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Documents Show the NSA Spied on Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., and … Art Buchwald
By Ryan Gallagher Slate
It’s long been suspected that Martin Luther King was a target for NSA surveillance during the 1960s. Now newly declassified documents have confirmed it for the first time—revealing how the civil rights leader was monitored under a domestic spy program that also ensnared members of Congress, high-profile journalists, and even the boxer Muhammad Ali.
The previously top-secret papers were published, after a government panel ruled in favor of George Washington University researchers who have been seeking their release for years. Details about the NSA surveillance program, codenamed “Minaret,” were first disclosed in the 1970s. But information about specific targets has been previously withheld by the government.
The watch list eventually contained over 1,600 names and included such personages as [Washington Post] columnist Art Buchwald, [New York Times] journalist Tom Wicker, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young, the boxer Muhammad Ali, and even politicians such as Frank Church and Howard Baker. Virtually all the names were provided by government organizations. However, NSA did add thirteen names, all but two of them Agency employees who were acknowledged spies. ...
The surveillance was justified as necessary to identify “domestic terrorist and foreign radical suspects.” But it appears to have been directed primarily at eavesdropping on government critics—opponents of the Vietnam War, for instance, such as Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, Whitney Young, and Muhammad Ali. The Washington Post’s Art Buchwald, who was humor columnist for the newspaper, apparently got on the list because the government didn’t like his satirical jokes. Martin Luther King may have been targeted for his opposition to Vietnam but also for his civil rights activism and because one of his chief advisers was a former Communist Party member. (The FBI is separately known to have targeted King for surveillance and also tried to discredit him, apparently because he was seen as some kind of threat by the feds.)
The controversial Minaret spy program lasted some six years. It was initiated under President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 but continued after Richard Nixon was elected in 1969. It was not shut down until the fall of 1973. The declassified documents say that an NSA lawyer “who first looked at the procedural aspects” believed that the people involved in the spying “seemed to understand that the program was disreputable if not outright illegal.” The full list of 1,600 names on the watch list still has not been made public.
Somewhat ironically, one of the senators targeted in the Minaret spy program would later go on to lead a groundbreaking review of domestic surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies. In 1975, Sen. Church chaired a committee that recommended sweeping reforms of surveillance laws, leading to the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Church warned at the time that “the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny.” Almost 40 years later, the same concern is again at the forefront of Americans’ minds, after recent leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have exposed the U.S. government’s sprawling surveillance infrastructure.
In its earlier release, the NSA declassified key elements of the story of its Vietnam War-era watch list and the MINARET program, but it held back details on the targets. ISCAP's decision to release the names of some of the prominent persons involved makes it even easier to understand why some NSA officials saw this operation as "disreputable if not outright illegal." (Book III, page 85). It was these concerns that led Attorney General Elliot Richardson to close down the program in the fall of 1973, as the Nixon administration was beginning to unravel.
Muhammad Ali a member of the Nation of Islam, more widely known by his birth name Cassius Clay, appealed his 1-A draft status (fit for immediate induction) on the grounds that he was a Muslim minister. He had publicly stated that "I've got nothing against them Vietcongs" and "I can fight in wars declared only by Allah himself." Losing his appeal for conscientious objector status, Ali refused induction and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. In the meantime, he was stripped of his title. Despite his declaration that "I am free to be what I want," Ali was widely criticized as a "draft dodger" and a "traitor." While initially losing the appeals of his conviction, Ali took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1971 reversed the conviction, ruling that he was entitled to conscientious objector status. Ali was free to resume his career; how long his name remained on the NSA watch list is unclear.
FBI suspected Muhammad Ali's legendary 1964 victory over Sonny Liston was FIXED, top secret documents reveal
Fifty years on from the legendary boxing match in which Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world for the first time, new documents have come to light which reveal that the FBI long suspected that the shock result was really a fix.
The fight between reigning champion Liston and brash young upstart Ali - then known as Cassius Clay – took place on Feb. 25, 1964, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Ali, just 22, entered the ring as a 7-1 underdog, but pulled off a shock victory which laid the foundations for his glittering career to follow.
Now documents released to The Washington Times under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the FBI suspected the fight may have been fixed by a Las Vegas figure tied to organized crime and to Liston.
The memos, so sensitive that they were addressed directly to Director J. Edgar Hoover, show the FBI suspected Ash Resnick, a Las Vegas gambler with organized crime connections, of fixing multiple boxing matches, including the first Clay-Liston fight.
The key new evidence is an FBI memo dated May 24, 1966, that details an interview with a Houston gambler named Barnett Magids, who described to agents his discussions with Resnick before the first Clay-Liston fight.
The fix was in: FBI suspected Ali-Liston bout in '64 was rigged
By Evan Hilbert CBSNews
The FBI suspected that a mob connection, Ash Resnick, set up the fix. The paper cites the report, which published information provided by a gambler named Barnett Magids and his dealings with Resnick, the latter being known to have engaged in such dealings before.
Here's the most substantive FBI evidence, from a report in 1966 obtained by the Washington Times.
"On one occasion, Resnick introduced Magids to Sonny Liston at the Thunderbird, [one of the Las Vegas hotels organized crime controlled]," the memo states. "About a week before the Liston and Clay fight in Miami, Resnick called and invited Magids and his wife for two weeks in Florida on Resnick. Magids‘ wife was not interested in going, but Magids decided to go along, and Resnick was going to send him a ticket.
"Two or three days before the fight, Magids called Resnick at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami to say he could not come," the memo states. "On this call, he asked Resnick who he liked in the fight, and Resnick said that Liston would knock Clay out in the second round. Resnick suggested he wait until just before the fight to place any bets because the odds may come down.
"At about noon on the day of the fight, [Magids] reached Resnick again by phone, and at this time, Resnick said for him to not make any bets, but just go watch the fight on pay TV and he would know why and that he could not talk further at that time.
"Magids did go see the fight on TV and immediately realized that Resnick knew that Liston was going to lose,” the document states. “A week later, there was an article in Sports Illustrated writing up Resnick as a big loser because of his backing of Liston. Later people 'in the know' in Las Vegas told Magids that Resnick and Liston both reportedly made over $1 million betting against Liston on the fight and that the magazine article was a cover for this."
FBI Files: Muhammad Ali
Two weeks before Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship, the boxer’s trainer met secretly with FBI agents and identified members of the Nation of Islam who were associates of Ali, according to bureau records.
In a "confidential" February 1964 memo to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, a supervisor in the bureau’s Miami office reported on a meeting with “trainer-manager” Angelo Dundee and Dundee’s brother Chris, who was promoting the fight between Liston and Ali (who was then still known as Cassius Clay).
The interview of the Dundees was done in connection with the FBI’s ongoing examination of the Nation of Islam, a probe investigators categorized as a “security matter.”
Ali’s connection to the Nation of Islam was of great interest to Hoover & Co. since the athlete was the most high-profile public figure to be aligned with the group, which is described in one FBI memo as a “semireligious Negro organization which preaches extreme hatred of the white man.”
Along with identifying suspected “members of the NOI,” the Dundee brothers provided agents with the names of “Clay’s associates,” according to the February 13 memo to Hoover. The names of individuals fingered by the Dundees were redacted from the document, which was released in response to a TSG Freedom of Information Act request.
The FBI’s meeting with the Dundees came about three weeks before it was revealed that Clay had joined the Nation of Islam and would henceforth be known as Muhammad Ali.
The Dundees also spoke to federal agents about an individual who had just checked into a Miami Beach hotel (and whose tab was being charged to Cassius Clay Enterprises). The brothers were apparently upset about this development and told FBI agents that if they “received any further information” they would “bring it to the attention of the Miami office.”
A second FBI memo reported that the Dundees “added that they do not know if Cassius Clay is a member of the Nation of Islam and know nothing of any financial contributions he may have made to that organization.”
On February 25, 1964 Clay defeated Liston at Convention Hall in Miami Beach, capturing the heavyweight crown. On March 6, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad announced Clay had been renamed Muhammad Ali.
Angelo Dundee, who died last year at age 90, trained Ali for almost his entire 20-year professional career. He also trained Sugar Ray Leonard, who won world championships in multiple weight classes. In 1994, the Dundee brothers were both inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
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