Martin Luther King and what we have to fear from the surveillance state

Opponents of the surveillance state are often lectured by the government's defenders that we are being paranoid when we worry about the government using its surveillance powers against those who challenge the political status quo. We are told the goverment would never spy on individuals engaging in political activities and use the information to discredit them and their movements....

Except when they do. While today the US Government honors Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King with a national holiday, in the sixties, he was considered a dangerous radical and a target of warrantless wiretapping as part of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's effort to discredit him. CNN details the FBI's surveillance here with excerpts below:

The almost fanatical zeal with which the FBI pursued King is disclosed in tens of thousands of FBI memos from the 1960s.

The FBI paper trail spells out in detail the government agency's concerted efforts to derail King's efforts on behalf of the civil rights movement.

The FBI's interest in King intensified after the March on Washington in August 1963, when King delivered his "I have a dream speech," which many historians consider the most important speech of the 20th century. After the speech, an FBI memo called King the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country."

The bureau convened a meeting of department heads to "explore how best to carry on our investigation to produce the desired results without embarrassment to the Bureau," which included "a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader."

The FBI began secretly tracking King's flights and watching his associates. In July 1963, a month before the March on Washington, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover filed a request with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to tap King's and his associates' phones and to bug their homes and offices.

In September, Kennedy consented to the technical surveillance. Kennedy gave the FBI permission to break into King's office and home to install the bugs, as long as agents recognized the "delicacy of this particular matter" and didn't get caught installing them. Kennedy added a proviso -- he wanted to be personally informed of any pertinent information.

Those who study how J. Edgar Hoover acquired political power by collecting embarrassing information about the private lives of powerful politicians and other influential figures can't help but wonder how much power a modern J. Edgar Hoover could accumulate using today's advance surveillance technology.

King was also a target of the National Security Agency (NSA). (hat/tip RARE).


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