Re: no more cointelpro's or cointelHO's *LINK*
Posted By: seshatasefekht In Response To: no more cointelpro's or cointelHO's *LINK* (seshatasefekht)
Date: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, at 9:43 a.m.
In Response To: no more cointelpro's or cointelHO's *LINK* (seshatasefekht)
The FBI claims that it no longer undertakes COINTELPRO or COINTELHO-like operations.
Surveillance Then And Now
Final Volume Of King Opus Holds History's Mirror To Bush Bugging
January 15, 2006
By RINKER BUCK The publication this week of the third volume of Taylor Branch's magisterial biography of Martin Luther King Jr. is one of those events that goes beyond literature to become almost an historic event itself.
Twenty years in the making, sprawling over more than 2,500 printed pages, Taylor's Pulitzer Prize-winning opus is both glorious and flawed - sweeping in its language, exhaustively detailed, monumentally over-written - in ways that are thoroughly American. One has to go back to Carl Sandburg's six-volume life of Lincoln, or Shelby Foote's tireless efforts on behalf of the Civil War, to find comparisons to Branch's output and epic recreation of a single period in our national life.
But the release of Branch's "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68" - timed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday - will be remembered for another reason. Smoldering just beneath the surface of almost every major event in the turbulent three years leading up to King's 1968 assassination is a tortured subtext: the relentless and frequently illegal hounding of King by FBI phone wiretaps and bugs, particularly after King spoke out against the Vietnam war.
"At Canaan's Edge" arrives in the midst of new controversy over a similar, secret campaign - the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. The headlines coming out of Washington this winter can only help to focus particular attention on this aspect of Branch's narrative.
Writers dream about providential publicity like this. But it would be a mistake to regard the controversy over the Bush administration's vast eavesdropping program and the arrival of the King volume as coincidental events. In fact, as a report earlier this month by the independent Congressional Research Service pointed out, congressional outrage about the domestic spying abuses of the FBI during the 1960s and 1970s led directly to the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. (The Congressional Research Service report is available at: www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/m010506.pdf)
The Senate select committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, had found that "every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt had both asserted the authority to authorize warrantless electronic surveillance and had utilized that authority." The Church committee concluded that, while abuse of illegal wiretaps and bugs reached its height during the Nixon years, surveillance of "numerous individuals and groups who engaged in no criminal activity and who posed no genuine threat to the national security" had gone on for years before that. In troubled times, Big Brother tactics against both real and imagined enemies are, indeed, the classic American fallback.
The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act attempted to carefully balance the government's legitimate need to gather sensitive information against constitutional protection of individual rights. The legislation empowered a variety of intelligence-gathering methods, while specifically requiring the government to secure warrants from a special court established by the act. The White House and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales have asserted that the war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001 has created conditions beyond those anticipated by Congress in 1978, allowing it to circumvent the special court when it decides to eavesdrop on foreign and domestic phone conversations and other communications. In its 44-page report, the Congressional Research Service concluded that the Bush's administration's justification for avoiding the warrants is probably a violation of law.
"At Canaan's Edge" chronicles an unrelentingly bleak period in King's life, leading up to the period when FBI harassment reached its height. Having secured major victories in Alabama during the Montgomery bus boycott and then the desegregation of Birmingham lunch counters, King and his movement began to lose steam and became mired in the complexities of fighting voter discrimination in Selma in 1965. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference was riven with internal strife and then the painful break with young black power advocates like Stokely Carmichael over non-violent tactics. Chronic fund-raising problems and an increasingly testy relationship with Washington officials - particularly Lyndon Johnson's White House - dogged the movement at every turn.
Even as his fame grew - and King was capable of drawing immense, worshipful crowds wherever he traveled - 10 years of non-stop organizing, marching and going to jail had begun to take its toll. To an increasingly jittery circle of close advisors, King's grueling schedule, extramarital affairs and long bouts of depression suggested a leader swirling out of control.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been personally supervising a campaign of wiretaps and infiltration of King's group for years, of course, and he knew just how to exploit King's weaknesses. By the sheer volume of detail he provides on Hoover's ugly campaign, Branch creates a rich perspective for understanding the need for curbs on government surveillance.
Before 1965, presidents Kennedy and Johnson and their attorney generals had either resisted or looked the other way when Hoover harassed the civil rights movement. Johnson, Branch writes, "had ignored scurrilous FBI reports on King since the day he entered the White House." But this dramatically changed after King publicly broke with the administration and criticized the war in Vietnam, which revived a longstanding Hoover obsession that King was controlled by former Communist Party members.
King unwittingly substantiated Hoover's ideological bias by making his attacks on American society increasingly economic, launching a "war on poverty," siding with largely black municipal unions during strikes in southern cities, and even renting an apartment in Chicago to take his movement north to confront wage and housing discrimination issues. Hoover responded to this assault on the economic belly of America with an increasingly ambitious counterintelligence program managed from Washington against the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The FBI program, Branch writes, "ran heavily to propaganda and petty sabotage," and no detail was too small or vicious to escape Hoover's attention. In Miami, the FBI arranged for a television producer to create a special on young black leaders that made them look especially unattractive. ("Hoover himself praised the skillful use [in the local television special] of hard chairs, lights and slow camera techniques showing `each movement as they squirmed about in their chairs, resembling rats trapped under scientific observation.' ") In Jackson, Miss., the government sabotage operation circulated leaflets claiming that King was only conducting his anti-poverty campaign for money and aggrandizement.
Attempts by the FBI to circulate tape-recorded evidence of King's extra-marital affairs placed the national press in a curious moral bind. Except for The Washington Post, which Branch says "buried" a cryptic reference to the material in a longer story, the national press refused to bite. That seems admirable in hindsight, but by refusing to publish what they knew about the FBI's smear tactics, the press was also preventing the agency's long pattern of abuse from being exposed. It would take another 10 years - by then, the lid had been blown off the sexual lives of public officials by revelations about John F. Kennedy - for the public to learn just how complete and lurid the FBI's campaign against King had been.
By the mid-1960s, there was no longer any pretense that the FBI was acting in the public interest in the civil rights arena. The agency seemed to exist solely to enforce the exaggerated bias and voyeurism of its director.
"The animus at the top of the FBI's political hierarchy was oblivious to law or the swells of public opinion," Branch writes. "Professionally, Director Hoover cultivated King as the fearsome dark symbol of the latest twentieth century threat to tranquility on Main Street America - succeeding immigrants, Depression gangsters, Nazis, and communists - but he also modified some of his strict bureaucratic regimen to vent a personal disparagement of King as a `burrhead.' "
The rules were bent even beyond that. Standard FBI practice called for the bureau to notify and then protect major public figures when they were threatened with violence. But during King's voter-rights crusade in Selma in 1965, Hoover ordered his agents "not to tell King anything" when the FBI learned of reports that gunmen from Detroit and Ku Klux Klan squads were hunting him down. The FBI confined its reporting of the threats on King's life to local law enforcement - the same Alabama cops who were attacking King's followers with nightsticks and tear gas.
Compared to this odious legacy, the warrantless eavesdropping on thousands of suspected terrorists - and whatever else the Bush administration has been up to - may seem relatively benign, or at least not as tasteless. But has the frantic rush to erect an apparatus of homeland security blinded us to similar abuses of power?
The publication of Branch's book this week at least reminds us that we must continue asking that question, for surely a connected legal thread runs from that tortured time to this one.
When the sworn protectors of the law evade the statutes, and then attempt to cover their tracks, there's always a reason - a hidden agenda they don't want us to see. Letting the White House get away with asserting broad presidential powers where none were conferred is just another way of saying that we've abandoned our commitment to being a society of laws.
surveillance then and now
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