard jumped with us and our fiery movements of anti-racist, anti-capitalist, internationalist, revolutionary nationalist politics. And Brother Man did it with verve and vigor.

No Way Out

Chan Wing Yan: “I just want an identity. I want to be a normal man.”
Lau Kin Ming: “Getting tired?”

Chan Wing Yan: “You've never been a mole. You wouldn’t understand…”

--Infernal Affairs

While our movement essentially flipped Richard, there was no way he could have admitted this to anyone, given who he was—and frankly, who we were at the time. If he or someone else had outted him during the period of intense FBI activity, when his comrades were being killed, jailed and harassed he would have been severely disciplined and if he survived, become a total outcast. The entire struggle he had put into school and building a career as an educator would have been flushed down the toilet. He would have had to get a new identity somewhere else and start over again in some witness protection type program only Buddha knows where. He would have had to leave us all behind.

We were—and still are—Richard’s family. Over the past several weeks, we’ve been forced to relive his funeral. Community media have been plastered pictures of him with diverse sets of his movement brothers and sisters; these are his for real comrades. We’re not seeing pictures of Richard sitting behind a duck blind hunting with FBI buddies and Dick Cheney types. Consider the dysfunctions in our own colorful families and the traumas we’ve borne and caused. Consider the defects we each have as individuals. We knew our movements were full of informers and agents, the vast majority of whose covers were never blown. Consider a few of our own might have danced with the Devil. We’re not trying to excuse Richard’s behavior; we’re trying to understand it. Even as people in Afghanistan, Syria and countless conflict zones must walk the landmine fields planted by enemies—without getting bloodied or killed. Consider that every government has its FBI counterpart, many of them hosted and trained by the FBI with our tax dollars.

Why did Richard keep taking money from the Feds and not bale out until 1977? He’s not here to answer that question, though more leads may surface in the future. But we can only imagine the agony he endured during the last two years of his life. Rosenfeld confronted him in 2007; Richard took his life in 2009 after a string of severe and painful illnesses. Not knowing when Rosenfeld might out him must have been sheer hell. When we first heard about Richard’s death by his own hand, though saddened, it made sense to us. Richard was deep into guns and controlling his rep. We ourselves have feisty relatives who’ve done themselves in after catastrophic illnesses while they were still strong enough to pull it off with dignity. And we respect the choices they felt they had to make. As we hope those who follow us will do when our time comes. Now we wonder if in addition to Richard’s health problems and stresses, Rosenfeld’s 2007 interview also influenced Richard’s decision on how and when to end it. And that’s where compassion surges for Richard as a friend and fellow human being who suffered terribly.

Through working with our movements, Richard flipped from government informer to revolutionary leader and community educator—without revealing his past. This is why both the loyal testimonials of Richard’s friends and the misty trail of FBI documents both provide insight into the man. No one who dances with the Devil walks away unburned. Richard’s “conversion” may have been gradual; it may have been precipitous. Yet while we can gain some insight from the FBI files released now and in the future, we need critical thinking to puzzle out answers. And this will come from Richard’s family and friends and our shared movements and communities.

Richard’s friends and admirers have reflected on his many contributions, both at his 2009 memorial and recently as folks have struggled to make sense of the controversy. Shout outs to Harvey and Bea Dong for the warrior work they’ve performed for our movement over the years, especially at Eastwind Books, Ethnic Studies, and as caretakers of our API movement archives and Richard’s memory. Asian American Studies Professor and Richard’s close friend Harvey Dong and Ethnic Studies PhD. Candidate Tala Khanmalek reflected on the movements Richard bridged:

Tala Khanmalek, Interviewer:  I was re-reading Richard Aoki’s speech notes from the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) Founding Rally (July 28, 1968) in Stand Up: An Archive Collection of the Bay Area Asian American Movement, 1968-1974 and remembering what I think is one of the most important things about Aoki’s legacy: his comparative analysis of racialization as well as his centralization of interracial solidarity. Is there a relationship between Aoki’s politics and Seth Rosenfeld’s claim that he was an FBI informant?

Harvey Dong: Definitely. His politics is internationalism, and he’s a symbol of Afro-Asian unity. A lot of times when people talk about peoples of color and examples from history, examples from the past, Richard’s name is always mentioned because he was someone that bridged two or three different worlds. There’s a lot of support for Richard’s life and what it represented. So, in a lot of ways I kind of felt it was an attack on his legacy in terms of what he contributed and what he had represented. [25]

Diane Fujino captured Richard’s trajectory at the end of her book:

When Aoki emphatically stated, “I never left the Black Panther Party,” he indeed held steadfast to the ideas, programs, and revolutionary dreams of the party. This was about wanting “freedom” and the “power to determine the destiny of our Black Community,” and about wanting jobs, housing, quality education, fairness in the legal system, and an end to police brutality for all peoples. This was about, as AAPA stated, “supporting[ing] all oppressed peoples and their struggles for Liberation.” Aoki’s own radical imagination coincided with the momentous social movements of the 1960s and 1970s and enabled an ordinary person to make extraordinary choices, involving him in the creation of new societies and new histories.[26]

The story of Richard Aoki is not in the files of the FBI or the tapes of a reporter using racial hype to sell product; it is in our hearts. Throats. Fists. Even as we brace for the worst. Knowing the high hanging fruit, the deadliest bombs have yet to drop.

FBI & Rosenfeld: Check their pockets

In preparation for the explosions to come this fall, we need to understand more about the contention going on between the FBI, including David M. Hardy, Chief of the FBI’s Record Information/ Dissemination Section, and Seth Rosenfeld and his lawyer, Benjamin W. Stein. The FBI and Rosenfeld have been fighting each other since Rosenfeld first filed his FOIA related to Richard in May 2009, shortly after Richard died. While we were shocked by Rosenfeld’s August 20, 2012 exposé, it was but a slice of the 3 ½ year legal battle between him and the FBI, on top of the years they fought over the FBI files on the main subjects of his book: the Free Speech Movement, liberal professors and chancellors victimized by the Feds.

We two writers do not believe that the FBI’s file release was a deliberate conspiracy timed to discredit our movements, although we certainly did get burned by their toxic dump. Rather the file release was the result of Rosenfeld’s ten-year interest in Richard as a possible informer and the reporter’s subsequent fight with the FBI to prove that. The FBI dragged its feet, redacted and obfuscating as much as possible. From the court documents, it’s clear the FBI has a whole division, with personnel and budget devoted to implementing and protecting the FBI’s overall repressive and secretive mission and directives—through the way it implements and blocks FOIA.

The Freedom Archives has warned of the pitfalls of relying heavily on what the FBI does and does not release. Their organizational and historical experience has demonstrated that the FBI and other agencies have total control of what is released—and what is expurgated. This fits their agenda, which can include the sowing of more disinformation. In many cases the files are selective and misleading and intended to obscure the truth, as seen particularly in the massive amount of files released to Dhoruba Bin Wahad (BPP and Black Liberation Army) and Geronimo ji Jaga (BPP.) Both brothers did huge amounts of time in prison before enormous public pressure and organizing, an aggressive legal strategy and inconsistencies forced the “judicial process” to admit the state's lies and crimes. Also despite releases from the secret Newkill program, which involved an FBI and White House conspiracy to frame Black Panthers, there are still former Panthers locked up three and four decades later.

FBI documents can be studied for contradictory information that can be used to contextualize or explain events, leading to more inquiry. History and analysis cannot rely on what gets released by the government. In the SF Eight case, the state decided ultimately to drop the prosecution rather than have to produce more COINTELPRO documents proving their intent to destroy the Panthers. When it was revealed through a slip by a chatty cop that electronic surveillance took place widely against Black Panther Party members (no surprise to anyone), they decided that the costs to re-criminalize former Panthers would be much more damaging to them if they had to release materials than what they could gain by proceeding with the prosecution. So, they folded their hand in an unwinnable case. But it took five years of community, national and international organizing work and effective counter-messaging. It took public education and discussion of illegal torture (now licit under the Patriot Act), COINTELPRO attacks, surveillance and infiltration to counter this unjust prosecution. Ultimately, the SF Eight’s victory was won through unity among defendants, organizing of a political movement and an aggressive political legal defense and many lessons can be learned from this effort.

In terms of checking Rosenfeld’s back pockets and why he’s able to whip out FBI docs so fast, in part it’s because his tracking of Richard has been a decade-long on and off project, in which he is now highly invested. Check out the time line.

  • 2002—Burney Threadgill brags to Rosenfeld that he was the one who recruited and trained Richard as an informant
  • 2005—Rosenfeld writes Threadgill’s obit
  • 2007—After conducting a lengthy interview with Richard, Rosenfeld confronts Richard about being an informer, which Richard denies
  • March 15, 2009—Richard dies
  • April 26, 2009—Rosenfeld writes Richard’s obit for the SF Chronicle
  • May 5, 2009—Rosenfeld writes two separate and identical letters requesting and all records from the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office and FBI HQ seeking “any and all fields in any way concerning” Aoki.[27]
  • July 2012—The court orders the FBI to release more Aoki files to Rosenfeld in (essentially Rosenfeld wins the case in federal court),
  • August 15, 2012—The FBI agrees to release a batch of files (the 277 pages examined here.)
  • August 20, 2012—Rosenfeld runs the exposé on “the man who armed panthers” in print & video formats.
  • August 21, 2012—Subversives goes on sale.
  • September 4, 2012—The court confirms Rosenfeld’s motion
  • September 17, 2012—Rosenfeld should have received some 2,000 more FBI pages.
  • November 1, 2012—He should receive another roughly 2,000, or about 4,000 pages in total “in any way concerning” Aoki.

As of this writing there are some 41 motions regarding the Aoki-related FBI files. The motions are filed with: US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, Seth Rosenfeld vs. FBI & US DOJ, Case No. C 11-2131-MEJ.[28] Shout out to Prof. Scott Kurashige, Director of Asian/Pacific Islander American (A/PIA) Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for downloading and providing us with some 1,200 pages of select court documents on this case.

Unfortunately, while Rosenfeld should be an ally in the fight against the FBI, he has displayed an adversarial, racially exploitative stance towards our communities. From Chapter 25 “At Bayonet Point” of his book Subversives and his articles about Richard, his operating framework appears to be as follows:

Richard was an FBI informant who worked as a leader in violence-prone organizations and movements, particularly the Black Panther Party, Asian American Political Alliance and Third World Liberation Front at UC Berkeley. As an FBI informant, Richard pushed these organizations towards greater violence. With the BPP, his provocative actions led to shootouts between the BPP and Oakland Police Department and the jailing of leaders like Huey Newton and conviction of others like Eldridge Cleaver, Warren Wells and Charles Bursey, thus, helping the FBI implement its COINTELPRO. With the AAPA and TWLF, Richard’s actions in leadership helped bring about the greatest property damage of all the 1960s student movements, precipitating strong measures by the FBI, police, Governor Reagan and eventually the National Guard’s occupation of campus. Third World student organizations at Berkeley and San Francisco perpetrated violence in order to provoke police repression to provoke more support for their cause, which had little following among faculty or the larger student body.

Rosenfeld’s hypothesis dovetails with that of other New Left and liberal white male writers who divide the 1960s into the “good 60s vs. the bad sixties” referred to earlier.”[29] Comadre Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez reviewed some two dozen books about the 1960s back in 1998. Here’s what she found:

You would never know that during a single week of 1968 at least 10,000 Chicano high school students in Los Angeles walked out of school to protest racist policies. You would never know there was a “Yellow Identity Movement” of Chinese and other Asian students at universities in California and New York City. You will learn nothing of the potent Third World student strikes of 1968-69 in San Francisco. Gitlin’s book does not even mention any movement of color except the Black civil rights movement until page 433. There he speaks of “an amalgam of reform efforts, especially for civil rights (ultimately for Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities as well as blacks).” Six words, and in parentheses at that, for the thousands of Asian, Latino and Native American people who lived and sometimes died for liberation and social justice in those years.[30]

In Rosenfeld’s case the Free Speech Movement and Vietnam Day Committee are held up over the BPP, AAPA and the TWLF. Rosenfeld pits these movements against each other, instead of seeing them as complementary outgrowths of the anti-war, civil rights, self-determination, community control and liberation politics of the period. Rosenfeld appears to have difficulty respecting movements unless its leaders share his skin color. He also fails to recognize the qualitatively different way police and law enforcement agencies responded to people of color, including student protestors. In the courtroom for example, Bobby Seale was the only one of the Chicago Eight defendants bound and gagged like chattel during the trial charging conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention.

Rosenfeld seems to view the movements of color that the FBI spied upon as pawns at best and thuggish mis-leaders at worst. This lack of respect and understanding “colors” Rosenfeld’s brand of journalism. After all the work invested in getting the 4,000 pages of files released and finishing his book, we can expect him to write another string of exposés—or Guanyin forbid—another book, in which these FBI files might be used to vilify and racially profile our movements.

Questions of Strategy

“We need to create a broad mass movement for social justice as our way to beat back fascism.”

--Pamela Tau Lee & Ben Lee, personal communication, October 1, 2012

While the A-Files came in the form as an assault on the integrity of one of our leaders, the main drama is really the sustained FBI cover-up of spying on and harassing our organizations and communities during its COINTELPRO. Depending on our stance and response, the release of the FBI docs could constitute a powerful learning opportunity for confronting government abuse. For when the FBI spied on the TWLF, it meant not only the AAPA that Richard belonged to, but also the Mexican American Student Confederation, Afro American Student Union and United Native American Students that made up the TWLF. When the BPP was harassed, fraternal groups like the Red Guard, Brown Berets and Young Lords and many others were also under surveillance and targeted for disruption. The FBI followed activists off campus to track our work in such community and labor organizations as Asian Community Center, J-Town Collective, I-Hotel and later I Wor Kuen and Kalayaan Ang Katipunan, among many others.

One of the most intriguing questions to us is why one of Richard’s 134 files was flagged for the attention of the assistant directors of the FBI and managers of COINTELPRO.

And what might this have to do with the FBI fighting so hard against release of the 4,000 pages related to Richard?

Whatever the case, we have every right to have access to those files, as the people the government spied on, as younger generation activists, organizers and students, and as part of the broader community concerned with civil liberties and first amendment rights.

Gaining access to the files requires a plan. One course of action could be submitting FOIA requests for the release of all files that the court has mandated that the FBI give to Rosenfeld. We believe that movement lawyers and experts could help our vets make a compelling case that since the FBI had already released the files (as of November 2012) they should also do so directly to the people whose groups had been spied upon. This route would necessitate a team of people and organizations to make the request and go back and forth with the FBI with the help of lawyers who specialize in FOIA.

Another possibility is for folks to enter into negotiation with Rosenfeld and CIR, urging them to share the files with a community institution/s who would provide open access to and advice on how to read the files. We believe skilled union and community negotiators from our side could make a compelling case that it would be CIR’s self-interest to exercise such accountability and transparency. With either option, movement groups like Freedom Archives could offer training and counsel on how to handle the files and make them accessible to the public.

Lessons: “Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories”/ Amilcar Cabral

Instead of automatically trusting questionable government sources and Rosenfeld’s sensationalist journalism, we must scrutinize what Rosenfeld states as fact. We urge Richard’s former comrades, friends, associates, the 600 plus mourners who packed Wheeler Auditorium to attend his memorial service, and anyone concerned with government infiltration of social justice movements to get involved. We must conduct our own research and publicly share our findings to determine the truth of the matter. Characterized by many as a man of great principle, consistency, and integrity, Richard wouldn’t have it any other way.

--Mike Cheng & Ben Wang[31]

Use what you got to get what you need.

--BPP translation of Juche aka “self-determination” from Korean

Irrespective of where folks stand on the controversy, our movements constitute a united front against FBI and government harassment; we all share in the lessons to be learned. As Mo Nishida put it:

What can we learn from this attack on our community?

First: Don’t jump to conclusions; check out the source – what are they saying and what side they are on. Try to get all the facts. It may come in handy down the road.

Second: Don’t get paranoid or suspicious of everybody and, most of all; don’t be afraid to state your opinions in an open and frank way. That’s what “they” want, to chill and scare folks off, to force people to live on their knees.

Third: We have to think of ways to effectively screen folks, without being overly protective and self-righteous. After all, I believe our goals and the process is to develop ourselves to become more open, caring, trusting and loving human beings who will fit in and help to develop the new society that is needed right now, in our people-to-people relations and our people-to-Mother-Earth relations.[32]

In terms of reducing the negative impact of informers and agents on our work, Bob Wing said:

Whatever the truth about Richard, informers and agents come with the territory of the fight for social justice. My view has always been that suspected informers (or voyeurs) are best tested by being put to hard work for social justice and watched carefully, but also by doing our best not to allow them to become such a distraction that they unduly disrupt or divert our work.[33]

To these suggestions, we’d like to add a few more:

Do NOT talk to the FBI. Whether about your activities, your friends’ or family’s. They fish to build cases against people in your community. And possibly to cultivate you as a source. Check out Center for Constitutional Rights’ excellent handbook, If An Agent Knocks, also available in Spanish, Urdu and Arabic.[34] Refusing to talk is scary and will have consequences; but talking will also, and be probably worse, if not for you, then for others. Learn from the A-Files. Learn from the Chinatown Files.

Be aware that the FBI makes use not only of obvious fools and provocateurs but also skilled people like Richard, civil rights photographer Ernie Withers[35] and US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.[36]

Support movement institutions monitoring FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other government agency abuses. The FBI has not released the vast majority of the A-Files, much less on what they’ve got on the rest of us. The FBI forces us to spend time, money, legal support and tenacity to get them to release documents, only to find much of it redacted. Institutional and individual commitments are needed to pressure the FBI into releasing more of what they’ve got on us and our organizations. Check out new initiatives like the National Defense Authorization Act allowing indefinite detention and the DHS’ “fusion centers” to spy on Muslim communities and others at the cost of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Do not let your opponents determine the timing, strategy and tactics of your response to controversies. They’ve got superior firepower, money and resources; we’ve got war of the flea power. Some investigative work takes longer and can’t be accomplished through blogs and tweets, handy as those vehicles may be for sharing ideas and keeping folks updated. Be aware that your communications and postings may be monitored.

Media institutions like CIR can use the A-Files as a case study on how NOT to handle relations with communities of color. Future releases of FBI documents to discredit our organizations, scholars and institutions will not be favorably viewed given fatigue with “smart assed white boys” using brown backs as step ladders to advance careers and snag book contracts. Since CIR’s merger with Bay Citizen, several journalists of color have been added to CIR’s mix; we hope they can help tackle and correct negative practices there.

Pressure groups like CIR to show more accountability and share information with our communities. The 4000 some pages of FBI files related to Richard must be turned over to our community reps for open access.

Hold up a mirror to our own practices and be accountable to the same standards we demand of others. Exercise accountability and transparency. Follow your investigation wherever it leads. Value and promote leadership and training. Do not be afraid to speak out. Step up. Share the load.

Build multi-racial unity. Work across divisions of race, nationality, class, sexual orientation, gender and other schisms to promote united action against our oppressors. Share cultures and organizing efforts. Don’t use brown backs as stepping ladders for your career. Be patient as we learn to work together. And if one of ours screws up, take responsibility for helping resolve the problem.

Security policies and practices tailored to each organization’s mission and membership must be a core part of our work. If we stand up for social change and against war, racism and poverty in a sustained way, we can expect to attract the attention of government surveillance agencies. Employers, family, neighbors, friends, fellow worshippers and co-workers may also be contacted. Groups with positive security practices can share with up-and-coming sister organizations.

In this learning moment, let our hearts and minds open to embrace those communities the FBI is now profiling on the basis of race, nationality, immigrant status, religion and other vulnerabilities. For example:

  • In 2003 DHS further institutionalized racial profiling with its “special registration” process for over 80,000 men and boys from 25 mainly Muslim or Arab countries; over 13,000 arrests and deportations took place.
  • In August 2012, the court ordered information released about an NYPD “Demographics Unit” that spent six years of covert spying and eavesdropping on the city’s Muslim neighborhoods but yielded no results and led to no cases.
  • At the September 9, 2012 gathering organized by Eastside Arts Alliance to process the Richard controversy, a young sister from the audience asked about how to deal with FBI activities in her community, where “uncles” were talking with the FBI. The FBI, CIA et al got jacked up by Congress and the nation for failing to anticipate the 9.11 attacks. They’ve ramped up spy and disruption programs to avoid a repeat in communities like the young sister’s.

Be prudent, not paranoid because our work is about love, dignity and transformation. Be open to the fact that people change and that we can influence that change—which is what we did with Richard.

We hope you’ll use lessons from the A-Files to reflect on your own movement’s history to gain insights into government abuse, human complexity and what our communities can do to overcome tragedy and flourish. This project needs your critical eye, fire and smarts. Our communities can only succeed by pooling resources for the bigger explosions to come.

Belvin and Miriam Louie were members of the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) at UC Berkeley. Belvin served with Richard as one of the AAPA representatives on the Central Committee of the TWLF; he was also a TWLF Field Marshall in charge of translating decisions to daily picket line activities. The Louies have also belonged to such groups as the Venceremos Brigade, Committee for Solidarity with the Korean People, National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee, International Hotel/ Manilatown Heritage Foundation, Third World Women’s Alliance, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates and Women of Color Resource Center. Check out the FOIA files on the Third World Women’s Alliance, an offshoot of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, in the TWWA archives at the Sophia Smith Collection Library, Smith College.

Photo/ Graphics Credits:

Page 1—Richard Aoki of AAPA, Charles Brown of the Afro-American Students Union, and Manuel Delgado of the Mexican American Student Confederation, courtesy Muhammad Speaks, February 7, 1969.

Page 18—“TWLF, Huelga!” poster, Malaquias Montoya/ Third World Liberation Front newspaper, Berkeley/ YRL/ Louie.

Page 28—Manong pioneers of International Hotel with AAPA supporters, circa 1970, courtesy of Emil DeGuzman.

APPENDIX:  FBI Matrix Tunnel 1

Take Red Pill Extra Strength before proceeding.

A note of support based on our experience:  It’s easy to get lost in the details, missing the forest for the riot of trees. It’s also easy to get confused from flipping back and forth between the pages trying to follow and figure out what’s going on or being referred to within the files. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. Your efforts will be rewarded with a sharper ability to read your opponent’s language, a useful skill in organizing against their abuses. You’ll also have an easier time deciphering your own individual and movement FBI files.

We hope our commentary will make it easier for you to make it through the files.  But more importantly, we hope it will enable you to point out things that we might have missed or misinterpreted.  Every time we have looked at the files, new insights pop out.  Sharing those insights is the only way for us to really learn what’s contained in the files.

Style Formats - Several style formats will be used in the following sections to designate who is saying what and to reference the specific source of information. To minimize putting too much of our own “spin” on the contents, we quote extensively from the files. We try to distinguish between what the file says versus our hunches. While doing so burdens this paper with a lot of clunky FBI-speak, we hope that it will allow the reader to more freely interpret the information, whether or not you agree with our hypothesis.  Please bear with us in this awkward exercise of code-switching between the worlds of the FBI vs. the organizations they spied upon.

·         Words quoted directly from the files are placed within “quotes” AND indented even though this is redundant. 

·         Brackets [   ] are used to indicate the words, phrases and sections that are redacted in the files. However, we do not attempt to duplicate the size and length of the redaction.

·         On occasion, we insert our best guess in parenthesis with a question mark next to (or close by to) what have been redacted. E.g., [    ] (student movement?)

·         (A-XXX) will refer to the specific page from the 277-page FBI file released by CIR on September 7, 2012.

Here are the details of Richard’s relationship with the FBI, stage by stage.

1. Recruitment (January/February 1961)

Richard was contacted by the FBI in 1960, regarding some statement(s) he had made several years previously in 1957 while he was in the US Army regarding some person(s) of interest he was acquainted with.  A 3/16/61 memo reports 

“AOKI was contacted and expressed a willingness to cooperate with the Bureau in any way possible, but stated that he has had no contact with the [   ] (persons of interest?) since leaving Berkeley High, however, stated that if he should contact them in the future, he would notify the San Francisco Office.”

“On February 15, 1961, AOKI met [   ] at a publicly announced [   ] function in Berkeley, who in turn invited AOKI to a [   ] AOKI has attended this [   ] and submitted a report. In light of this development, AOKI has been designated [   ] – PSI and the [   ] of RICHARD FORD, which he will use in signing reports.”

“The following information concerning AOKI is being submitted as a basis for a request for Bureau authority to contact him as a PSI.” (A-52)

The files indicate that Richard enlisted in the US Army Reserve on 11/15/56, entered active duty on 2/3/57, and remained on active duty until 8/2/57 when he was transferred back to the US Army Reserve to complete his military obligation in 11/14/64. (A-55 & 60)

In our view it is not entirely out of the question for a financially strapped reservist who enlisted in the US military and considered signing up with the Green Berets to become an FBI informant out of sense of loyalty and patriotism to serve his country and to supplement his earnings to pay for his hobby – collecting and shooting guns.

This was followed by an extensive background check on Richard that included a search of the SF FBI resources to verify his background, including former employment, education, business connections regarding his reliability, stability, patriotism, and integrity, his credit history, Oakland and Berkeley police departments records for any arrest or citations, military personnel records, and a re-verification of his relationship with the persons of interest from 1956 – 1957. (A-50 through A-62) 

2. Potential Security Informant/ Probation (July 28, 1961 – November 16, 1961)

Finding no issues as a result of the background checks, on July 28, 1961, the Bureau granted the SF office authority to develop Richard as an informant:

“As you were previously advised, Bureau files contain no information identifiable with PSI and authority is granted to take steps to develop him as an informant. Make certain he understands his cooperation must be strictly voluntary, confidential, and even though he may furnish information and assistance, he cannot consider himself a Bureau employee. Use caution in your contact with him to be certain he is not a plant and otherwise follow instructions contained in Section 107 of the Manual of Instructions.” (A- 68)

3.  Security Informant (November 16, 1961 to Mid-1964)

Note that FBI memos often indicate the Bureau’s categorization of the particular sector of groups that are the subject of the reports. For example, “Internal Security,” “Black Nationalist—Hate Groups,” “Racial Intelligence,” “Groups Seeking Independence for Puerto Rico,” etc., “American Indian Movement—Extremist Matters,”  “IS—CH (Internal Security—Chinese).”   In this set of 134 files, however, the subject matter is consistently redacted.

Richard officially became a security informant on November 16, 1961, following a November 8, 1961 IPR recommendation (A-64):

“Since this individual is obtaining and burnishing current information of value based upon his membership in the [   ] his designation as [   ] (a security?) informant has been made a matter of record in the Bureau. Based upon your recommendation, authority is [   ]” (granted with an explanation from HQ “Director” concurring with SF decision to authorize as informant? (See A-64 above.)

“Since this individual is a new informant, you [   ] submit an appropriate communication in accordance with Section 107N of the Manual of Instruction.” (A-63)

Despite the fact that the IPR reports were mostly redacted, they do indicate that Richard’s activities changed over time. He attended and reported on local meetings, conventions, and activities. In his movement activities, as his role and involvement rose within the SWP/YSA, so did his prominence and responsibilities. 

Richard’s FBI-related activities were directed by BT.  Richard requested authorization from BT before he made any important decisions. For example, he needed to know if he could obtain advanced authorization to go out of town to attend a conference.  On July 19, 1962, the FBI’s San Francisco office requested and was later given authorization:

“A request is being submitted at this time so that if approved, Informant will have the necessary time to make arrangements for leave from his employment. Any such request is supposed be made four weeks in advance.”  (A-88) 

Later an 8/9/62 Airtel from SF to Director (HQ) indicates an instruction was given to Richard regarding attendance at that conference:

“ReBuairtel 8/2/62 to San Francisco and [  ] (field office near where conference was held?) CONF. INFT. [   ] has been instructed to use the [   ] (FBI term for alias?) RICHARD FORD in the event it is necessary for him to contact a Special Agent of the [   ]. (A-90)

Interestingly, Richard’s attendance, activities, and movements at the conference were reported by another informant in a September 21, 1962 document.  (A-94)  It appears as if that FBI informant was not aware of Richard’s relationship with the SF FBI office. 

A similar request a year later in August 23,1963 was denied by FBI Director’s office since the Bureau already had sufficient coverage with local informants already located in that city. (A-123)

Throughout this period from 1961 to mid-1964, Richard was involved in the full range of activities directed by his FBI handler. The 10/29/62 IPR, Sec. VII, BT indicated that:

“Informant has submitted complete and thorough reports, usually typewritten.” [   ]

Richard’s intelligence reports were typically

            “thorough and neatly typewritten.” (A-104)

4.  Security Informant with curtailed activities (Mid-1964 to Mid-1968)

This is a period of flux and shift in Richard’s status and relationship to the FBI. From the documents, it appears that the FBI handler explained to HQ repeatedly that while Richard’s output fell below the Bureau’s expectations, he should be kept on as a Security Informant. This is also the period of Richard’s move to achieve his educational and career objectives and an important shift in political activism. What we’ll do in this section is provide examples of some of these shifting status changes. Refer also back to the Limited Timeline of Richard’s Activities back in Part I for what else was going on with Richard at the time.

For example, a 10/28/64 IPR:

“It will be noted under Section 5 that informant [   ] that his current employment precludes his [   ]. It is felt that in the near future, he will once again be able to [   ] therefore, it is felt that this authorization is necessary [   ]. (A-144)

The 1/11/65 IPR notes Richard’s curtailed activities, educational and career objectives, employment and lack of financial resources:

“Due to informant’s curtailed activities because of full-time employment six days a week, as well as his taking a full course as an undergraduate student at Merritt College, no steps have been taken to advance the informant. Every effort [   ].”

“Informant feels that it will be necessary for him to continue his employment for another six months. Informant has had to support himself for a number of years, and has had no family to turn to for any financial aid. He feels that his schooling should come first, because it is necessary for him to obtain a degree in order that he might look forward to elevating himself in the community. Informant is eager to maintain his relationship with the Bureau and to be of any service possible.”

“Informant claims that he is saving a considerable amount of money, which he is earning at the present time, and after another semester at Merritt College he hopes to be able to discontinue his current employment and enroll at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, for his last two years of schooling. Informant feels that once he is enrolled at the UC he will be in a good position to assist the Bureau in its investigation [   ]” (of growing student and anti-war activities?) (A-150—151) 

There was no 2/1965 or 3/1965 IPR report included in the files.  However, in the 6/30/65 IPR, it was noted,

 “During the recent inspection of the San Francisco Office, informant’s file was reviewed at which time he was rated “Fair” with the notation that unless a substantial increase in production of informant is received within 90 days, his status should be re-evaluated as an informant. It is felt that in view of the fact informant has reinstituted his [   ] it is assumed that his production will increase accordingly” (A-159)


The next several reports, 10/29/65 (A-160), 3/10/66 (A-169), 7/29/66 (A-172), and 11/2/66 (A-175) remained fairly routine and slim in content based on the size of the redacted sections.

The exception was a flurry of memos reference by the 10/29/65 IPR (A-162—168) dated between 10/25/65 and 11/5/65 under the subject heading


The “cc” is redacted but not:

            Re: Bureau airtel to Albany dated 10/25/65 and [   ] “(rest of page largely redacted. (A-166)

After the subsequent largely redacted pages comes the “Authority is granted” for whatever action has largely been redacted.

Also note in this series of reports that:

“As noted in the 3/2/65 justification letter, the informant was having some [   ]. He has done a good job of fence-mending and now appears to be held in a very good light by the [   ]” (A-164)

Note that the 3/2/65 IPR mentioned that may have mentioned specifics above is mostly redacted, so we don’t really know what was going on yet.  It is unclear whom the “fence mending” refers to.  (A-53-156.)

However, in terms of this period, please refer to Diane Fujino’s book, p. 336, footnote #39 regarding Richard’s travel to anti-war demonstrations in Washington in on April 17, 1965, November 27 and 28, 1965. Aoki, in a letter from the VDC to the All-Japan Telecommunications Workers Union, dated December 13, 1965 indicated that “a major struggle developed during the course of the convention [in Washington, D.C., in November 1965] between the Stalinists and Trotskyists. The issue concerned the formation of a broadly based, non-exclusive membership, national anti-war organization.”[37]

The next several IPRs seem to show a discrepancy relative to their Section 9 Information Furnished of Unusual Value.  The 3/10/66 IPR indicated the following:

“[   ] comprehensive. This information was not available from any other source in this division.” (A-170)

Yet, the same section 9 in the 7/29/66 IPR (A-173), 11/2/66 IPR (A-176), and the 2/27/67 IPR (A-179), each indicated


Finally, the entire Section 9 of the 6/30/67 IPR (A-189) was redacted, hiding something of significance.

Furthermore, the 11/2/66 IPR indicates the informant’s potential value to the Bureau. After a large redaction:

“It is requested that Bureau authority be granted to extent [sic] the maximum interval between contacts to thirty days. This exception to the two-week rule is being requested because of the security problems incidental to contacting this informant who is so active in and so well known to the dissident elements [   ].” (on the UC Berkeley campus?) (A-178). 

Please note that the Black Panther Party was launched in October 1966. Richard joined within a month.

The 11/21/1966 response from Director to SF after a large redaction notes:

“In view of informant’s wide sphere of activity and notoriety, you are authorized pursuant to your recommendation to referenced letter to contact him at intervals of thirty days. Make efforts to contact this informant at two-week intervals whenever possible and attempt to locate a discreet rendezvous point away from his area of activity in order that contacts on a two-week basis can be reestablished. You are reminded that you are to make no personal contacts with the informant on the university campus.” (A-175) (Reminder: Note that the files released by the FBI are not always in chronological order.)

The 2/27/67 IPR indicates that Richard’s time was still constrained. 

“However, he is presently finding that his course of study at the university is both challenging and demanding and he is presently unable to increase the time devoted to the [   ].” (A-181) 

Yet his status is recommended for continuance because:

“This informant furnishes unique information of considerable value particularly relating to the personal circumstances of [   ].  (A-182)

A 5/4/67 memo (A-187) also noted:

“Captioned informant has become a member of and currently reports on the [   ].  This matter is being closely followed in order to protect the Bureau’s interest.” 

Please note that the BPP’s famous armed protest of 30 Panthers of the steps of the state capital to protest passage of the Mulford Bill revoking the right of private citizens to carry arms took place on May 2, 1967.  As noted in Richard’s video interview by Peralta, Richard did not attend.[38]

Yet the 6/30/67 IPR noted:

“However, the Bureau’s attention is called to the information contained in the referenced communication of 5/4/67. There is presently no additional information to report concerning this topic.” (A-192)

Interestingly, a later review of the 6/30/67 IPR resulted in a handwritten note dated 12/1/67 from 0-7 to SF. The handwritten note may have been the result an internal FBI audit that raised the question why this person was still being used as an informant. The note says:

“Immediately submit 4-mo evaluation letter re captioned informant. Letter was due 11-1-67.  Continued delays of this nature will result in discontinuance of informant. RLR.” (A-189).

We want to call particular attention to a couple of handwritten notes in the documents involving high level FBI management interest in this particular informant.  First note that handwritten on the 4/12/67 Memorandum that references a 5/1/67 memo from C.D. Brennan to W.C. Sullivan:

"Memo C.D. Brennan

to W.C. Sullivan (encl.)


CWT: jaw” (sp?)                   (our emphasis) (A-183)

(Please bear with us as this might be considered a slight detour away from the focus of this 134 file on hand, but may represent something more significant as more files are released.)

We assume this is FBI Assistant Directors Charles D. Brennan and William C. Sullivan and C. W. Thompson, a high-level FBI official to whom many COINTELPRO documents were addressed, including the infamous August 25, 1967 FBI directive to all offices from Director formally establishing COINTELPRO and including these first two paragraphs:

“Offices receiving copies of this letter are instructed to immediately establish a control file captioned as above, and to assign responsibility for following and coordinating this new counterintelligence program to an experienced and imaginative Special Agent well versed in investigations relating to black nationalist, hate-type organizations. The field office control file used under this program may be maintained in a pending inactive status until such time as a specific operation or technique is placed under consideration for implementation.

The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black Nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder. The activities of all such groups of intelligence interest to this Bureau must be followed on a continuous basis so we will be in a position to promptly take advantage of all opportunities for counterintelligence and to inspire action in instances where circumstances warrant.”[39] 

Returning the typed body of the 4/12/67 memo mentioned above,

“This informant’s principal value lies [   ]. There is no other source who can presently duplicate the information furnished currently by [    ].”

Note that in the margin of this paragraph is a second hand written note to CWT re 5/2/67 document that the FBI did not release with these files, but is also alluded to in the 5/4/67 memo mentioned above and below (A-187 and A-193) Continuing with the 4/12/67 memo:

“[   ] has no connection with the fact that he is a student.

As a student and member of the University community, however, this informant is able to recognize and report on the [   ]. If he were discontinued he could not be replace without a similar [   ]. Without his coverage furnished by [   ] his Division would [   ]” (A-183)

In Section XI on “Stability and Reliability” the 12/5/67 IPR noted,

“There is no indication of any instability on the part of the informant.  It is believed that he is reliable.  With the exception of information previously furnished to the Bureau in San Francisco letter to the Bureau 5/4/67 (our emphasis) there is no indication that this informant will in the future become a source of embarrassment to the Bureau.” (Aoki-195)

The 2/9/68 and 6/24/68 IPRs reflected diminished output and contain large redactions. (A-196—A-201).

5. Racial Informant with curtailed activities (Mid-1968 to 1976)

One year after the formal launch of COINTELPRO in 1967, an FBI memo dated 9/27/68 from W. C. Sullivan to G. C. Moore contained as its subject matter:  “Black Nationalist-Hate Groups, Racial Intelligence (Black Panther Party)” urges all offices to accelerate the COINTELPRO against the BPP nationally, including increasing informants in the organization. Please review that letter in full.[40]

Two weeks later (!), a 10/11/68 memo from SF to Director indicates a significant change in scope of intelligence activities for Richard, possibly expanding the scope of intelligence he was to gather. A 9/16/68 letter is referred to (but not included in these files); this 9/16/68 letter may be the original request from HQ that SF increase informants in this developing area. The 10/11/68 memo says:

“In accordance with the Bureau’s suggestion in referenced letter it is recommended that [   ] be designated [   ]. Captioned informant’s new San Francisco file will be [   ]. This informant will be considered a [    ]  (racial?) informant in the future although he will continue to furnish [   ] (internal security?) information as well as [   ]  (student new left?) information (A-202)

An undated letter possible from HQ back to SF also indicates a confirmation in change of status:

“Captioned individual was converted from a [   ] informant to a [   ] informant on 10/24/68. [   ] has been verified through other sources. Because of the volume and value of information being furnished, informant should be continued.” (A-204)

The change of status relative to the FBI’s targets is also hinted at in a heavily redacted 1/23/69 form:

“Authority is granted to designate captioned individual as a __ probationary racial informant ___ ghetto probationary racial informant in accordance with instructions set out in Section 130, Volume IV, Manual of Instructions.” (A-203)

Note that the sections following those categories indicating Richard’s actual designation are heavily redacted. But a careful reading of the very first option on this form may provide a clue leading us to believe, while unsubstantiated, that the redacted section may read something like

( __Authority is granted to continue captioned individual as a ___security informant…

  __Authority is granted to continue captioned individual as a ___racial informant ___ghetto racial informant?)

The 1/13/69 IPR also indicates a change in the type of informant:

“This informant was a [   ] informant. By San Francisco letter to the Director 10/12/68 and approved at the Bureau on 10/24/68, the informant was designated a [   ] informant.” (A-206)

The 1/13/69 IPR (A-205) is the first report using a new standard preprinted form as a replacement for the previous 14-section report format, consistently used since 11/8/61 (A-64).  It also provides a window into the payment options with Section 1b is redacted in this report. And, it was redacted in every succeeding report with the words “Same, Same, Same” handwritten next to it on the margin.

Except, in a near-final 7/28/76 IPR (A-269) marking the transition towards closing his informant status, the FBI payment choice changed, and left Section 1b un-redacted, and redacted Section 1a.  Combining the two unredacted sections of the IPRs, we have the following: 

(a) I recommend that authority be granted to continue captioned informant for a period of ____ months effective __________ and that he continue to be paid under the authority of the Special Agent in Charge UACB.

(b)  I recommend that authority be granted to pay captioned informant an amount up to $__________ per __ month   __ week for services rendered on a c.o.d basis, (our emphasis) and up to $__________ per __ month   __ week for expenses actually incurred for a period of          __________ months   __ weeks effective __________.

(If increased, the agent must furnish full justification under “Miscellaneous.”) (A-269)


Since Section 1b was redacted consistently until the end of his relationship, it strongly implies Richard was paid on a c.o.d (cash on delivery) basis, with his informant status being renewed every 6 months, until 1976, it switched to an undisclosed lump sum payment.

A 2/20/69 memo that was heavily redacted notes:

“Captioned informant was [   ] informant [   ]   [   ]   [   ] member of the [   ] (BBP?) and [   ] (TWLF-AAAP?)” (A-209)

The 3/5/69 HQ response to SF is puzzling: 

“Closely follow the matter of the captioned informant’s [   ] with informant to insure that he does not disclose his relationship with the Bureau and to insure that his informant status is not compromised.” (A-207)

The SF office 3/7/69 response was also heavily redacted but it include the following assessment regarding disclosure of his relationship with the Bureau:

“He can be expected to keep his relationship with the Bureau confidential because if that relationship should be exposed, his personal safety would be endangered.” (our emphasis)


The 7/8/69 IPR was a 2-page report that noted:

“Informant continues to furnish information of considerable value. However, his program of studies as a graduate student necessarily limits his time for activity in behalf of the Bureau.” (A-212)

The 6/30/70 IPR was a 2-page report that noted curtailed activities would continue:

“[   ] has just obtained a Master’s Degree in Sociology at the University of California Berkeley (UCB). He has been active in the formation of a new department of Asian Studies at UCB and expects to obtain employment by the University as an Assistant Program Coordinator for the new department and as a lecturer. Due to the demands of his academic pursuit the informant furnished little information subsequent to April 15, 1970, and consequently has not been [   ]. (our emphasis)

It is considered necessary and desirable to maintain regular contact with the informant and to retrain Bureau authority to reimburse him for services and expenses. He will continue to be valuable as a source of information [   ] whether or not his academic activities enable him to become a  [   ].” (A-218)

A 9/30/70 memo stated:

“The informant has the ability to relate to all races and crosses the barriers between the ethnic movements with ease. It is recommended he be continued as an informant.” (A-221)

Each of the 1/5/71 (A-227), 4/1/71 (A-229), 7/1/71 (A-228), and 9/29/71 (A-237) memos reiterated

“[   ] is employed as a lecturer in the Asian Studies Programs at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) and at Merritt College, Oakland, California.”

This is followed by a redacted block. Then they end with “It is recommended that this informant be continued.” 

Despite continued reduced output, SF continued to request authorization from HQ to continue maintaining Richard as an informant.

A paragraph on an 8/5/71 instruction to SF (A-233) was redacted with b2, b7d justifications. However, that paragraph was not redacted on earlier the 12/31/70 form letter (A-222) which says in part:

“Concerning your payments to this informant and all informants, you are reminded that payments must be commensurate with the value of the information received; that payments are made only for actual expenses incurred in connection with obtaining information for the FBI. In addition, payments should be made in such a manner that the informant clearly understands he is not being paid on a salary basis but rather on a c.o.d basis.” (A-222)

So what was redacted in the 8/5/71 instruction was HQ emphasizing SF that the informant needs to produce to justify his pay.

Richard was still being paid, but on a c.o.d basis. His handler repeated the justification more or less in all the remaining IPRs, with minor additions. The handler responded to an HQ 6/15/71 letter (not included) with a 7/26/71 memo that included redacted information the informant has provided with dates and redacted movement names and activities. (A-235)

The 12/14/71 IPR indicated:

“Informant is in an excellent position to report on [   ].  Coverage furnished by this informant is unique and not available from any other source.  Many activist individuals seek informant’s advice and counseling since informant is considered as a militant who has succeeded within the establishment without surrendering to it.” (A-239) 

The 7/19/72 IPR continues the same language, adding:

“Coverage furnished by this informant is unique and is not currently available from any other source.” (A-243) 

This justification was repeated in the 12/29/72 IPR (A-246) which also noted Richard’s new residence at 1218 Cornell Avenue. 

6. Informative Asset to Closure (1977 to October 13, 1977)

This period marks the transition from being an informant to being an “Informative Asset” on January 14, 1977 and finally, towards the termination of Richard’s informant status in October 13, 1977. The 1/13/75 IPR indicated:

“[  ] (Informant is in a unique position to continue to provide information?) which is not available from any other source.  His occupation prohibits his personal involvement to any greater degree.”  (A-258)

This theme is repeated in the 7/10/75 IPR:

“he is able to supply information which is not available from any other source.  His occupation prohibits his direct personal involvement in [   ].”  (A-261) 

A 1/20/76 memo noted that:

“informant is not a member of any organization or group.  He provided information concerning the whereabouts [   ].” (A- 264)

This continues until the 7/26/76 IPR the form of his payment changes. As noted above, Section 1(a) of this IPR is redacted, but according to the 1/13/69 IPR( A-205) where it was not redacted, it reads as follows:

“(a) I recommend that authority be granted to continue captioned informant for a period of ____ months effective __________ and that he continue to be paid under the authority of the Special Agent in Charge UACB.” (A-269)

The Miscellaneous section of this IPR notes that the informant’s:

“Ambition to become a college professor dictates that Informant stay clear of [   ] in his public life; however, [   ] produces information of current value.” (A-270)

An 8/19/76 teletype memo from SF to Director includes the following:

“Source is being [   ] (reclassified from informant to informative asset? see A-274 below.) per instructions of Inspector during recent office inspection. Source is not willing to testify in open court or before administrative hearing boards. Source has furnished no information concerning [   ]. Source has been encouraged to contact this office prior to taking any action against Bureau’s best interest. No plans for writing book, etc. or otherwise publicizing activities on part of source.” (A-271)

In a September 28, 1976 teletype memo SF noted about “former [   ]” and was signed “BT”:

“During September, 1976, source has furnished information indicating [   ] is actively recruiting members and seeking to become influential within [   ] in the San Francisco Bay Area. Source is in position to obtain and furnish information concerning [   ].” (A-272)

“Bureau authority is requested to designate source as [   ] (an informant?) Bureau has all background data. [   ] contact will be maintained with source as in past and he will be [paid] when appropriate under SAC authority as set forth in referenced Bureau Letter.”

“BT” (A-273)

A 1/14/77 teletype memo references the 8/19/76 teletype above (A-271) and notes:

“Title marked changed to reflect designation of former [   ] (informant?) as an informative asset.” (A-274)

And further down on that page:

“Pursuant to instructions in referenced SAC memo, captioned source is being designated [   ] with San Francisco File Number of [   ] SAC authority to operate source as an informative asset is granted at this date.” (A-274)

The final 10/13/77 memo noted the following:

“Captioned informant is being [   ] (recommended for closure?) by reason of informant’s request.”

“When contacted 9/30/77, source advised that he desired to discontinue seeking information for the FBI because he believed that this was inconsistent with his present career and objectives as a student counselor and instructor at a junior college in Oakland. California.”

“Source advised that he is not willing to testify in open court or before administrative hearing boards if such testimony would reveal his past connection with the FBI.  This would alienate him from associates and friends and would cause him great trouble in his relationships with students as a student counselor.”


“[   ] This case is being placed in a closed status in the San Francisco Division.” (A-276)


These 277 pages of 134 files on Richard Masato Aoki mainly contain IPRs by his handlers to HQ and HQ’s letters back to the SF. The IPRs indicate that after Richard was recruited by the FBI in 1961, he became a security informant and regularly provided his handler with thorough, typewritten intelligence reports until mid-1964. After 1964 he sharply curtailed his FBI-related activities. According to the files, this was due to: (1) his school and work load while at Merritt; (2) the difficulty of his sociology course work at UCB; (3) his notoriety and position during and after the TWLF at UCB; and finally (4) his role and position at North Peralta Community College. During his tenure as an informant he was formally re-classified by the FBI to be a racial informant in October 1968 while attending UCB.  He terminated his informer status in 1977, although it appears that he was probably already “inactive” for several years.  

Richard’s life transformed qualitatively between 1966 and 1970. The man from the self-described “broken family” connected with people he felt close to. He joined the Black Panther Party, the Asian American Political Alliance and the Third World Liberation Front, engaging in political struggles that resulted in long lasting friendships.

Between 1964 and 1977, Bureau HQ pressured his local handlers to account for the scarcity of information he provided relative to his position. In at least one particular occasion in May 1967 his handler seemed anxious that Richard could become a potential source of embarrassment to the Bureau. Yet, the Bureau kept him on their payroll precisely because of his unique positioning in groups that the Bureau had directed its offices and agents “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize.”

Again, given what is missing from these files, we do not have what, who and how much intelligence Richard provided. But for him to be both an informer with Classification 134 files and a revolutionary in COINTELPRO targeted groups stirs up a hornets’ net of questions. Who was playing whom? Did he only provide “fluff” or were the reports substantive? Was it a game from the start, or did it only become so later? We may never know.

Richard never revealed this terrible secret to his friends. After he quit being an FBI informant he spent 30+ years of his life as a lecturer, educator, teacher, counselor, and department head. This proud army veteran, revolutionary intellectual and “Samurai among Panthers” took his secrets to his grave.

[1] Seth Rosenfeld, “Man who armed Black Panthers was FBI informant, records show,” August 20, 2012, and “Richard Aoki, Man Who Armed Black Panthers, Was FBI Informant (VIDEO)”August 21, 2012, Huffington Post. Diane Fujino, “Where’s the evidence Aoki was FBI informant?” August 22, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle. “Was Bay Area Radical, Black Panther Arms Supplier Richard Aoki an Informant for the FBI?,” August 23, 2012, Democracy Now.
      See SF Bay View informative series at, including Lee Lew-Lee, “Field Marshal Aoki, Guy Kurose and myself were the only three bona fide Asian members in the BPP,” August 23, 2012; Elbert “Big Man” Howard, “My comrade, Richard Aoki,” August 24, 2012; and later, Fred Ho, “An Analysis of Seth Rosenfeld’s FBI Files on Richard Aoki,” September 8, 2012; Ward Churchill, Kathleen Cleaver and Natsu Taylor Saito, “Distorting the legacy of Richard Aoki,” September 9, 2012; and Mike Tagawa, “Richard Aoki: Humanist and human being,” September 22, 2012.
[2] See Louie & Louie, “Damn it Richard, what the f***?!,” August 29, 2012, SF Bay View.
[3] Seth Rosenfeld, “FBI files review new details about informant who armed Black Panthers,” September 7, 2012,
[4] See Fujino, Diane C., 2012, Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
[5] See Mike Cheng and Ben Wang’s video, Aoki: A Documentary Film
[6]See Peralta Community College District’s Peralta News, Special Report: Richard Aoki; Committed Revolutionary or FBI Informant?, Exclusive 2008 video interview, aired on Peralta TV, at
[7] See Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall’s The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, 1990, Boston: South End Press.
[8] See “The COINTELPRO Papers – Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States” by Ward Churchill & Jim Vanderwall, Boston MA, South End Press, 1990, p. 92
[9] Office of Privacy and Open Government, U.S. Department of Commerce,
(b)(2) EXEMPTION - Internal Personnel Rules and Practices. This exemption exempts from mandatory disclosure records "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." Courts have interpreted the exemption to encompass two distinct categories of information: (a) internal matters of a relatively trivial nature--sometimes referred to as "low 2" information; and (b) more substantial internal matters, the disclosure of which would risk circumvention of a legal requirement--sometimes referred to as "high 2" information.
(b)(7)(d) EXEMPTION 7 (D) Identity of a Confidential Source. This exemption provides protection for "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes [which] could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source --including a State, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis--and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation, or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source.
[10] Churchill and Vander Wall, Op cit, p. 92.
[11] Fujino, Op. cit., p 115.
[12] See Fujino, Op. Cit, pp. 132 and 146.
[13] Haines, Gerald K. and David A. Langbart. 1993. Unlocking Files of the FBI: A Guide to Its Records and Classification System. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc.
“It was not until 1952, however, that the Bureau established Classification 134 for all files on security informants. Beginning in that year, each informant was given an administrative file and a subfile. The administrative file contained the results of any background investigations conducted on the individual, records of Bureau contacts with the person, records of payments, copies of status reports, and the real identity of the source. The subfile contained information furnished by the informant.
During the 1950s Classification 134 included files for informants who provide information on extremist matters and suspected subversive organizations, primarily the Communist Party.  While other classifications were established later, such as 137 for racial hate group informants and 170 for extremist informants, files already opened in Classification 134, however, remained in that location…During the latter part of the 1960s the Bureau focused its informant program on student radicals, the New Left, Anti-Vietnam War protesters, and black militants. Files on most of these newly recruited informants and their information were placed in Classification 134.” (p. 130) 
[14] Sources we found particularly helpful in this regard were:
(1) “The use of Informants in FBI Domestic Intelligence” in Book III, “Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans” in the Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, 1976 popularly known as the “Church Committee” after its chair, Senator Frank Church.  Even more useful would be the FBI Manual of Instruction and internal FBI directives which are referenced extensively in this Church report. While they are not available to the public, the Church report provides us with some clues as to how the FBI handled informants.  This Report can be downloaded at
(2) Unlocking Files of the FBI: A Guide to Its Records and Classification System, by Gerald K. Haines and David A. Langbart. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc. 1993
[15] Haines and Langbart, Ibid.,  p. 130.
[16] Below are the main sections regularly covered in the IPRs under examination along with the main FOIA exemptions codes used to justify any redactions (withholding of information) they contained. 
1. Recommendation                                                                           b2, b7d
2. Current Residence and Employment                                          b7d
3. [   ] (    Next steps/ action areas/ scope of activity?)                                 b7d
4. Summary of Information Furnished                                           b7d
5. [   ] (Persons of interest?)                                                                b2, b7d
6. Types of Meetings attended                                                         b7d
7. Reports submitted                                                                           b7d
8. Information furnished of unusual value                                    b7d
9. Information furnished of unusual value                                    b7d
10. Steps being taken to advance informant                                                 b7d
11. Stability and Reliability
12. Indoctrination against disclosure
13. Action taken on information furnished
14. Miscellaneous
[17] The following is an excerpt from the US Senate “Church Committee’s Final Report, Op. cit.  Refer to  “Section III, The Intelligence Informant Program –Size, Scope, and Standards, Subsection B. The FBI Administrative System for Intelligence Informants,”  p. 27 of 47, The numbers refer to the Final Report’s footnotes which are not included here. 
“The FBI administers its intelligence informants through a centralized system from Bureau Headquarters.  FBI Special Agents may not operate or pay informants and sources without approval of FBI Headquarters or the Special Agent in charge of a Field Office.  FBI Headquarters approval is required to designate an individual as a potential subversive informant.  184
All potential informants are subjected to a background check.  Military records, police files, and employment and credit history are typical items reviewed. 185  The results of this background investigation are submitted to Bureau Headquarters.  Potential extremist informants may be operated on the personal authority of the Special Agent in Charge at the Field Office level, unless the individual is in a sensitive position where his disclosure as an informant “could cause inordinate concern to the Bureau,” is a member of or may soon join an extremist organization, or has a criminal or other unsavory background.  186  In such instances, FBI Headquarters’ authority must be obtained, along with a statement outlining the intended use of the informant. 187
Although titled “potential” informants, such individuals nevertheless provide the FBI with intelligence information during this initial stage and are paid for what they supply. 188
Special Agents in Charge may pay an informant up to $400 on their own authority; 189 after that amount has been expended Bureau Headquarters authorization is required for any additional payments. 190 Although there is no formal ceiling on payments for services (i.e., information provided) FBI informants average approximately $100 a month, with the most valuable and productive informants, such as Rowe and Cook, earning in the range of $300-$400 monthly. 191
In addition, every six months FBI Headquarters reviews a completed form on each informant submitted by the Field Office. The form summarizes the informant activities, his pay, the type of information supplied (including the percentage verified from other sources) and an assessment of his value. On the basis of this report, and a comparison of the informant’s information with that of others in similar circumstances, a monthly payment limit is established for the next six-month period. 193
There are periodic reviews of the informant activities in addition to those described above. The FBI Manual provides that every sixty days the SAC or his deputy are to review each informant’s file. 194  In addition, the Inspection Division reviews informant files during its annual inspections of each Field Office. 195
To operate confidential and panel sources, FBI Headquarters approval is also required.  Background investigations are also performed on these sources and the results submitted to Bureau Headquarters. 196
Each informant is assigned a “handling agent,” an FBI Special Agent who is in contact with the informant on a regular basis, receives the informant’s information, and pays him, usually on a monthly basis.  The Manual provides that the handling agent “should not only collect information, but direct the informant, be aware of his activities, and maintain such a close relationship that he knows informant’s attitude towards the Bureau.” 197
[18]Ariane Wu, “The Man Who Armed the Panthers” video, August 20, 2012 containing an interview between Burney Threadgill and Reporter Rosenfeld.
 [On-screen text: Agent Threadgill noticed a name in one of the FBI documents Rosenfeld had obtained.]
Reporter [Rosenfeld]: And he [Threadgill] says, “I know that guy! Aoki was my informant! I developed him!”
Burney Threadgill (in recording):  Oh yeah, he was a character. He said, “I don’t have any interest in communism.”  I said, “Well, why don’t you just go to some of the meetings and tell me who’s there and what they talked about.”   One thing led to another, and he became a real good informant.
[19] According to the obituary Seth Rosenfeld wrote on Threadgill for the SF Chronicle on August 25, 2005. “Mr. Threadgill first worked out of the FBI’s Oakland office. But in the early 1950s, he and several other agents opened the Bureau’s first office in Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue.” He investigated communist influence in student organization and in the mid-1960s moved to Carmel and oversaw agents studying at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey.
[20] Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) September 7, 2012 go online to view/download the files:
[21] The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (Pub. L. 97-200, 50 U.S.C. §§ 421426) is a United States federal law that makes it a federal crime for those with access to classified information, or those who systematically seek to identify and expose covert agents and have reason to believe that it will harm the foreign intelligence activities of the U.S., to intentionally reveal the identity of an agent whom one knows to be in or recently in certain covert roles with a U.S. intelligence agency, unless the United States has publicly acknowledged or revealed the relationship.
[22] Wu, Ariane, Op cit.
[23] See Chinatown Files, documentary by Amy Chen and Ying Chan
[24]See: Him Mark Lai, “A Historical Survey of Organizations of the Left Among the Chinese in America,” published in the Fall 1972 issue of the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. Him Mar Lai was an outstanding community scholar, his youth group Mun Ching suffered harassment by the FBI. See more about him at: We thank Pam Tau Lee & Ben Lee for bringing these FBI leaflets to our attention and reminding us about Prof. Lai’s contributions.
[25]From Tala Khanmalek, “Connecting The Past & The Present: Harvey Dong’s Insights on the Allegations Against Richard Aoki,”, September 26, 2012.
[26] See Diane C. Fujino, Samurai Among Panthers, Op. cit, p. 294.
[27]See US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, Seth Rosenfeld vs. FBI & US DOJ, Case3:11-cv-02131-MEJ Document20-3 Filed 12/08/11, p 9 of 80.
[28] See: for accessing court files on line.
[29] See Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, New York, 1987 for examples of this view. Though he is not a proponent of that view, see Paul Buhle’s “Madison Revisited” in Radical History Review, no. 57, 1993, p. 248 for the coining of “good vs. bad 60s.” For a critique of this view, see War Times Editor Max Elbaum’s book, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, 2002, Verso:
This volume challenges the interpretation of the 1960s that is now dominant within liberal and progressive circles, and especially within the academic left. That framework paints a picture of the “good sixties” turning into the “bad sixties”: supposedly the early ‘60s movements stand out as humane, sensible and worthy of emulation in contrast to the heartless, violence-prone and irrational tendencies dominant after 1968 - which are largely blamed for wrecking their more noble predecessors. This view is articulated most thoroughly in Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, though the specific terms “good sixties/bad sixties” are those used by left historian Paul Buhle in describing the thesis of Gitlin’s volume.
The “good sixties/bad sixties” analysis is fraught with historical omissions. It is especially blind to the scope and impact of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s upheavals among peoples of color; this deficiency is documented by Elizabeth Martínez who, in an incisive review of twenty-four books about the 1960s, indicts the near-universal tendency to analyze that era’s left “staked out with Eurocentric boundaries.” It also rests on dubious political assumptions, which lift the late 1960s out of their historical context and gloss over the substantial differences between the challenges facing activists in 1968-73 as opposed to 1960-64. At their core is retreat from a systemic critique of the US economic and political arrangement. That retreat makes it impossible to comprehend the breadth and depth of grassroots enthusiasm for revolutionary politics that existed in 1968-1973. It bolsters complacency masked as maturity by underestimating how profoundly periods of intense conflict can alter people’s conceptions of what is possible and desirable. And it leads to the short-sighted politics of declaring out-of-bounds by definition any project that takes seriously the possibility of building a strong radical movement anchored in anti-racism and solidarity with the Third World.
[30] Elizabeth Martínez, ‘That Old White (Male) Magic’, in Elizabeth Martínez, De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century, Cambridge 1998, p. 27
[32] Mo Nishida, “VOX POPULI: My Thoughts on the Unprincipled Attack on Richard Aoki’s Character,” September 13, 2012, Rafu Shimpo
[33] Bob Wing, personal communication from Facebook page, August 20, 2012
[34] See Center for Constitutional Rights at:
[36] Re Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall see:
[37] See Fujino, Op. cit., p. 336, footnote #39.
[38] Peralta Community College District’s Peralta News, Op cit.
[39] Churchill and Vanderwall, Op cit., p. 90.
[40] Churchill and Vanderwall, Op cit., p. 124.