Wickham: Why add woman to terrorist list now?

Wickham: Why add woman to terrorist list now?

DeWayne Wickham, 6:58 p.m. EDT May 6, 2013
USA Today

FBI decision to dredge up 40-year-old case not about national security but politics.

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(Photo: Julio Cortez, AP)

Story Highlights

  • Black power activist was convicted in 1973 killing of N.J. trooper.
  • She later escaped from prison and was given political asylum in Cuba.
  • Black Liberation Army was one of many organizations whose activities the FBI distorted.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the FBI decided to place Assata Shakur, as the first woman on its list of most wanted terrorists, which has included Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri and other purveyors of mass mayhem.

The FBI’s decision last week to dredge up the 40-year-old case of a convicted cop killer, whose given name is Joanne Chesimard, is not about national security but politics. The revival of the case appears to revert to the playbook of the agency’s domestic counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO).

Shakur has spent the past 29 years holed up in Cuba after escaping prison in the murder of New Jersey trooper Werner Foerster. Foerster was killed in a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that also took the life of Zayd Malik Shakur, who was riding in a car along with Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur. Their vehicle was stopped by Foerster and another trooper, police say, because one of its tail lights was out. New Jersey marked the 40th anniversary of Foerster’s death last week by doubling the reward for Shakur’s capture to $2 million.

The three people in the car were members of the Black Liberation Army, one of many black organizations whose activities the FBI distorted in a secret campaign of disinformation that lasted 15 years until COINTELPRO was exposed and ended in 1971.

Ironically, the state police were later found to have widely conducted racial profiling of black and Hispanic motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike, a pattern that in 1999, then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and the state’s attorney general, Peter Verniero, publicly admitted.

While it wasn’t until 2002 that the FBI created its list of most wanted terrorists, it waited 11 years to put her on it. Why? Probably because the bureau’s decision was as politicized as when Director J. Edgar Hoover launched the controversial COINTELPRO.

The FBI’S announcement last week came a day afterthe State Department said it would not remove Cuba from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a list that includes Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuba has been on this list since 1982. According to the State Department, countries that make this list are “determined by the secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.” But there has been no credible proof that Cuba has supported terrorism in recent years.

In fact, Cuba stopped sending weapons and soldiers abroad to support leftist causes long ago. The communist government now sends thousands of doctors throughout Africa and Central and South America to win friends and court political support.

I see no coincidence in the fact that the FBI decided to add Shakur to the terrorists list at the same time the State Department continued to brand Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“We ought to reserve that term for nations that actually use the apparatus of statehood to support targeting of U.S. interests and civilians,” Juliette Kayyem, a Harvard lecturer who is a former senior officials in the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security, told the Los Angeles Times. “Yes, Cuba does a lot of bad things that we don’t like, but it doesn’t rise to anything on the level of a terrorist threat,” she added.

Just as the FBI’s COINTELPRO used misinformation in an attempt to destroy some black organizations and create a false reality about others, the bureau’s effort to recast Shakur as an international terrorist should be seen for what it is: proof that the FBI has gone rogue again.

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.