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Fronteras: 'Our own government was working against them' — Declassifying FBI files on the Latino civil rights movement

In 1956, the FBI launched the counterintelligence program COINTELPRO to target the efforts of the Communist Party in the U.S.

The program later expanded in the 1960s to include domestic groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panther Movement, and even the leaders of the Black and Latino social justice movements.

COINTELPRO tactics included psychological warfare against their targets, false media reports, illegal violence, and even assassination.

The CIA established a similar espionage program, Operation CHAOS, in 1967 to uncover foreign influence on anti-war movements.

San Antonio Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro has launched an effort to declassify some of the documents from these espionage programs related to surveillance of the Latino civil rights movement.

Castro, who sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, co-authored a letter to the directors of the CIA and FBI to push the effort forward.

He urged the importance of clearing the historical record by making the documents public.

“Civil rights organizations were trying to actually bring the country closer to the rights and liberties stated in our founding documents,” Castro said. “Our government was working against them and was trying to subvert that effort.”

Rosie Castro was involved in the Mexican American Youth Organization and was the Bexar County party chair with the Raza Unida Party in the 1970s. She was subject to surveillance.

She said declassifying the documents could shed light on key figures of the Latino civil rights movements that have largely been unknown.

“Once the CIA and FBI opens up those records, you’re going to see many of the women who were involved — not only with Raza Unida, but the entire Chicano movement,” she said. “The artists that were under surveillance, the people in Teatro (Campesino) that were under surveillance.”

Listen to a separate conversation about federal surveillance of the United Farm Workers Union here.

Read a statement released by Congressman Castro's office about what's next with his request below:

We are still working with the FBI and CIA, but the process will likely proceed as follows. The FBI and CIA, overseen by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, will submit relevant documents they find for their internal classification review to determine if they contain any information that is still currently and properly classified.

It is likely that the vast majority of the information regarding surveillance of the Latino Civil Rights movement is no longer classified (though it may not yet have been publicly released) for two reasons. First, many of the key facts about surveillance of domestic dissident groups were declassified long ago. Second, several of the documents are likely subject to automatic declassification, as the activity is more than fifty years old. (See here at Sec. 1.5(a)).

Once the documents have been redacted to the point where they do not contain currently and properly classified information, we expect that the relevant agency will release the documents, as the letter requests.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1