During Vietnam, NSA Spied on Senators, MLK, and…Art Buchwald!?!?


Because we never really seem to reach the bottom of the ability of the state to soil itself, it shouldn't be surprising to learn that during the Vietnam and Cold Wars, the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on U.S. senators, Muhammad Ali, and civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here's Foreign Policy take:

As Vietnam War protests grew, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the overseas communications of prominent American critics of the war—including a pair of sitting U.S. senators. That's according to a recently declassified NSA history, which called the effort "disreputable if not outright illegal."

For years the names of the surveillance targets were kept secret. But after a decision by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, in response to an appeal by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the NSA has declassified them for the first time. The names of the NSA's targets are eye-popping. Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young were on the watch list, as were the boxer Muhammad Ali, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, and veteran Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald.

You got that? Art Buchwald! Few people will remember Buchwald, who at one time was a widely syndicated "humor" columnist who was usually about as funny as a double hernia. I don't mean to speak ill of the dead (he died in 2007). What I mean to say is that Art Buchwald was nobody's idea of a threat to national security. He was a generally tame, Erma-Bombeck-style laff-getter whose jokes and satire rarely could be construed as subversive in any way, shape, or form. If the NSA was spending time surveilling Buchwald, they didn't have any real work to do. Here's how FP writes up the reasons to put Buchwald under inspection:

As early as 1966, Buchwald had begun writing scathing columns about how the war in Vietnam was being handled, arguing in one column that instead of spending an estimated $332,000 to kill a single enemy soldier in Vietnam, it would be cheaper and more cost-effective to offer Viet Cong defectors a $25,000 home, a color TV, education for their children, and a country club membership. It was probably this sort of satirical commentary that led to Buchwald's appearance on the watch list, though one must wonder if the same happened to other humorists, political cartoonists, and stand-up comedians for daring to question the Vietnam War.

That's not a bad joke, for sure, but is it scathing? If that's the sort of thing that got the government to tail you back then, you just have to wonder what the NSA is up to these days when they can track everyone so much more easily and comprehensively.

Read the FP story.

Good thing we've got the most transparent administration EVAH in place, right?