FBI chief Comey: New agents must visit MLK Memorial

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with FBI Director James Comey after he was sworn-in at the FBI headquarters in Washington, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW) (REUTERS)

Amid a furious global controversy over the National Security Agency's spying on U.S. allies, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said on Monday he will order all new FBI agents to visit the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to reflect on past “abuse and overreach” by the agency.

Comey noted that former FBI Director Louis Freeh had ordered all new agent classes to visit the Holocaust Museum “so they could see and feel and hear in a palpable way the consequences of abuse of power on a massive, almost unimaginable scale.”

That will continue, Comey said.

But “I'm going to direct that all new agents and analysts also visit the Martin Luther King Memorial here in Washington,” the FBI director announced, with President Barack Obama looking on. “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.”

The FBI spied on King, the famed civil rights leader, throughout the 1960s until his assassination in 1968. 

Comey’s comments, delivered at his symbolic swearing-in, came with Obama embroiled in a widening international controversy over alleged NSA spying on allied leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and monitoring of tens of millions of communications across Europe.

Comey noted the FBI's early years were “a time of great progress and achievement” — but clouded by “abuse and overreach, most famously with respect to Martin Luther King and others who were viewed as internal security threats.”

(Obama did not directly address the controversy but approvingly quoted legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, famous for far-ranging surveillance overreach. “The most effective weapon against crime is cooperation,” the president said.)