State Surveillance

The FBI’s secret war on Martin Luther King

I am currently reading a book titled “Agents of Repression” written by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall. In the second chapter of the book, the authors provide details about the FBI’s ruthless campaign to destroy MLK.

The FBI began putting a “trash cover” on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) office; investigating King’s bank and charge accounts; instituting a bug in King’s office, looking for personal weaknesses among SCLC employees that could be used to win their cooperation with the Bureau; sending a forged letter in King’s name to SCLC contributors warning them that an IRS investigation was about to begin; and attempting to intensify a well-known mutual dislike of King and NAACP head Roy Wilkins.

A “trash cover” amounts to sifting through garbage discarded by the “suspect” in hopes of finding incriminating evidence.

SCLC accountant James A. Harrison was recruited to serve as a paid informant.

After all these attempts failed to derail the civil rights agenda, the FBI was forced to rely on tapes generated by an illegally placed bug in King’s room at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. during January of 1963, purportedly revealing him consorting with prostitutes.

Hoover (head of FBI) authorized COINTELPRO head William C. Sullivan to fabricate an anonymous letter urging MLK to commit suicide. This letter was packaged along with the highlights from the bugging tapes and mailed to King’s home address.

When this failed to force King to kill himself, the FBI escalated its efforts and offered a copy of the King surveillance tape to Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and two other newspapers. The newspapers refused to publish the transcripts of the King bugging tapes.

The book mentions that at the same time, the FBI was waging destabilizing campaigns against numerous other organizations including the “Catholic left network”, Students for a Democratic Society and the pacifist Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.

The bulk of the book deals with the FBI’s secret war of repression against the American Indian movement.

The book is published by South End Press.


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