As the Prism/NSA leaks story unfolds, many Americans are left with a cynical "are you surprised?" response that rather misses the point. Recent American history is full of stories of spies using surveillance to target civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King, who was heavily surveilled during the Kennedy administration, culminating with the FBI sending him an anonymous package with evidence of his adultery and a note telling him to kill himself.
Here's a video and transcript of an excellent Chris Hayes editorial on MSNBC in which Hayes reminds us that America's spooks can and do use intelligence to attack causes that are later seen as being on the side of justice:
In 1964, after Hoover called King the most "notorious liar in the country" in a press conference, a package was sent to King in the mail, a package the House select committee ultimately traced back to the FBI. Inside this package, one of the most remarkable artifacts in American history was an anonymous letter addressed to Martin Luther King and a copy of an electronic surveillance tape apparently to lend credence to threats of exposure of derogatory personal information made in the letter. We don't know to this day for sure what was on that tape. The heavy speculation throughout the years it was of personal and sexual nature recorded by a device planted in Dr. King's hotel room.
The letter that came with the tape read in part, "you know you are complete fraud and a great liability to all of us negroes. The American public will know you for what you are, an evil abnormal beast. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation." The committee considered it highly likely that Director Hoover had before the fact knowledge of the action.
So that's a letter encouraging Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself, sent to King from the FBI. This happened in American history. It's just one example out of many of how the full weight of the surveillance state constructed to fight the cold war was used against the people working for racial equality. It may have been constructed to defeat the Russians and the genuine threat of global communism, but it was deployed on people like Carmichael and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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