The White House Tapes: Uncivil Liberties

MLK giving speech in Washington DC
The White House Tapes: Uncivil Liberties
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Operation Zorro was the campaign undertaken by the FBI to monitor and destroy MLK.  After the March on Washington, the head of Division Five, the FBI section responsible for mounting surveillance on “domestic terrorists”, reported to Hoover that King was “by far the most dangerous man in America.” A recently declassified internal surveillance investigation conducted in 1976 by the Church and Pike Committees exposed the campaign to destroy King. As outlined in a Brookings Institute essay about the committee findings “Their hearings exposed secret, arguably illegal wiretapping, bugging, and harassment of American citizens, including Supreme Court justices, reporters, and government officials, all in the name of collecting intelligence about threats to national security. The most notorious case, first exposed in the 1960s and fully documented by the Church Committee, was the wiretapping of Martin Luther King, Jr. by the NSA and by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, who believed him to be part of a Communist conspiracy.”

Behind The Scenes

A former FBI agent who was part of the effort to persuade King to commit suicide discusses his part in the operation. We also meet Clarence Jones, a confidant of King, who recalls a trip to Washington where he shared a bedroom with King. Next door, FBI agents recorded material they intend to use for blackmail. Joseph Lowry recounts being with King when a tape arrived demanding the civil rights leader take his own life. 

Produced For
History Channel & BBC
Philip Day
David C. Taylor
Director of Photography
Ray Brislin
Charles Wheeler & David C. Taylor