Illegal Intelligence Gathering

Recently, police departments, in response to the Occupy Movement,  have been accused of using undercover officers to not only gather intelligence but to make arrests by plainclothes officers within assemblies.

Here is an April, 1973 link to an article, “Affinity Squads Stir Controversy”  in the Milwaukee Journal about practices in Madison which came out shortly after I was appointed chief of police. In the article, I stated I “was very much committed to using other alternatives.”  I called that one right early on.

See the article at:,1355324.

This was a tactic I saw Berkeley Police on the campus of the University of California use in the early 1960s. When I first saw it I didn’t like it. In each and every case they used it the tactic infuriated the protesters and put the officers in danger. I vowed then I would never use it if I was ever in command.

In Madison, I had my first opportunity to act on that vow when I disbanded Asst. Chief Herman Thomas’s “Affinity Squad” which was, essentially, doing the same kind of things.

While the Madison Police Department was certainly not corrupt in and of itself, some of its practices were. I write about this police intelligence unit that spied on Madison citizens and politicians in my book:

“[The] problem identified to me by the community was Asst. Chief Herman Thomas and his then-notorious team of protest-busters and intelligence gatherers called the “Affinity Squad.” It turned out to be a fairly secret undercover police intelligence unit controlled by Thomas. I doubt if the prior chief, Bill Emery, fully knew of the range of its activities. Before my appointment, Thomas had organized a focused intelligence-gathering effort staffed by police officers who dressed up as hippies, students, or street people to infiltrate and gather intelligence in the student community regarding the “illegal” behavior of protesting the war in Vietnam. At least, that was what Thomas said publicly…

But there came to be more — a dark side to the Affinity Squad:

“One of the charges I heard again and again from community members was that the department had dossiers that contained negative and personal information on members of the community, including elected officials. This, of course, was a serious charge and not unlike charges that have been made about the FBI, particularly during the tenure of Director J. Edgar Hoover, who reportedly used embarrassing personal information on members of Congress to gain their attention and compliance.”

A short time later, I would find out the extent of this intelligence gathering and that what they were doing was illegal. It helped me with one problem, but created another…

Read more this week when my book becomes available to purchase on-line at and fine bookstores everywhere!

1 Comment

  1. Looking forward to your book. To this day, folks in Madison still talk about the change you brought about and while the Madison Police Force is still considered admirable as ‘peace’ officers, many, myself included, often say “Wish Chief Couper was still here”. One thing we really need now are defenders of the right to free speech and assembly, and when that is called for and supported as policy by a police department, we are all much better off for it.

    When I returned to Madison from service in the Army including a tour in Vietnam in ’68-69′, I was surprised to find out that several members of the “Affinity Squad” had been former classmates of mine, who chose that way to ‘serve’ their community while I was putting it on the line, supposedly protecting the very rights they were violating. Their ‘service’ was as much a lie as was mine and the war in Vietnam.


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