Thursday, August 26, 2010

Early Government Spying on American Citizens

In 1952, the C.I.A. began a 21 year program of reading the mail that passed between US citizens and people in communist countries. It was called HT Lingual. Over 200,000 letters were read and 2 million envelopes were photographed. The NSA started reading telegrams leaving and coming into the US and got up to about 150,000 per month by the 1970s. This program had its origins during World War II and was carried on by the Army Security Agency and then the NSA. The NSA program was called Operation Shamrock. The telecommunications companies agreed to turn over all cables, and RCA had a vice president with an Army Signal Corps background to deal with this. There were direct cables to the Army and records of important communications within law firms and corporations were maintained. On December 16, 1947 General Ingles of RCA and Sosthenes Behn of ITT met with Defense Secretary James Forrestal to deal with exemption from prosecution.

By the 1960s, the NSA was able to use computer programs to scan for certain words, making the program more efficient. In the Nixon years, it was used to compile a list of 75,000 of Richard Nixon’s political enemies. From that list was culled MANARET, a watch list of 600 dangerous persons. Among them were Joan Baez, Benjamin Spock, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Church Committee learned of Shamrock in 1975, but NSA said it destroyed its lists and files in 1974. In March, 1977, the Justice Department decided no one should be prosecuted in connection with this spying, arguing that it had been made legal by NSCID No. 9 (aka No. 6). That meant it was legal because it was technically a joint project with the F.B.I..

In 1965, J.Edgar Hoover started recruiting journalists for his COINTELPRO. These people were to write articles to influence Congress and public opinion. He also started planting people, often from the military, in peace groups. His F.B.I. people had long helped NSA steal codes any ciphers and bugging lines in embassies and corporations, but he stopped the black bag jobs in 1967 out of fear they would be discovered. By then he was worried about his legacy. Later he would disband COINTELPRO. The reduction of the numbere of black bag jobs might explain why the agency found it necessary to use criminal cutouts and the Nixon White House to use a plumbers’ unit.

In October, 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson established “Operation Chaos” in the C.I.A.. Its role largely was to spy on American citizens who objected to the war in Vietnam. Of course, to one extent or other, the C.I.A. has been spying on domestic dissidents since 1959. Chaos relied largely upon people from the Domestic Operations Division, and others were borrowed from European assignments. The Domestic Operations Division was created sometime between 1962 and 1965, whose first head was Tracy Barnes. It was located 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue, not at Langley. From the beginning Richard Helmes was its driving force, and Helms removed Barnes when he bedcame DCI in 1967. It is believed that under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that Domestic Operations was headquartered in Denver. The relocation might be related to the fact that NSA has significant storage facilities in the area for intercepted electronic communications of all kind. The NSA has moved many of its personnel from Fort Meade to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, where its National Resources Division has relocated. . The Army’s new Northern Command (NORTHCOM) has its headquarters in Colorado, aqnd it too has significant data storage and analysis facilities there. The C.I.A. insists that the Domestic Operations Division only works within the United States to gather information about foreign governments.

From the beginning Domestic Operations was comprised of old hands. The agency’s charter forbade domestic police and domestic surveillance operations, but this division had existed for some time. For a time, E. Howard Hunt was assigned to it. It occupied a full floor at 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. A major objective was to infiltrate the New Left anti-war circles. As is well known, the C.I.A. pumped huge amounts of money in to the National Students Association, and it infiltrated a number of other student organizations. Even before Johnson established Chaos, the C.I.A. was working with students. Gloria Steinem admitted working for the agency in the late 50s and early 60s. She said she never spied on other Americans, but some say that was only because she was never asked. The official report on Chaos, says it began in 1967, so the previous material might be labeled “pre-Chaos. “ By 1967, the unit was pursuing dissidents, black militants, and Congressmen. It was to learn all it could about campus anti-war militants and to disrupt their activities. The program was justified as an effort to predict violent activities against the United States government. It was claimed that there was possible foreign involvement in the peace activities and this was also a basis for justifying the program and C.I.A. activity in domestic matters.
The Pentagon joined the efforts directed against dissidents in 1968, when it established the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations. It established a “domestic war room” in the basement of the Pentagon manned by 180 people.
F.B.I. personnel from its Cointelpro operation cooperated cooperated with the C.I.A.’s Operation Chaos. Since 1950, the Bureau had a database containing the names of thousands of Americans it considered suspicious and potentially subv ersive. Among them were teachers, doctors, scientists, lawyers—people from all walks of life. The Bureau had long been watching dissidents, defined as anyone differing from the thought of J.Edgar Hoover. . Cointelpro was devoted to keeping track of people considered political radicals. The Bureau later admitted carrying out 2218 Cointelpro operations between 1956 and mid-1974. Eventually, the Senate’s Church Committee unearthed some of these activities and concluded thatmany security and law enforcement personnel considered themselves guardians of the status quo.

The program continued under Richard Nixon, and Kissinger was combing through these files. In June, 1970, President Richard Nixon greatly ramped up the operation in a meeting wth key figures, such as J. Edgar Hoover, NSA Director Admiral Noel Gaylor, and Richard Helms. The agents worked with police and college administrators to identify dissidents and demonstrations were monitored. Agents also joined anti-war organizations. The F.B.I. gave Chaos all its reports on peace groups, amounting to about a thousand a month. The Domestic Operations Division had files on 13,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations. It also burgularized foreign embassies. Local police departments were rewarded for assistance through gifts of high-grade equipment. In 1972, the C.I.A. inspector general’s report reflected growing concern that the program had gone too far.

.. we also encountered general concern over what appeared to be a monitoring of the political views and activities of Americans not known to be or suspected of being involved in espionage ... Stations were asked to report on the whereabouts and activities of prominent persons ... whose comings and goings were not only in the public domain, but for whom allegations of subversion seemed sufficiently nebulous to raise renewed doubts as to the nature and legitimacy of the CHAOS program.

Properly we should be talking about the C.I.A.’s Operation Chaos and the activities of the F.B.I.’s CounterIntelligence Program. They worked together to carry out the goals of Chaos. They investigated all sorts of dissidents, including “restless youth,” “advocates of new lifestyles,” and the New Left. Over the life of the program, it shared information on over 300,000 persons with other law enforcement people, including the F.B.I.. Deputy Director William Sullivan intended to tell the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he had opposed continuing Cointel-Pro, but he died in a hunting accident before he could testify.
The C.I.A. gathered the names of 300,000 people whose loyalty was questionable, and thousands of them were put on a watch list. The United States Army joined in the domestic surveillance program using 1500 agents in 350 offices and created its own list. Army Intelligence spearheaded this effort, and many of its offices were on college campuses. The National Security Administration was also involved, but we know next to nothing about its activities.

Defenders of J. Edgar Hoover said he knew little about Operation Chaos, but review of some remaining files show that the C.I.A. was using many F.B.I. files, most undigested. They simply pulled names out of them and put them in a master index. Many operatives from the agency’s covert divison were used in the United States, sometimes dressed up as hippies. They resented doing this work, as did the leadership of the C.I.A.. An effort was to reduce this kind of activity, and even Hoover came to see that it could damage the F.B.I.’s profile.

Richard Nixon greatly expanded the surveillance, and the F.B.I. was ordered to keep track of the private lives of Nixon’s political opponents. When Nixon left office, investigators found hundreds of reports of electronic surveillance and break-ins. None of this was done with warrants. It was illegal, except that Nixon would go on record as saying northing a president does can be illegal. Under him an Inter Agency Committee on Intelligence was formed to coordinate domestic spying. It was temporarily chaired by J. Edgar Hoover, but William Sullivan of the bureau eventually was to chair it. Hoover was to fire Sullivan for cooperating too closely with other intelligence agencies. The committee recommended more mail-opening and black bag jobs. It was based on the Huston Plan, which h is well known. He was a White House assistant in charge of domestic intelligence.

But few realized it was implemented to some degree because the activitied suggested by Tom Huston had been underway for some years. Huston knew about Operation Chaos and wanted to greatly expand the activity. But this occurred at a time when some within the C.I.A. wanted an end to the illegal activity. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs had an idea of what was going on and denounced the F.B.I. on the House floor for tapping the telephones of Representatives and Senators.

Under pressure from Attorney General John Mitchell, Huston soon resigned, giving the appearance the plan was dead. The problem may hav been that Tom Huston was simply too young and made the proposal in too open a manner.

. By this time, Hoover had grown cautious and tried to drag his feet. Hoover was concerned because there were so many intelligence break-ins that exposure was likely. He shut down COINTELPRO in April, 1971. There was no longer a mechanism to coordinate spying, black bag jobs, etc., but these activities were continued. A month later, a break-in at the Media, PA office of the F.B.I. produced a thousand documents that pointed to the COINTELPRO operation with its infiltration of student groups and spying on dissenters. In 1973, classified information was found that proved that the F.B.I. spied on reporters.

There was also the less known Intelligence Evaluation Committee (IEI), which was know as the Son of Huston Plan. White House Counsel John Dean arranged it. It included people from NSA, DoD, and C.I.A. and essentially adopted the Huston Plan, which appeared to have been official ly rejected. Much of the surveillance was to track down drug traffickers. G. Gordon Liddy attended in order to initiate investigation of Pentagon Papers leaks.

Clearly Operation Chaos, established a major precedent for domestic spying. Evidence is beginning to surface about domestic surveillance by the F.B.I. of peace activists in the administration of George.W. Bush. The Progressive Magazine obtained records that demonstrated that the bureau had at least two informers within the Iowa City peace and justice group. They provided very detailed information on its members, including information on their appearances, living arrangements, and the automotobiles they drove.

1 comment:

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall said...

None of the domestic spying under either Cointelpro or Chaos ever stopped. I write about my own close encounter with covert government harassment in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE ( I currently live in exile in New Zealand.