The History Of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And The F.B.I.

[ Posted Monday, January 20th, 2014 – 18:41 UTC ]

Most years, I celebrate the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior's birthday by reprinting excerpts of his speeches, in an attempt to combat the continued watering-down of his legacy into nothing short of warm fuzzy memories that he was fighting for "equality" in some sort of non-confrontational way. You will be able to see this sort of gauzy, carefully-edited theme on just about any network news broadcast this evening, and it is a real shame because it ignores the radical positions King bravely took in life.

But this year, the focus really needs to be on how the federal government saw King. Most especially since, over the weekend, there was what seemed like a concerted effort by congressional Republicans to state (without a shred of evidence or facts to back it up) that Edward Snowden was somehow a sinister foreign agent of, perhaps... oh, I don't know... Russia? This sort of innuendo campaign is, sadly, not a recent development in American politics. Which brings us back to King, and J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I.

Almost immediately after Martin Luther King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Council (S.C.L.C.) in 1957, the F.B.I. began a trail of internal memos warning that the group was "a likely target for communist infiltration." Within a year, King had his own personal F.B.I. file. But it wasn't until 1962 that surveillance of King would be ratcheted up -- which was approved personally by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. By November of 1963, all of King's phones -- both at home and at the S.C.L.C.'s offices -- would be wiretapped.

Earlier that year, King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The head of the F.B.I.'s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) wrote, shortly after he heard this speech, "it may be unrealistic to limit [the F.B.I.'s actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees."

He might have been referring to actions the F.B.I. had already taken, in an attempt to smear King as a communist dupe. Propaganda (or disinformational "news stories") purporting to show the S.C.L.C.'s "communist connections" were peddled to five newspapers on October 24, 1962: the Long Island Star-Journal, the Augusta (GA) Chronicle, the Birmingham News, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the St. Louis Globe Democrat (where, amusingly enough, the reporter used to disseminate this propaganda was none other than Patrick J. Buchanan).

But the F.B.I. didn't truly go bonkers until the announcement, in October of 1964, that King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This unleashed a ferocious attempt to discredit King by whatever methods the F.B.I. could dream up. Two days after this announcement, a tape recording mashup was created, using edited highlights of recordings from the wiretaps on King's phones and electronic bugs the F.B.I. had installed in hotel rooms King had visited. This tape, full of "orgiastic" recordings showing "the depths of his sexual perversion and depravity" with prostitutes, was then used in a bizarre attempt to blackmail King into committing suicide. F.B.I. Assistant Director William C. Sullivan, the previously-mentioned head of COINTELPRO, dispatched operative Lish Whitson to Miami, where the package containing the tape would be mailed to King. Accompanying this package was the following letter (a full, unredacted version of this letter has never been publicly released, so please forgive the [...] interruptions):


In view of your low grade [...] I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII. [...]

King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes. White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don't have one at this time that is any where [sic] near your equal. You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God and act as you do. Clearly you don't believe in any personal moral principles.

King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile. We will now have to depend on our older leaders like [N.A.A.C.P. executive secretary Roy] Wilkins, a man of character and thank God we have others like him. But you are done. Your "honorary" degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.

No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself. Lend your ear to the enclosure. [...] exposed on the record for all time. I repeat -- no person can argue successfully against facts. You are finished. You will find on the record for all time [...] to your hideous abnormalities. [...] to pretend to be ministers of the Gospel. Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness. It is all there on the record, [...]. King you are done.

The American public, the church organizations that have been helping -- Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are -- an evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done.

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 [sic] (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant [sic]). 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 redactions in the first and fourth paragraphs are assumed to be graphic descriptions of sex from the accompanying tapes. The "34 days" refers to how much time King had before he would be formally presented with the Nobel Peace Prize.

King, of course, did not take the F.B.I.'s advice and commit suicide. So F.B.I. Associate Director Cartha D. "Deke" DeLoach tried to get news organizations interested, following through on the blackmail threat. He offered the transcripts to Newsweek (where Washington bureau chief Benjamin Bradlee turned him down), to the New York Times, to the Chicago Daily News, to the Los Angeles Times, to the Atlanta Constitution and other news organizations.

Even King's assassination didn't stop the F.B.I.'s campaign against him and his legacy. In 1969, the F.B.I. "furnished ammunition to conservatives to attack King's memory, and... tried to block efforts to honor the slain leader."

Thus were the American taxpayers' dollars put to use. A federal agency waged a campaign of disinformation, outright propaganda, blackmail, psychological warfare, and smear tactics against a civil rights leader. The Federal Bureau of Investigation even considered convening "a meeting of Negro leaders" to convince them "on a highly confidential basis" that King should be removed as a national civil rights leader (referred to as making such other leaders "see the light of day"). The stated goal of such a meeting: "This group should include such leadership as would be capable of removing King from the scene if they, of their own volition, decided that this was the thing to do after such a briefing."

This was all approved at the highest levels of the federal government -- the executive branch, in specific. It went on during the terms of two Republican and two Democratic presidencies. Such abuses of power were not solely targeted at King, but were commonplace against any person or group the F.B.I. decided was "subversive," or, in King's case, a threat to "the established order" in the United States.

Of course, such things couldn't happen today. Members of the government would never make unsupported allegations against an American of some sort of shadowy foreign allegiance in public -- and the media certainly wouldn't go along for the ride. Also, in these enlightened times, spying on American citizens could never be a force for anything but the purest goodwill, and would never ever be misused in any way shape or form.

What makes me reflect deeply, on this Martin Luther King Day, is that I bet if you made these sorts of statements to the average American-on-the-street in 1964, they would have wholeheartedly agreed. Because the public simply had no idea of what was going on, back then. Those of us who know our history, however, just don't have that excuse today.


[Note: Most of the information and quotations cited in this article can all be found in the very informative book The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall. The section on King can be found on pages 94 to 113, in the chapter "COINTELPRO -- Black Liberation Movement," and in the endnotes on pages 350 through 354 (South End Press Classics Series, Second Edition, South End Press, Cambridge, MA, Copyright 1990 and 2002). The anonymous F.B.I. letter to King now exists in several versions (from, assumably, different Freedom Of Information Act requests), with varying degrees of blacked-out redacted text. I have provided a composite of these to show the most-complete version of this letter possible.]

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


45 Comments on “The History Of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And The F.B.I.”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    But it wasn't until 1962 that surveillance of King would be ratcheted up -- which was approved personally by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. By November of 1963, all of King's phones -- both at home and at the S.C.L.C.'s offices -- would be wiretapped.

    Do you know the reasons behind Attorney General Kennedy's acquiescence to the wiretapping of Dr. King and why he felt compelled to take that action?

    I don't know a lot about it but I think it may be worth a column in and of itself.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ...over the weekend, there was what seemed like a concerted effort by congressional Republicans to state that Edward Snowden was somehow a sinister foreign agent ... This sort of innuendo campaign is, sadly, not a recent development in American politics. Which brings us back to King, and J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I.

    The impact of Snowden's NSA disclosures will be debated and argued for a very long time, undoubtedly. I would suggest that, while Snowden may have accelerated the process of reviewing NSA practices, there were enough checks and balances in place that the surveillance programs he exposed, along with any continuing abuses, would have come to light, in some fashion or other.

    I have a hard time viewing Snowden as anything more than a thief, first and foremost, and a defector, in the final analysis. So, while it is good to reflect on how the US government and FBI viewed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I wouldn't go so far as to suggest any linkage whatsoever with the Snowden affair.

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:


    People tend to forget that JFK took a very hardline against communism. In the '60s, civil rights activists were tarred with being closeted communists or at best communist sympathizers. RFK was covering his brothers political flank. JFK had a question about MLK's deep affiliations, and he took a hard line approach to find the answer.

  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:


    There has never been a convincing explanation for why Snowden, a junior analyst, with middling to dubious educational credentials was granted so much access to classified material. Was he really an IT genius (as some accounts would have it) or just a competent hacker/self promoting BSer given the keys to the candy store? Does NSA not understand compartmentalization? Oversight? Vetting?

    Why is Booze Allen Hamilton still getting government contracts? Well, I have to admit, I think I know the answer to that one. Connections.

  5. [5] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    I've never been one of the conspiracy believers,as it seems to me that,it just takes too many "in the know" to make any conspiracy work,that said I will take all who read this back to circa 1968. As a sixteen-ish lad I read an article about the hunt for James Earl Ray,at the time no matter this individual struck me as a dim bulb with little schooling, a bad combination to become an international fugitive from justice,and yet no one at the time brought this up as I recall. One thing for sure at the time J.E.Hoover and "his" organization were untouchable by any agency. It is only after his death that we get to view him and his manifest evil.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    My understanding is that JFK couldn't afford to be weighed down with the "soft on communism" moniker as that would have very negatively impacted his progressive agenda, foreign and domestic.

    And, then there was Hoover and the havoc that the FBI director could wreak on Kennedy and his administration.

    The only point I wanted to make is that RFK approved the wiretapping of Dr. King not because he wanted to do it but because he "had" to do it.

    I also see the point that Chris is making in view of the Snowden disclosures but linking abuse of power by the Attorney General's office in the Kennedy administration to the potential for government abuse in what Snowden disclosed is a bridge too far for me.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    There has never been a convincing explanation for why Snowden, a junior analyst, with middling to dubious educational credentials was granted so much access to classified material.

    You raise a very salient point ... and a very good question about Booze Allen Hamilton.

    One might think that one of the reforms of these NSA programs might involve ensuring that a person in Snowden's position - non-government employee and junior analyst, at that - would not have the kind of access he persists in saying he had.

    We might also take it a step or two further and ask why are there so many contractors working for the government, especially for agencies like the CIA and NSA. There are many factors involved in the answer to this question. Fodder for another full on column, in fact!

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Well, I'm glad you brought that up. I don't like to be the first one anymore to broach the subject of the King and Kennedy assassinations and question the official story.

    My view on this is that anyone who has studied those assassinations and who also maintains a high regard for the truth understands that the official story on these events leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the truth of the matter.

    I would also say that, over the years, any honest attempt to reveal the truth of these events is automatically labeled and promptly dismissed as a conspiracy theory. That is quite a convenient, if not well conceived, circumstance for those who would work to hide the truth.

    And, I would have to disagree with the assertion that ... it just takes too many "in the know" to make any conspiracy work .... While I agree that is true in the majority of conspiracy theories (which is why it is so easy to label all conspiracy theorist as kooks and cranks) it is not necessarily a truism if the conspiracy is hatched at the very top echelon of a power structure by very few people who are in a position to orchestrate the actions of others who become merely unwitting players in the conspiracy.

  9. [9] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    Conspiracies as a rule don't work out well for the conspirators,there are just too many weak links in the chain,there is usually someone in that chain who just cannot keep their mouth shut,for whatever reason,that is why the "smoking gun" almost always turns out to be a "wet squib". Having spent a great deal of my life as a gambler,I rarely put my trust in my fellow human beings.I think the proof of the insecurity of conspiracies would be our first assassination of President Lincoln,the actors in this tragedy unraveled quickly because the actors were a genuine conspiracy. I await the incontrovertible smoking gun.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think that the "incontrovertible smoking gun" is not necessary to an understanding of what the truth is and what it is not.

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM [1] -

    Two things. (1) the accusations of communist ties were about as ugly, back then, as being accused of being an Al Qaeda sympathizer would be today. (2) Hoover had the goods on everybody, up to and including JFK. Very few people in Washington would stand up to him in anything he wanted. Keep this in mind.

    [2] -

    You're probably right, it's a stretch to link Snowden with MLK in any way. But the subject was on my mind, after the Sunday shows.

    TheStig [3] -

    Exactly. And the civil rights movement was called communist by the FBI for years.

    [4] -

    Technically, if he had root access to their system, he had unlocked the candy store. He could access anything. I don't know all the technical details, but I believe this is how he said he got the access, simply by getting a root user password.

    Americulchie [5] -

    I still think it is a travesty that there is a building in DC named for Hoover. But I've heard their lease is up and the FBI headquarters may be moving. Hope they have the good sense to pick a better name for their next building.

    LizM [6] -

    See, there, we agree. You just made the same defense as I made in my first response to you, above.

    [8] -

    I don't believe every conspiracy theory, but then again I don't believe everything the government tells me either. There are still classified records on the JFK assassination. Why? What possible reason could they have for still keeping secrets, 50 years later? That sort of thing still makes me wonder what the feds knew about all sorts of issues.


  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I'm guessing that the still classified records in the JFK assassination will not reveal any secrets that shed light on what happened on November 22, 1963 - before, during or (most importantly to my mind) after the assassination.

  13. [13] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "I believe this is how he said he got the access, simply by getting a root user password."


    The principle of "close enough for government work" applied to critical data base security?

    Or did NSA just give out root user passwords as Cracker Jack prizes?

    Any way you slice it, it looks like passing yourself off as a genius to NSA might not be as hard as you might first imagine.

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    Getting from the US to Hong Kong (while harder than most people would think for someone in Snowden's position) is not what is suspicious..

    Getting from Hong Kong to Russia while the ENTIRE WORLD'S attention is focused on Snowden??

    No way he could do that on his own..

    Sure he planned. But NO plan survives contact with the enemy..

    He had help. No two ways about it..

    And the only entity capable of bringing competent help to bear on the fly is a government entity..

    The fact that Snowden ended up in Russia is a pretty good indicator of which government entity we are talking about...


  15. [15] 
    TheStig wrote:

    M (14)

    Snowden was helped by Russia at some point, but the important question is whether that help began before or after his arrival in Hong Kong. In plain language, was Snowden a Russian operative while he was working at NSA?

  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    In plain language, was Snowden a Russian operative while he was working at NSA?

    While possible, there isn't any evidence to support such a claim as absolute...

    But there is no doubt in my mind that the FSB saw a "target of opportunity" and facilitated Snowden's flight from HK to Moscow...

    To deny Russia was involved in Snowden's escape from HK is to deny reality..

    The claim that Snowden was working for Russia all along is not supported by any evidence.

    By the same token, it cannot be ruled out either.. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence..


  17. [17] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    It is interesting to me that people are still talking about the unlamented Snowden. To my mind Snowden is neither a hero,nor a villain.Funny how the MSM is beating this horse to death,all one had to be is a little aware of our history,it has long been known that our government has been invested in "signal intelligence". If anyone has an interest I would recommend reading America's Black Chamber" Herbert O.Yardley,he should be considered America's first "whistle blower",unlike Snowden, Yardley was a remarkable person, he helped break the Japanese diplomatic code for us,and wrote the first bible of poker players,which is how I came to know of him.

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    It is interesting to me that people are still talking about the unlamented Snowden. To my mind Snowden is neither a hero,nor a villain.Funny how the MSM is beating this horse to death,all one had to be is a little aware of our history,it has long been known that our government has been invested in "signal intelligence".

    Snowden's villainy doesn't come from confirming what rational people intellectually know...

    It comes from giving specifics about specific programs and allowing our enemies to develop effective counter-measures..


  19. [19] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    Please the "knowledge" has been out "there"
    for the longest time.I am not saying that
    Snowden doesn't deserve some comeupence,
    in fact living in Russia is I think
    comeupence enough,may the CPU look out
    for him.It looks to me that he won't be
    doing the Cannes Film Festival,hanging
    with "hot babes"anytime soon.

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    So, what you are saying, then, is that what Snowden has disclosed was common knowledge?

    I'm completely with Michale on this one. I just wanted to say that because it gives me a warm feeling all over ... :)

    Because, it's such a rarity, you know ...

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:


    I am making a distinction between general intellectual knowledge and specific details about specific programs..

    For me, personally, Snowden's "revelations" weren't anything surprising... But that's because of my background in the field..

    It's one thing to say, "Oh the government listens in on phone calls" and it's quite another to be confronted with factual evidence of the VOLUME of calls and data the government accesses...

    Put another way...

    If you were back in the 50s, it would be one thing to know, intellectually, that the government performs wiretaps, complete with sweaty guys in white t-shirts chomping on cigars and having their ears pressed to old style headphones.....

    It would be quite a different thing to find them in YOUR basement..


    In other words, the Left deluded themselves into thinking that Obama was not as bad as Bush...

    Snowden smashed that delusion to smithereens...


    I'm completely with Michale on this one.

    I do believe that Hell hath froze over.. :D


  22. [22] 
    Americulchie wrote:

    To be completely clear{as much as I despise
    the term},it may not be "common" knowledge
    but for those of us who have a background
    in communications,there is plenty of
    literature and software that if one has
    an interest of wreaking havoc,it is not
    difficult,I'm sure the PRC and Russia have
    legions exploring the weakness' of the
    intertubes.Suffice it to say Snowden
    bit off more than the rat knew.

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Suffice it to say Snowden
    bit off more than the rat knew.

    That goes without saying, as much as I hate to use that phrase. :)

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I do believe that Hell hath froze over.. :D

    Again! Chalk it up to climate change ...

  25. [25] 
    Michale wrote:

    Again! Chalk it up to climate change ...

    Oh don't get me started!! :D

    I have to close my shop tomorrow and Fri because of temps in the high 20s...

    Brrrrrrr... That's cold.. Even for me! :D


  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  27. [27] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM -

    I dunno. They used the excuse "we're keeping this stuff private in respect to the Kennedy family." Until Teddy Kennedy personally spoke out and said "the family's fine with releasing anything you've got."

    That was back in the 1990s, but they still haven't released the material. Makes you wonder...

    But then the JFK assassination is the motherlode of conspiracy theories...


    TheStig [13] -

    I saw an interview with an ex-Obama CIA guy, or maybe NSC guy, and he stated unequivocally: "Snowden could easily have done this alone, and we have absolutely no proof he had any help at all."

    He also stated that they had no idea of what Snowden took. They knew what he had access to, but not what he took. This, to me, speaks of a root user (or "superuser") at work.

    Michale [14] -

    Nobody's denying he had help once he got to Hong Kong. It's obvious, as you say. But by that point, his passport had been revoked by the US (with no court proceeding whatsoever). What the pols (I heard even DiFi was expounding this, so I can't pin it all on the GOP) were suggesting this Sunday is that he had Russian (?) help BEFORE he started downloading files.

    That's a cat of a different color, as I believe you'll agree.

    TheStig [15] -


    Michale [16] -

    Aha! You do agree! Man, I love it when these things work out before I even comment...


    Americulchie [17] -

    OK, that sounds like a fascinating book, I will check it out. Did he have anything to do with the Yamamoto targeting?

    I'm not sure where Snowden falls on the hero-traitor scale, but he was definitely a whistle-blower, and those that argue otherwise are just baffling to me.

    [19] -

    Ah, but he may pop up in Sochi...


    LizM -

    Goodness gracious! You and Michale are in agreement?

    OK, I have to sit down now.


    Michale -

    You may be right. I think Satan's having a snowball fight right now...


    As for the weather, I went out today in a T-shirt and shorts. Chew on that, all you non-Californians.

    Heh. We have to get the value out here of our overpriced rents and mortgages SOMEhow...



  28. [28] 
    Michale wrote:

    As for the weather, I went out today in a T-shirt and shorts. Chew on that, all you non-Californians.

    Hay, yer talking to a guy who can go to the beach on Xmas day in shorts and a tank top!! :D

    But like I said, low 30s is just too cold, even for me..

    Unless there is snow to play in, that kind of cold is just useless...

    My oldest son is up in Alaska and it's actually warmer there then it is here in FL.. :D


  29. [29] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I'm not sure where Snowden falls on the hero-traitor scale, but he was definitely a whistle-blower, and those that argue otherwise are just baffling to me.

    I've always equated whistle-blowing with exposing government wrongdoing and abuse of power.

    Where were the Assanges and Snowdens of the world during the Bush administration. There, I guess that is what really sticks in my craw, I fully admit.

  30. [30] 
    TheStig wrote:


    A lot of well informed sources suggest Snowden used just a root password and a thumb drive. Having worked (back in the Reagan days)for a contractor very much like Booz Allen, I shake my head and I can't say I'm completely surprised. I saw a lot of classified material floating around various facilities, poorly guarded and poorly audited. Much, if not most of the stuff I saw didn't deserve to be classified, which made it all the harder to secure the genuinely sensitive nuggets.

    This was all back in the day before the Internet As We Know It, when the smallest portable data storage was a 3.5 floppy. "Oopsies" were pretty common, you're wearing your badge, the security folks know you, and you'd walk through a checkpoint with a floppy you forgot was in your pocket. You only find out when you get back home and change clothes. Very Loosey Goosey, because everybody is basically on autopilot.

    I doubt the culture has changed much, even if storage and transmission technology has.

    Bottom line, nobody should be surprised about NSA programs like PRISM, given open source info about the Utah Data Center capabilities. Snowden has embarrassed US national security much more than he has compromised it.

  31. [31] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  32. [32] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  33. [33] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Snowden's actions have done far more damage than you may think.

    From a geopolitical point of view, his indiscriminate disclosures have seriously disrupted and impeded President Obama's ability to effectively execute foreign policy and conduct international relations, with wide-ranging and long-lasting negative impacts.

  34. [34] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM [31,32] -

    Having trouble posting comments?


  35. [35] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Just a bit but, it looks like everything is OK now.

    Heh. Imagine ... me having trouble posting comments. When have I not ... :)

  36. [36] 
    Michale wrote:

    Snowden's actions have done far more damage than you may think.

    Liz speaks to facts..

    A country that is not able to have any secrets is a country that will last exactly one day..

    We elect our leaders so they can make decisions based on information we cannot and don't want to know..

    Ya'all elected Obama..

    Now ya'all don't trust him to do the right thing??

    For the record, I made the exact same argument during the Bush Administration....


  37. [37] 
    Michale wrote:

    Ya'all elected Obama..

    To be more accurate, "WE'ALL" elected Obama....

    Yea, I do have to own up to my responsibility for the mess we have..


  38. [38] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Liz, (33)

    Snowden was pretty discriminating in terms of what he released. It has serious political implications, both geopolitical and national, but what I've seen is mostly making politicians nervous, because they have to publicly acknowledge what they have privately known all along, or at strongly suspected.

    NSA collects huge amounts of data, and it has a very broad interpretation of what constitutes the public:private boundary. Congress has known this, but has chosen to sit on it. The Supreme more or less the same. Who was the intended audience for those leaked Power Point Slides? The gossipy cables? My first guess would be government officials and politicians, at home and abroad. The guys generating and using the important secrets don't need this marginal crap.

    A dirty little secret among intelligence analysts is that highly restricted, compartmentalized information (and analysis based on such info) is frequently very unreliable, simply because it's narrowly vetted by a small community of specialists subject to group think. By its nature, it cannot benefit from the wisdom of crowds that free form public debate produces. I heard a very fine public talk on this subject by a senior cryptologist a few years ago.

    So, there is a tension here. Some secrets are vital, like codes, or real time operational plans.
    Some are just a form of politeness. Snowden seems to have been aware of it, and factored it into his data dump. History may judge him kindly, or not. I'm conflicted, but not in a panic. We could certainly use a better outlet for whistle blowers, but I'm not sure what that would be.

  39. [39] 
    TheStig wrote:

    RE 38

    Whitfield Diffie

    That was the cryptologist.

  40. [40] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Well, Snowden's "document dump" appeared pretty indiscriminate to me and his actions before the public release, and since, do not, I think, betray an understanding of the geopolitical implications of his disclosures.

  41. [41] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    So, you see Snowden as a whistleblower, then?

    What unfettered government abuse of power did he expose?

  42. [42] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Liz (40,41)

    Yes, I see Snowden as a whistleblower. His motivation seems to be to attract the attention of a referee.He didn't so much reveal as to further confirm certain practices. These practices raise serious concerns to many people.

    1) NSA treats all forms of electronic communications as publicly broadcast information, like radio waves. This would in fact be NSA's best constitutional defense - US citizens should have no reasonable expectation that communication over commercial electronic networks is private. This is very much an open Constitutional Question that the Supremes probably wish would go away.

    2) NSA enlists the "cooperation" of network providers to obtain raw data. It seems likely this cooperation is coerced.

    3) There is virtually no direct judicial oversight of this data collection/storage/analysis process. NSA, an insular, secret agency mostly polices itself.

    4) NSA works to undermine encryption protocols to make surveillance easier.

    5) Our allies cooperate with NSA, there is a lot of data sharing in all directions.

    6) NSA is using network (link) analysis to establish suspicion by association. If somebody is secretly put on say, a no fly list, this becomes guilt and punishment by association. The person so identified will only find out when/he she tries to board an airplane.

    Foreign governments have found it politically expedient to be shocked. Congress has found it politically expedient to be shocked.

  43. [43] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    It seems that you are making the big leap that so many others are in equating the collection of telephony metadata to the content of phone calls.

    Snowden uncovered no unfettered government abuse of power, as far as I can tell. And, since you didn't highlight any, you must agree.

  44. [44] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Liz M (43)

    From what Snowden (and other sources) have revealed (to date) it would be up to the Supreme Court to decide if there has been an abuse of power.

    NSA is not simply collecting meta data - it's demanding and getting at least some access to full communications as well. The sheer size of the Utah facility indicates storage of more than just meta data. Network providers store more than just meta data, and NSA demands and gets access to their files.

    This is bumping 1st Amendment protections pretty hard by chilling speech, press and association. Likewise 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Have lines been crossed?

    I'm not one of those sorts who claims 1st and 4th rights are absolute, and courts have never held this view. In practice, the US Constitution is every bit as "unwritten" as the British Constitution. The US Constitution isn't just the little pamphlet that fits in your back pocket, its all the arguments and decisions about real world law handed down over the last 250 years or so. The Constitution is ultimately what the Supreme Court interprets, and the Court can change it's mind.

    What troubles me is the lack of independent oversight of NSA, combined new practices not covered by precedents. Lack of oversight is what leads to abuse. Prevention is better than remedial treatment.

    Good government means making hard calls.
    Obama's blue ribbon panel gave a thoughtful and balanced set of NSA reforms. Every one of them should be adopted.

    Signals Intelligence is important. It played a decisive roll in the Battle of Midway. It was decisive in defeating the German U boat threat. That said, the power has to be controlled to meet new threats and new technologies.

  45. [45] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Two final thoughts ...

    Edward Snowden is not a "whistle blower" in the sense that no government abuse was uncovered. Full stop.

    Secondly, I can't remember what the second thing was ...

    Oh, yeah ... with regard to the collection of telephony meta data, the contents of phone calls are only being listened to after an appropriate search warrant has been produced and this has happened extremely infrequently.

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