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The Still Spying Podcast

News & Politics Podcasts

A limited series podcast that does a deep dive into the history of FBI spying on protest movements and activists. Hosted by Defending Rights & Dissent policy director Chip Gibbons.


United States


A limited series podcast that does a deep dive into the history of FBI spying on protest movements and activists. Hosted by Defending Rights & Dissent policy director Chip Gibbons.




Primary Sources Podcast: The New York Times, the Pentagon Papers, and the Secret Weapon of the First Amendment

When The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers it sparked one of the greatest battles for press freedom in US history. In an unprecedented move, the Nixon administration sought to bar The New York Times from publishing further. The Times's outside counsel had told them they would not defend them if they chose to publish the top-secret history of the Vietnam War. But their General Counsel, James Goodale, argued that The New York Times had the right to publish. As Goodale explains to host Chip Gibbons, while the First Amendment is today a cornerstone of press freedom cases, in those days it was a "secret weapon." And one he was prepared to use.


Primary Sources Podcast: From the Pentagon Papers to the Doomsday Machine feat. Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg is the most iconic whistleblower in US history. On our inaugural episode, he joins host Chip Gibbons for an in-depth conversation. On the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers release, Ellsberg explains how the top secret history of the Vietnam War led him to believe the war was not merely a mistake, but a crime. Ellsberg explains what was in the Pentagon Papers, why he chose to release them, and what he hoped to accomplish. The Pentagon Papers whistleblower also talks about his current work to alert the public to the dangers of nuclear war and how in doing so he may be putting himself yet again in the crosshairs of the Espionage Act.


Folk Singers & The Bureau (Bonus Episode) feat. Aaron J. Leonard

The FBI has long devoted its resources to stamping out dissent. As part of its ruthless war on the Communist Party, the Bureau set its sites on America’s folk singers. In his new book The Folk Singers and the Bureau: The FBI, the Folk Artists and the Suppression of the Communist Party, USA-1939-1956, historian and writer Aaron J. Leonard draws on an unprecedented array of declassified documents and never before released files to chronicle the FBI’s attacks on such folk musicians as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Aaron J. Leonard is a writer and historian with a focus on the history of radicalism and state suppression. He is the author of Heavy Radicals: The FBI's Secret War on America's Maoists and A Threat of the First Magnitude--FBI Counterintelligence & Infiltration: From the Communist Party to the Revolutionary Union. He is a contributor to the History News Network, Jacobin, and Truthout. On September 16, 2020, the Still Spying Podcast hosted a livestreamed event with Leonard to discuss his new book and this is a lightly edited audio-only version of that event, moderated by Still Spying host Chip Gibbons.


Our Story: Frank Wilkinson, the FBI, and the Origins of Defending Rights & Dissent

In our final episode, we explore the Defending Rights & Dissent’s own origins. Frank Wilkinson was a public housing advocate who was working on an integrated public housing project in Chavez Ravine, The FBI and HUAC working together, hounded him out of a job and Chavez Ravine became Dodgers Stadium as opposed to public housing. Frank went on to found an anti-HUAC, pro-civil liberties organization that would eventually become Defending Rights & Dissent. The FBI was less than thrilled with his career change. To recount this history, host Chip Gibbons is joined by Kit Gage, the former director of the organization Frank founded and to which Defending Rights & Dissent traces its origins.


The Bureaucratic Heart of McCarthyism feat. Ellen Schrecker

The Second Red Scare may have been named after the demagogic Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, but no one was more central to it than J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Host Chip Gibbons is joined by renowned historian Ellen Schrecker to discuss what McCarthyism was, how the FBI was central to it, and why if “observers known in the 1950s what they learned since the 1970s when Freedom of Information Act opened the Bureau's files, 'McCarthyism' would probably have been called 'Hooverism.'”


Spying on Muslim & Arab Americans feat. Abdeen Jabara

Since 9/11, the FBI has subjected the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities to surveillance. Sending infiltrators and confidential informants into mosques and other community spaces absent any evidence of criminal wronging, it’s clear that for the FBI race, religion, and national origin are inherently suspicious in the War on Terror. However, the FBI’s history of targeting Muslim and Arab Americans goes back long before 9/11. As early as 1972, Richard Nixon had ordered mass surveillance of Arab Americans as part of “Operation Boulder.” To discuss this history, host Chip Gibbons is joined by Abdeen Jabara, a longtime civil rights attorney, past president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination,and former board member of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Jabara not only fought against surveillance and discrimination on behalf of others, he himself was spied on by the FBI and the NSA.


The FBI v. The Young Lords feat. Prof. Johanna Fernández

The Young Lords were a political organization led predominantly by poor and working-class Puerto Rican youth. They emerged as part of the larger New Left, but as advocates of Puerto Rican independence they were part of a much older lineage of resistance. In the first segment, host Chip Gibbons discusses the history of FBI repression against both the New Left and the Puerto Rican independence movement. He is then joined by Prof. Johanna Fernández of Baruch College of the City University of New York who authored the book The Young Lords: A Radical History. While working on the book, she successfully fought to have the NYPD’s “Red Squad” files released.


The FBI's Man Inside the Klan feat. Mary Stanton

The FBI was ruthless in its pursuit of civil rights activists. At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan was engaged in a reign of terror. How did the FBI's attitude towards those fighting nonviolently for racial justice compare to its attitude towards those who wished to violently stop them? In this episode, we explore the career of the FBI's controversial Klan informant Gary Rowe. Rowe's identity was revealed after he was present when Klan members murdered civil rights activists Viola Liuzzo. How involved was really in her death and what other acts of violence may Rowe have been involved? To explore this, we talk to Mary Stanton a historian of social justice movements in the South and biographer of Liuzzo.


Exposing FBI Surveillance Today featuring Alice Speri

The FBI is still spying on dissent. But how do we know what they’re up to? On this episode, Alice Speri of The Intercept talks about the importance of the Freedom of Information Act and whistleblowers to journalists reporting on FBI surveillance. She also discusses the case of Terry Albury, an FBI whistleblower who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act.


The War on Black Dissent Part III: The FBI vs. The Movement for Black Lives feat. Malkia Devich Cyril

In our conclusion of Still Spying’s three-part exploration of the FBI’s war on Black dissent we bring the story up to the present. In response to police violence and white supremacy, the US has witnessed renewed movements for racial justice. Unsurprisingly, the FBI is yet again on the case. In this episode we talk about the FBI and other federal agencies’s monitoring of the Movement for Black Lives, including the FBI’s assessment about the threat posed by “Black Identity Extremists.” This episode features an interview with Malkia Devich-Cyril, a Senior Fellow at Media Justice.


The War on Black Dissent Part II: COINTELPRO & The Assassination of Fred Hampton

In what Noam Chomksy called the “gravest domestic crime of the Nixon Administration,” the FBI orchestrated a Chicago police raid that killed Black Panther Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. In part two of a three part exploration of the FBI’s War on Black Dissent, host Chip Gibbons is joined by Jeffrey Haas, a lawyer with the People’s Law Office and the author of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. Haas represented survivors of the raid and was instrumental in exposing the FBI’s role in it. He also knew Hampton personally. In a powerful and moving interview, he makes the case that Hampton’s death was a political assassination.


The War on Black Dissent, Part I: Black Lives, Red Scares featuring Gerald Horne



Is All Policing Political? Featuring Alex S. Vitale

What does the neutral application of the law mean if the law itself is not neutral? Still Spying podcast host Chip Gibbons & noted abolitionist Alex S. Vitale. explore the political nature of federal and local law enforcement and ask the question: is political policing a feature of law enforcement, not a bug? What does this mean for our society, especially during this national conversation about justice and equality? What is police abolitionism?


What Powers Does the FBI Have & How Do We Rein Them In? Featuring Emily Berman



Legacy of Abuse: From The Palmer Raids to Black Identity Extremism Feat. Mike German

An exploration into the history of the FBI looking into certain political activities and political actors that conspicuously all seemed to have a common denominator. Also, a one-on-one conversation with Mike German, a retired FBI agent and a fellow in the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security program. He's also the author of "Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide: How the New FBI Damages Democracy."