Interviews with the purveyors of government secrets are included in the NYT's "Burglars Who Took On F.B.I. Abandon Shadows" article.
Activists Acknowledge Breaking and Entering FBI Office to Obtain
On the evening of March 8, 1971 a group of eight broke into a suburban Philadelphia FBI office and left with documents substantiating suspicions that the government and specifically J. Edgar Hoover had been spying on anti-war protesters and other dissidents. These stolen files changed the course of history.
A short time later Daniel Ellsberg provided the Pentagon Papers to the media. From these disclosures, the Church Committee was able to determine that the government had been perpetrating grievous surveillance practices.
As a result of Edward Snowden's NSA leaks in 2013, Americans have been advised that even more intrusive government-sponsored watch programs have been in place for more than a decade. Activities ruled illegal in the mid 70s, are back in vogue.
One of most damning examples of FBI misconduct was the anonymous letter sent to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through illegal wire taps the agency knew that Rev. King had engaged
in extramarital affairs. The FBI promise: If Rev. King committed suicide this embarrassing information would remain private. The FBI threat was as follows:
The American public, the church organizations that have been helping Protestants, Catholics and Jews will know you for what you are an evil beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant.[sic] You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.The FBI missive to Rev. King also included incriminating wiretaps. Rev. King was one of many Americans under Project MINARET observation. Others on the government surveillance list included Senators Church and Baker, Tom Wicker, Art Buchwald and Muhammad Ali.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders asked NSA Director Keith Alexander this month whether the agency had been or is spying on members of Congress. Copies of the correspondence may be viewed here.
The NSA critique, "Liberty and Security in a Changing World," issued in December by President Obama's task force recommended that the government shut down the metadata collection system because this information might prompt public officials to:
engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, and gender. p.16For these reasons:
we endorse a broad principle for the future: as a general rule and without senior policy review, the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes. (p.17)In conclusion:
... we cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking. Americans must never make the mistake of wholly trusting our public officials. As the Church Committee observed more than 35 years ago, when the capacity of government to collect massive amounts of data about individual Americans was still in its infancy, the massive centralization of . . . information creates a temptation to use it for improper purposes, threatens to "chill" the exercise of First Amendment rights, and is inimical to the privacy of citizens. (p.114)The question remains: Is seeking truth a prosecutable offence?