Emboldened by his own order of a bug for King's room, Sullivan mapped out a master strategy in a lengthy memo on Jan. 8, 1964. Sullivan not only wanted to discredit King but replace him with a new national leader satisfactory to the FBI.
"King must, at some propitious point in the future, be revealed to the people of this country and to his Negro followers as being what he actually is--a fraud, demagogue and moral scoundrel. When the true facts concerning his activities are presented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off his pedestal and reduce him completely in influence so that he will no longer be a security problem and no longer will be deceiving and misleading the Negro people."
"When this is done….The Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction. This is what could happen, but need not happen if the right kind of a national Negro leader could at this time be gradually developed so as to overshadow Dr. King and be in the position to assume the role of leadership of the Negro people when King has been completely discredited."
According to Sullivan, the transcripts from King's hotel room surveillance were presented to Hoover and the FBI director stated, "They will destroy the burrhead." The hotel bugs had captured evidence of King's marital infidelity and Hoover was more excited than he had been about supposed Communist influences. While Hoover called King a burrhead, Sullivan would call King a beast or animal.
Sullivan began an aggressive bugging program sending FBI sound teams around the country as King travelled. Soon King's critical remarks about Hoover could be heard on the hidden microphones enraging the director when he learned of them.
Sullivan arranged for a series of briefings on King and the hotel room tapes with political leaders like Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert Humphrey and a host of religious leaders. Sullivan personally briefed the head of the National Council of Churches.
Sullivan next began working the media. The Atlanta Constitution was a prime target and reporters had not been following the wishes of the local FBI office so Sullivan met on Jan. 20, 1965 with the publisher of the paper to discuss Martin Luther King.
The FBI bugging of King continued until January 1966 when Hoover ordered it discontinued for fear of exposure by a U.S. Senate inquiry into electronic surveillance. However, Sullivan kept up his close monitoring of King and was coordinating physical surveillance of King in Memphis when King was assassinated.
After Martin Luther King's death, the FBI turned their focus to the Black Panthers and Brennan, Sullivan and Felt began coordinating and approving field actions against the Panthers. However, George Moore, head of the FBI Racial Intelligence section, sent Sullivan a memo in January 1969 about efforts to make King's birthday a national holiday. Moore urged Sullivan to have information ready for the incoming Nixon administration about King from the wiretaps and bugging. Sullivan passed on Moore's suggestion to Hoover and on January 23rd, just three days after the inauguration Hoover sent a Top Secret memo to Attorney General designee John Mitchell.
"The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, found by Martin Luther King, Jr., held demonstrations on January 15, 1969, King's birthday, urging that his birthday be made a national holiday. Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has advocated national holiday status for King's birthday, according to press reports."
"In view of this, there is enclosed a document regarding the communist influence on King during his career and information regarding King's highly immoral personal behavior. For your information, a copy of this document is also being furnished to the President."
The COINTELPRO team that spied on King and was continuing efforts to destroy his reputation was still in place in August 1970 when an anonymous caller lured Omaha police officer Larry Minard to his bombing murder.
The 911 tape recording of the killer's voice was sent to FBI headquarters for vocal analysis. J. Edgar Hoover gave Ivan Willard Conrad, the Crime Laboratory director, the order to withhold a formal report on the tape. The Omaha FBI office wanted to prosecute Poindexter and Langa for the crime and a troublesome lab report indicating their innocence would not help the case being made against them.
Brennan approved of the plan to go after the two Omaha Panther leaders and kept Sullivan briefed while Felt kept the entire operation on track. The day after Minard's death in Omaha, George Moore sent a memo to Brennan about criticism of Hoover at the annual SCLC conference in Atlanta. In response, Hoover approved providing yet another memo attacking King to a friendly media source. Assistant FBI director Thomas Bishop, who was on the 'Omaha Two' COINTELPRO memo distribution list, acted on Hoover's order and supplied the information on King to a designated reporter.
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were convicted without the jury ever hearing the killer's voice. The jury never knew of the FBI intrigue and withheld lab report. Both men were sentenced to life imprisonment and are confined at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to deny any involvement in Minard's death.
Poindexter has a new trial request pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court over the withheld tape recording and conflicting police testimony. No date for a decision has been announced.