BIG BROTHER'S HISTORY
(It Appears that the U.S. Constitution
Supposedly Doesn't Matter Anymore)
By John Prados
Thursday, 25 May 2006
[Copyright (c) 2006 in the
U.S.A. and Internationally
by TomPaine (.com)
and/or John Prados.
All rights reserved.]
The National Security Agency's [illegal] warrantless domestic wiretaps and its logs of Americans' phone calls are the most controversial, but by no means the only, surveillance initiative underway that has chilling implications for all Americans. American history is littered with examples of similar instances of security programs gone awry. It is three decades now since the Church Committee concluded, "The tendency of intelligence activities expanding beyond their initial scope is a theme which runs through every aspect of our investigative findings."
In the 20th century, this history of misuse of security programs begins with World War I. A government-sponsored volunteer (read: vigilante) group, the American Protective League, was created to assist the Justice Department and military intelligence, resulting in nearly 2,000 prosecutions for allegedly "disloyal" utterances by Americans.
Immediately after the war, the "Palmer Raids," named for then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, rounded up 10,000 persons for supposed anarchist or revolutionary views. These became a milestone in the creation of the FBI and the career of its first director (and Palmer's chief assistant) J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover went on to keep books on all manner of Americans; he used the information collected to exert political pressure at various times.
Domestic intelligence programs were revived in 1936 and steadily increased in intrusiveness, impelled first by World War II, then by the Cold War. These began with the intention of monitoring foreign influence on American politics and ended up investigating "loyalty." We hardly need mention the internment of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans on hysterical suspicions of contact with the enemy in World War II.
Though the two statutes are far different in detail, both the Internal Security Act of 1950 and today's Patriot Act represent encroachments on constitutionally guaranteed rights.Title II of the Internal Security Act actually permitted the detention of any person suspected of sabotage or espionage during invasion or insurrection and half a dozen holding camps were prepared. The Truman and Eisenhower administrations initiated "loyalty oaths" with boards to review the records of several million government employees-estimates of those fired or forced to resign range from about 2,500 to roughly 7,000. Although it never came to pass, the list of Americans to be rounded up under the Internal Security Act in the event of a national emergency numbered 26,000 persons in 1954.The inquiries carried out under the loyalty program were FBI-controlled. By 1960 it had opened approximately 432,000 files on groups or individual Americans, under guidelines that permitted investigation based on suspicion of "anarchistic or revolutionary beliefs" even if membership in any group had "not been proven" and in the absence of evidence of any current "activity of a subversive nature."
The depredations of the House Un-American Activities Committee and the effects of Senator Joe McCarthy's charges of communist infiltration had disastrous impacts on Americans' lives, but they served merely as backdrop for more intrusive programs. In 1952 the U.S. Post Office began to record mail sent from the U.S. to Russia, a project taken over by the CIA counterintelligence staff in 1955 and called HT/Lingual. Aimed at identifying Russian spies, in the 1960s Lingual was diverted to spying on Vietnam war protesters. The mail program ended in 1973 when the post office stopped cooperating, but in its last year alone the CIA handled 4.3 million pieces of mail, photographed the envelopes of about 33,000, and opened and copied 8,700 letters-some 60 percent of them on the basis of FBI watch lists.
The FBI, meanwhile, began an effort to infiltrate and destabilize the American communist party in 1956. Called COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Project), the effort soon expanded. In the guise of preventing communist influence on community groups, in 1960 the FBI was authorized to include "legitimate mass organizations, such as Parent-Teacher Associations, civil organizations, and racial and religious groups." Only a year later was COINTELPRO applied to the Socialist Workers Party. Before long it extended to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the Ku Klux Klan, the women's liberation movement and a host of Vietnam antiwar groups.
The campaign included planted news items, derogatory rumors spread inside groups, bogus hate mail, entrapment, wiretaps, deliberately aimed leaks and more. The FBI campaign against Martin Luther King, Jr. is a well-known example but only a tiny fraction of the overall effort. In creating its target lists the FBI developed a "Rabble Rouser/Agitator Index" it applied to individuals-"key agitators" and "key black extremists." There were a half million FBI files on citizens.
The rest of the government was not far behind. Military intelligence agencies opened over 100,000 files on Americans from 1965 to 1971. The IRS compiled 11,000 "intelligence" files between 1969 and 1973 and opened tax investigations for political reasons. The CIA had another 10,000 files on Americans, and a computerized index of 300,000. Its Projects Chaos, Merrimack and Resistance were all aimed at American antiwar activists. Under Project Mudhen, the CIA, which is prohibited by law from actions inside the United States, followed journalist Jack Anderson and four colleagues in an effort to discover their sources.
Today's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-the very law at issue in Bush's domestic wiretapping scandal-is the direct result of National Security Agency actions of that time. Then, too, there was an Air Force general, Lew Allen, Jr., who was obliged to admit the NSA had monitored international conversations of Americans without warrant, prohibited by the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968. Upwards of 1,600 Americans were on the NSA watch list, with an average of about 800 at any given time. Operation Shamrock, it was revealed, had begun in 1947 as an effort to intercept Soviet messages by examining the texts of telegrams handed over by the cable companies (illegal under the Communications Act of 1934). In October 1967, by Allen's account, the anti-Soviet program spilled over into domestic politics when the NSA began monitoring people on its watch list, averaging about two reports a day.
There is an eerie convergence between then and now. The government made the same claims of how its efforts were tightly controlled. General Allen also asserted that the interception program was protecting against terrorism and drug running. The Ford administration made strenuous efforts to minimize the application of existing statutes and case law, that held that "a warrant must be obtained before a wiretap is installed on a domestic organization [in this case the Jewish Defense League] that is neither the agent of nor acting in collaboration with a foreign power, even if the surveillance is installed under Presidential directive in the name of foreign intelligence gathering for the protection of the national security." In February 1975, when a House committee headed by Bella Abzug issued subpoenas to further examine Operation Shamrock, the Ford administration claimed executive privilege. The author of the Justice Department memo recommending that course was Antonin Scalia.
Ford was unable to shield the executives of the cable companies, who were eventually forced to divulge the extent of their cooperation with the NSA, which was shown to be massive. Various proposals for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act followed, eventually resulting in the passage of the existing law. It is highly significant that while the administration considered this a "problem," the Ford Justice Department agreed to a provision in the 1976 version of the act that specified: "Nothing in this [law] shall be deemed to limit the authority of this Select Committee of Intelligence of the U.S. Senate to obtain such information as it may need to carry out its duties."
Like these older cases, today's government surveillance issue features apparatus created for national security reaching beyond original purposes. Besides the NSA issue there is the Pentagon's "Talon" program, intended for base security, that has collected data on antiwar individuals and groups, and then failed to purge the information from its files. The FBI has monitored mosques, supposedly to watch for nuclear material. The Justice Department has engaged in runaway prosecutions of trumped-up terrorism charges in Detroit and other places. Local police forces-and the FBI, again-have infiltrated meetings, taken pictures of protests, and asked employers about individuals expressing political views protected by the First Amendment. They gained resources to execute these programs from federal grants intended to counter terrorism.
What needs to happen before Americans understand that government surveillance is about more than protection against terrorism?
[Remember freedom and the Constitution, and that we have a duty to stand up against all of the modern-day versions of these incursions against, and violations of, liberty and the Constitution, even if they are supposedly legalized, as with the so-called "U.S.A. Patriot Act", and to stand up for freedom and the Constitution no matter what the cost(s). (Subtitle, words in brackets ("[ ]") and/or emphasis added by Wolf Britain.)]
John Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., and author of Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (The New Press).
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