Posted by: mutantpoodle | August 31, 2007

The Vapidity of Domestic Spying

maxwell-smartCassie tipped me off to this…apparently the FBI wasn’t just concerned that Martin Luther King was a dangerous rabble rouser – his wife, too, was a threat to national security.

Federal agents spied on the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. for several years after his assassination in 1968, according to newly released documents that reveal the FBI worried about her following in the footsteps of the slain civil rights icon.

Coretta Scott King might try to tie “the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement” according to some of the nearly 500 pages of intelligence files, which go on to show how the FBI trailed King at public appearances and kept close tabs on her travel.

The documents were obtained by Houston television station KHOU in a story published Thursday. Coretta Scott King died in January 2006. She was 78.

One memo shows that the FBI even read and reviewed King’s 1969 book about her late husband. The entry made a point to say that her “selfless, magnanimous, decorous attitude is belied by … (her) actual shrewd, calculating, businesslike activities.”

Well, heaven forbid that anyone be shrewd, calculating, or businesslike.

Now, it’s good to keep in mind that J. Edgar Hoover was still running the FBI when most of this took place, and Hoover, to put it mildly, wasn’t a big fan of Civil Rights.

Besides the constitutional issues (the article doesn’t mention wiretapping or any other illegal activity, but it wouldn’t be surprising), the real stupidity is this: The FBI had agents spying on Coretta Scott King.

Now, whatever you might have thought of her, the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government wasn’t being plotted from her living room.

And, of course, it wasn’t just her. In this history of domestic spying, John Prados lays out how far it went:

In the guise of preventing communist influence on community groups, in 1960 the FBI was authorized to include “legitimate mass organizations, such as Parent-Teacher Associations, civil organizations, and racial and religious groups.” Only a year later was COINTELPRO applied to the Socialist Workers Party. Before long it extended to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the Ku Klux Klan, the women’s liberation movement and a host of Vietnam antiwar groups.

The campaign included planted news items, derogatory rumors spread inside groups, bogus hate mail, entrapment, wiretaps, deliberately aimed leaks and more. The FBI campaign against Martin Luther King, Jr. is a well-known example but only a tiny fraction of the overall effort. In creating its target lists the FBI developed a “Rabble Rouser/Agitator Index” it applied to individuals—“key agitators” and “key black extremists.” There were a half million FBI files on citizens.

The rest of the government was not far behind. Military intelligence agencies opened over 100,000 files on Americans from 1965 to 1971. The IRS compiled 11,000 “intelligence” files between 1969 and 1973 and opened tax investigations for political reasons. The CIA had another 10,000 files on Americans, and a computerized index of 300,000. Its Projects Chaos, Merrimack and Resistance were all aimed at American antiwar activists. Under Project Mudhen, the CIA, which is prohibited by law from actions inside the United States, followed journalist Jack Anderson and four colleagues in an effort to discover their sources.

More recently, local police departments have been caught spying on anti-war groups all as part of a larger “anti-terrorism” initiative, and I just wonder how many hot tips they’re going to get from their undercover assets at meetings where people discuss sit-ins, letter-writing campaigns, and peaceful protests.

Because, as I recall, we weren’t attacked on 9/11 by anti-war groups, or civil rights leaders, or opponents of George Bush. We were attacked by fringe Islamic fundamentalists, and maybe some effort to figure out what they’re doing would be good. And I guarantee you – no one in al qaeda is unhappy that we’re at war in Iraq.

Here’s what you get (warning -Times Select) with the scattershot approach to this kind of intelligence:

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans’ international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans’ privacy….

President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program as a ”vital tool” against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved ”thousands of lives.”

But the results of the program look very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.

Of course it did. Because as Valdis Krebs, an expert in social network analysis, put it,

If you’re looking for a needle, making the haystack bigger is counterintuitive. It just doesn’t make sense.

Certain people are more suspicious than others. They make frequent trips back-and-forth to Afghanistan, for instance. “So you start with them. And you work two steps out. If none of those people are connected, you don’t have a cell. Because if one was there, you’d find some clustering. You don’t have to collect all the data in the world to do that.

Effective counter-intelligence requires discernment. It’s a lot more likely that you’ll miss the critical link to a dangerous group when you’re chasing 100 others that are harmless than it is that you’ll miss a terrorist group when you’re applying intelligent filtering to your searches.

That’s why I don’t feel that we’re really safer since 9/11. I think we’re meant to feel safer – and we’re meant to feel that, absent all these intrusive government programs and the steady leadership of George Bush; or, alternately, if the Democrats get their way on anything, we’ll all be brutally attacked tomorrow.

In other words, we have nothing to fear but not being afraid. Oh, and liberals. We’re very scary.

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