(Unintended?) Consequences of Surveillance

If your life is similar to mine, you may have been too busy these last few weeks of the business year to notice an important story brewing in the US capital. It’s one worth reflecting on during the year-end break; here is a summary written in links.
* Laura Rozen has a data point on the history of US government surveillance of its citizens. Read this excerpt from the final report of the United States Senate Elect Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (1976):

From December 1963 until his death in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “neutralize” him as an effective civil rights leader. …

The FBI collected information about Dr. King’s plans and activities through an extensive surveillance program, employing nearly every intelligence-gathering technique at the Bureau’s disposal. Wiretaps, which were initially approved by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, were maintained on Dr. King’s home telephone from October 1963 until mid-1965; the SCLC headquarter’s telephones were covered by wiretaps for an even longer period. Phones in the homes and offices of some of Dr. King’s close advisers were also wiretapped. The FBI has acknowledged 16 occasions on which microphones were hidden in Dr. King’s hotel and motel rooms in an “attempt” to obtain information about the “private activities of King and his advisers” for use to “completely discredit” them.

FBI informants in the civil rights movement and reports from field offices kept the Bureau’s headquarters informed of developments in the civil rights field. …

The FBI’s program to destroy Dr. King as the leader of the civil rights movement entailed attempts to discredit him with churches, universities, and the press. … The FBI sought to influence universities to withhold honorary degrees from Dr. King. Attempts were made to prevent the publication of articles favorable to Dr. King and to find “friendly” news sources that would print unfavorable articles. The FBI offered to play for reporters tape recordings allegedly made from microphone surveillance of Dr. King’s hotel rooms.

The FBI mailed Dr. King a tape recording made from its microphone coverage. According to the Chief of the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division, the tape was intended to precipitate a separation between Dr. King and his wife in the belief that the separation would reduce Dr. King’s stature. The tape recording was accompanied by a note which Dr. King and his advisers interpreted as a threat to release the tape recording unless Dr. King committed suicide. The FBI also made preparations to promote someone “to assume the role of leadership of the Negro people when King has been completely discredited.”

Now, compare to current US news stories:
* President Bush ordered an electronic eavesdropping program in the United States. He has no apologies.
* The numbers don’t add up.
* Security analysts think new technology could be involved. Or that the NSA “may have compromised a hardware manufacturer — say Motorola or a satellite phone manufacturer, a telecom carrier or a satellite(s).”
* A highly respected security expert wonders about the threat of unchecked Presidential power.
* John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon, says Bush has committed an impeachable offense.
* 5% of the US population is illiterate. Does this mean that perhaps 20% or 30% of the population is literate but reads at, say, high-school level? If so, then:
* The bottom tier can’t follow the complexity of the issues. For them, no terror alerts since the 2004 election.
* The top tier is too busy succeeding to pay attention. For them, nice year-end bonuses.
What would Bush have done to “neutralize” Martin Luther King, Jr.? Who are we neutralizing today?