This letter should be read and studied by everyone in the United States, only because it demonstrates exactly how much damage the intelligence community was willing to inflect on citizens —and when they (intelligence) latch on to a target, how far will they go to accomplish their mission.
The New York Times recently published a unreacted version of the famous “suicide letter” from the FBI to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The letter, recently discovered by historian and professor Beverly Gage. The anonymous letter was the result of the FBI’s comprehensive surveillance and harassment strategy called Cointelpro, the notorious program between the years 1956 and 1971, they (FBI) wanted to prevent the rise of a black “messiah.” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover vigorously disrupted the lives of black leaders such as Dr. King and others including the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and S.C.L.C-Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The strategy included bugging their homes hotel rooms, photographic surveillance, and physical observation of their daily movements by FBI agents.
Portions of the letter had been previously redacted. One of these portions contains a claim that the letter was written by another African-American:
“King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all us Negroes.” It goes on to say “We will now have to depend on our older leaders like Wilkins, a man of character and thank God we have others like him. But you are done.”
- This line is key, because part of the FBI’s strategy was to try to fracture movements and pit leaders against one another.
The newly unreacted portions shed light on the government’s bizarre plan to harass and discredit Dr. King. One paragraph states:
No person can overcome the facts, now even a fraud like yourself. Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure. You will find yourself and in all your dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk exposed on the record for all time. . . . Listen to yourself, you filthy, abnormal animal. You are on the record.
- And of course, the letter ends with an ominous threat:
“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). 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.”
There’s a lesson to learn here: history must play a central role in the debate around spying today. As Professor Gage states:
Should intelligence agencies be able to sweep our email, read our texts, track our phone calls, and locate us by GPS? Much of the conversation swirls around the possibility that agencies like the N.S.A. or the F.B.I. will use such information not to serve national security but to carry out personal and political vendettas. King’s experience reminds us that these are far from idle fears, conjured in the fevered minds of civil libertarians. They are based in the facts of history.
Today technology allows us better understanding of these strategies in the digital age are not so much surprising but sill disturbing nonetheless. What if the Facebook chats, porn viewing history, emails, were made public to discredit a leader who threatens the status quo, or used to extort a reluctant target into becoming an FBI informant? These are not far-fetched ideas. They are the reality of what happens when the surveillance state is allowed to grow out of control, and the full King letter, as well as current intelligence community practices illustrate that reality richly. (GLG)