Tony Platt: The Case For and Against Richard Aoki

Roundup: Talking About History

Tony Platt is Visiting Professor of Justice Studies at San Jose State University.

The blogs are full of charges and countercharges about journalist Seth Rosenfeld's claim (in his recent book, Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power and published articles) that Black Panther Party cadre Richard Aoki was a "paid FBI informer."

Here are a few thoughts about the debate:

Rosenfeld's claim that Aoki was an FBI informant takes up only a few pages in his 734-page book and is not central to his argument. Rosenfeld, however, chose to publish an article about Aoki on the release date of his book, thus making the topic appear central to his book.

Rosenfeld's piece about Aoki, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 20th, summarizes what appears in Subversives, namely that Aoki was "an undercover FBI informer." His evidence is based on an interview with Aoki's FBI handler, internal FBI records, the expertise of an ex-FBI agent, and an interview with Aoki. Rosenfeld's book thoroughly documents his evidence and is persuasive.

Rosenfeld's book and August 20th piece do not provide many details about what Aoki actually did for the FBI or how long he was an informant. Recently, the FBI released another 221 pages about Aoki in response to a FOIA claim. In an article published on September 7th in the San Francisco Chronicle, Rosenfeld sums up his new evidence: Aoki was an FBI informant from 1961 to 1977; Aoki was a paid informant; and Aoki and the FBI terminated their relationship in 1977....

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