Since Monday was Martin Luther King day and since the Senate is on the verge of renewing Section 702 of the FISA Act, this is a good week to read Dan Thompson's article on how J Edgar Hoover used his leverage on President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to abuse his office to carry out his vendetta against Dr King.
This is a cautionary tale of the dangers of granting government officials the power to collect information on American citizens without first having to get a warrant and show probable cause.
Read the full article here and excerpts below:
“…the FBI was able to get permission from Attorney General Robert Kennedy to begin electronic surveillance of King at all levels, including bugging his hotel rooms, offices, etc. What was discovered was not any affiliation with communism but sexual incidents that were taped by listening agents – one of these was explicit and Hoover played that tape around town to press and others of influence to prove King’s indiscretions.
Why would the Kennedys – Robert and John – agree to permit this intrusion into the life of a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at a time John was facing a tough re-election? Because Hoover had evidence that gave him leverage — the knowledge that President Kennedy had been having a passionate affair with Judith Campbell who had been introduced to him by Frank Sinatra and was also an intimate of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. Hoover lost little time making Bobby Kennedy aware he knew about the Mafia “party girl,” warning him of the difficulties of this situation, including the fact she had carried messages between Giancana and the president.
The implications to Kennedy were clear, especially since the administration had pledged to go after organized crime. The president’s long relationship with Campbell, later to become Judith Exner, would have been nearly impossible to explain and it prompted one of his best friends, Ben Bradley, executive editor of the Washington Post, after it was revealed a decade later, to say that Kennedy would have been impeached had it been known.
During the Senate Watergate hearings it was revealed that Sullivan, called “the professor” because of his rumpled, un-FBI look and his intenseness, had written a memo to White House General Counsel John Dean, outlining the political use of the bureau by presidents over the years. It was not released, but interviews with Hoover’s top lieutenants recreated most of its claims such as black bag break-ins at foreign embassies, unauthorized surveillance of a personal nature, and on and on.