CIA, FBI, D.C. police surveillance of Reginald H. Booker: 1968-72
Buried on page 154 of the June 1975 Rockefeller Commission report on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) activities in the United States was a reference to spying on D.C. black liberation activist Reginald Booker’s Niggers, Inc.---a 4-member group that focused on black issues east of the Anacostia River.
Another reference to Booker shows up in The Central Intelligence Agency. "Memorandum for: Chief, SR Staff - Subject: Project Merrimack" 1967 regarding Booker’s speech before a July 15, 1967 anti-Vietnam War rally at the Washington Monument.
“Reginald Booker - (Not listed on program)”
“Introduced by Herb Kelsey [organizer of the demonstration and Director of the Washington Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam] as head of a newly formed group in the Anacostia area known as "Niggers Inc." Booker urged negro women to have as many children as possible ‘so many good black men were being killed in Vietnam. Have as many as you can in any way that you can.’“
Still another reference in another document release showed Booker under surveillance as chair of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis in 1969:. From “Special Information Report” regarding Project Merrimack:
“1200 - Rally at Georgetown University, followed by a march to Three Sisters Bridge construction site - possible militant action pressured by militant D. C. Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis (Reginald Booker, Chairman) using student activists and Washington Action participants.”
It turned out that Booker and his group were the subject of the CIA’s “Operation Chaos” that tracked dissidents in the United States, but had a particular focus on the Washington, D.C. area and was run through the CIA’s Office of Security.
Though ostensibly concerned with the security of CIA agents and installations, the “’assets’ reported regularly, usually in longhand. The reports were not confined to matters relating to intended demonstrations at government installations.”
‘They included details of the size and makeup of the groups and the names and attitudes of their leaders and speakers.”
“In some instances, the agency identified leaders or speakers at a meeting by photographing their automobiles and checking registration records. In other cases, it followed them home in order to identify them through the city directory. Photographs were also taken at several major demonstrations in the Washington area and at protest activities of the White House.”
“Assets were instructed to include within their reports the details of meetings attended, including the names of the speakers and the gist of their speeches, any threatening remarks against United States government leaders, and an evaluation of attitudes, trends, and possible developments within the organization.”
Other local groups targeted included the Mayday Tribe, Women’s Strike for Peace, the Washington Peace Center, the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the New School of Afro American Thought, the Washington Ethical Society, The Black Panthers, American Humanist Association, The War Resisters League, the Black United Front, Urban League, Washington Mobilization for Peace, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and the Nation of Islam.
The spying by the CIA began in late 1967 and continued through 1972, although intelligence gathering was turned over to the District of Columbia police in December 1968 who continued to forward reports to the CIA.
Booker’s group was first added to the list of organizations to track in August of 1968. A minimum of 12 agents, and often more, tracked the activities of groups and individuals in the District of Columbia.
In 1975, the Senate “Church Committee” also investigated FBI, CIA and NSA surveillance of American citizens and further information was revealed on domestic spying activities and disruption activities in the Washington, D.C. area.
In July of 1976 seven individuals and two organizations sued the five FBI executives in charge of a widespread spying and disruption program here and nine city police officers that they identified.
Those suing were Booker; Hobson (and his wife Tina Hobson after he passed); Rev. David Eaton, pastor of All Souls Church; Arthur Waskow of the Institute for Policy Studies; Sammie Abbott who was by the mayor of Takoma Park; Abraham Bloom, a longtime local peace activist; and Richard Pollock, a freelance writer. The organizations were the Women’s Strike for Peace and the Washington Peace Center.
It represented the first political action damage claim for invasion of privacy from the Vietnam era.
During the discovery phase, the few FBI documents released showed that Abbott, Booker and the ECTC were under surveillance at George Washington University, city council chambers, 14th and & Streets NW and at the Three Sisters Bridge site, among other places.
A Booker speech at George Washington University during the Three Sisters Bridge demonstrations October 22, 1969 was included in the documents.
Booker began the speech, “Before we get started…I would like to acknowledge the presence of FBI agents and undercover people…Report back to the Nixon people that the bridge will be smashed.”
The documents showed that Booker was listed in the FBI’s “agitator index” and “rabble-rouser index.”
When the case went to trail in 1981, there was testimony and evidence presented that the FBI and D.C. police went far beyond surveillance.
Seeking to drive a wedge between black activists and the peace movement, the FBI created a flyer from the BUF demanding reparations from a peace group sponsoring a demonstration asking for $1 per demonstrator for “safe conduct” in the city and then issued a racist “response leaflet” showing monkeys and bananas saying “Give them bananas.”
Booker testified that while working for the Black United Front a man working as his aide was identified as an undercover D.C. police officer.
Sammie Abbott testified that while speaking at a rally near the Three Sisters Bridge he warned the crowd that police and undercover agents were prepared for any confrontation and attempted to warn the crowd against marching on the bridge site.
He testified someone in the crowd shouted “sellout” and “coward.” A confrontation between police and demonstrators later occurred, resulting in a number of arrests. Abbott testified the heckler matched the description of an undercover D.C. police officer.
The suit sought $1.8 million in damages. After 25 hours of deliberation the jury agreed with the plaintiffs that federal agents and police had not only spied, but circulated deliberately false information and attempted to instigate violence in order to discredit them and their political activities.
The jury found most of the defendants had violated the rights of most of those who sued and awarded a total of $711,937.50 in damages on December 23, 1981.
The total was split up among the defendants in varying amounts, depending upon how much damage the jury thought the defendants did to each plaintiff. Booker was awarded about $80,000.
For a detailed account of Booker’s activism, victories and defeats, see washingtonareaspark.com/2020/01/28/the-d-c-black-liberati...
For more information and related images, see www.flickr.com/gp/washington_area_spark/5vbAN6
The image is cropped from page 154 of the Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States.