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Context of 'April 6, 1977: Nixon: ‘If the President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal’'

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September 8, 1974: Ford Pardons Nixon

Ford delivering the televised address in which he announces the pardon of Nixon.Ford delivering the televised address in which he announces the pardon of Nixon. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum]At 11:01 a.m., President Ford delivers a statement announcing the pardon of former President Richard Nixon to a bank of television cameras and reporters. He calls Watergate and Nixon’s travails “an American tragedy in which we have all played a part.” He says that to withhold a pardon would subject Nixon, and the country, to a drawn-out legal proceeding that would take a year or more, and “[u]gly passions would again be aroused.” The American people would be even more polarized, and the opinions of foreign nations towards the US would sink even further as the highly public testimonies and possible trial of Nixon played out on television and in the press. It is doubtful that Nixon could ever receive a fair trial, Ford says. But Nixon’s fate is not Ford’s ultimate concern, he says, but the fate of the country. His duty to the “laws of God” outweigh his duty to the Constitution, Ford says, and he must “be true to my own convictions and my own conscience. My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot continue to prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed.… [O]nly I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book.… I do believe with all my heart and mind and spirit that I, not as president, but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.” Nixon and his family have “suffered enough,” Ford continues, “and will continue to suffer no matter what I do.” Thereby, Ford proclaims a “full, free and absolute pardon upon Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he… has committed or may have committed or taken part in” duiring his presidency. On camera, Ford signs the pardon document. [Werth, 2006, pp. 320-321]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants.H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, along with former Mitchell aide Robert Mardian, are convicted of various Watergate-related crimes, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fraud, and perjury. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell receive sentences of two to eight years in prison; Mardian will be given a sentence of ten months to three years. They immediately appeal their convictions on the grounds that they could not receive a fair trial because of the massive publicity surrounding Watergate. This was the same argument President Nixon’s lawyers used to influence President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon (see September 8, 1974). The appeals court will reject the contention. [New York Times, 2/16/1999; Werth, 2006, pp. 334]
Ehrlichman Asks for Leniency - All four will write letters to Judge John Sirica asking for leniency in sentencing. The only letter that is made public is Ehrlichman’s; he writes of his “profound regret” for his role in the Watergate conspiracy, and adds: “I have been found to be a perjurer. No reversal on appeal can remove the stigma.” Ehrlichman asks that he be allowed to spend his sentence working with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, using his legal talents to help them with land-use problems. Sirica will ignore the letter in his sentencing. Sirica will also ignore Haldeman’s argument that he only did the bidding of his boss, President Nixon, and that since Nixon never served jail time, neither should Haldeman. Mitchell, mired in divorce proceedings from his wife, says of the sentence: “It could have been a hell of a lot worse. They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha Mitchell.” [Time, 3/3/1975]
'Abdicated My Moral Judgments' - Reflecting on his conviction and his conduct during the Nixon years, Ehrlichman will say in 1977: “I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else. And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never—to never, ever—defer your moral judgments to anybody: your parents, your wife, anybody.” [New York Times, 2/16/1999]

Entity Tags: Robert Mardian, John Sirica, John Mitchell, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Martha Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Publicity photo for the Frost/Nixon interviews.Publicity photo for the Frost/Nixon interviews. [Source: London Times]British interviewer and entertainer David Frost makes a deal with former President Richard Nixon to undertake 24 hours of interviews on a wide range of topics, with six hours each on foreign policy, domestic affairs, Watergate, and a loosely defined “Nixon the Man” interview. Frost intends that the centerpiece of the interviews to be the Watergate session. Nixon agrees to a free, unfettered set of interviews in return for over a million dollars in appearance fees. [Reston, 2007, pp. 13-17] (Other sources say that Nixon will be paid $600,000 plus 20% of the profits from the broadcast, which are expected to top $2 million.)
Frost Seen as Unlikely Interviewer - There is also considerable skepticism about the choice of Frost as an interviewer; he is better known as a high-living entertainer who likes to hobnob with celebrities rather than as a tough interrogator. His primary experience with politics is his hosting of the BBC’s celebrated 1960s satirical show That Was the Week That Was. Frost outbid NBC for the rights to interview Nixon, and after all three American television networks refuse to air the shows, Frost has to cobble together an ad hoc group of about 140 television stations to broadcast the interviews. Frost will recall in 2007, “We were told, ‘Half the companies you’re approaching would never have anything to do with Nixon when he was president, and the other half are trying to make people forget that they did.’” [Time, 5/9/1977; Washington Post, 4/30/2007] Interestingly, when the Nixon team began negotiating for the interviews in July 1975, they made a point of not wanting any “real” investigative journalists to conduct the interviews—in fact, they considered offering the interviews to American television talk show host Merv Griffin. [Time, 5/9/1977] The interviews are to be done in segments, three sessions a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for two weeks in the spring of 1977. [National Public Radio, 6/17/2002]
Nixon Team Wants Focus Away from Watergate - While Nixon agrees that six hours of interviews will be on the topic of Watergate, his team wants to define “Watergate” as almost anything and everything negative about the Nixon presidency—not just the burglary and the cover-up, but abuses of power at the IRS, CIA, and FBI, Nixon’s tax problems, the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), disputed real estate sales, the sale of ambassadorships (see March-April 1972), the enemies list (see June 27, 1973), and the Huston Plan (see July 14, 1970). The hope is that Frost’s focus will become diluted and fail to focus on the Watergate conspiracy itself. The hope will not be fulfilled (see April 13-15, 1977).
Frost's Investigative Team - Frost begins hiring a team of investigators and experts to prepare him for the interviews, including author and journalist James Reston Jr. [Time, 5/9/1977] , a self-described “radical” who had worked to win amnesty for US citizens who had avoided the draft, and views Nixon as a contemptible figure who, despite his resignation (see August 8, 1974), remains “uncontrite and unconvicted.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 7/22/2007] Other members of Frost’s research team are Washington journalist and lawyer Robert Zelnick, freelance writer Phil Stanford, and London TV news executive John Birt, who will produce the interviews. Zelnick will play Nixon in the briefing sessions, going so far as mimicking Nixon’s mannerisms and hand gestures. For his part, Nixon had almost completed his own meticulous research of his presidency for his upcoming memoirs, and is quite conversant with his facts and defense strategies. Nixon’s team of aides includes his former White House military aide Colonel Jack Brennan, chief researcher Ken Khachigian, former speechwriter Ray Price, former press assistant (and future television reporter) Diane Sawyer, and former aide Richard Moore. [Time, 5/9/1977]
Nixon's Perceived 'Sweetheart Deal' - In his 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon (written largely in 1977 but unpublished for thirty years), Reston will write that Nixon surely “saw the enterprise as a sweetheart deal. He stood to make a lot of money and to rehabilitate his reputation.” Nixon harbors hopes that he can make a political comeback of one sort or another, and apparently intends to use Frost—best known for conducting “softball” interviews with celebrities and world leaders alike—as his “springboard” to re-enter public service. But, as Reston later observes, Nixon will underestimate the researchers’ efforts, and Frost’s own skill as a television interviewer. [Reston, 2007, pp. 13-17, 84] Time will describe Nixon in the interviews as “painful and poignant, sometimes illuminating, usually self-serving.” [Time, 5/9/1977]

Entity Tags: NBC, Phil Stanford, Merv Griffin, Richard Moore, Ray Price, Ken Khachigian, James Reston, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, John Birt, David Frost, Jack Brennan, Robert Zelnick, Diane Sawyer

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), finds transcripts of two conversations between Nixon and his then-aide Charles Colson from February 1973 (see February 13, 1973 and February 14, 1973) in a batch of documents surrounding the prosecution of the Watergate burglars (see January 1, 1975). Former Watergate prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton, informally advising the Frost research team, are both keenly interested in the transcripts. “You’ve got something no one else has,” Frampton says. “These transcripts must have been placed in the official exhibit by a clerical error.” The two explain the significance of the conversations between Nixon and Colson: they place Nixon directly in the plot to cover up the Watergate conspiracy six weeks before Nixon says he first learned of it. Frampton shows researcher James Reston Jr. just how he would have used the conversations against Nixon in court, while Ben-Veniste instructs Reston on how Frost should interrogate Nixon as a hostile witness. Frost should ask something like, “Is it still your position, Mr. Nixon, that between 21 March and 30 April, 1973, you acted to stop the cover-up and prosecute the guilty?” When Nixon answers yes, Frost should follow, “But in fact, as late as 16 April, 1973, you were working out ‘scenarios’ with Ehrlichman and Haldeman to make John Dean the Watergate scapegoat, weren’t you?” Other questions to ask include, “By what right were you offering campaign money for the defense of your associates who were charged in a criminal conspiracy?” and “Isn’t it really true that you never made any effort before 21 March to learn the details of a criminal activity that you knew was going on all around you?” [Reston, 2007, pp. 50-51]

Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, Charles Colson, George Frampton, John Dean, David Frost, Richard Ben-Veniste, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Interviewer David Frost has a difficult time with his subject, former President Richard Nixon, in the day’s early questioning (see April 6, 1977). Frost attempts to recoup with a line of questioning suggested by his adviser James Reston, Jr., one used in the trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman (see January 1, 1975). Were there no limits to what a president can do, even if the president wants to do something plainly illegal? he asks. Could he do anything despite the law? Burglary? Forgery? Even murder? “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon retorts. “Never had his imperialism been so baldly stated,” Reston will later reflect. Frost asks if the dividing line between, for example, a police burglary and the murder of an antiwar protester is only the president’s judgment? Nixon agrees, and adds: “There’s nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven’t read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.” [Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105; Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, David Frost, James Reston, Jr, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) is gladdened to see the New York Times’s reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 24, 2005). Klein has known since 2002 that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using AT&T facilities to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens’ telephone and Internet communications (see Late 2002, January 2003, October 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, Late 2003, and January 16, 2004). He has considered going public with his knowledge, but has so far refrained because, he will later explain, “[t]he atmosphere was still kind of scary.” He will later say of the Times report, “They seemed to be talking mainly about phone calls, but anyway, it was revealed that there was an illegal spying program going on, and I thought, ‘Ah, this would probably blow the whole thing,’ and I thought it would all come out, and I don’t need to do anything.” However, Klein is horrified to see the government’s response. He will say: “[W]hat came out was the government turned around and went on the offensive against anybody who would dare to criticize them.… They’re issuing threats: Anyone who has a security clearance and spills any beans here is in for prosecution. That was deliberately said by them several times on TV to intimidate anybody in, say, the NSA who knew the truth, intimidate them so they would not come forward. So that silenced anybody in the intelligence community” (see December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 25-26, 2006). In his 2009 book Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It, Klein will write that the Justice Department’s December 2005 investigation into the leak of classified information that led to the Times reports (see December 30, 2005) “was obviously intended to silence Congress, the media, and any potential whistleblowers inside the NSA who might have been tempted to come forward. The administration was manipulating the secrecy oath which people had taken to get security clearances, turning it into a weapon to silence anyone who had knowledge of wrongdoing.” Klein decides that he must come forward. He never received a security clearance, so he cannot be threatened with legal action over violating such clearance. He will explain: “All I had and still have are some company documents and some knowledge of some illicit NSA installation at AT&T’s network. And if anybody—say, Congress—was willing to follow the trail, I can give them all the names they want, and they can go up the hierarchy of AT&T all the way up to Dave Dorman, who was the president back then, and they can go even higher, and they can find out who is responsible for this, and they can ask them under oath and subpoena what the heck is going on here, if they had the will to do it.” Klein later admits to some hesitation and trepidation at undertaking such an effort, and will cite the “McCarthyite” atmosphere he says the government has created in which “dissidents become the target of a lynch mob searching for ‘terrorists.’” But, he will write, he believes the Times stories are “a political indication of a shift at the top of government, a split of some kind which could provide an opening.… Maybe they would publish my material, I thought, and that would provide some protection.” By December 31, Klein writes a preface to his memo from almost two years before (see January 16, 2004 and December 31, 2005). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: New York Times, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

James Reston Jr.James Reston Jr. [Source: James Reston, Jr]James Reston Jr., a member of David Frost’s research team for the famous Nixon-Frost interviews (see Early 1976), publishes his book, The Conviction of Richard Nixon, about those debates and their echoes in the actions of the Bush administration. Reston writes that “it might be argued that the post-September 11 domestic abuses find their origin in Watergate. In 1977 the commentators were shocked when Nixon said about his burglaries and wiretaps, ‘If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal’ (see April 6, 1977).… These brazen words… come eerily down to us through the tunnel of the last thirty years.”
Presidential Immunity - Reston writes: “In the area of criminal activity, Nixon argues, the president is immune. He can eavesdrop; he can cover up; he can approve burglaries; he can bend government agencies like the CIA and the FBI to his own political purposes. He can do so in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘executive privilege.’ And when these acts are exposed, he can call them ‘mistakes’ or ‘stupid things’ or ‘pipsqueak’ matters. In the 21st century, Nixon’s principle has been extended to authorizing torture, setting up secret prisons around the world, and ignoring the requirement for search warrants. A president can scrap the Geneva Convention and misuse the Defense Department and lie about the intelligence analyses. He is above the law. This is especially so when the nation is mired in an unpopular war, when the country is divided, when mass protests are in the streets of America, and an American president is pilloried around the world. If Nixon’s words resonate today, so also does the word Watergate.”
Echoes of Nixon and Watergate - Reston continues: “Again the nation is in a failing, elective war. A Nixon successor is again charged with abuse of power in covering up and distorting crucial facts as he dragged the country, under false pretenses, into war. Again secrecy reigns in the White House, and the argument is made that national security trumps all.… In 2007 the issue has returned with a vengeance. And one can become almost wistful in realizing that the period after Watergate brought an era of reform. A campaign finance law was passed; Congress reasserted its control over intelligence activities; and moral codes were enunciated for public officials. National security, the New York Times editorialized after the interviews, was no longer ‘the magic incantation’ that automatically paralyzed inquiry. After September 11, the incantation became magic again. And so, people have asked, after the Bush presidency, who will be his David Frost? It is hard to imagine that there will be one.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 9-10, 180]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, James Reston, Jr, George W. Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Frost, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Geneva Conventions

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Mitch McConnell.Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility.Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility. [Source: Wired]Former AT&T network technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) gives a press conference with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in Washington, DC, in an effort to lobby Congress and prevent an immunity bill for the telecoms from passing. The next day, Klein appears in the audience during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting as part of his lobbying effort in Washington to reveal his knowledge of a secret NSA electronic surveillance operation at AT&T’s San Francisco operations center (see January 2003). The NSA has monitored an enormous volume of telephone and Internet traffic through this secret operation. “I have first-hand knowledge of the clandestine collaboration between one giant telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history,” Klein tells reporters. “I think they committed a massive violation not only of the law but of the Constitution. That’s not the way the Fourth Amendment is supposed to work.” [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008] Klein states his four main points of information: that AT&T provided the NSA with all varieties of electronic communications, from telephone conversations to emails, text messages, Web browsing activities, and more; AT&T provided the NSA with billions of purely domestic communications; the program involved everyone using the Internet and not just AT&T customers, because of the interconnected nature of the Internet; and AT&T had 15 to 20 NSA “spy rooms” in facilities across the nation. Brian Reid, a telecommunications and data networking expert who served as one of the New York Times’s experts on the NSA allegations (see April 12, 2006), appears with Klein at the press conference. Reid told Klein in the days before the conference, “My job is to make people believe you.” Reid tells reporters, “The most likely use of this [AT&T/NSA] infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA.” Hours after the press conference, Klein appears as a guest on MSNBC’s political talk show Countdown, where host Keith Olbermann asks him if his experience “felt like finding yourself in a scene from the sci-fi flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers—did it have that sort of horror quality to it?” Klein replies, “My thought was George Orwell’s 1984 and here I am being forced to connect the Big Brother machine.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 93-100]
Key Witness - Klein is a key witness in the lawsuit against AT&T by the EFF (see January 31, 2006 and Early January 2006). He is offering to testify against efforts by the Bush administration and its Congressional Republican allies to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to grant immunity to telecom companies like AT&T from prosecution for surveillance acts. Such an immunity grant would likely result in the dismissal of such lawsuits. But no committee of Congress invites him to testify. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008]
NSA Secure Room - Part of Klein’s information is from a deposition that was entered into evidence in the lawsuit, and is now made available to individual members of Congress (see February 23-28, 2006, June 26, 2006, and June 13, 2007). Klein relates that during a tour of the AT&T-controlled floors of the Folsom Street facility of what was then SBC Communications, he saw Room 641A, categorized as the “SG3Secure Room” (see October 2003 and Late 2003). That fall, when he was hired to work at the facility, he saw an NSA agent who came to interview a field support specialist for clearance to be able to work in the Secure Room. “To my knowledge, only employees cleared by the NSA were permitted to enter the SG3 Secure Room,” Klein says. “To gain entry to the SG3 Secure Room required both a physical key for the cylinder lock and a combination code number to be entered into an electronic keypad on the door. To my knowledge, only [two field support specialists] had both the key and the combination code.” Klein installed new circuits to a fiber-optic “splitter cabinet” that had only one purpose: to duplicate Internet traffic from WorldNet’s service into SG3, thereby allowing the NSA access to all traffic on that circuit. “What I saw is that everything’s flowing across the Internet to this government-controlled room,” he now says. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007]
EFF Lobbyists - The EFF secures the services of two professional lobbyists, Adam Eisgrau and former Congressman Thomas Downey (D-NY), who escort Klein and EFF officials Cindy Cohn and Kevin Bankston around Capitol Hill during the two-day period. EFF also works with a professional media company to prepare the media for the November 7 press conference. After the conference, Klein is introduced to a number of Democratic lawmakers, though he says only a few are truly interested in his evidence; he names Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a former physicist who had actually worked with some of the technology Klein cites in his statements, as two of those willing to give him more than a handshake and a quick photo opportunity. Klein later regrets being unable to meet with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), whom he considers to be one of the few real champions of civil liberties in Congress. Dodd cited Klein’s evidence, and Klein by name, in his unsuccessful filibuster of the FISA amendment bill (see July 10, 2008). [Klein, 2009, pp. 91-95] The lobbyists are able to gain access for Klein to the Congressional hearings. Some media outlets later report, mistakenly, that Klein actually testifies before the panel. [Klein, 2009, pp. 100-101]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Mark Klein, Bush administration (43), Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The online news site Wired News reveals that a “whistleblower” is alleging that the US government has had direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier’s systems, exposing US citizens’ telephone calls, data transmissions, and even physical movements to potentially illegal government surveillance. Babak Pasdar, the CEO of Bat Blue and a former computer security consultant, says he worked for the unnamed carrier in late 2003. “What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment,” Pasdar says. “I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that.” According to Wired News, while Pasdar refuses to name the carrier, his claims are virtually identical to allegations made in a 2006 federal lawsuit against four telecommunications firms and the US government (see January 31, 2006); the suit named Verizon Wireless as taking actions similar to those claimed by Pasdar. Pasdar has provided an affidavit to the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has begun circulating the affidavit along with talking points to Congressional staffers. Congress is working on legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms that worked with the government to illegally wiretap American citizens’ communications (see July 10, 2008). Pasdar says he learned of the surveillance in September 2003, when he led a team hired to revamp security on the carrier’s internal network. When he asked about a so-called “Quantico Circuit” linking its network to an unnamed third party, the carrier’s officials became uncommunicative (see September 2003). Quantico is the center of the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations. “The circuit was tied to the organization’s core network,” Pasdar writes in his affidavit. “It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, Web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions.” The “Quantico Circuit” was unshielded, which would have given the recipient unfettered access to customer records, data, and information. Pasdar tells a Wired News reporter, “I don’t know if I have a smoking gun, but I’m certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I’m convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner.” Verizon Wireless refuses to comment on Pasdar’s allegations, citing national security concerns. Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes in response: “Mr. Pasdar’s allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the administration. Moreover, the whistleblower’s allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T.… Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity.” [Wired News, 3/6/2008] Klein will assist Pasdar in writing a letter opposing immunity for the telecom firms based on Pasdar’s evidence, a letter which GAP provides to newspapers across the country. However, Klein will write, only a few smaller newspapers will publish the letter. [Klein, 2009, pp. 103]

Entity Tags: Wired News, Babak Pasdar, Government Accountability Project, Mark Klein, John Dingell, Verizon Wireless

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T “whistleblower” Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) has a short essay published in Wired News, sharply criticizing the recently passed legislation that amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008) and granted telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for helping government agencies illegally spy on American citizens. Klein initially offered the essay in letter form to the New York Times, but although the editors there showed what Klein will call “some interest,” they rejected the letter. Instead, Wired News’s Ryan Singel accepted the letter for one of his “Threat Level” columns. Singel describes Klein as “furious” at the vote, and quotes Klein: “[Wednesday]‘s vote by Congress effectively gives retroactive immunity to the telecom companies and endorses an all-powerful president. It’s a Congressional coup against the Constitution. The Democratic leadership is touting the deal as a ‘compromise,’ but in fact they have endorsed the infamous Nuremberg defense: ‘Just following orders.’ The judge can only check their paperwork. This cynical deal is a Democratic exercise in deceit and cowardice.… Congress has made the FISA law a dead letter—such a law is useless if the president can break it with impunity. Thus the Democrats have surreptitiously repudiated the main reform of the post-Watergate era and adopted Nixon’s line: ‘When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.’ This is the judicial logic of a dictatorship. The surveillance system now approved by Congress provides the physical apparatus for the government to collect and store a huge database on virtually the entire population, available for data mining whenever the government wants to target its political opponents at any given moment—all in the hands of an unrestrained executive power. It is the infrastructure for a police state.” [Wired News, 6/27/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 108]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Wired News, Ryan Singel

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). [Washington Post, 6/20/2008; CNN, 6/26/2008; US Senate, 7/9/2008; White House, 7/10/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 95-97] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 101-103] Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Christopher Dodd, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mark Klein, Russell D. Feingold, Richard M. Nixon, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, National Security Agency, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008). The EFF is particularly concerned with the portion of the legislation that grants retroactive immunity from prosecution to telecommunications firms that worked with government agencies to illegally conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens (see December 15, 2005). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, according to the EFF, and, the organization writes, “robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law.” The lawsuit was triggered by Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s recent submission of a classified certification in another EFF lawsuit about illegal electronic certification (see January 31, 2006) that claimed the electronic surveillance conducted on behalf of the National Security Agency by AT&T did not happen. EFF senior attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The immunity law puts the fox in charge of the hen house, letting the attorney general decide whether or not telecoms like AT&T can be sued for participating in the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance. In our constitutional system, it is the judiciary’s role as a co-equal branch of government to determine the scope of the surveillance and rule on whether it is legal, not the executive’s. The attorney general should not be allowed to unconstitutionally play judge and jury in these cases, which affect the privacy of millions of Americans.” Mukasey’s certification claimed the government has no “content-dragnet” program that surveills millions of domestic communications, though it does not deny having acquired such communications. EFF has provided the court with thousands of pages of documents proving the falsity of Mukasey’s assertions, the organization writes. EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl says: “We have overwhelming record evidence that the domestic spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law. Intelligence agencies, telecoms, and the administration want to sweep this case under the rug, but the Constitution won’t permit it.” EFF spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke tells a reporter that the FAA “violates the federal government’s separation of powers and violates the Constitution. We want to make sure this unconstitutional law does not deny telecom customers their day in court. They have legitimate privacy claims that should be heard by a judge. Extensive evidence proves the existence of a massive illegal surveillance program affecting millions of ordinary Americans. The telecoms broke the law and took part in this. The FISA Amendments Act and its immunity provisions were an attempt to sweep these lawsuits under the rug, but it’s simply unconstitutional.” EFF lawyers fear the FAA will render their lawsuit invalid. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2008; Salon, 10/17/2008] The EFF has filed a related lawsuit against the NSA and senior members of the Bush administration (see September 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Kevin Bankston, Kurt Opsahl, National Security Agency, Michael Mukasey, Rebecca Jeschke

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’ [Source: BookSurge / aLibris (.com)]Former AT&T technician Mark Klein self-publishes his book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It. In his acknowledgements, Klein writes that he chose to self-publish (through BookSurge, a pay-to-publish venue) because “[t]he big publishers never called me,” and the single small publishing house that offered to publish his book added “an unacceptable requirement to cut core material.” Klein based his book on his experiences as an AT&T engineer at the telecom giant’s San Francisco facility, where he primarily worked with AT&T’s Internet service. In 2002 and 2003, Klein witnessed the construction of of a “secret room,” a facility within the facility that was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather billions of email, telephone, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and text messages, most of which were sent by ordinary Americans. The NSA did its electronic surveillance, Klein writes, secretly and without court warrants. Klein describes himself as “wiring up the Big Brother machine,” and was so concerned about the potential illegality and constitutional violations of the NSA’s actions (with AT&T’s active complicity) that he retained a number of non-classified documents proving the extent of the communications “vacuuming” being done. Klein later used those documents to warn a number of reporters, Congressional members, and judges of what he considered a horrific breach of Americans’ right to privacy. [Klein, 2009, pp. 9-11, 21-24, 33, 35, 38, 40] In 2007, Klein described his job with the firm as “basically to keep the systems going. I worked at AT&T for 22 and a half years. My job was basically to keep the systems going. They were computer systems, network communication systems, Internet equipment, Voice over Internet [Protocol (VoIP)] equipment. I tested circuits long distance across the country. That was my job: to keep the network up.” He explained why he chose to become a “whistleblower:” “Because I remember the last time this happened.… I did my share of anti-war marches when that was an active thing back in the ‘60s, and I remember the violations and traffic transgressions that the government pulled back then for a war that turned out to be wrong, and a lot of innocent people got killed over it. And I’m seeing all this happening again, only worse. When the [NSA] got caught in the ‘70s doing domestic spying, it was a big scandal, and that’s why Congress passed the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law, as you know, to supposedly take care of that (see 1978). So I remember all that. And the only way any law is worth anything is if there’s a memory so that people can say: ‘Wait a minute. This happened before.’ And you’ve got to step forward and say: ‘I remember this. This is the same bad thing happening again, and there should be a halt to it.’ And I’m a little bit of that institutional memory in the country; that’s all.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, AT&T, BookSurge, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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