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July 26-27, 1970: Nixon Rejects Huston Plan

After President Nixon approves of the so-called “Huston Plan” to implement a sweeping new domestic intelligence and internal security apparatus (see July 14, 1970), FBI director J. Edgar Hoover brings the plan’s author, White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see June 5, 1970), into his office and vents his disapproval. The “old ways” of unfettered wiretaps, political infiltration, and calculated break-ins and burglaries are “too dangerous,” he tells Huston. When, not if, the operations are revealed to the public, they will open up scrutiny of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and possibly reveal other, past illegal domestic surveillance operations that would embarrass the government. Hoover says he will not share FBI intelligence with other agencies, and will not authorize any illegal activities without President Nixon’s personal, written approval. The next day, Nixon orders all copies of the decision memo collected, and withdraws his support for the plan. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 236-237] W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI, later calls Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will note that the definition of “gauleiter” is, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “the leader or chief officoal of a political district under Nazi control.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 33-34]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Tom Charles Huston, J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, 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

Former CIA director Richard Helms.Former CIA director Richard Helms. [Source: Search.com]Former CIA director Richard Helms indirectly confirms the involvement of the Nixon administration in his agency’s illegal domestic surveillance operations during his testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee. Helms tells the committee that he was told by Nixon’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that the CIA could “make a contribution” in domestic intelligence operations. “I pointed out to them very quickly that it could not, there was no way,” Helms testifies. “But this was a matter that kept coming up in the context of feelers: Isn’t there somebody else who can take on these things if the FBI isn’t doing them as well as they should, as there are no other facilities?” (FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s opposition to the idea of spying on US citizens for Nixon’s political purposes is well documented.) CIA officials say that, despite Helms’s testimony, Helms began the domestic spying program as asked, in the beginning to investigate beliefs that the antiwar movement was permeated by foreign intelligence agents in 1969 and 1970. “It started as a foreign intelligence operation and it bureaucratically grew,” one source says in 1974. “That’s really the answer.” The CIA “simply began using the same techniques for foreigners against new targets here.” The source will say James Angleton, the CIA’s director of counterintelligence (see 1973), began recruiting double agents inside the antiwar and civil rights organizations, and sending in “ringers” to penetrate the groups and report back to the CIA. “It was like a little FBI operation.” Angleton reportedly believes that both the protest groups and the US media are riddled with Soviet intelligence agents, and acts accordingly to keep those groups and organizations under constant watch. One source will say Angleton has a “spook mentality.” Another source will say that Angleton’s counterintelligence bureau is “an independent power in the CIA. Even people in the agency aren’t allowed to deal directly with the CI [counterintelligence] people. Once you’re in it, you’re in it for life.” [New York Times, 12/22/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard Helms, J. Edgar Hoover, James Angleton, Issuetsdeah

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

1974 New York Times headline.1974 New York Times headline. [Source: New York Times]The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has repeatedly, and illegally, spied on US citizens for years, reveals investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a landmark report for the New York Times. Such operations are direct violations of the CIA’s charter and the law, both of which prohibit the CIA from operating inside the United States. Apparently operating under orders from Nixon officials, the CIA has conducted electronic and personal surveillance on over 10,000 US citizens, as part of an operation reporting directly to then-CIA Director Richard Helms. In an internal review in 1973, Helms’s successor, James Schlesinger, also found dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens both past and present (see 1973). Many Washington insiders wonder if the revelation of the CIA surveillance operations tie in to the June 17, 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters at Washington’s Watergate Hotel by five burglars with CIA ties. Those speculations were given credence by Helms’s protests during the Congressional Watergate hearings that the CIA had been “duped” into taking part in the Watergate break-in by White House officials.
Program Beginnings In Dispute - One official believes that the program, a successor to the routine domestic spying operations during the 1950s and 1960s, was sparked by what he calls “Nixon’s antiwar hysteria.” Helms himself indirectly confirmed the involvement of the Nixon White House, during his August 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee (see August 1973).
Special Operations Carried Out Surveillance - The domestic spying was carried out, sources say, by one of the most secretive units in CI, the special operations branch, whose employees carry out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors. “That’s really the deep-snow section,” says one high-level intelligence expert. The liaison between the special operations unit and Helms was Richard Ober, a longtime CI official. “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms,” says a former CIA official. “I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.” After the program was revealed in 1973 by Schlesinger, Ober was abruptly transferred to the National Security Council. He wasn’t fired because, says one source, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.” Angleton denies any wrongdoing.
Supposition That Civil Rights Movement 'Riddled' With Foreign Spies - Moscow, who relayed information about violent underground protesters during the height of the antiwar movement, says that black militants in the US were trained by North Koreans, and says that both Yasser Arafat, of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the KGB were involved to some extent in the antiwar movement, a characterization disputed by former FBI officials as based on worthless intelligence from overseas. For Angleton to make such rash accusations is, according to one member of Congress, “even a better story than the domestic spying.” A former CIA official involved in the 1969-70 studies by the agency on foreign involvement in the antiwar movement says that Angleton believes foreign agents are indeed involved in antiwar and civil rights organizations, “but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
'Cesspool' of Illegality Distressed Schlesinger - According to one of Schlesinger’s former CIA associates, Schlesinger was distressed at the operations. “He found himself in a cesspool,” says the associate. “He was having a grenade blowing up in his face every time he turned around.” Schlesinger, who stayed at the helm of the CIA for only six months before becoming secretary of defense, informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the Watergate break-in, as well as another operation by the so-called “plumbers,” their burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office after Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the press. Schlesinger began a round of reforms of the CIA, reforms that have been continued to a lesser degree by Colby. (Some reports suggest that CIA officials shredded potentially incriminating documents after Schlesinger began his reform efforts, but this is not known for sure.) Intelligence officials confirm that the spying did take place, but, as one official says, “Anything that we did was in the context of foreign counterintelligence and it was focused at foreign intelligence and foreign intelligence problems.”
'Huston Plan' - But the official also confirms that part of the illegal surveillance was carried out as part of the so-called “Huston plan,” an operation named for former White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see July 26-27, 1970) that used electronic and physical surveillance, along with break-ins and burglaries, to counter antiwar and civil rights protests, “fomented,” as Nixon believed, by so-called black extremists. Nixon and other White House officials have long denied that the Huston plan was ever implemented. “[O]bviously,” says one government intelligence official, the CIA’s decision to create and maintain dossiers on US citizens “got a push at that time.…The problem was that it was handled in a very spooky way. If you’re an agent in Paris and you’re asked to find out whether Jane Fonda is being manipulated by foreign intelligence services, you’ve got to ask yourself who is the real target. Is it the foreign intelligence services or Jane Fonda?” Huston himself denies that the program was ever intended to operate within the United States, and implies that the CIA was operating independently of the White House. Government officials try to justify the surveillance program by citing the “gray areas” in the law that allows US intelligence agencies to encroach on what, by law, is the FBI’s bailiwick—domestic surveillance of criminal activities—when a US citizen may have been approached by foreign intelligence agents. And at least one senior CIA official says that the CIA has the right to engage in such activities because of the need to protect intelligence sources and keep secrets from being revealed.
Surveillance Program Blatant Violation of Law - But many experts on national security law say the CIA program is a violation of the 1947 law prohibiting domestic surveillance by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Vanderbilt University professor Henry Howe Ransom, a leading expert on the CIA, says the 1947 statute is a “clear prohibition against any internal security functions under any circumstances.” Ransom says that when Congress enacted the law, it intended to avoid any possibility of police-state tactics by US intelligence agencies; Ransom quotes one Congressman as saying, “We don’t want a Gestapo.” Interestingly, during his 1973 confirmation hearings, CIA Director Colby said he believed the same thing, that the CIA has no business conducting domestic surveillance for any purpose at any time: “I really see less of a gray area [than Helms] in that regard. I believe that there is really no authority under that act that can be used.” Even high-level government officials were not aware of the CIA’s domestic spying program until very recently. “Counterintelligence!” exclaimed one Justice Department official upon learning some details of the program. “They’re not supposed to have any counterintelligence in this country. Oh my God. Oh my God.” A former FBI counterterrorism official says he was angry upon learning of the program. “[The FBI] had an agreement with them that they weren’t to do anything unless they checked with us. They double-crossed me all along.” Many feel that the program stems, in some regards, from the long-standing mistrust between the CIA and the FBI. How many unsolved burglaries and other crimes can be laid at the feet of the CIA and its domestic spying operation is unclear. In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine listed a number of unsolved burglaries that its editors felt might be connected with the CIA. And Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), the vice chairman of the Senate Watergate investigative committee, has alluded to mysterious links between the CIA and the Nixon White House. On June 23, 1972, Nixon told his aide, H.R. Haldeman, “Well, we protected Helms from a hell of a lot of things.” [New York Times, 12/22/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William Colby, Seymour Hersh, Rolling Stone, Richard Ober, Tom Charles Huston, Richard M. Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Helms, Central Intelligence Agency, Black Panthers, Howard Baker, James Angleton, New York Times, H.R. Haldeman, KGB, James R. Schlesinger, Jane Fonda, Henry Howe Ransom

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (see December 19, 1974 and After) is instrumental in keeping Senate Democrats from finding out too much about the intelligence community’s excesses. When the New York Times reveals the existence of a decades-old illegal domestic surveillance program run by the CIA (see December 21, 1974), President Ford heads off calls from Democrats to investigate the program by appointing the “Rockefeller Commission” to investigate in the Democrats’ stead. Senate Democrats, unimpressed with the idea, create the Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community (see April, 1976). Rockefeller is adept at keeping critical documents out of the hands of the Church Committee and the press. When Senator Frank Church asks for materials from the White House, he is told that the Rockefeller Commission has them; when he asks Rockefeller for the papers, he is told that he cannot have them because only the president can authorize access. One Church aide later calls Rockefeller “absolutely brilliant” in denying them access in a friendly manner. “He winked and smiled and said, ‘Gee, I want to help you but, of course I can’t—not until we’ve finished our work and the president approves it,’” the aide recalls. Senator John Tower (R-TX), the vice chairman of the committee, will later reflect, “We were very skillfully finessed.” But even Rockefeller, who has his own history of involvement with the CIA, is taken aback at the excesses of the CIA, particularly its history of assassinating foreign leaders. Rockefeller will eventually turn that information over to the Church Committee, giving that body some of the most explosive evidence as yet made public against the agency. [US Senate, 7/7/2007]

Entity Tags: John Tower, Church Committee, Nelson Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Church, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, ’Rockefeller Commission’

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Senator Frank Church.Senator Frank Church. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A Senate committee tasked to investigate the activities of US intelligence organizations finds a plethora of abuses and criminal behaviors, and recommends strict legal restraints and firm Congressional oversight. The “Church Committee,” chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), a former Army intelligence officer with a strong understanding of the necessity for intelligence-gathering, notes in its final report that the CIA in particular had been overly cooperative with the Nixon administration in spying on US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974); US intelligence agencies had also gone beyond the law in assassination attempts on foreign government officials in, among other places, Africa, Latin America, and Vietnam. Church himself accused the CIA of providing the White House with what, in essence, is a “private army,” outside of Congressional oversight and control, and called the CIA a “rogue elephant rampaging out of control.” The committee will reveal the existence of hitherto-unsuspected operations such as HT Lingual, which had CIA agents secretly opening and reading US citizens’ international mail, and other operations which included secret, unauthorized wiretaps, dossier compilations, and even medical experiments. For himself, Church, the former intelligence officer, concluded that the CIA should conduct covert operations only “in a national emergency or in cases where intervention is clearly in tune with our traditional principles,” and restrain the CIA from intervening in the affairs of third-world nations without oversight or consequence. CIA director William Colby is somewhat of an unlikely ally to Church; although he does not fully cooperate with either the Church or Pike commissions, he feels that the CIA’s image is badly in need of rehabilitation. Indeed, Colby later writes, “I believed that Congress was within its constitutional rights to undertake a long-overdue and thoroughgoing review of the agency and the intelligence community. I did not share the view that intelligence was solely a function of the Executive Branch and must be protected from Congressional prying. Quite the contrary.” Conservatives later blame the Church Commission for “betray[ing] CIA agents and operations,” in the words of American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr, referencing the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Greece. The chief counsel of the Church Committee accuses CIA defenders and other conservatives of “danc[ing] on the grave of Richard Welch in the most cynical way.” It is documented fact that the Church Commission exposed no agents and no operations, and compromised no sources; even Colby’s successor, George H.W. Bush, later admits that Welch’s death had nothing to do with the Church Committee. (In 1980, Church will lose re-election to the Senate in part because of accusations of his committee’s responsibility for Welch’s death by his Republican opponent, Jim McClure.) [American Prospect, 11/5/2001; History Matters Archive, 3/27/2002; Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Final Report Excoriates CIA - The Committee’s final report concludes, “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.” The report is particularly critical of the CIA’s successful, and clandestine, manipulation of the US media. It observes: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.” The report identifies over 50 US journalists directly employed by the CIA, along with many others who were affiliated and paid by the CIA, and reveals the CIA’s policy to have “their” journalists and authors publish CIA-approved information, and disinformation, overseas in order to get that material disseminated in the United States. The report quotes the CIA’s Chief of the Covert Action Staff as writing, “Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any US influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publicans or booksellers.…Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability.…The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever material we want him to include and that we can check the manuscript at every stage…. [The agency] must make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intention.” The report finds that over 1,000 books were either published, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA by the end of 1967; all of these books were published in the US either in their original form or excerpted in US magazines and newspapers. “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the US media,” the report observes, “the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the US journalists and media organizations.”
CIA Withheld Info on Kennedy Assassination, Castro Plots, King Surveillance - The committee also finds that the CIA withheld critical information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy from the Warren Commission, information about government assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba (see, e.g., November 20, 1975, Early 1961-June 1965, March 1960-August 1960, and Early 1963); and that the FBI had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mafia boss Sam Giancana was slated to testify before the committee about his organization’s ties to the CIA, but before he could testify, he was murdered in his home—including having six bullet wounds in a circle around his mouth. Another committee witness, union leader Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared before he could testify. Hoffa’s body has never been found. Mafia hitman Johnny Roselli was murdered before he could testify before the committee: in September 1976, the Washington Post will print excerpts from Roselli’s last interview, with journalist Jack Anderson, before his death; Anderson will write, “When [Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey] Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive US crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald.” (Anderson’s contention has not been proven.) The murders of Giancana and Roselli, and the disappearance and apparent murder of Hoffa, will lead to an inconclusive investigation by the House of the assassinations of Kennedy and King. [Spartacus Educational, 12/18/2002]
Leads to FISA - The findings of the Church Committee will inspire the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978), and the standing committees on intelligence in the House and Senate. [Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Simultaneous Investigation in House - The Church Committee operates alongside another investigative body in the House of Representatives, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976).
Church Committee Smeared After 9/11 - After the 9/11 attacks, conservative critics will once again bash the Church Committee; former Secretary of State James Baker will say within hours of the attacks that the Church report had caused the US to “unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence capabilities,” a sentiment echoed by the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, who will observe that the opening of the Church hearings was “the moment that our nation moved from an intelligence to anti-intelligence footing.” Perhaps the harshest criticism will come from conservative novelist and military historian Tom Clancy, who will say, “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations. And as a result of that, as an indirect result of that, we’ve lost 5,000 citizens last week.” [Gerald K. Haines, 1/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Tom Clancy, William Colby, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Richard M. Nixon, HT Lingual, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jack Anderson, Frank Church, Church Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, James R. Hoffa, Pike Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr., James A. Baker, Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy, Jim McClure, Johnny Roselli, Warren Commission

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

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) turns down the Justice Department’s bid for sweeping new powers to monitor and wiretap US citizens. FISC judges rule that the government has misused the law and misled the court dozens of times. The court finds that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied false or misleading information to the court in over 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI director Louis Freeh. While the court does not find that the misrepresentations were deliberate, it does rule that not only were erroneous statements made, but important information was omitted from some FISA applications. The judges found so many inaccuracies and errors in FBI agent Michael Resnick’s affidavits that they bar him from ever appearing before the court again. The court cites “the troubling number of inaccurate FBI affidavits in so many FISA applications,” and says, “In virtually every instance, the government’s misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court’s orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors.” The court is also unhappy with the Justice Department’s failure to answer for these errors and omissions, writing, “How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court.” The court finds that in light of such impropriety, the new procedures proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in March would give prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations, and would allow the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases. The ruling is a severe blow to Ashcroft’s attempts since the 9/11 attacks to allow investigators working in terrorism and espionage to share more information with criminal investigators. (These limitations were put in place after the Church Commission’s findings of massive fraud and misuse of domestic surveillance programs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. See April, 1976, January 29, 1976, and December 21, 1974). The Justice Department says of the decision, “We believe the court’s action unnecessarily narrowed the Patriot Act and limited our ability to fully utilize the authority Congress gave us.” Interestingly, the Justice Department also opposed the public release of FISC’s decision not to grant the requested powers. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, calls the opinion “a public rebuke. The message is you need better quality control. The judges want to ensure they have information they can rely on implicitly.” Bush officials have complained since the 9/11 attacks that FISA requirements hamper the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agents to track terrorist suspects, including alleged hijacking conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). Those requirements mandate that agents must show probable cause that the subject of a search or wiretap is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group, and, because FISA standards for obtaining warrants is far lower than for ordinary criminal warrants, mandate strict limits on the distribution of information secured from such investigations. The FBI searched Moussaoui’s laptop computer and other belongings without a FISA warrant because some officials did not believe they could adequately show the court that Moussaoui had any connections to a foreign government or terrorist group. In its ruling, FISC suggests that if the Justice Department finds FISA too restrictive, they should ask Congress to update the law. Many senators on the Judiciary Committee say they are willing to enact such reforms, but have complained of resistance from Ashcroft and a lack of cooperation from the Bush administration. [Washington Post, 8/23/2002] In November 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review will overturn the FISC decision and give the Justice Department what it asked for (see November 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, Stewart Baker, Zacarias Moussaoui, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Church Commission, USA Patriot Act, Louis J. Freeh, Michael Resnick

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

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