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Context of 'January 31, 2006: Bush Says Previous Presidents Also Authorized Warrantless Wiretapping; Assertion Draws Fire from Conservatives, Legal Scholars'

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The US Supreme Court, in what becomes informally known as the “Keith case,” upholds, 8-0, an appellate court ruling that strikes down warrantless surveillance of domestic groups for national security purposes. The Department of Justice had wiretapped, without court warrants, several defendants charged with destruction of government property; those wiretaps provided key evidence against the defendants. Attorney General John Mitchell refused to disclose the source of the evidence pursuant to the “national security” exception to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The courts disagreed, and the government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ rulings against the government in a unanimous verdict. The Court held that the wiretaps were an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, establishing the judicial precedent that warrants must be obtained before the government can wiretap a US citizen. [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] Critics of the Nixon administration have long argued that its so-called “Mitchell Doctrine” of warrantlessly wiretapping “subversives” has been misused to spy on anyone whom Nixon officials believe may be political enemies. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]
Opinion of Justice Powell - Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis Powell observes: “History abundantly documents the tendency of Government—however benevolent and benign its motives—to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.” [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972]
Justice Department Wiretapped Reporters, Government Officials - In February 1973, the media will report that, under the policy, the Justice Department had wiretapped both reporters and Nixon officials themselves who were suspected of leaking information to the press (see May 1969 and July 26-27, 1970), and that some of the information gleaned from those wiretaps was given to “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for their own political espionage operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259]
Conyers Hails Decision 30 Years Later - In 2003, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) will say on the floor of the House: “Prior to 1970, every modern president had claimed ‘inherent Executive power’ to conduct electronic surveillance in ‘national security’ cases without the judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged ‘domestic’ terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national security matter. Judge [Damon] Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign’s inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the Attorney General appealed to the US Supreme Court, the Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith. The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory restriction on the government’s electronic snooping in national security cases.” [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, US Supreme Court, John Mitchell, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of Justice, G. Gordon Liddy, ’Plumbers’, Damon Keith, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

CIA Counterintelligence Director James Angleton.CIA Counterintelligence Director James Angleton. [Source: CI Centre.com]CIA Director James Schlesinger orders an internal review of CIA surveillance operations against US citizens. The review finds dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens dating back to the 1950s, including break-ins, wiretaps, and the surreptitious opening of personal mail. The earlier surveillance operations were not directly targeted at US citizens, but against “suspected foreign intelligence agents operating in the United States.” Schlesinger is disturbed to find that the CIA is currently mounting illegal surveillance operations against antiwar protesters, civil rights organizations, and political “enemies” of the Nixon administration. In the 1960s and early 1970s, CIA agents photographed participants in antiwar rallies and other demonstrations. The CIA also created a network of informants who were tasked to penetrate antiwar and civil rights groups and report back on their findings. At least one antiwar Congressman was placed under surveillance, and other members of Congress were included in the agency’s dossier of “dissident Americans.” As yet, neither Schlesinger nor his successor, current CIA Director William Colby, will be able to learn whether or not Schlesinger’s predecessor, Richard Helms, was asked by Nixon officials to perform such illegal surveillance, though both Schlesinger and Colby disapproved of the operations once they learned of them. Colby will privately inform the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of the domestic spying engaged in by his agency. The domestic spying program was headed by James Angleton, who is still serving as the CIA’s head of counterintelligence operations, one of the most powerful and secretive bureaus inside the agency. It is Angleton’s job to maintain the CIA’s “sources and methods of intelligence,” including the prevention of foreign “moles” from penetrating the CIA. But to use counterintelligence as a justification for the domestic spying program is wrong, several sources with first-hand knowledge of the program will say in 1974. “Look, that’s how it started,” says one. “They were looking for evidence of foreign involvement in the antiwar movement. But that’s not how it ended up. This just grew and mushroomed internally.” The source continues, speaking hypothetically: “Maybe they began with a check on [Jane] Fonda. They began to check on her friends. They’d see her at an antiwar rally and take photographs. I think this was going on even before the Huston plan” (see July 26-27, 1970 and December 21, 1974). “This wasn’t a series of isolated events. It was highly coordinated. People were targeted, information was collected on them, and it was all put on [computer] tape, just like the agency does with information about KGB agents. Every one of these acts was blatantly illegal.” Schlesinger begins a round of reforms in the CIA, a program continued by Colby. [New York Times, 12/22/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William Colby, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Helms, James Angleton, Jane Fonda, Nixon administration, Central Intelligence Agency, James R. Schlesinger, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Following the revelations of the Church Committee’s investigation into the excesses of the CIA (see April, 1976), and the equally revealing New York Times article documenting the CIA’s history of domestic surveillance against US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974), Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In essence, FISA prohibits physical and electronic surveillance against US citizens except in certain circumstances affecting national security, under certain guidelines and restrictions, with court warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), operating within the Department of Justice as well as with criminal warrants. FISA restricts any surveillance of US citizens (including US corporations and permanent foreign residents) to those suspected of having contact with “foreign powers” and terrorist organizations. FISA gives a certain amount of leeway for such surveillance operations, requiring that the administration submit its evidence for warrantless surveillance to FISC within 24 hours of its onset and keeping the procedures and decisions of FISC secret from the public. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 9/27/2001; Legal Information Institute, 11/30/2004] On September 14, 2001, Congress will pass a revision of FISA that extends the time period for warrantless surveillance to 72 hours. The revision, part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002, will also lower the standard for the issuance of wiretap warrants and make legal “John Doe,” or generic, warrants that can be used without naming a particular target. FISA revisions will also expand the bounds of the technologies available to the government for electronic and physical surveillance, and broaden the definitions of who can legally be monitored. [US Senate, 9/14/2001; Senator Jane Harman, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, Church Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program is revealed (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005), some commentators criticize the program. Americans have fundamental Constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international, says law scholar Geoffrey Stone. Stone says that President Bush’s emphasis that NSA wiretapping only takes place on US calls to overseas phones or overseas e-mails “is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays.” Former FBI national security law chief Michael Woods, who served in the position when Bush signed the NSA directive, calls the program “very dangerous.” Though Woods says the program was justifiable in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, “[By now] we ought to be past the time of emergency responses. We ought to have more considered views now…. We have time to debate a legal regime and what’s appropriate.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2005] Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, says the secret order may amount to Bush authorizing criminal activity in direct violation of FISA. “This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration,” she says. “It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Frederickson says of the program, “It’s clear that the administration has been very willing to sacrifice civil liberties in its effort to exercise its authority on terrorism, to the extent that it authorizes criminal activity.” [Washington Post, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Center for National Security Studies, Geoffrey Stone, American Civil Liberties Union, National Security Agency, Caroline Frederickson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In his State of the Union address, President Bush insists that his authority to wiretap Americans’ phones without warrants (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) is validated by previous administrations’ actions, saying that “previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have.” He fails to note that those presidents authorized warrantless wiretaps before court orders were required for such actions (see June 19, 1972 and 1973). Since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed (see 1978), no president except Bush has ever defied the law. Law professor David Cole calls Bush’s assertion of authority “either intentionally misleading or downright false.” Fellow law professor Richard Epstein predicts that the Supreme Court will strike down any such assertions, if it ever addresses the issue. “I find every bit of this legal argument disingenuous,” he says. Even many conservatives refuse to support Bush, with columnist George Will calling his arguments “risible” and a “monarchical doctrine” that is “refuted by the plain text of the Constitution.” David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the legal powers claimed by Bush and his officials can be used to justify anything: “Their argument is extremely dangerous.… The American system was set up on the assumption that you can’t rely on the good will of people with power.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist says flatly, “There is no excuse for violating the rule of law.” And former Justice Department official Bruce Fein says Bush and his officials have “a view that would cause the Founding Fathers to weep. The real conservatives are the ones who treasure the original understanding of the Constitution, and clearly this is inconsistent with the separation of powers.” Even former George H. W. Bush official Brent Scowcroft says that Bush’s interpretation of the Constitution is “fundamentally in error.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203-204]

Entity Tags: David D. Cole, Brent Scowcroft, American Conservative Union, Bruce Fein, Richard Epstein, Grover Norquist, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, David Keene, George Will, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician and incipient whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) issues his first press release, summarizing his knowledge of AT&T’s complicity with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s illegal domestic wiretapping program (see December 31, 2005). Klein has given documentation supporting his claims to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in support of that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006). Klein’s press release tells of the NSA’s “secret room” in AT&T’s Folsom Street, San Francisco, facility (see January 2003) and reveals for the first time the NSA’s use of the Narus STA 6400 to comb through the wiretapped data (see January 16, 2004). The release reads in part: “Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet—whether that be people’s email, Web surfing, or any other data. Given the public debate about the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s spying on US citizens without obtaining a FISA warrant (see December 18, 2005, December 20, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 25, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 10, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, and January 31, 2006), I think it is critical that this information be brought out into the open, and that the American people be told the truth about the extent of the administration’s warrantless surveillance practices, particularly as it relates to the Internet. Despite what we are hearing (see December 19, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21-22, 2005, and January 19, 2006), and considering the public track record of this administration (see December 24, 2005, Early 2006, January 23, 2006, January 25-26, 2006, and February 2, 2006), I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” Klein issues the press release in part to give himself some publicity, and the protection from government harassment such publicity might entail (see February 11, 2006 and After). [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Wired News, 4/7/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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