Why J. Edgar Hoover Was Right to Spy on Martin Luther King, Jr.

New revelations from secret FBI files show that the civil rights icon had the morals of a goat – and that he had a troubling relationship with Kremlin agents.

Few stories are guaranteed to get liberals in a greater lather than the 1960s surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That the FBI, under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover – the notorious micromanager who was possibly gay and maybe even partly black himself – conducted years of secret surveillance on the civil rights icon has been a sore point with progressives for decades.

What the Bureau reputedly discovered about King, especially his extramarital activities with a string of lovers, hardly seemed to comport with the clergyman’s saintly public image. Neither was it exactly a secret that MLK’s private life verged on the sordid, since members of the martyred minister’s inner circle have previously gone on record about his weakness for women.

Nevertheless, what David Garrow published this week has produced great gnashing of teeth, not least because the author is an esteemed left-liberal historian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for a celebrated biography of King. If Professor Garrow has an ideological motive, it’s hardly anti-King, which only makes his findings more painful.

First, let it be noted that Garrow ran his explosive piece in Standpoint, a center-right British magazine, after it was turned down by several mainstream media outlets which didn’t want to touch a story this hot. And hot indeed it is, including details of King’s cavorting with north of 40 women not his wife, as well as seductions of parishioners, full-blown orgies, plus an apparent illegitimate daughter. Worst of all, King reportedly watched and cracked jokes while witnessing the rape of a church-going lady by a friend and fellow man of the cloth. In any age this is shocking stuff, and never more than in the #MeToo era.

Garrow uncovered this unpleasant account in FBI files while diligently researching in the National Archives. In 1977, a Federal court ordered the Bureau’s wiretap recordings of King to be held under seal for 50 years, but some transcripts, once classified, wound up in the archives, thanks to post-Cold War declassifications, where Garrow found them while digging in the files – something which previous historians failed to do.

There can be no doubt of their authenticity. Garrow’s opponents are now coming out of the woodwork and smearing him for telling unpalatable truths, attempting to cast doubt on the archives. The notion that veteran FBI agents would fabricate secret wiretap transcripts which they knew were likely to wind up on the desk of the obsessively detailed-oriented Mr. Hoover is patently absurd.

While King’s revolting sexual conduct is getting all the media attention, that’s not the important part of this story, historically speaking. Garrow’s report includes details about the FBI’s infamous Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which in the 1960s and early 1970s surveilled and employed dirty tricks against radical groups which Hoover assessed as threats to national security. These FBI operations against student radicals and various minority groups like the Black Panthers have generated a great deal of polemical literature. That COINTELPRO’s greatest success was breaking the back of the Ku Klux Klan is less frequently noted.

The FBI has long been criticized for surveilling King, who over the half-century since his assassination has become a secular saint complete with his own Federal holiday (an honor bestowed on no other American). On the Left, it’s an article of faith that Hoover’s motivation for spying on MLK was prejudice, even racism, pure and simple.

Garrow’s account makes clear that was not the case. Hoover’s reason for ordering the Bureau to closely watch King beginning in 1963 was fear of Kremlin influence on the civil rights leader. The essence of this story has been known for decades. Hoover worried about Stanley Levison, a left-wing attorney who entered King’s orbit in late 1956, quickly becoming MLK’s closest confidant. Levison served as all-purpose consigliere to King and authored some of the civil rights leader’s most famous speeches.

Hoover fretted about the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) infiltrating the civil rights movement, particularly because the FBI knew that the party had secret members, known only to CPUSA leadership, who were employed to clandestinely influence non-communist groups. Worse, the Bureau knew that Stanley Levison was one such secret CPUSA member.

They knew this thanks to Jack and Morris Childs, two brothers who joined the party as youths and rose high up, including serving as Soviet spies (any line between the CPUSA and Soviet intelligence existed in theory, not in fact). However, by the 1950s the Childs brothers had flipped and become FBI moles inside the party, passing the Bureau reams of information about the CPUSA’s inner workings as the cornerstone of Operation SOLO, which became one of the FBI’s great Cold War successes.

The Childs told the FBI about Levison’s secret party ties, so the Bureau began watching Levison. They discovered that he was meeting with Viktor Lesiovsky, a Soviet diplomat assigned to the United Nations in New York, who rose to become special assistant to the UN secretary general, but the FBI knew that Lesiovsky was really a KGB officer.

This rang enough alarm bells within the Bureau that Hoover informed President John F. Kennedy about counterintelligence concerns regarding King’s inner circle; these concerns were endorsed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother. This led to a White House meeting on June 22, 1963, during which the president asked King to sever ties with Levison, whom Kennedy termed a “Kremlin agent.” This was the very height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union nearly had a nuclear war between each other a few months before, yet King ultimately refused to part with Levison, who remained MLK’s top adviser until his assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968. It was King’s unwillingness to cut ties with Levison which led Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to authorize full FBI surveillance of the civil rights leader shortly before President Kennedy’s own assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Garrow adds important detail to this story, including the fact that the FBI was aware of Levison’s role as a major CPUSA bagman. Between 1957 and 1962, Bureau files reveal, Levison gave the party an astonishing $76,500 ($650,000 in 2019). Since Levison was not a wealthy man, this funding can be assumed to have come from the Kremlin in some fashion, since communist parties overseas were funded by the KGB through various clandestine methods.

More troubling still is Garrow’s revelation from FBI files that Levison gifted his new friend King with $10,000 in cash during 1957-58, an amount equivalent to $87,000 today. The Bureau learned of this donation from the IRS, leading Hoover to exasperation. Given Levison’s Kremlin connections, there is reasonable suspicion that this cash came from the KGB too. Which makes the FBI’s apparent failure to inform the White House about Levison’s role as CPUSA bagman, including payments to King, rather difficult to explain.

Garrow concludes his piece with the assessment that what he learned from FBI files about King “poses so fundamental a challenge to his historical stature as to require the most complete and extensive review possible.” Given the vituperative criticism that Garrow has gotten for publishing his findings, there’s no reason to think that historians and journalists will be eager to dig deeper into the archives about King’s secret life. However, Garrow makes clear that J. Edgar Hoover was right to have grave counterintelligence concerns about the civil rights leader and his secret connections to the Soviet Union. Given high public interest in the clandestine role of Moscow’s spies in American politics, thanks to Donald J. Trump, the role of Stanley Levison, a known Kremlin agent, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inner circle now merits dispassionate examination by experts, not partisans.

 

The Full Story of Trump’s Russia Ties Will Come Out—But It’ll Take Time

The big problem with getting to the bottom of President Donald Trump’s Kremlin ties isn’t just secrecy and classification—it’s that practically nobody in Washington wants to know the messy and complex truth.

You need to shut up about what you can’t talk about, as Ludwig Wittgenstein memorably put it. It sounds more meticulous in the philosopher’s original German (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen), but the point is the same: Some things just aren’t fit to be uttered in polite company.

Espionage is one of those things. The public likes the movie version of spying—fast cars, beguiling beauties and baccarat—but not the real-life kind, which bears no resemblance to the film version. Espionage in the real world is messy and difficult. Knowing who in Washington is in bed with foreign intelligence services can be unsettling. Counterintelligence is not a job for the faint-hearted, or anyone who likes justice dispensed quickly.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Ghosts of the Balkan wars are returning in unlikely places

Why is the Christchurch far-right terrorist obsessed with the crazy-haired Serb that the UN just sentenced to life in prison? How Balkan war criminals became idols to Western extremists is a bizarre story that shouldn’t be real, but is.

Twenty years ago this week, NATO decided to take Kosovo away from Serbia. The Rambouillet Agreement of March 18, 1999, named for the château outside Paris where negotiations failed to resolve that Balkan crisis without wider war, set the stage for an independent Kosovo under NATO administration and protection.

Five days after US, British, and Albanian delegations signed the Rambouillet Agreement – Serbian and Russian delegations refused to sign – NATO bombs started to fall on Serbia, and they kept falling for 78 days. The Kosovo War was a nearly bloodless affair for the Atlantic Alliance but not for the Serbs and Albanians.

NATO’s victory over Belgrade, achieved by airpower alone, made the Pentagon and associated think-tanks giddy. At last the age of truly high-technology war had arrived, rendering slogging it out in the mud with ground troops unnecessary. They forgot that NATO’s infantry in Kosovo was supplied by the tenacious Kosovo Liberation Army, determined to liberate their homeland from Serbian misrule. As a result, the US military invaded Iraq in 2003 carrying rucksacks filled with Balkan illusions about the magical power of technology in war and how easy foreign occupation can be when the locals sincerely greet you as liberators.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

Bibi blows up Israel’s Central European alliance

Nationalism is a supremely powerful force in politics, but it’s perennially difficult to forge lasting alliances between competing nationalisms – as this week’s news demonstrates yet again.

No country has benefited more from the growing split between Brussels and the European Union’s formerly Communist member states than Israel. In Warsaw, Budapest, Prague, and Bratislava, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found receptive European audiences, which Israel needed as the EU has soured on Israel’s occupation policies towards the Palestinians and increasingly aggressive rhetoric towards Iran. Netanyahu invested in these new relationships, which were based in more than mere convenience.

The Visegrád Four, as they call themselves, made natural allies for Likud-run Israel. Poland, Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia all have right-wing governments which value ethno-nationalism and the preservation of the nation, while disdaining liberal multiculturalism and fearing Islam and migration – all the while not caring one whit what Brussels thinks. In other words, they’re a lot like Netanyahu’s Israel.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

Donald Trump, the Kremlin and the ghost of Alger Hiss

Judging from the weekend’s ‘modern presidential’ tweets – always a decent metric of Donald Trump’s mood swings – the Special Counsel investigation into his Russian links is weighing heavily on our 45th president.

And no wonder. New reports indicate that Donald J. Trump may be in a lot hotter water than his MAGA legions want to believe. According to the New York Times, the FBI in the opening months of Trump’s administration opened a counterintelligence investigation into the new president to assess whether he is a pawn of the Kremlin, wittingly or otherwise.

Then the Washington Post reported that President Trump concealed the content of his one-on-one discussions with his Russian counterpart, even from senior administration officials and the US intelligence community. Whatever he and Vladimir Putin discussed is something President Trump doesn’t want known, even in classified channels of the government he heads. Calling this abnormal is being very charitable.

Airing of these troubling matters flummoxed the president, and during a softball interview with Fox News – whose nightly talkers fulfill a role in Trump’s Washington roughly analogous to KCNA’s in Pyongyang – Trump waffled a straight-up query, ‘Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia?’ The president replied in his customary word-salad fashion how ‘insulted’ he was by the Times’sreport, never answering the up-or-down question.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

The Truth Behind This Bomb That Took Down Pan Am 103 Over Lockerbie Remains a 30-Year Mystery

Thirty years ago this week, Pan Am Flight 103 was torn apart by an explosion as it cruised 31,000 feet above the Scottish Lowlands, 38 minutes after it departed London’s Heathrow Airport. The shattered Boeing 747, named Clipper Maid of the Seas, was bound for New York but never made its destination, falling in flames around the bucolic town of Lockerbie.

There were no survivors. The catastrophe claimed the lives of 270 innocents: 243 passengers, 16 crew, and 11 Lockerbie residents killed when the airliner’s fiery wing cratered in the middle of their town. One hundred and ninety of the dead were American, including a group of 35 Syracuse University students headed home for Christmas after a European semester abroad.

Once it was obvious that nobody survived the crash, the biggest investigation in British history commenced, painstakingly locating and cataloguing over four million pieces of wreckage—including thousands of body parts—spread over 850 square miles of the Scottish countryside. Within a week of the disaster, investigators discovered traces of explosive, revealing that the Lockerbie crash was no accident.

A bomb took down the 747, and FBI analysis revealed that the huge airliner was destroyed by less than a pound of plastic explosive, specifically Semtex from Czechoslovakia, packed in a Samsonite suitcase stowed in the plane’s forward left luggage container. The improvised explosive device was hidden in a Toshiba radio cassette player and was detonated by a barometric sensor designed to detect altitude.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Democrats Have Their Own Kremlin Influence Problem, Starting with Al Gore and Maxine Waters

Democrats now fervently believe that the White House is infected by illicit Russian influence since Donald Trump moved in almost two years ago. Democrats are ignoring that this isn’t the first time this has happened.

new poll indicates how far left-wing paranoia has run recently. When asked if “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected,” 67 percent of Democrats indicated that was “definitely true” or “probably true” while a mere eight percent said it was “definitely not true” (compared to 54 percent of Republicans).

One problem: While there is overwhelming evidence that Russian intelligence interfered with our 2016 election in terms of espionage and propaganda, venerable Kremlin spy techniques they term Active Measures speeded up for the online age, there’s zero evidence that Russians manipulated any vote tallies in 2016. Our Intelligence Community has examined this touchy subject closely and found, well, nothing. As an NSA official told me recently, “There’s just no ‘there’ there, no matter what MSNBC says.”

Read the rest at The Observer …

A Kremlin Spy Mystery in Vienna Shakes the World Capital of Espionage

For a century, Vienna has been the world capital of espionage. It’s a city of world-class mystery and intrigue, as depicted in countless spy novels and films. Vienna has it all: lovely vistas, great food and wine, affordable prices, and an extraordinarily permissive environment for espionage.

In Austria, you’re free to spy on nearly whomever you want, and there are plenty of targets. Everybody has an embassy in Vienna, plus it’s the second city of the United Nations. When it comes to espionage, the only way to get in trouble in Vienna is by spying on your hosts—and that’s just what the Russians got caught doing.

The recent arrest of a retired Austrian army colonel on charges of spying for Moscow has shed light on something nobody in Vienna or the Kremlin wanted discussed openly. The suspect, identified only as Martin M. due to stringent privacy laws, is facing a raft of charges. He stands accused of passing Austrian secrets to Russian military intelligence, that is GRU, for a generation.

The 70-year-old Colonel M., now retired in bucolic Salzburg, began spying for GRU in 1992 and his treachery continued until September of this year, well after his retirement from the military. He had been assigned to the headquarters of the defense ministry in Vienna, where co-workers described him as being “a U-Boat,” utterly nondescript, barely visible.

Read the rest at The Observer …

Trump had an opportunity to redefine American foreign policy. He blew it

Donald J. Trump is home from his whirlwind weekend trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s end. Even by The Donald’s formidable china-breaking standards, this was a doozy which will be discussed with opprobrium by the Transatlantic smart set for some time.

President Trump seemed to go out of his way to upset his French counterpart and host Emmanuel Macron, who’s hit a political rough patch and needed some brotherly love. That bromance is dead and buried, however, and Trump fired off a mocking tweet at Macron as he boarded Air Force One for Paris that denounced the French president’s backing of a European army as ‘very insulting.’

This rattled the Élysée Palace yet, while Trump’s use of Twitter to conduct diplomacy was its usual silliness, the point stands. Washington has always opposed any EU army, on the sensible grounds that it will weaken NATO. Since hardly any European NATO members spend the ‘required’ two percent of GDP on defense, the notion that there’s enough cash on hand to have a viable European army while keeping the Atlantic Alliance afloat is laughable. Not to mention there are only two major EU countries that take defense seriously, fiscally and otherwise – Britain and Poland – and the former is on its way out of the Union while Brussels is doing its best to evict the latter.

Read the rest at Spectator USA …

The Mystery of Donald Trump’s Secret Kremlin Ties Just Got a Lot Deeper

Many Americans regard President Donald Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin as uncomfortably cozy. Some, top intelligence officials among them, believe our president has a concealed relationship with Russia, and that it’s nothing new.

To anyone versed in counterintelligence, Trump’s summer 1987 inaugural visit to the Soviet Union, ostensibly to develop Moscow’s never-developed Trump Tower, looks like Ground Zero. The KGB habitually monitored visits by Western VIPs, and since Trump’s junket came by invitation of the Soviet foreign ministry, it’s certain that his trip did not escape the KGB’s attention.

KGB veterans have said as much. Oleg Kalugin, once the youngest general in the KGB and an expert on counterintelligence, confirmed to author Craig Unger “that Trump had fun with lots of girls during that trip and he was almost certain that the KGB had kompromat [compromising material] on that.” Since Kalugin spent several years in the 1980s as the deputy chief of the KGB’s office in Leningrad—a city visited by Trump in 1987—it’s safe to assume that his comment was not speculative.

Read the rest at The Observer …