More revelations have been coming out since the NSA came under fire via the Edward Snowden leaks, and to some, these latest discoveries may not be so surprising: AlJazeera America reported that the NSA did eavesdrop on famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, and several others during the Vietnam War in recently declassified documents.
The documents were declassified and released on Wednesday after the governmental panel responsible for declassification ruled in favor of a team of researchers from George Washington University who were seeking the release of the papers, which included the names of top-secret NSA targets in the late 1960’s and early ’70s.
In a program code-named “Minaret,” the NSA was tasked with monitoring those personalities that were considered hostile to war efforts. Lyndon B. Johnson was president at the time Minaret was assembled, but the program continued throughout the the paranoid Nixon administration. In the official release, the researchers state the list includes such prominent names as Dr. Martin Luther King, Whitney Young, Muhammad Ali, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, and veteran Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald. Two politicians, Senator Frank Church of Idaho and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, were also included. The full list of names has yet to be released.
Slate notes that the reasons justifying such irresponsible surveillance haven’t changed in 40 years; at the time, the NSA had cited “[the identification of] domestic terrorist and foreign radical suspects” as reason enough to tap their phones. However, an NSA lawyer who examined the program after it was shut down in 1973 wrote the following in the classified records: “[as someone] who first looked at the procedural aspects [for the NSA, the agents involved in Minaret] seemed to understand that the program was disreputable if not outright illegal.”
If you want to read the official release from George Washington University regarding the papers, which includes a ton of awesome citations, you can check it out here.[Image via the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, On-line Photo Archive, W425-21]