The NSA Spied on King and Ali, Too

They and other Vietnam War critics were on a watch list called Operation Minaret.

Posted: 09/26/2013 05:58 PM EDT

Recent disclosures about the National Security Agency monitoring phone and online usage in the U.S. and in foreign nations has offended many people's sensibilities. But, it's nothing new.

According to newly declassified NSA documents released this week, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young and championship boxer Muhammad Ali were once on the NSA watch list. It was likely due to their criticisms of the Vietnam War during the administrations of former presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

The program, dubbed Operation Minaret, monitored the overseas phone calls and cables and grew to include 1,650 U.S. citizens. U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson ended the program in 1973 when the Nixon administration was embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

"It would be fascinating to see the list of 1,600 or so NSA targets," wrote historians Michael Aid and William Burr in a blog post on the National Security Archive web site. "No doubt, other African-American activists were targeted, as well as the leaders of groups associated with the anti-war protests."

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(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)