In its own official history of its Cold War snooping activities, the NSA disclosed declassified material showing that it tapped the phones of prominent opponents of the Vietnam War, including Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and two serving U.S. senators.

The senators were Idaho Democrat Frank Church and Tennessee Republican Howard Baker. Oddly, Baker was a firm supporter of the Vietnam War. The NSA also intercepted the foreign communications of journalists such as Tom Wicker of The New York Times and Art Buchwald, the popular satirical writer for The Washington Post.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

Alongside King, a second leading civil rights figure, Whitney Young of the National Urban League, was also surreptitiously monitored. The heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, was put on the watch list in about 1967 after he spoke out about Vietnam – he was jailed having refused to be drafted into the army, was stripped of his title, and banned from fighting – and is thought to have remained a target of surveillance for the next six years.

The agency went to great lengths to keep its activities, known as operation Minaret, from public view. All reports generated for Minaret were printed on plain paper unadorned with the NSA logo or other identifying markings other than the stamp “For Background Use Only”. They were delivered by hand directly to the White House, often going specifically to successive presidents Lyndon Johnson who set the programme up in 1967 and Richard Nixon.

The lack of judicial oversight of the snooping programme led even the NSA’s own history to conclude that Minaret was “disreputable if not outright illegal”.

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