Calling Dr King & COINTELPRO: Domestic military intel operations: Pentagon wants ya credit cards, citizen! Shady domestic martia

"...since we don't really know all that they did, we have no way of knowing the ways that they affected us."

--Ralph McGill, 60s civil rights organizer

"The fine Hotel Lorraine in Memphis is owned and patronized exclusively by Negroes but King didn't go there for his hasty exit [from the protest]."

--FBI Domestic Intelligence Division 'information operation' offered to cooperative media outlets - March 29,1968

Lorraine Motel - April 4, 1968


NOTE: As someone who occasionally participates in protests involving military recruiting stations, (and occasionally photographs the events) I feel a twinge of anxiety from contemplating that the freedom of this basic peaceful political gesture is the subject of military intelligence interest, via the CounterIntelligence Field Activity and TALON systems. The systems of rationality that inform this military project resemble COINTELPRO and MKULTRA – domestic political interference from the highest political and military echelons.

Here is the intersection between national security and social protest - the gradient between the state and the society. Here is where dissent goes into the hardest core of force - the Pentagon.

In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, we first present the following excerpt from the Church Commission, which examined the excesses of American intelligence in the early 1970s. There is far more to this report, but this should introduce the matter:








APRIL 23 (under authority of the order of April 14), 1976



From December 1963 until his death in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to "neutralize" him as an effective civil rights leader. In the words of the man in charge of the FBI's "war" against Dr. King:

No holds were barred. We have used [similar] techniques against Soviet agents. [The same methods were] brought home against any organization against which we were targeted. We did not differentiate. This is a rough, tough business. 1

The FBI collected information about Dr. King's plans and activities through an extensive surveillance program, employing nearly every intelligence-gathering technique at the Bureau's disposal. Wiretaps, which were initially approved by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, were maintained on Dr. King's home telephone from October 1963 until mid-1965; the SCLC headquarter's telephones were covered by wiretaps for an even longer period. Phones in the homes and offices of some of Dr. King's close advisers were also wiretapped. The FBI has acknowledged 16 occasions on which microphones were hidden in Dr. King's hotel and motel rooms in an "attempt" to obtain information about the "private activities of King and his advisers" for use to "completely discredit" them. 2

FBI informants in the civil rights movement and reports from field offices kept the Bureau's headquarters informed of developments in the civil rights field. The FBI's presence was so intrusive that one major figure in the civil rights movement testified that his colleagues referred to themselves as members of "the FBI's golden record club." 3

The FBI's formal program to discredit Dr. King with Government officials began with the distribution of a "monograph" which the FBI realized could "be regarded as a personal attack on Martin Luther King," 4 and which was subsequently described by a Justice Department official as "a personal diatribe ... a personal attack without evidentiary support." 5

Congressional leaders were warned "off the record" about alleged dangers posed by Reverend King. The FBI responded to Dr. King's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize by attempting to undermine his reception by foreign heads of state and American ambassadors in the countries that be planned to visit. When Dr. King returned to the United States, steps were taken to reduce support for a huge banquet and a special "day" that were being planned in his honor.

The FBI's program to destroy Dr. King as the leader of the civil rights movement entailed attempts to discredit him with churches, universities, and the press. Steps were taken to attempt to convince the National Council of Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, and leading Protestant ministers to halt financial support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and to persuade them that "Negro leaders should completely isolate King and remove him from the role he is now occupying in civil rights activities." 6 When the FBI learned that Dr. King intended to visit the Pope, an agent was dispatched to persuade Francis Cardinal Spellman to warn the Pope about "the likely embarrassment that may result to the Pope should he grant King an audience." 7 The FBI sought to influence universities to withhold honorary degrees from Dr. King. Attempts were made to prevent the publication of articles favorable to Dr. King and to find "friendly" news sources that would print unfavorable articles. The FBI offered to play for reporters tape recordings allegedly made from microphone surveillance of Dr. King's hotel rooms.

The FBI mailed Dr. King a tape recording made from its microphone coverage. According to the Chief of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division, the tape was intended to precipitate a separation between Dr. King and his wife in the belief that the separation would reduce Dr. King's stature. 7a The tape recording was accompanied by a note which Dr. King and his advisers interpreted as a threat to release the tape recording unless Dr. King committed suicide. The FBI also made preparations to promote someone "to assume the role of leadership of the Negro people when King has been completely discredited." 8

The campaign against Dr. King included attempts to destroy the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by cutting off its sources of funds. The FBI considered, and on some occasions executed, plans to cut off the support of some of the SCLC's major contributors, including religious organizations, a labor union, and donors of grants such as the Ford Foundation. One FBI field office recommended that the FBI send letters to the SCLC's donors over Dr. King's forged signature warning them that the SCLC was under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS files on Dr. King and the SCLC were carefully scrutinized for financial irregularities. For over a year, the FBI unsuccessfully attempted to establish that Dr. King had a secret foreign bank account in which he was sequestering funds.

The FBI campaign to discredit and destroy Dr. King was marked by extreme personal vindictiveness. As early as 1962, Director Hoover penned on an FBI memorandum, "King is no good." 9 At the August 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King told the country of his dream that "all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm free at last."' 10 The FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division described this "demagogic speech" as yet more evidence that Dr. King was "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country." 11 Shortly afterward, Time magazine chose Dr. King as the "Man of the Year," an honor which elicited Director Hoover's comment that "they had to dig deep in the garbage to come up with this one." 12 Hoover wrote "astounding" across the memorandum informing him that Dr. King had been granted an audience with the Pope despite the FBI's efforts to prevent such a meeting. The depth of Director Hoover's bitterness toward Dr. King, a bitterness which he had effectively communicated to his subordinates in the FBI, was apparent from the FBI's attempts to sully Dr. King's reputation long after his death. Plans were made to "brief" congressional leaders in 1969 to prevent the passage of a "Martin Luther King Day." In 1970, Director Hoover told reporters that Dr. King was the "last one in the world who should ever have received" the Nobel Peace Prize. 13

The extent to which Government officials outside of the FBI must bear responsibility for the FBI's campaign to discredit Dr. King is not clear. Government officials outside of the FBI were not aware of most of the specific FBI actions to discredit Dr. King. Officials in the Justice Department and White House were aware, however, that the FBI was conducting an intelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation, of Dr. King; that the FBI had written authorization from the Attorney General to wiretap Dr. King and the SCLC offices in New York and Washington; and that the FBI reports on Dr. King contained considerable information of a political and personal nature which was "irrelevant and spurious" to the stated reasons for the investigation. 14 Those high executive branch officials were also aware that the FBI was disseminating vicious characterizations of Dr. King within the Government; that the FBI had tape recordings embarrassing to Dr. King which it had offered to play to a White House official and to reporters; and that the FBI had offered to "leak" to reporters highly damaging accusations that some of Dr. King's advisers were communists. Although some of those officials did ask top FBI officials about these charges, they did not inquire further after receiving false denials. In light of what those officials did know about the FBI's conduct toward Dr. King, they were remiss in falling to take appropriate steps to curb the Bureau's behavior. To the extent that their neglect permitted the Bureau's activities to go on unchecked, those officials must share responsibility for what occurred. The FBI now agrees that its efforts to discredit Dr. King were unjustified. The present Deputy Associate Director (Investigation) testified:

Mr. Adams. There were approximately twenty-five incidents of actions taken [to discredit Dr. King] ... I see no statutory basis or no basis of justification for the activity.

The CHAIRMAN. Was Dr. King, in his advocacy of equal rights for black citizens, advocating a course of action that in the opinion of the FBI constituted a crime?

Mr. ADAMS. No, sir.

The CHAIRMAN. He was preaching non-violence was he not, as a method of achieving equal rights for black citizens?

Mr. ADAMS. That's right ... Now as far as the activities which you are asking about, the discrediting, I know of no basis for that and I will not attempt to justify it. 15

The FBI conducted its investigation of Dr. King and the SCLC under an FBI manual provision -- called COMINFIL -- permitting the investigation of legitimate noncommunist organizations, suspected by the FBI of having been infiltrated by communists, to determine the extent, if any, of communist influence. The FBI's investigation was based on its concern that Dr. King was being influenced by two persons -- hereinafter referred to as Adviser A and Adviser B -- that the Bureau believed were members of the Communist Party.

All around disturbing news about the creeping erosion of Posse Comitatus restrictions on domestic military activity - combined with data mining, non-warranted collection of financial data and information on domestic dissidents. This is connected to the TALON database that recently was caught with Military Intelligence activity monitoring antiwar demonstrations. Under the rubric of 'force protection' of military bases, the Pentagon feels rather entitled to scan deep into the society it is supposed to defend (as opposed to spy upon).

NY Times story outlines Pentagon financial scanning:

Military Is Expanding Its Intelligence Role in U.S....

Some national security experts and civil liberties advocates are troubled by the C.I.A. and military taking on domestic intelligence activities, particularly in light of recent disclosures that the Counterintelligence Field Activity office had maintained files on Iraq war protesters in the United States in violation of the military’s own guidelines. Some experts say the Pentagon has adopted an overly expansive view of its domestic role under the guise of “force protection,” or efforts to guard military installations.

“There’s a strong tradition of not using our military for domestic law enforcement,” said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, a former general counsel at both the National Security Agency and the C.I.A. who is the dean at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific. “They’re moving into territory where historically they have not been authorized or presumed to be operating.”

Similarly, John Radsan, an assistant general counsel at the C.I.A. from 2002 to 2004 and now a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, said, “The C.I.A. is not supposed to have any law enforcement powers, or internal security functions, so if they’ve been issuing their own national security letters, they better be able to explain how they don’t cross the line.”

The Pentagon’s expanded intelligence-gathering role, in particular, has created occasional conflicts with other federal agencies. Pentagon efforts to post American military officers at embassies overseas to gather intelligence for counterterrorism operations or future war plans has rankled some State Department and C.I.A. officials, who see the military teams as duplicating and potentially interfering with the intelligence agency.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has complained about military officials dealing directly with local police — rather than through the bureau — for assistance in responding to possible terrorist threats against a military base. F.B.I. officials say the threats have often turned out to be uncorroborated and, at times, have stirred needless anxiety.

The military’s frequent use of national security letters has sometimes caused concerns from the businesses receiving them, a counterterrorism official said. Lawyers at financial institutions, which routinely provide records to the F.B.I. in law enforcement investigations, have contacted bureau officials to say they were confused by the scope of the military’s requests and whether they were obligated to turn the records over, the official said.

.........While the [national security] letters typically have been used to trace the financial transactions of military personnel, they also have been used to investigate civilian contractors and people with no military ties who may pose a threat to the military, officials said. Military officials say they regard the letters as one of the least intrusive means to gather evidence. When a full investigation is opened, one official said, it has now become “standard practice” to issue such letters.

One prominent case in which letters were used to obtain financial records, according to two military officials, was that of a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who was suspected in 2003 of aiding terror suspects imprisoned at the facility. The espionage case against the chaplain, James J. Yee, soon collapsed.

Eugene Fidell, a defense lawyer for the former chaplain and a military law expert, said he was unaware that military investigators may have used national security letters to obtain financial information about Mr. Yee, nor was he aware that the military had ever claimed the authority to issue the letters.

Mr. Fidell said he found the practice “disturbing,” in part because the military does not have the same checks and balances when it comes to Americans’ civil rights as does the F.B.I. “Where is the accountability?” he asked. “That’s the evil of it — it doesn’t leave fingerprints.”

Even when a case is closed, military officials said they generally maintain the records for years because they may be relevant to future intelligence inquiries. Officials at the Pentagon’s counterintelligence unit say they plan to incorporate those records into a database, called Portico, on intelligence leads. The financial documents will not be widely disseminated, but limited to investigators, an intelligence official said.

“You don’t want to destroy something only to find out that the same guy comes up in another report and you don’t know that he was investigated before,” the official said.

The Counterintelligence Field Activity office, created in 2002 to better coordinate the military’s efforts to combat foreign intelligence services, has drawn criticism for some domestic intelligence activities.

The agency houses an antiterrorist database of intelligence tips and threat reports, known as Talon, which had been collecting information on antiwar planning meetings at churches, libraries and other locations. The Defense Department has since tightened its procedures for what kind of information is allowed into the Talon database, and the counterintelligence office also purged more than 250 incident reports from the database that officials determined should never have been included because they centered on lawful political protests by people opposed to the war in Iraq.

This whole case is alarming for a lot of reasons. If you don't get why this is scary go surf PrisonPlanet for a while. I have some other links directly related to this stuff but I think it stands by itself.

Let us return to the Church Commission's report on King.....

B. COINTELPRO Operations Against Dr. King and His Associates

The FBI elevated its activities against Dr. King and his associates to the status of formal counterintelligence programs (COINTELPRO) during this period. 428 In July 1966, the Director instructed the New York field office that "immediate steps should be taken to discredit, expose, or otherwise neutralize Adviser A's role as a clandestine communist." 429 An agent was assigned full-time to "carefully review the [Adviser A] case file seeking possible counterintelligence approaches." He reported that there was no derogatory information on Adviser A's personal life, 430 and that the only "effective way to neutralize [him] is by public exposure" of his alleged Communist Party associations. 431 None of the FBI's efforts against Adviser A appear to have met success.

The FBI considered initiating a formal COINTELPRO to discredit Dr. King and Dr. Benjamin Spock in May 1967 when rumors developed concerning the possibility that King and Spock might run as "peace" candidates in the 1968 presidential election. The New York field office recommended postponing the effort to expose "communist connections" of persons associated with King and Spock until they had formally announced their candidacy. 432 The Chicago field office proposed waiting until the summer of 1968, reasoning that by then the Administration would have either resolved the Vietnam conflict or, if not, the Communist Party would be emphasizing the peace theme, and exposure of Communist Party links with the King-Spock campaign "would doubtlessly be appreciated by the Administration." 433 While the Chicago field office felt that the Bureau should not "rule out" the use of "flyers, leaflets, cards and bumper stickers" to discredit the King-Spock ticket, it recommended "the use of a political columnist or reporter for this purpose." 434 Apparently no steps were taken to implement the plan.

In August 1967 the Bureau initiated a COINTELPRO captioned "Black Nationalist-Hate Groups." This program is extensively described in the Staff Report on COINTELPRO. The document initiating the program states:

The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black-nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder.

Intensified attention under this program should be afforded to the activities of such groups as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Revolutionary Action Movement, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, Congress of Racial Equality, and the Nation of Islam. [Emphasis added.] 435

The Domestic Intelligence Division expanded the Black Nationalist-Hate Groups COINTELPRO in February 1968. The instructions to the field offices listed as a "goal":

Prevent the rise of a "messiah" who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a "messiah;" he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed "obedience" to "white, liberal doctrines" (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism .... 436

The SCLC was retained as a "primary target" of the COINTELPRO, and Martin Luther King's name was added to the list of persons who were targets.

The supervisor of the Black Nationalist COINTELPRO told the Committee that he could recall no counterintelligence activities directed against the SCLC, but that several were taken against Dr. King. 437

C. The FBI's Efforts to Discredit Dr. King During His Last Months

Between 1965 and early 1967, the files indicate that Bureau concern about Dr. King had decreased. This concern was revived by Dr. King's April 4, 1967, speech at New York's Riverside Church, in which he opposed the Administration's position in Vietnam. The FBI interpreted this position as proof he "has been influenced by communist advisers," and noted that King's remarks were "a direct parallel of the communist position on Vietnam." 438 A week after the speech the FBI sent the White House and the Justice Department a revised edition of the printed King monograph.

In early December 1967 Dr. King announced plans to hold demonstrations in major American cities, including Washington, D.C., to spur Congress into enacting civil rights legislation. The FBI followed closely developments in Dr. King's "Washington Spring Project" forwarding to the White House information concerning Adviser A's fund-raising activities and Dr. King's plans to tape a lecture series for a foreign television system, allegedly to raise funds for the project. 440

In February 1968 the FBI again revised the King monograph and distributed it to certain officials in the Executive Branch. The Domestic Intelligence Division memorandum recommending the new monograph stated that its dissemination "prior to King's 'Washington Spring Project' should serve again to remind top-level officials in Government of the wholly disreputable character of King." 441

In early March, the Bureau broadened its Black Nationalist-Hate Groups COINTELPRO explicitly to include Dr. King. 442 Toward the end of the month, the FBI began to disseminate information to the press "designed to curtail success of Martin Luther King's fund raising campaign for the Washington Spring Project." The first of many plans included circulating a story

that King does not need contributions from the 70,000 people he solicited. Since the churches have offered support, no more money is needed and any contributed would only be used by King for other purposes. This item would need nation-wide circulation in order to reach all the potential contributors and curtail their donations. 443

On March 25, the Bureau approved a plan to mail an anonymous letter to a civil rights leader in Selma, Alabama, who was "miffed" with Dr. King, and a copy of that letter to a Selma newspaper, hoping that the newspaper might interview the leader about its contents. The Bureau described the purpose of the letter as calling

to the attention of [the civil rights leader] that King is merely using the Negroes of the Selma area for his own personal aggrandizement; that he is not genuinely interested in their welfare, but only in their donations; that in all probability the individuals going to Washington for the Spring Project will be left stranded without suitable housing or food. The letter should also play up the possibility of violence. 444

There is no indication in FBI files that the letter was mailed.

During the latter part of March, Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee, where a strike by Sanitation Workers had erupted into violent riots.

A March 28, 1968, Domestic Intelligence Division memorandum stated:

A sanitation strike has been going on in Memphis for some time. Martin Luther King, Jr., today led a march composed of 5,000 to 6,000 people through the streets of Memphis. King was in an automobile preceding the marchers. As the march developed, acts of violence and vandalism broke out including the breaking of windows in stores and some looting.

This clearly demonstrates that acts of so-called nonviolence advocated by King cannot be controlled. The same thing could happen in his planned massive civil disobedience for Washington in April.


Attached is a blind memorandum pointing out the above, which if you approve, should be made available by Crime Records Division to cooperative news media sources.

The memorandum carried Director Hoover's "O.K." and the notation, "handled on 3/28/68." 445

On March 29,1968, the Domestic Intelligence Division recommended that the following article be furnished to a cooperative news source:

Martin Luther King, during the sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, Tennessee, has urged Negroes to boycott downtown white merchants to achieve Negro demands. On 3/29/68 King led a march for the sanitation workers. Like Judas leading lambs to slaughter King led the marchers to violence, and when the violence broke out, King disappeared.

The fine Hotel Lorraine in Memphis is owned and patronized exclusively by Negroes but King didn't go there for his hasty exit. Instead King decided the plush Holiday Inn Motel, white owned, operated and almost exclusively patronized, was the place to "cool it." There will be no boycott of white merchants for King, only for his followers. 446

On April 4, Dr. King returned to Memphis. This time he registered at the Lorraine Hotel. We have discovered no evidence that the FBI was responsible for Dr. King's move to the Lorraine Hotel. 447

D. Attempts to Discredit Dr. King's Reputation After His Death

The FBI's attempts to discredit Dr. King did not end with his death. In March 1969 the Bureau was informed that Congress was considering declaring Dr. King's birthday a national holiday, and that members of the House Committee on Internal Security might be contacting the Bureau for a briefing about Dr. King. The Crime Records Division recommended briefing the Congressmen because they were "in a position to keep the bill from being reported out of Committee" if "they realize King was a scoundrel." DeLoach noted: "This is a delicate matter -- but can be handled very cautiously." Director Hoover wrote, "I agree. It must be handled very cautiously." 447a

In April 1969 FBI Headquarters received a recommendation for a counterintelligence program from the Atlanta Field Office. The nature of the proposed program has not been revealed to the Committee. A memorandum concerning the plan which the Bureau has given to the Committee, however, notes that the plan might be used "in the event the Bureau is inclined to entertain counterintelligence action against Coretta Scott King and/or the continuous projection of the public image of Martin Luther King ...." 447b The Director informed the Atlanta office that "the Bureau does not desire counterintelligence action against Coretta King of the nature you suggest at this time. 448


Although it is impossible to gauge the full extent to which the FBI's discrediting programs affected the civil rights movement, the fact that there was impact is unquestionable.

Rumors circulated by the FBI had a profound impact on the SCLC's ability to raise funds. According to Congressman Andrew Young, a personal friend and associate of Dr. King, the FBI's effort against Dr. King and the SCLC "chilled contributions. There were direct attempts at some of our larger contributors who told us that they had been told by agents that Martin had a Swiss bank account, or that Martin had confiscated some of the monies from the March on Washington for his personal use. None of that was true." 449 Harry Wachtel, one of Dr. King's legal counsels who handled many of the financial and fund raising activities of the SCLC, emphasized that the SCLC was always in need of funds. "Getting a grant or getting a contribution is a very fragile thing. A grant delayed has a very serious impact on an organization, whose financial condition was pretty rough." 450 Wachtel testified that the SCLC continually had to overcome rumors of poor financial management and communist connections.

The material ... stayed in the political bloodstream all the way through to the time of Dr. King's death, and even after. In our efforts to build a King Center, it was around. It was like a contamination. 451

The SCLC leadership assumed that anything said in meetings or over the telephone would be intercepted by wiretaps, bugs, or informants. Ironically, the FBI memorandum reporting that a wiretap of the SCLC's Atlanta office was feasible stated:

In the past when interviews have been conducted in the office of Southern Christian Leadership Conference certain employees when asked a question, in a half joking manner and a half serious manner replied, "You should know that already, don't you have our wires tapped?" It is noted in the past, State of Georgia has conducted investigations regarding subject and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 452

Harry Wachtel commented on the impact constant surveillance on members of the SCLC:

When you live in a fishbowl, you act like you're in a fishbowl, whether you do it consciously or unconsciously.... I can't put specifies before you, except to say that it beggars the imagination not to believe that the SCLC, Dr. King, and all its leaders were not chilled or inhibited from all kinds of activities, political and even social. 453

Wachtel also pointed out the ramifications stemming from the Government's advance knowledge of what civil rights leaders were thinking:

It is like political intelligence. It did not chill us from saying it, but it affected the strategies and tactics because the people you were having strategies and tactics about were privy to what you were about. They knew your doubts. . . . Take events like strategies in Atlantic City.... Decision-making concerning which way to go, joining one challenge or not, supporting a particular situation, or not, had to be limited very strongly by the fact that information which was expressed by telephone, or which could even possibly be picked up by bugging, would be in the hands of the President. 454

Perhaps most difficult to gauge is the personal impact of the Bureau's programs. Congressman Young told the Committee that while Dr. King was not deterred by the attacks which are now known to have been instigated in part by the FBI, there is "no question" but that he was personally affected:

It was a great burden to be attacked by people he respected, particularly when the attacks engendered by the FBI came from people like Ralph McGill. He sat down and cried at the New York Times editorial about his statement on Vietnam, but this just made him more determined. It was a great personal suffering, but since we don't really know all that they did, we have no way of knowing the ways that they affected us. 455

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