Omaha Two story: April 28, 1971
Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, then David Rice, were in the Douglas County Jail awaiting trial when a burglary in Media, Pennsylvania put in motion events that led to the two men achieving the dubious distinction as the last COINTELPRO defendants.
The March 8, 1971, break-in of a satellite office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation brought to light for the first time a massive, illegal counter-intelligence operation code-named COINTELPRO. The clandestine program was a fifteen-year war on domestic political activists targeted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The Black Panthers were the targets of the most ruthless tactics with at times a lethal ferocity.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa headed the National Committee to Combat Fascism, a Black Panther affiliate chapter, in Omaha, Nebraska. Both men were charged with the bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard, Sr. and awaiting trial when the FBI burglary occurred. Neither Panther leader knew that their trial would be COINTELPRO-manipulated following an order by J. Edgar Hoover to withhold evidence about the identity of Minard’s killer.
The burglary, which netted 1000 pages of confidential FBI files, disclosed for the first time outside the Bureau the secret COINTELPRO operation. Immediately, an intense investigation was launched, directed by Mark Felt, the “Deep Throat” of Watergate infamy, creating a 33,000 page case file. The crime was never solved.
The Media break-in was first reported in the New York Times on March 10, 1971. The next day a Haverford College professor, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia FBI office all got a letter from an unknown group called the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI claiming responsibility.
Two weeks after the break-in, selected FBI documents were sent to Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and Representative Parren Mitchell of Maryland, both FBI critics. The two elected officials turned over the documents to the FBI because neither wanted to be associated with the “illegal action” of the Citizens’ Commission.
On March 23rd, as preparations for jury selection were underway in Omaha, Representative Mitchell said the FBI documents he returned showed that the FBI was engaged in “crime” with its surveillance activities. That same day selected COINTELPRO documents were sent to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. The next day the Washington Post published excerpts of the FBI documents.
Attorney General John Mitchell appealed to the news media to not publish details of the COINTELPRO documents but his appeal was futile in the face of the improper FBI conduct revealed in the purloined files.
As testimony progressed in Omaha against the Black Panther leaders on trial, the Citizens’ Commission sent COINTELPRO documents to a Cambridge, Massachusetts group called Resist which in turn supplied the booty to the New York Times.
On April 8th, the day the prosecution ended its case against the Omaha Two, the Citizens’ Commission gave a new batch of COINTELPRO documents to the Boston Globe.
Slowly, in piecemeal fashion, the FBI dirty secrets came to light, except in Omaha. The Omaha Two were convicted on April 17, 1971, for murder without the jury every learning about COINTELPRO or that the two defendants had been targeted by J. Edgar Hoover. The jury never heard the recorded voice of Larry Minard’s killer caught on the 911 phone system used to lure Minard to a deadly ambush. The jury never learned that Hoover had ordered the FBI crime lab to withhold a report on the identity of Minard’s killer based on an analysis of the 911 recording.
On April 21, 1971, a Pennsylvania student group received COINTELPRO documents and news reports on FBI misdeeds were growing. At FBI headquarters, egotistically called the “Seat of Government” by Hoover, concerns were mounting.
On April 27th, Charles Brennan, a high-level COINTELPRO manger at the FBI, sent a memorandum to William Sullivan, head of Domestic Intelligence and principal architect of COINTELPRO. The memo urged COINTELPRO be discontinued except for “exceptional instances where counterintelligence action is warranted.”
Brennan, who had once worked in the Omaha FBI office, and Sullivan were both on the distribution list of the COINTELPRO memo ordering the withholding of evidence in the Omaha Two case.
J. Edgar Hoover quickly agreed to Brennan’s recommendation and on April 28, 1971, eleven days after the end of the Omaha Two trial, the order was given to discontinue COINTELPRO.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa remain confined in the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they are serving life sentences. Both men continue to deny any role in Minard’s death and have repeatedly been denied a new trial despite the COINTELPRO tampering of their trial.
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