by Michael Richardson
December 29, 2008
William Cornelius Sullivan was the chief architect of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation's clandestine and illegal Operation
COINTELPRO during the tenure of director J. Edgar Hoover. Sullivan
was also a master at media manipulation shaping the news to the
benefit of the Bureau.
Operation COINTELPRO was a massive, secret, nation-wide operation
aimed at hundreds of domestic political targets. Ordered by Hoover
to "disrupt" the Black Panther Party and other groups by any means
necessary, FBI agents used a wide variety of illegal and improper
tactics. One of the time-tested methods of eliminating the
leadership of local Panther chapters was obtaining false convictions
by use of withheld evidence, planted evidence, and false testimony.
Sullivan, an assistant director, was the highest-ranking FBI official
to admit public knowledge of the 'Omaha Two' case. Black Panthers Ed
Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) headed the Omaha,
Nebraska chapter and were COINTELPRO targets. The August 17, 1970
bombing murder of policeman Larry Minard was followed by the
prosecution of the two Omaha activists for his death and led to their
conviction following a controversial 1971 trial that was marred by
withheld evidence and conflicting police testimony.
In October 1970 at a conference of United Press International,
Sullivan falsely denied the existence of a "conspiracy" against the
Black Panthers and tried to squelch sympathy for the
Panthers. Sullivan told the assembled reporters, "Panther cries of
repression at the hands of a government 'conspiracy' receive the
sympathy not only of adherents to totalitarian ideologies, but also
of those willing to close their eyes to even to the violent nature of
hoodlum 'revolutionary' acts."
Sullivan also spoke of his knowledge of Minard's death. "On August
12, 1970 [sic] an Omaha, Nebraska police officer was literally
blasted to death by an explosive device placed in a suitcase in an
abandoned residence. The officer had been summoned by an anonymous
telephone complaint that a woman was being beated [sic] there. An
individual with Panther associations has been charged with this crime."
What Sullivan didn't tell assembled reporters was that Hoover had
already ordered critical evidence withheld from the 'Omaha Two' with
a directive to FBI Crime Laboratory director Ivan Willard
Conrad. The 911 tape recording of the killer's voice had been sent
to FBI headquarters for vocal analysis but Hoover ordered no lab
report be issued after the testing.
Sullivan was on a special distribution list at the COINTELPRO
directorate in FBI headquarters where he received various secret
memos from the Omaha FBI office updating him on the status of the
investigation and the ongoing deception about the recording of the
The jury that convicted Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa never got to
hear the tape recording or know that Hoover had personally ordered
evidence about the killer's identity withheld.
The Omaha World-Herald's coverage of the case was apparently
manipulated to aid the FBI plot to keep quiet about the 911
tape. The newspaper initially reported on the tape's journey to
Washington quoting acting-Chief of Police Walter J. Devere that the
tape would be a good investigative tool. However, the Omaha
newspaper never followed up their lead story on the testing of the
fatal recording and subsequent articles about the case dropped the subject.
Sullivan was fired by Hoover several months after the Omaha trial
ended for leaking to the Justice Department information about
unauthorized FBI wiretaps on Henry Kissinger. Sullivan retaliated by
writing a book, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover's FBI. The
autobiographical account is far from a tell-all and Sullivan's
self-aggrandizement agenda is apparent. However, Sullivan does make
some remarkable admissions.
Although Sullivan is virtually silent about COINTELPRO and does not
mention the 'Omaha Two' case at all, he boasts about his prowess
working the news media to manipulate stories. "Because of this
network of field offices, and thanks to scores of contacts made and
maintained by the special agents in charge, Hoover was able to place
'news' stories--invented and written in the bureau, really nothing
more than press releases, puff pieces for the FBI--in newspapers all
over the country. Our strength was in the small dailies and
weeklies, with hundreds of these papers behind him."
"Of course, scores of Washington-based reporters printed stories we
gave them too, and they usually printed them under their own
bylines. Some of them lived off us. It was an easy way to make a
living. They were our press prostitutes."
"We also planted stories critical of some of Hoover's favorites
targets, the CIA for instance. And of course we placed stories about
Hoover's congressional critics. A negative story which appears in a
newspaper published in a congressman's home district hurts him more
than any article in the Washington Post."
"Letters went by the thousands to the Jaycees, the newspaper editors,
the movers and shakers so carefully cultivated as FBI contacts by our
agents out in the field. These field agents were also responsible
for reading any article or letter to the editor that mentioned the
FBI or Hoover. Any favorable mention of either in any newspaper in
America meant a personal letter of thanks from Hoover."
"This public relations operation of Hoover's, this massive attempt to
control public opinion continues to this day, and is at the very
heart of what is wrong with the bureau. Unless it is exposed, until
every editor of every little weekly newspaper who ever printed an FBI
press handout realizes how he has been used, the FBI will continue to
do business in the same old way."
In a rare moment of candor, Sullivan confessed to his
deceptions. "The bureau system made liars of us all. If you didn't
lie, you couldn't survive."
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, despite their protestations of
innocence, were convicted of Minard's killing and sentenced to life
sentences. Incarcerated at the maximum-security Nebraska State
Penitentiary both men continue to deny any role in the 1970
murder. Poindexter has a new trial request pending before the
Nebraska Supreme Court over withheld evidence and conflicting police
testimony. No date for a decision has been announced.