About the FBI’s SpyingRoundup
tags: FBI, Martin Luther King Jr., Carter Page
William McGurn is a member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board and writes the weekly "Main Street" column for the Journal each Tuesday. Previously he served as Chief Speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
When Carter Page learned in April 2017 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had obtained a secret court order to listen in on his communications, the Washington Post asked him about it. Mr. Page, the paper reported, “compared surveillance of him to the eavesdropping that the FBI and Justice Department conducted against civil rights leader Martin Luther King.”
Everyone had a good laugh. “Never ever, ever, compare yourself in any way whatsoever to Martin Luther King,” sneered the Post’s Jonathan Capehart. “Ever.”
Certainly Mr. Page would have been ridiculous if he meant he was of King’s stature. But that wasn’t what he had contended. All he suggested was that he, like King, had been a target of an FBI counterintelligence operation run amok.
Now a new report on the FBI’s surreptitious tapings of King makes it harder to see the difference between what J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI did with King and what James Comey’s FBI did with Mr. Page. In an article in Standpoint magazine, David Garrow, author of a Pulitzer-winning biography of King, reports summaries of the FBI recordings collected on the civil-rights leader. The article has stoked a furor for some of the unflattering details reported about King, for example that he “looked on and laughed” while a fellow pastor forcibly raped a female parishioner.
But while the details of King’s sexual behavior have attracted most of the attention, the parallels with Mr. Page may be more illuminating. Remember, the FBI sought a warrant on Mr. Page from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court based on the claim that the former Trump campaign associate was “an agent of a foreign power,” namely Russia. Yet Mr. Page is one of the few targets of the investigation to have emerged without ever being charged with anything.
The surveillance of King likewise began as a national-security matter. In a Rose Garden conversation, President John F. Kennedy told King he needed to cut ties with one of his closest advisers, Stanley Levison, a former financier for the Communist Party USA. When King refused to cut Levison loose, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy authorized the FBI to wiretap King.
In his book “A Higher Loyalty,” Mr. Comey writes that the King case illuminates how “a legitimate counterintelligence mission” could morph into “an unchecked, vicious campaign of harassment and extralegal attack on the civil rights leader and others.” To “drive the message home,” Mr. Comey writes that as FBI director he kept on his desk a copy of the October 1963 memo, written by Hoover and signed by RFK, approving the King wiretaps.
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