Portland's Red History: WW2, the Counter Intelligence Program known as COINTELPRO, and Portland's Red Squad 2.0.

A series on Portland history. Part 2

Writer’s Note: this was originally published here, I am migrating this piece to this platform.

In the last post in this series we looked at Pre-WW2 history and the notorious "Red Scare" of the 1930's.

WW2 brought silence to communist-backed labor woes in the US. Massive federal spending pulled us out of the great depression and resulted in all sorts of new facilities and infrastructure that still exist today.

It's widely taught in American schools that the government was *taken by surprise* by the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, but in truth most anti-interventionalists saw that the US was provoking the Japanese, such as the 1935 book, "War is a Racket" which accurately predicted a war with Japan.

Before WW2 there was a list of targets for internment

Beginning in 1936 the Office of Naval Intelligence, with the President's approval and recommendation, began creating a list of every Japanese citizen and non-citizen who arrived in Hawaii, along with their connections and associates, for the purposes of detaining them in a concentration camp in "the event of trouble."

In 1939 John Edger Hoover initiated a Custodial Detention List to the same effect - this list also included those of Communist sympathies. Before this program was even adopted, Red Squad agents were acting on their own initiative. FBI Agent J. H. Rice in San Francisco had been collecting data on Japanese Americans since October 1938. The Custodial Detention List did not name any Japanese people or organizations until 1941, before that it was primarily monitoring Germans, Italians, and Communists.

This Custodial Detention Program interned 31,899 individuals of foreign decent from Japan, Germany, and Italy - this is separate from the later internment of nearly all Japense-American citizens living on the west coast. The only audit of this program (in 1943) found it to be without merit. Organizations were categorized by "unreliable hearsay and other varieties of dubious information." It was recommended that the personal data be expunged.

And the internment of Japanese didn't happen the way most people were taught.

For the first several weeks after Pearl Harbor most Americans had deeply polarizing feelings about Japanese Americans, but no blame was established. Like 9/11 and Muslims, many liberals rushed to defend people of Japanese ancestry - California had the largest population of Japanese Americans and the Los Angeles Times declared Japanese "good Americans." While racism against Asians was deeply rooted in some West Coast cities there was not an immediate backlash against the Japanese, but instead, a series of public relations tragedies amplified by prejudice that led to the eventual internment. The hysteria, antics, and government strategies around the Japanese internment parallel the anti-communist tactics during the red scare.

The Roberts Commission of January 1942 (just weeks after Pearl Harbor) was the only official mention of Japanese agents possibly being involved in the Pearl Harbor attacks. It was NOT *this report* that that incited Americans, but instead the media's overreaction to it, bundled with outrageous xenophobic statement from Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, such as exclaiming that LA residents do not trust the Japanese. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox is largely responsible for the blame being placed on the Japanese citizens, stating that fifth column Japanese forces aided the attack on Pearl Harbor - no evidence has ever come forward to corroborate this - but this statement was exaggerated and put forward as fact in reporting about the Roberts Commission. Walter Lippmann, acting as a stenographer for Dewitt and California Attorney General Earl Warren, wrote the most infamous and cited piece calling for expulsion of Japanese from the West Coast. There's never been any evidence that the internment, harassment, or monitoring of Japanese Americans served a national security goal. Of the 91 prosecutions for espionage during WW2, almost all were German aided.

In Hood River, one Japanese man was accused and detained as a national security threat because a single bullet was found in his woodshed. Another Japanese man in Hood River was detained and accused of planning to blow up the Panama Canal simply because he owned merchant maps (he was a shipping merchant). Rumors alone were sufficient to arrest people of Japanese descent.

Two months after Pearl Harbor, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which declared the military had the right to exclude people from some areas of the country, and the US military declared everything West of Highway 97 (Klamath Falls, Bend, and Hood River - so all of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountains) to be a "military area" and that all Japanese would need to be forcefully evicted. Just over 4,000 Japanese lived in Oregon in 1940, with 1,680 living in Portland according to the Census Bureau. That same Census Bureau turned over information to the War Relocation Authority on 79 Japanese citizens, an act that was officially denied for over 50 years.

The government's aggression toward Japanese-Americans was met with resistance. Just 4 weeks after FDR signed his executive order, Minoru Yasui, a first generation American born in Hood River, and who was currently in the US Army Reserves, decided to openly violate the law by walking around downtown Portland past the curfew and turning himself in to the Portland Police. Yasui's case eventually made it to the US Supreme Court and it was the pivotal Judicial look at the constitutionality of the internment. Ultimately resistance to the internment was unsuccessful.

Post-WW2 marked a distinctly racist Oregon history. Right before the end of the war, the Oregon House passed a measure asking the President to make a declaration that would prevent the Japanese from returning to Oregon. Full page ads in newspapers made racist declarations toward the Japanese. Nearly every store in Hood River displayed a "No Japs Allowed" placard in their window. In November 1944, American Legion Post in Hood River voted to remove the names of sixteen Japanese from a plaque honoring those who had served in WW2. A former Oregon Governor openly spoke of banning Japanese from being in the US. Though there was pockets of resistance to this racism: the League for Liberty and Justice had about 50 volunteers who met at Asbury Methodist Church in Hood River and assisted the Japanese in returning home and reestablishing their businesses.

It's often taught that the Internment Camps were a swift reaction to a plausible national security risk, resulting from a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The truth is that this was conspired political repression, dating before the war, and there was a media campaign conducted to inspire anti-Japanese resentment to justify the camps. The same tactics and organizations involved in the internment and racism against the Japanese were involved in the Red Squad activities.

The "Counter-Intelligence Program" known as COINTELPRO

The Portland Red Squad continued to harass "unamerican" labor unions through the McCarthy era. Eventually a new federal policy made it totally unnecessary by the mid 1950's: COINTELPRO. This program was used by all bureaus of the Federal Government to conduct the same activities that the Portland Red Squad was doing, just on a more oppressive and more violent scale. Extortion, blackmail, propaganda, death threats, unneeded IRS audits, assassinations - these were the things done against just Dr. Martin Luther King.

For the FBI, harassing liberals wasn't just a small part of the mission - according to documents leaked by the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI 40% of the FBI's mission was to spy on and sabotage left and liberal groups.

Nor was this exclusively the job of the FBI. According to US Army Captain Christopher Pyle in the 1960's:

"Army intelligence had 1,500 plainclothes agents watching every demonstration of 20 people or more throughout the United States"

IRS was harassing liberals with audits. Mail was being opened by the CIA who had USPS employees on their payroll. FCC mandated that telephone conversations needed to be funneled to the NSA for eavesdropping and recording.

The exposure of COINTELPRO in the 1970's created a massive backlash. By 1975 Idaho Senator Frank Church lead the Senate's investigation called the Church Committee - this group was given unprecedented access to all of the intelligence agencies. It uncovered that the CIA and other intelligence arms of the US government were operating on their own authority and initiative, conducting exercises and experiments in clear violation of The US Constitution, and even inventing terms like "Plausible Deniability" to shield the agency from knowing the activities of its own agents. It is documented by the Church Committee that the CIA and other federal agencies believed they had the authority to do anything they wanted to "protect American interests" and believed they had the right to independently define American interests and priorities themselves as a shadow of the official US government.

Like Portland's CEC and CEL, COINTELPRO utilized private right-wing groups to conduct vigilante violence. This included turning a blind eye to white supremacists, but also actively encouraging violence through groups like the Secret Army Organization which was active in California. In Portland there was similar groups, but the names and people have been lost to history.

Portland Red Squad 2: Electric Boogaloo - Twice as much underground and illegality.

With the federal government's program crumbling and exposed in the 1970's, Portlanders were cautious of what Red Squad activities were being conducted locally. When pressed in 1974, Mayor Neil Goldschmidt first assured Portland's liberals that the program was shut down. It was then learned that in fact the Red Squad was still active, and was in fact keeping an active file on the Oregon ACLU, when PPB was ordered to hand over "the whole file" to the ACLU, of course the ACLU only got a part of the file. In the year 2002, it was revealed that Portland's Red Squad had documents dating back to 1965.

In 1981 Oregon Legislature decided to take action. ORS 181.575 was passed which unambiguously outlawed the Red Squad by stating:

No law enforcement agency … may collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct.

(ORS 181.575 is now codified in Oregon Law as 2017 ORS 181A.250)

You would think that Oregon State's Legislature passing a law explicitly prohibiting the activities of the Red Squad would disband their activities.

Instead, Portland Police Investigator Winfield Falk decided to simply steal all 36 boxes of surveillance files, keep them at his home, and continue operating the program in secret. Names of officers involved in the program are unknown, but Falk became lead of the Portland Police's Intelligence Division, and it is suspected that many elements of the police force knew Falk operated this program out of a rented storage locker. It's also alleged that the theft of documents from the PPB occurred in 1985, four years after the practice was outlawed, and during that time the Intelligence Division carried on activities as usual.

When these documents were reviewed in 2002 by the Portland Tribune, it show the list of subversive anti-capitalist revolutionaries was the PPB trying to protect us from:

  • People's Food Store co-op

  • Bicycle Repair Collective

  • Northwest Oregon Voter Registration Project

  • Women's Rights Coalition

  • 3,000 other individual Portlanders and 576 organizations in Portland.

It was essentially a list of every single liberal group in Portland, they were all being tracked by the police.

The names are presented in formal intelligence reports, appear on lists of participants in meetings and groups, are highlighted on posters that advertise events and are underlined in newspaper clippings.

Along with militants and activists are hundreds of regular citizens who were included simply for practicing everyday democracy writing letters, signing petitions, joining organizations and attending lectures or school board meetings.

In other words - the worst of the worst of terrorists in Portland. Within these documents was even a photograph of the serial perpetrator of terrorist-violence Mrs. Vera Katz, as she supported a grape boycott in 1968. Red Squad goons accidentally identifying her "Linda Katz".

The folders had labels like "Blacks" "Women" "Arabs", because, you know, why not? I'm sure there was one labeled "Gays" too, but it's never been reported. Who was gay or associated with gays was documented.

Under the "Terrorism" folder was Denise Jacobson, who ended up labeled as a Terrorist because in 1965 she opposed the war and showed up to a pro-communist event. Unbeknown to Ms. Jacobson, her home and children lived under surveillance for years and she was tracked closely. Her children and their home visitors were photographed by undercover investigators. The Communist Terrorism she was involved with was primarily making a large batch of soup using donated vegetables and giving it away to students at the PSU campus with her husband.

Another Terrorist was Bonnie Tinker. Her hideous plan was to hide terrorists, fugitives, and communist subversives - and was also setting up a covert communication system for future terrorist activities. Ms. Tinker, the clever architect of this conspiracy, shielded her activities in a seemingly benign "rape crisis center" and "rape relief hotline" later known as Portland's Bradley-Angle House (renamed in Bonnie Tinker's honor in 2009), one of the first shelters for battered women in the United States. Thankfully PPB's Intelligence Division Detective Falk was on to her and documented his conspiratorial beliefs about her activities in the Red Squad files.

The Red Squad wasn't just Falk, it was an institution within the Intelligence Division.

Penny Harrington was Portland's first female Chief of Police, she was appointed in 1985. The Intelligence Division contacted the new Chief of Police to let her know that they were actively investigating 2 City Commissioners due to an alleged plot to "take over city government." Realizing what a problem this Intelligence Division was, Harrington tried to break up the department. Soon after she was fired over "disputes surrounding Harrington's administration of the bureau." Harrington's public statements have confirmed that she believes it was the Bureau Red Squad protecting itself, and they pushed for her termination - demonstrating that Red Squad's political reach was further than the Chief. It's been suggested that Falk stole the Red Squad documents when Chief Harrington tried reorganizing the bureau in 1985.

At no time during the 1980's (or at any time in Portland history) was there city policy creating the Red Squad, nor was there ever a Portland Police Bureau policy to have this Red Squad. It was explicitly illegal under Oregon law in the 1980's. PPB officers were operating on their own authority and initiative, conducting exercises and experiments in clear violation of The Oregon Constitution, and even creating barriers to shield their Bureau from knowing the activities of its own investigators. Red Squad believes they had the authority to do anything they wanted to for the benefit of the city, and believe Red Squad has the right to define what benefits the city and the city's priorities themselves as a shadow of the official city government.

This wasn't even a uniquely Portland thing - the exact same scenario happened with the LAPD in 1983: a Detective stole the documents from the police and continued conducting anti-Left activities under their own authority in secret, turning the confidential intelligence documents over to the John Birch Society, which continued Red Squad tactics. In San Francisco, Officer Tom Gerard moved SFPD's Red Squad files to his home after Chief Willis Casey shut down the squad in 1990.


In the next (and possibly final) post we'll look at the 1990's and beyond: we will look at who will win the epic battle of Squirrel vs. Moose, The JTTF's La-li-lu-le-lo then, PDX Red Squad 3.0: Criminal Intelligence Division and if we have time/space: "Oregon TITAN Fusion Center: the dumbest people in criminal investigation"... or that might be it's own post, cause wow, there's a lot to go into.