Early NSA Spying Targets Included Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, U.S. Senators

Saturday, September 28, 2013
NSA target Sen. Howard Baker

Domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) is by no means a new development, what with recently declassified documents showing the agency spied on leading American figures who were critical of the Vietnam War.


The National Security Archive, an independent research institute based at George Washington University, published documents this week that revealed the agency spied on about 1,600 critics of the war, including Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, and U.S. Senators Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Howard Baker (R-Tennessee). Journalists were targeted as well, including New York Times reporter Tom Wicker, and Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald.


The NSA had refused to declassify the documents, but was finally forced to do so by order of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) following an initial request in 2006 and numerous subsequent appeals by the N.S. Archive.


The NSA surveillance consisted of accessing these individuals’ overseas phone calls, telexes and cables as part of a program called Operation Minaret, which was previously disclosed.


But until now, it wasn’t known whom specifically the NSA targeted.


The newly disclosed materials also reveal that NSA officials knew their spying was illegal and unconstitutional, but did it anyway.


Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake reported that the NSA document states: “Years later, the NSA lawyer who first looked at the procedural aspects stated that the people involved seemed to understand that the operation was disreputable if not outright illegal.”


Also, the head of the NSA at the time, Lew Allen, indicated that he was aware that the spying might represent a violation of Americans’ constitutional rights.


In realizing the agency had spied on senators Church and Baker, civil liberties expert Christopher H. Pyle wondered if such a thing could happen again with regards to lawmakers trying to keep tabs on the NSA and its collecting of phone call records of Americans.


“We still need more information about what happened then. But more critically, we need more information about what's happening now,” Pyle wrote in a statement, according to Common Dreams.


“These revelations raise the obvious question: If the NSA was targeting people like Sen. Frank Church, who were in a position to oversee the NSA—is that happening now? That is, are people like intelligence committee chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and other congressional leaders—who are supposed to be providing oversight themselves—compromised in some way by the NSA? If so, as seems quite certain from the recent Edward Snowden revelations, then how can they conduct genuine oversight of the NSA with their committees?” Pyle added.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

NSA Spied on MLK, US Senators and Other Vietnam War Critics, Documents Show (by Jacob, Chamberlain)

The NSA Used to Spy on MLK — and the Senator Who Forced It to Reform (by Philip Bump, Atlantic Wire)

Secret Cold War Documents Reveal NSA Spied on Senators (by Matthew M. Aid and William Burr, Foreign Policy)

"Disreputable if Not Outright Illegal": The National Security Agency versus Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Art Buchwald, Frank Church, et al. (by Matthew M. Aid and William Burr, National Security Archive)

Bipartisan Senate Bill Seeks to Rein in NSA Surveillance Powers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

25 Years Later, Senators who Helped Create Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Say It Now Does Opposite of Intended Purpose  (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Why is the FBI Still Hiding Information about the Assassination of Martin Luther King? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)         


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