Paper: Army spied on M.L. King Jr.

Published Mar. 22, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

The Army used U2 planes and wire taps to spy on U.S. civil rights groups and regarded Martin Luther King Jr. as a major national threat, according to a copyrighted story in Sunday's Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The newspaper, which reviewed thousands of government documents and conducted a number of interviews during its 16- month investigation, found that eight Green Berets were in Memphis April 4, 1968 _ the day King was assassinated.

Results of the newspaper's investigation were published two weeks before the 25th anniversary of King's assassination at a Memphis motel.

But the paper said its investigation "uncovered no hard evidence that Army intelligence played any role in King's assassination," for which James Earl Ray pleaded guilty and is serving a 99-year sentence.

The newspaper said, however, that "by early 1968, Army intelligence regarded King as a major threat to national security."

Some Army spying against civil rights and anti-war groups was disclosed in 1971 congressional hearings, the Commercial Appeal said, but key intelligence officers avoided testifying.

The Army spy network included black church members, businessmen and educators and later used domestic wiretaps and aerial photographs by U2 spy planes, the report said.

It said the U2s, flown from a secret Nevada base, were used for aerial surveillance of civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and for at least 26 other protests over the next seven years.

In Atlanta, former King associate Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said Congress should investigate the allegations.

Lewis, who headed the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee in the 1960s and is now a deputy majority leader in the U.S. House said the Army owes an apology to the King family if the allegations are borne out.

The Army started spy files on Martin Luther King Jr.'s maternal grandfather in 1917 and tracked the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. for their roles as black activists, the Commercial Appeal said.