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MLK: Also a victim of NSA surveillance

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Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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Martin Luther King Jr. day is being celebrated on January 20th 2014 amid heated debate on massive dragnet surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). Ironically, he was himself a victim of NSA surveillance as unveiled by declassified documents in September last year. Dr. King's status as an NSA target has been known since the 1970s; nevertheless, this was probably the first time that the U.S. government had declassified it.

Dr. King, an outspoken opponent of the US war in Vietnam, was apparently monitored up until his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. He may have been targeted for his opposition to Vietnam but also for his civil rights activism and because one of his chief advisers was a former Communist Party member.

When the watch list was created in 1967, King was already an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He had become the target of FBI wiretaps not long after the 1963 March on Washington; Attorney General Robert Kennedy approved the wiretaps because of allegations about King's connections with the Communist Party. One of King's chief advisers was former Communist Party member Stanley Levinson, who had been under the Bureau's scrutiny for years. But even after King began keeping distance from Levinson, the wiretaps continued and expanded, part of a generalized FBI effort to destroy King's effectiveness as a civil rights leader. Presumably his name appeared on the watch list in 1967, around the time it was created, because King was already speaking out against the Vietnam War. [1]  

  The NSA worked with other spy agencies to draw up 'watch lists' of anti-war critics and to tap their overseas phone calls.

Minaret Espionage Program

Details about the NSA surveillance program, codenamed "Minaret," were first disclosed in the 1970s. The controversial Minaret spy program lasted some six years. But information about specific targets had been previously withheld by the government. The newly released documents revealed a few of the high-profile names the NSA had on its watch list eventually containing over 1,600 names.

It included such personages as Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young, the boxer Muhammad Ali, and even politicians such as two prominent members of Congress, Senators Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Howard Baker (R-Tennessee). Senator Church had been one of Lyndon Johnson's Senate allies but the President was angry with Church and other Senate critics and later suggested that they were under Moscow's influence because of their meetings with Soviet diplomats.

The 1975 disclosure of the NSA program, along with other domestic spying on Americans, caused public outrage and one of the senators who had been tapped, Church, led reforms that created stricter limits on surveillance and spy agencies. Senator Church chaired a committee that recommended sweeping reforms of surveillance laws, leading to the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

Church said on "Meet the Press" in August 1975: "If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology."

Almost 40 years later, Americans are facing the same concern in the aftermath of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the massive NSA surveillance.

To borrow Carl Messineo, Director of Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Legal, "Democracy is premised on the notion that the government operates with the consent of the people, and its authority derives from the people, and its operations serve the people as the people democratically define their interests. Today, government targets the people as "adversaries.--

Counter Intelligence Program - COINTELPRO

Besides the NSA surveillance, the FBI's COINTELPRO program targeted Dr. Luther King for surveillance and also tried to discredit him, apparently because he was seen as some kind of threat by the feds.

COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.

According to Brian Glick, author of War at Home, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the target of an elaborate FBI plot to drive him to suicide and replace him "in his role of the leadership of the Negro people" with conservative Black lawyer Samuel Pierce (later named to Reagan's cabinet). [WAR AT HOME - COINTELPRO in the 60s   by Brian Glick published by South End Press, Boston MA.]

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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