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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 ]
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
Rolling Stone magazine reports that despite no evidence of voter fraud except in extremely isolated incidents, Republicans in over a dozen states are passing laws that disenfranchise voters under the guise of “protecting the vote” (see August 30, 2011). The voters most affected by these laws, the magazine reports, are more likely to vote Democratic in national and state elections. Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), who is fighting the Justice Department to allow him to purge hundreds of thousands of voters from the state electoral rolls, has said: “We need to have fair elections. When you go out to vote, you want to make sure that the other individuals that are voting have a right to vote.” However, a 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law shows that almost every allegation of voter fraud is false. The chance of a vote being fraudulent, according to the study, is 0.0004 percent (see 2007).
Double Voting - Many claim that “double voting,” or a single voter casting a vote twice or more, is a rampant issue. In reality, it almost never occurs. The allegations that are made almost always result from different people with similar or even identical names casting separate votes, or simple clerical errors, such as voters being counted as having cast their ballots when in reality they did not. In Missouri in 2000 and again in 2002, hundreds of “double votes” were alleged to have been cast, with some allegations saying that the same voter cast their votes in Kansas and Missouri. When reporters and other investigators looked into the claims, only four cases were shown to have been actual double voting, for a documented fraud rate of 0.0003 percent.
Dead Voters - These are allegations that living people cast ballots using the names of dead voters. Almost every allegation of this nature has proven to stem from flawed matches of death records and voter rolls. In the 2000 Georgia elections, allegations of 5,412 “dead voter” votes were made over the last 20 years. All but one of those allegations turned out to be an incorrect match between death records and voter rolls. One example: “Alan J. Mandel,” who died in 1997, apparently cast a vote in 1998. In reality, voter Alan J. Mandell—two Ls—cast a legitimate vote. Election workers checked the wrong name off their list.
Voting with Fraudulent Addresses - The allegation is that people use fraudulent addresses to register to vote. Such allegations usually stem from mail coming back from the given address marked undeliverable. In almost every instance, the person in question has moved, the individual piece of mail was misdelivered or misaddressed, or the address is recorded incorrectly. In one instance, New Hampshire election officials became concerned when 88 voters had registered to vote using similar addresses from property belonging to Daniel Webster College. The addressees were legitimate: all 88 voters were students at that school who lived on college property.
Voting by Convicted Felons - This is a favorite allegation: that convicted felons stripped of their right to vote have voted anyway. It happens more often than some other forms of alleged voter fraud, but in almost every case, the felon in question was unaware that his or her right to vote had been taken away, a misapprehension often reinforced by misinformed election officials. Even then, almost every instance of “felon voters” turns out to be a case of clerical error: someone was convicted of a crime that does not result in their right to vote being removed, typographical errors, voters with names similar to that of convicted felons, and so forth. In the 2000 Florida elections, the state claimed that 5,643 ineligible felons had cast illegal votes. The list provided by the state was almost completely populated by eligible voters who were misidentified as ineligible felons.
Voting by Noncitizens - Allegations that US elections are being “thrown” by huge numbers of illegal immigrants casting their votes are widespread. In reality, there is not one case of an illegal immigrant intentionally casting an illicit vote. For example, Washington state officials investigated the citizenship of 1,668 registered voters in 2005, after allegations that they were illegal aliens were raised based on their “foreign-sounding names.” Every one of the voters on the list was legitimate.
Registration Fraud - On occasion, fraudulent registration forms do get submitted. However, the number of cases where a person submitted a form in someone else’s name in order to impersonate that person is extremely small. Some people fill out the forms with deliberately ridiculous information (such as claiming their name to be “Mickey Mouse”), while others make honest mistakes filling out the forms. In a few cases, voter registration workers working on commission have committed fraud in order to make more money. The Brennan Center report found: “Most reports of registration fraud do not actually claim that the fraud happens so that ineligible people can vote at the polls. Indeed, we are aware of no recent substantiated case in which registration fraud has resulted in fraudulent votes being cast.”
Voting by Dogs - The Brennan Center found nine instances of people registering their dogs to vote. Six of those were from people trying to prove a point: that they could register their dogs to vote. (The penalty for registering a dog to vote is up to 30 years in federal prison.) The Brennan report documented two cases of someone casting a vote in the name of a dog. One was submitted in Venice, California, with the word “VOID” and a paw print drawn on the ballot, and another, also cast in Venice, California, was submitted under the name of “Raku Bowman.”
Vote Buying - Rolling Stone notes that this does happen on rare occasions, with campaign officials or others convincing voters to vote for a particular candidate in return for money, food, or cigarettes. But, the magazine notes, this is vote buying, not voter fraud. It, too, is illegal, and will not be curbed by voter ID laws and the like.
Fraud by Election Officials - Like vote buying, this happens on rare occasions, but is not voter fraud per se. Rolling Stone writes, “If election officials are willing to break the law, rules designed to restrict voting won’t stop them.” [Rolling Stone, 6/12/2012]
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