During his speech defending the NSA and domestic surveillance President Barack Obama ironically mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King as proof that intelligence agencies spying on Americans had precedent in our recent history. What Obama failed to mention was why MLK had been targeted by the government. What did King do to become a threat to national security besides being a leader in the civil rights movement?
FBI founder and longtime director J Edgar Hoover initiated attempts to destroy MLK well before King’s assassination in 1968. Hoover started a project known as COINTELPRO to destroy MLK and other radical elements. FBI Director Hoover’s plot against King was particularly nasty and involved taping King engaging in extra-marital affairs then writing a letter to King to commit suicide or risk exposure.
Hoover and others within the American national security establishment view MLK’s overall agenda for America as a threat to national security. After successfully pushing for civil rights reform King fought for a guaranteed annual income and against the Vietnam War.
The FBI played an active role in trying to disrupt the Poor People’s Campaign with Operation POCAM:
The FBI, which had been targeting King since 1962 with COINTELPRO, increased its efforts after King’s April 4, 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam”. It also lobbied government officials to oppose King on the grounds that he was a communist, “an instrument in the hands of subversive forces seeking to undermine the nation”, and affiliated with “two of the most dedicated and dangerous communists in the country.”
Despite the intense interest by America’s national security state, no evidence was ever produced to back up the charge – repeatedly leveled – that King was some agent of a foreign power. You may note current parallels.
Operation POCAM became the first major project of the FBI’s Ghetto Informant Program (GIP), which recruited thousands of people to report on poor black communities.Through GIP, the FBI quickly established files on SCLC recruiters in cities across the US. FBI agents posed as journalists, used wiretaps, and even recruited some of the recruiters as informants.
Oppose a war or advocate to radically reduce poverty and the national security state kicks into gear, that’s the danger of building the turn-key tyranny that President Obama has just defended. Of course, COINTELPRO could never happen today.