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What to Do if the FBI Drops By Your Home or Office

by Varlet...and the National Lawyers Guild Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004 at 9:57 PM

US Government's COINTELPRO - Still Undead The stinking corpse of the FBI's infamous "Counter-Intelligence Program", or COINTELPRO, which was used from the 1940s through the 1970s against Communists, Anarchists, Civil Rights Activists and sundry other decent working-class militants, and which was "allegedly" discontinued in 1971, is fully risen from the grave once again.

What to Do if the FBI Drops By Your Home or Office

US Government's COINTELPRO - Still Undead

The stinking corpse of the FBI's infamous "Counter-Intelligence Program", or COINTELPRO, which was used from the 1940s through the 1970s against Communists, Anarchists, Civil Rights Activists and sundry other decent working-class militants, and which was "allegedly" discontinued in 1971, is fully risen from the grave once again. It's worm-eaten torso is now dragging itself around the US by its putrid stumps, attempting to harass and intimidate yet another generation of workers and students opposed to the racist, war-mongering US capitalist ruling class and their twin political parties, the Democricans and the Republidems, (or whatever they call themselves these days... I stopped caring about them such a long time ago!)

The New York Times today revealed that, at a time when the nation is daily being warned of "impending" "terrorist attacks" against banks, trains, planes, coffehouses, discos, Statues of Liberty, flags, national phallic symbols, etc., the FBI is sending what must amount to hundreds of its agents fanning out across the nation to harass... anti-war and anti-Republicrat protestors!

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning political demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall what officials say could be violent and disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York.

"F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions aimed at the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent, at major political events." ("F.B.I. Goes Knocking for Political Troublemakers", New York Times, 16 August, 2004).

This would be amusing if it weren't so ominous a threat to the basic civil rights of every person living in the United States. This is very clearly a resumption of the FBI COINTELPRO tactics which directly caused the murders of hundreds of civil rights activists, Communists, Anarchists, trade-union organizers, and attempted to destroy the lives of hundreds of other people from the 1940s to the present day. Young activists will do well to educate themselves about COINTELPRO; there are many excellent books about it. I HEARTILY recommend the following:

1) "The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States" by Ward Churchill & Jim Vander Wall (1990, South End Press)

2) "Dangerous Dossiers" by Herbert Mitgang (various editions)

3) "War At Home: Covert Action Against US Activists and What We Can Do About It" by Brian Glick (South End Press)

These 3 books will give young activists an excellent introduction to the methods, legal and extralegal, that were used to disrupt, and attempted to destroy the lives, careers and organizations of essentially every single leftist individual and political grouping that arose in the US in the 20th century (and how we can defend ourselves against the same). COINTELPRO was more or less successful due primarily to the political weaknesses inherent in the organizations targeted, not due primarily to the FBI disruption campaign, as Churchill and Ward assert (that's another story). But the primary power of the COINTELPRO operations was that most of the targeted organizations of yesteryear had no idea that this vast police conspiracy was being launched against them. Today, we have the good fortune to know IN ADVANCE just what kind of dirty tricks the FBI, Dept. of Homeland Security, et al has in its' black bags. Their ability to disrupt our organizations today can be severely curtailed if we take the time to educate ourselves about this resurgent menace to the rights of working-class and student political activists.

It's important to remember that FBI agents are nothing like the friendly, phony "X-Files" agents in TV make-believe land. You want to treat them as you would any other police officer or pit-bull. Try to stay calm, speak politely to them, politely decline to be interviewed, etc., because they can be quite vicious. If you ask them for their names, badge numbers, etc., be aware that they may very well respond in a savage manner, in spite of what the NLG's pamphlet may lead you to believe. Though they may try to intimidate you into talking with them, you just have to remain silent. It is perhaps hard to understand, but you will get in much more trouble by talking to them than you will by politely declining an interview. Plus, if you have a friendly chat with the FBI or cops, all your friends will wonder if you are a rat, because the FBI is undoubtedly looking for a few good agents-provocateurs.

After they leave, immediately contact the organizers of whatever group you may be working with and let them know what's going on. Your organization may have its own experienced lawyers ready to handle any need for legal representation.

"If you are visited by the FBI or any police agency, don't tell them anything;

You have the constitutional right to remain silent. It is not a crime to refuse

to answer questions. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to

answer questions. You do not have to talk to anyone, even if you have been

arrested or are in jail. Only a judge can order you to answer

questions. If the police or agents detain you, you have to

give your name, but no other information.

"You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you decide

whether to answer questions. And if you do agree to be

interviewed, you have the right to have a lawyer present. The

lawyer’s job is to protect your rights. Once you tell the agent

that you want to talk to a lawyer, they should stop trying to

question you and should make any further contact through

your lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, you can still tell the

officer you want to speak to one before answering questions.

Remember to get the name, agency and telephone number

of any investigator who visits you, and give that information

to your lawyer. The government does not have to provide

you with a free lawyer unless you are charged with a crime,

but the NLG or another organization might be able to help

you find a lawyer for free or a reduced rate."

The above quotations are from the text of a pamphlet by the National Lawyers Guild explaining what young activists should do if the FBI, or any of their minions attempts to "interview" (read: "entrap") you. Be aware that it is VERY DANGEROUS to speak with the FBI or any police agency in the belief that you "have nothing to hide" or that you can "outsmart" them somehow. Lying to a federal cop is a serious crime and can alone land you in jail. Don't be intimidated by these police tactics. They are designed to scare people away from taking part in political activity of any kind, which is a fundamental RIGHT upon which all future social progress in this nation depends.

Some people may be naturally frightened at the prospect of having an FBI file opened up on them. Far from being a mark of shame, having an FBI file opened up on you is a badge of honor (as unwelcome as it may be)! Reading "Dangerous Dossiers", you will see that scores of famous actors (Charlie Chaplin, Jean Seberg, Jane Fonda), writers (Pearl Buck, Nelson Algren, Hemingway, EB White, William Faulkner), painters (Picasso), musicians (Frank Sinatra, John Lennon) had FBI files opened on them... some of their files were still open YEARS after they had died! Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Quakers, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, you name 'em; anyone who ever took a courageous stand against Fascism, racism, war and/or oppression became a target of COINTELPRO.

The simple fact is that, far from being "The Land of the Free" (as American jingoes love to prate endlessly to anyone naive enough to listen) this has NEVER been the land of the free... unless your idea of asserting your "freedom" is to have the "right" to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" off-key, at the top of your lungs, while waving a mini version of "Old Glory" that was probably made in an American-owned sweatshop in China.

I predict that this FBI harassment of activists, instead of scaring people away from the NYC protests against the Repulsivats' war-festival in August, will cause many people who never thought of attending the protest to turn out in record numbers to assert their Constitutional rights while they still can!

This kind of police repression can be expected to continue indefinitely, until the working people of this country organize working-class-based socialist political parties dedicated to the task of eradicating the capitalist system from the face of the Earth through workers revolution. Only then will we finally be free of the capitalist system, its endemic poverty, racism and wars... and its "Eternal Odor Of Police".

---------------- Varlet

NOTE: The National Lawyers Guild pamphlet, "Know Your Rights", reproduced here in a version in which the order of the Q&A section has been edited (the immigration section has been placed at the end), is available at this web address, and is available in PDF pamphlet and poster forms, and in several languages. There is also a valuable section of this pamphlet that deals will the rights of immigrants who may be accosted by INS or other police agents. For more information, listen to the fine Clash song "Know Your Rights" --------- Varlet



What to Do if Questioned by Police, FBI,

Customs Agents or Immigration Officers

What rights do I have?

Whether or not you’re a citizen, you have rights under

the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment

gives every person the right to remain silent: not to

answer questions asked by a police officer or government

agent. The Fourth Amendment restricts the government’s

power to enter and search your home or

workplace, although there are many exceptions. The

First Amendment protects your right to speak freely and

to advocate for social change. However, if you are a

non-citizen and are deportable, the government

(DHS*) can target you based on your political activities.



*The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is now part of

the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has been reorganized

into: 1. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

(BCIS); 2. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and 3.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All three

bureaus will be referred to as “DHS” for the purposes of this pamphlet.

What if police, FBI, or DHS agents

contact me?

Q: Do I have to answer questions?

A: You have the constitutional right to remain silent. It is

not a crime to refuse to answer questions. It is a good

idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to answer questions.

You do not have to talk to anyone, even if you have been

arrested or are in jail. Only a judge can order you to answer

questions. If the police or agents detain you, you have to

give your name, but no other information.

Q: Do I need a lawyer?

A: You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you decide

whether to answer questions. And if you do agree to be

interviewed, you have the right to have a lawyer present. The

lawyer’s job is to protect your rights. Once you tell the agent

that you want to talk to a lawyer, they should stop trying to

question you and should make any further contact through

your lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, you can still tell the

officer you want to speak to one before answering questions.

Remember to get the name, agency and telephone number

of any investigator who visits you, and give that information

to your lawyer. The government does not have to provide

you with a free lawyer unless you are charged with a crime,

but the NLG or another organization might be able to help

you find a lawyer for free or a reduced rate.

Q: If I refuse to answer questions or say I want a

lawyer, won’t it seem like I have something to hide?

A: Anything you say to law enforcement can be used

against you and others. You can never tell how information

might be used. That is why the right not to talk is a

fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Keep in mind

that although they are allowed to lie to you, lying to a government

agent is a crime. Remaining silent is not. The safest

things to say are “I am going to remain silent,” “I want to

speak to my lawyer,” and “I do not consent to a search.”

Q: Can agents search my home or office?

A: You do not have to let police, immigration or other

agents into your home or office unless they have a

search warrant or consent. A search warrant is a written

court order that allows the police to conduct a specified

search. Interfering with a warrantless search probably will

not stop it and you might get arrested. But you should say “I

do not consent to a search,” and call a criminal lawyer or the

NLG. Your roommate or guest can legally consent to a

search of your house if the police believe that person has the

authority to give consent, and your employer can consent to

a search of your workspace without your permission.

Q: What if agents have a search warrant?

A: If you are present when agents come for the search,

you can ask to see the warrant. The warrant must specify

in detail the places to be searched and the people or

things to be taken away. Tell the agents you do not consent

to the search so that they cannot go beyond what the warrant

authorizes. Ask if you are allowed to watch the search; if

you are allowed to, you should. Take notes, including names,

badge numbers, what agency each officer is from, where

they searched and what they took. If others are present, have

them act as witnesses to watch carefully what is happening.

If the agents ask you to give them documents, your computer,

or anything else, look to see if the item is listed in the

warrant. If it is not, do not consent to them taking it without

talking to a lawyer. You do not have to answer questions.

Talk to a lawyer first.

Q: Do I have to answer questions if I have been arrested?

A: No. Ask for a lawyer right away. Repeat this request to

every officer who tries to talk to or question you. You

should talk to a lawyer before you decide to answer any


Q: What if I speak to government agents anyway?

A: Even if you have already answered some questions,

you can refuse to answer other questions until you

have a lawyer.

Q: What if the police or agents stop me on the street?

A: Ask if you are free to go. If the answer is yes, consider

just walking away. If the police say you are not under

arrest, but are not free to go, then you are being detained.

The police can pat down the outside of your clothing if they

have reason to suspect you might be armed and dangerous.

If they search any more than this, say clearly, “I do not consent

to a search.” They may keep searching anyway. You do

not have to answer any questions.

Q: Do I have to give my name?

A: Legally, you do not have to give your name unless the

police have properly detained you in a crime investigation.

If you are detained, you can be arrested for refusing to

give your name. If you fear that your name may be incriminating,

you can claim the right to remain silent, and if you

are arrested, this may help you later. However, even if you

are not detained, refusing to give your name is likely to

arouse suspicion. Giving a false name could be a crime.

Q: What if police or agents stop me in my car?

A: Keep your hands where the police can see them. If you

are driving a vehicle, you must show your license, registration

and proof of insurance. You do not have to consent

to a search. But the police may have legal grounds to search

your car anyway. Clearly state that you do not consent. Officers

may separate passengers and drivers from each other

to question them, but no one has to answer any questions.

Q: What if the police or FBI threaten me with a grand

jury subpoena if I don’t answer their questions?

A: A grand jury subpoena is a written order for you to go

to court and testify about information you may have. It

is common for the FBI to threaten you with a subpoena to

get you to talk to them. If they are going to subpoena you,

they will do so anyway. Receiving a subpoena to testify before

a grand jury doesn’t mean that you are suspected of a crime.

You may have legal grounds to stop the subpoena. If you do

receive a subpoena, call the NLG or a criminal lawyer right

away. Anything you say can usually be used against you.

Q: What if I am treated badly by the police or agents?

A: Write down the officer’s badge number, name or other

identifying information. You have a right to ask the officer

for this information. Try to find witnesses and their

names and phone numbers. If you are injured, seek medical

attention and take pictures of the injuries as soon as you

can. Call the NLG, one of the other organizations listed on

this pamphlet, or a lawyer as soon as possible.

What if I am under 18?

Q: Do I have to answer questions?

A: No. Minors too have the right to remain silent. You do

not have to talk to the police, probation officers, or

school officials.

Q: What if I am detained?

A: If you are detained at a community detention facility or

Juvenile Hall, you normally must be released to a parent

or guardian. If charges are filed against you, you have the

right to have a lawyer appointed to represent you at no cost.

Q: Do I have rights at school?

A: Public school students have the First Amendment

right to politically organize at school by passing out

leaflets, holding meetings, publishing independent newspapers,

etc., just so long as those activities do not disrupt

classes. Students can be suspended or expelled from school

only if they violate the law or disrupt school activities. You

have the right to a hearing, with your parents and an attorney

present, before being suspended or expelled.

Q: Can my stuff be searched at school?

A: School officials can search students’ backpacks and

lockers without a warrant, if they suspect that you are

involved in criminal activity or carrying drugs or weapons.

Do not consent to the police or school officials searching

your property, but do not physically resist or you may face

criminal charges.

Q: Can I be stopped by school staff?

A: School officials can stop and question you, for example

if you are not in class. However, they should not stop

and question you for engaging in political activity or because

of your ethnicity or religion. If you think your rights have

been violated, call one of the organizations on the front.

Q: What if I am not a citizen and the DHS contacts me?

A: Assert your rights. If you do not demand your rights or if you

sign papers waiving your rights, the DHS may deport you

before you see a lawyer or an immigration judge. Never sign

anything without reading, understanding and knowing the consequences of signing it.

Talk to a lawyer. If possible, carry with you the name and telephone number of an immigration lawyer who will take your

calls. The immigration laws are hard to understand and there

have been many recent changes. DHS will not explain your

options to you. As soon as you encounter a DHS agent, call

your attorney. If you can’t do it right away, keep trying. Always

talk to an immigration lawyer before leaving the U.S. Even

some legal permanent residents can be barred from returning.

Call the organizations listed on this pamphlet for help

finding a lawyer.

Based on today’s laws, regulations and DHS guidelines,

non-citizens usually have the rights below, no

matter what their immigration status. The following

information may change, so it is important to contact

a lawyer. The rights below apply to non-citizens who

are inside the U.S. Non-citizens at the border who are

trying to enter the U.S. do not have all the same rights.

Q: Do I have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering

any DHS questions or signing any DHS papers?

A: Yes. You have the right to call a lawyer or your family if

you are detained, and you have the right to be visited

by a lawyer in detention. You have the right to have your

attorney with you at any hearing before an immigration

judge. You do not have the right to a government-appointed

attorney for immigration proceedings, but if you have been

arrested, immigration officials must show you a list of free

or low cost legal service providers.

Q: Should I carry my green card or other immigration

papers with me?

A: If you have documents authorizing you to stay in the

U.S., you must carry them with you. Presenting false or

expired papers to DHS may lead to deportation or criminal

prosecution. An unexpired green card, I-94, Employment

Authorization Card, Border Crossing Card or other papers

that prove you are in legal status will satisfy this requirement.

If you do not carry these papers with you, you could

be charged with a crime. Always keep a copy of your immigration

papers with a trusted family member or friend who

can fax it to you, if need be. Check with your immigration

lawyer about your specific case. You may be required to

show your identification to police officers, border patrol

agents and aircraft pilots as well.

Q: Am I required to talk to government officers about

my immigration history?

A: Once you have shown evidence of your status, you do

not have to talk to officers further. You may be better

off remaining silent and talking to a lawyer first. Immigration

law is very complicated. You may have a problem without

realizing it. A lawyer can protect your rights, advise you and

help you avoid giving answers that might hurt you. If DHS

asks anything about your political and religious beliefs,

groups you belong to or contribute to, things you have said,

where you have traveled or other questions that do not seem

right, you do not have to answer them. An officer may not

request evidence of your immigration status in your home or

another private place unless he or she has a warrant. But if

the officer requests evidence and you fail to provide it, there

is chance they will arrest you.

Q: If I am arrested for immigration violations, do I

have the right to a hearing before an immigration

judge to defend myself against deportation charges?

A: Yes. In most cases only an immigration judge can order

you deported. But if you waive your rights or take “voluntary

departure,” agreeing to leave the country, you could be

deported without a hearing. If you have criminal convictions,

were arrested at the border, came to the U.S. through the visa

waiver program or have been ordered deported in the past,

you could be deported without a hearing. Contact a lawyer

immediately to see if there is any relief for you.

Q: Can I call my consulate if I am arrested?

A: Yes. Non-citizens arrested in the U.S. have the right to

call their consulate or to have the police tell the consulate

of your arrest. The police must let your consulate visit

or speak with you if consular officials decide to do so. Your

consulate might help you find a lawyer or offer other help.

You also have the right to refuse help from your consulate.

Q: What happens if I give up my right to a hearing or

leave the U.S. before the hearing is over?

A: You could lose your eligibility for certain immigration

benefits, and you could be barred from returning to the

U.S. for a number of years. You should always talk to an

immigration lawyer before you decide to give up your right

to a hearing.

Q: What should I do if I want to contact DHS?

A: Always talk to a lawyer before contacting DHS, even on

the phone. Many DHS officers view “enforcement” as

their primary job and will not explain all of your options to you.

What are my rights at airports?

It is illegal for law enforcement to perform any stops,

searches, detentions or removals based solely on your race,

national origin, religion, sex or ethnicity. IF YOU HAVE

BEEN PROFILED at the airport, contact one of the organizations

listed in this pamphlet.

Q: If I am entering the U.S. with valid travel papers

can a U.S. customs agent stop and search me?

A: Yes. Customs agents have the right to stop, detain and

search every person and item.

Q: Can my bags or I be searched after going through

metal detectors with no problem or after security sees

that my bags to not contain a weapon?

A: Yes. Even if the initial screen of your bags reveals nothing

suspicious, the screeners have the authority to

conduct a further search of you or your bags.

Q: If I am on an airplane, can an airline employee

interrogate me or ask me to get off the plane?

A: The pilot of an airplane has the right to refuse to fly a

passenger if he or she believes the passenger is a threat

to the safety of the flight. The pilot’s decision must be reasonable and based on observations of you, not stereotypes.

National Lawyers Guild

(NLG) Bay Area Hotline

Help for people contacted

by FBI, DHS, etc. in

Northern California:


NLG National Office

Help for people contacted

by FBI, help finding criminal

lawyers, and help for

lawyers and organizers

212-679-5100 x 12

NLG National Immigration


Help finding immigration

attorneys and help

for lawyers


American Arab Anti-Discrimination


Report hate crimes,

harassment and discrimination


Arabs and Muslims


San Francisco Bay Area:



American Immigration

Lawyers Association

referral to immigration

attorneys and resources

for immigration



This pamphlet was produced by the National Lawyers Guild, which

is solely responsible for its content. Nothing herein is intended to

interfere with any legitimate law enforcement investigation.

The National Lawyers Guild is a 65 year old membership organization

of progressive lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse

lawyers fighting for social justice. Donations for printing this

pamphlet can be made to NLG, 558 Capp Street, San Francisco, CA

94110, 415-285-5067.

Revised August 2004

Design and Production: Lisa Roth


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