New FBI Director James Comey will tell all the Bureau’s new agents and analysts to visit the monument to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.
Previous FBI directors had instructed new agents to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington, which shows “abuse of power on a massive, almost unimaginable, scale,” Comey told FBI agents and staff at his Oct. 28 swearing-in ceremony. Comey said he would continue that practice, while also instructing new agents to visit the memorial to King.
“I’m going to direct that all new agents and analysts also visit the Martin Luther King Memorial here in Washington,” said Comey, whose term runs for 10 years.
“I think it will serve as a different kind of lesson, one more personal to the Bureau, of the dangers in becoming untethered to oversight and accountability,” he said.
Rev. King was monitored by FBI agents from 1958 to 1968, during the presidencies of Republican Dwight Eisenhower, and Democrats John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Democrats dominated southern politics, and used their power to block demands for equal treatment of blacks with whites. For example, Birmingham’s police chief, Theophilus “Bull” Connor, used firehoses and dogs to block a march in 1963. Connor was a Democrat and a member of the Democratic National Committee.
Comey declared the FBI would be independent of politics.
“The FBI must be independent of all political forces or interests in this country… [and] must stand apart from other institutions in American life,” he said. “But, second, at the same time, it must be part of the United States Department of Justice, and constrained by the rule of law and the checks and balances built into our brilliant design by our nation’s founders.”
“Our first half-century or so was a time of great progress and achievement for this country, and for the Bureau,” Comey said. “But it also saw abuse and overreach — most famously with respect to Martin Luther King and others, who were viewed as internal security threats.”
Comey did not explain who the “others” were, but he did seem to criticize the FBI’s surveillance of political radicals in the 1960s.
The King monument was designed and carved in China. It has been extensively criticized as bad art, and a quote carved into the side of the monument was subsequently changed.