Abstract

This essay traces the emergence of the carceral warfare project, a clandestine campaign to infuse US prisons with the logics and techniques of counterinsurgency. First exposed by Black Liberation Army member Dhoruba bin-Wahad, the project came into being between 1970 and 1978. The article begins by discussing the theory undergirding the carceral warfare project, a reactionary idea known as “the issue exploitation thesis.” Starting in 1970, seasoned cold warriors renovated their long-standing arguments against communism for application against imprisoned Black revolutionaries. Next, the FBI’s little-known Prison Activists Surveillance Program (PRISACTS) is discussed. Focusing on the words and deeds of George Jackson and Donald Bordenkircher—two central figures positioned on opposite sides of the struggle—the essay shows how the bureau used PRISACTS to treat carceral spaces as zones of counterrevolutionary warfare. Although the FBI officially discontinued PRISACTS in 1976, the final section argues that the FBI’s counterrevolutionary methodology had already been integrated into state prison systems by this date. Ultimately, this essay demonstrates that through prisons, internal security operatives engage in a plausibly deniable form of counterinsurgency warfare that seeks to isolate political prisoners from each other, from the general prison population, from their outside networks of support, and even alienates them from themselves.

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