Richard Masato Aoki

*The man who supplied the Black Panther Party with some of its first firearms and weapons training – which preceded fatal shootouts with Oakland police during the 1960s – was an undercover FBI informant, according to a former bureau agent and an FBI report.


One of the Bay Area’s most prominent radical activists of the era, Richard Masato Aoki was known as a fierce militant and a member of several radical groups before joining and arming the Panthers.

Aoki went on to work for 25 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator at the Peralta Community College District, and after his suicide in 2009, he was revered as a fearless radical.

But unbeknownst to his fellow activists, Aoki had served as an FBI intelligence informant, secretly filing reports on a wide range of Bay Area political groups, according to the bureau agent who recruited him.

Best known as an Asian American ranking member of the Black Panther Party, Aoki was also a leader in the 1969 Third World Liberation Front Strike at UC Berkeley. He became the first director of the new Asian American Studies program after the strike. He retired as a professor and administrator at Merritt and Alameda Colleges in the SF Bay Area.

That agent, Burney Threadgill Jr., recalled that he approached Aoki in the late 1950s, about the time Aoki was graduating from Berkeley High School. He asked Aoki if he would join left-wing groups and report to the FBI.

“He was my informant. I developed him,” Threadgill said in an interview. “He was one of the best sources we had.”

The former agent said he asked Aoki how he felt about the Soviet Union, and the young man replied that he had no interest in communism.

“I said, ‘Well, why don’t you just go to some of the meetings and tell me who’s there and what they talked about?’ Very pleasant little guy. He always wore dark glasses,” Threadgill recalled.

Aoki’s work for the FBI, which has never been reported, was uncovered and verified during research for the book, “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power.” The book, based on research spanning three decades, will be published tomorrow by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Huffington Post has more details here.

Below, a news report on Aoki from the Bay Area’s ABC affiliate KGO-TV.