The CIA Still Protects Spy Who Shadowed Martin Luther King Jr.

It wasn't only the FBI that harassed the civil rights leader.

Martin Luther King, Jr., stands next to Mathew Ahmann at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C.
Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The CIA shadowed Martin Luther King Jr. during his stay at a Miami hotel in July 1966 with the help of a spy whose identity still remains a secret a half-century later.

The revelation is found in a 48-page file on King, portions of which were made public late last year, along with thousands of JFK assassination files. President Trump has ordered all federal agencies to release the rest of their JFK-related files by April 26, a directive which covers the agency's King file as well.

Trump's order, issued last October, exempts from disclosure only "the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living."  So if the CIA's spy is deceased, his or her name is supposed to be made public this week. If not, the CIA has got their back. 

MLK Surveillance

"Surveillance was a joint effort of IDEN A [the spy] and local ODENVY [CIA's code name for the FBI]," according to a cable from the chief of the agency's South Florida station. The surveillance took place in July 1966 when King and two associates stayed at a Miami airport hotel.

While the FBI's surveillance of King is notorious, much less is known about the CIA's interest in the civil right leader. Such eavesdropping violated the agency's charter barring operations on U.S. soil.

The cable describes the spy as a "cleared and witting contact," meaning he or she had a working relationship with the agency at the time. Approximately five lines of text that identify the spy have been blanked out in the document, which was released to the National Archives in November 2017.

The spy listened in on King's conversations from an adjacent hotel room for six hours.

"References were made to the Florida Gubernatorial Race, a trip to Bimini [an island in the Bahamas] and several miscellaneous sex experiences," the cable reported.

After King and associates checked out the next day, the CIA's spy searched their rooms, according to the file. The informant found a phone message in a trash can asking King to call Harry Wachtel, a New York lawyer who served as King's legal counsel.

The CIA's spy claimed, inaccurately, that Wachtel was "an identified member of the Communist Party." In fact, the FBI only had a report that Wachtel once had been active in the National Lawyer Guild, a leftist organization that some charged was a communist influenced. Clearly, one purpose of the surveillance was to impugn King and his associates.

The spy also found an envelope bearing the name of an unmarried woman who supposedly stayed in the hotel room, according to the cable.

It seems likely that the CIA was also spying on King's private life and is now shamefacedly hiding the results. Nine of the next ten pages in the King file are completely classified, along with the spy's name.

The memo supports the idea that the CIA worked with the FBI to obtain defamatory information about the civil rights leader less than two years before he was slain in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Whether the agency's MLK spy will ever be exposed remains to be seen.

 

You can read the CIA's partially declassified King file here.

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Jefferson Morley is a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute. He is the editor of the JFK Facts blog and author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press). Follow him on Twitter @JeffersonMorley.