FBI letter to MLK shows sinister side of government spying

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FBI Letter to MLK Shows Sinister Side of Government Spying

One of the larger stains the FBI has ever had to endure on its not-so-spotless record was revealed in its entirety Thursday. A letter asking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself - signed, sealed and delivered by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

The letter was discovered by a Yale history professor who penned an op-ed for The New York Times. Beverly Gage notes the letter occupies "a unique place in the history of American intelligence - the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover's F.B.I. run amok."

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FBI letter to MLK shows sinister side of government spying
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MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 13: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks with people after delivering a sermon on May 13, 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home with his family in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) sits on a couch and speaks on the telephone after encountering a white mob protesting against the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, May 26, 1961. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr, at a press conference after meeting with President Johnson at the White House to discuss civil rights, Washington DC, December 3, 1961. (Photo by Warren K. Leffler/Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Civil Rights leaders Fred Shuttlesworth (left), Martin Luther King Jr (center), and Ralph Abernathy (right) attend a funeral for victims of the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. The September 15, 1963 bombing killed four young African-American girls. (Photo by Declan Haun/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)
President Lyndon B Johnson (1908 - 1973) discusses the Voting Rights Act with civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968). The act, part of President Johnson's 'Great Society' program trebled the number of black voters in the south, who had previously been hindered by racially inspired laws, 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY- MARCH 25: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seen close from the rear, speaking in front of 25,000 civil rights marchers, at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march in front of Alabama state capital building on March 25, 1965. In Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen Somerstein/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MARCH 25: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before crowd of 25,000 Selma To Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marchers, in front of Montgomery, Alabama state capital building. On March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)
African-American man holding Martin Luther King Jr flag - Washington, DC, USA
The Martin Luther King Jr., memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Rev Al Sharpton speaking at a Dr, Martin Luther King jr Day rally.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House December 3, 1963 in Washington, DC.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Cabinet Room of the White House March 18, 1966 in Washington, DC.
Funeral of reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Girl Scouts in Martin Luther King Jr Day Celebration
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Washington DC dc12 national park monument near National Mall
Detroit, Michigan - June 22, 2013 - Thousands of civil rights, labor, and community activists commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Walk to Freedom" with a march that followed the same route down Woodward Avenue. At the 1963 civil rights march, Dr. King previewed his "I Have a Dream" speech which he delivered two months later at the March on Washington. © Jim West/Alamy Live News
Controversial paraphrased quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Martin Luther King, Jr. with wife Coretta Scott King
MLK with Labor Unions
Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March on Washington
Martin Luther King Jr. at the 'Pacem in Terris' Peace Conference
Martin Luther King, Jr. arriving at London Airport
Tourists visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., USA
Martin Luther King, Jr., T-Shirt commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., USA
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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (right), President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Mathew Ahmann (center), Executive Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interrracial Justice during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC.
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The letter - now known as the "suicide letter" - refers to the leader of the civil rights movement as "sexually psychotic," "a dissolute abnormal imbecile"and a "fraud." It ends with the famous warning, "You have just 34 days. ... There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

The letter along with a purported audio tape of MLK's extramarital affairs was sent to the King home and discovered by his wife, Coretta Scott King. Dr. King assumed the letter and tape were from the FBI and his after his death a Senate committee confirmed as much. (Video via ABC)

In an age where whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have exposed just how far agencies like the NSA or FBI can reach, the newly released full version of the suicide letter is worrisome to many. (Video via NBC)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation released a statement on the letter: "The implications of these types of strategies in the digital age are chilling. Imagine Facebook chats, porn viewing history, emails, and more made public to discredit a leader who threatens the status quo, or used to blackmail. ... These are not far-fetched ideas."

And Vox calls the letter "a terrifying reminder of what government surveillance agencies can be capable of."

FBI Director James Comey acknowledged this blemish in the FBI's past when he was first introduced as director, telling the crowd: "I'm going to direct that all new agents and analysts also visit the Martin Luther King Memorial here in Washington. I think it will serve as a different kind of lesson, one more personal to the bureau, of the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability."

This video includes and image from Getty Images.
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