Coretta Scott King's Wiretap Ends

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Coretta Scott King's Wiretap Ends

January saw the passing of 78-year-old Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and with it, the end of the FBI's around-the-clock phone surveillance of Mrs. King.

"After Mrs. King's death, the Bureau determined that the threat she posed to American security was significantly minimized to the point that the wiretapping should not continue," said Charles Torcello, special agent in charge of the FBI's Coretta Scott King surveillance unit.

The FBI had monitored King since 1955, when her husband, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., first gained the attention of law-enforcement officials by leading the Montgomery bus boycott against segregation in public mass transit.

"Our vigilance paid off for America, even if it wasn't always pretty to witness an old woman slowly deteriorate," said Torcello, who admitted to a grudging respect for King, calling her "in many ways a subversive member of my own family."

"She was a dedicated and admirable enemy," Torcello added.

Torcello's view was widely shared by members of the FBI King unit, some of whom traveled to her Feb. 7 funeral service in Lithonia, GA, and discreetly parked their unmarked van behind the the church.

"From what we could pick up, it was a beautiful service," said Agent Joyce Mallory, who had spied on King for nearly two decades. "We'll all miss her, but at least we'll still have thousands and thousands of taped transcriptions to remember her by."

Other agents assigned to the King unit had their own memories of her. Some reminisced about using high-tech listening devices to gather information on the exact dates King was having her carpets cleaned, or on the locations of church functions she had organized. Nearly all agreed that the eavesdropping on a secret recipe for cornbread was one of the most valuable pieces of information garnered from the program.

The FBI said that the four $78.2 million geosynchronous surveillance satellites that were used to watch King will be turned over to the unit monitoring the activities of rapper Kanye West's mother, Dr. Donda West.