For the past four years, the crimes and abuses of the secret realm of government have been unearthed, in fascinating and finally numbing detail. What began as an inquest of Richard Nixon’s offenses slowly became a descent into hellish activities of the secret intelligence agencies: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Military Intelligence apparatus, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
These agencies represent the major part of the large, secret realm of government. They consume some $8 to $10 billion yearly, an estimated 10 percent of controllable federal spending, virtually all of it appropriated in false budget categories so that even most legislators do not know the true figures. Together they employ an estimated 175,000 persons, not counting the fathomless ranks of contract agents, informers, mercenaries, and provocateurs on retainer at any moment. They operate in secrecy at home and abroad, beyond the normal view of citizen, judge, or public official.
Only in the past years have some portion of their activities been held up to the public light, and that all too brief exposure has now just about ended. The Watergate and impeachment hearing provided the first clues about serious abuses in the intelligence agencies. In late 1974, newspaper articles exposed the CIA’s “destabilization” of the Allende regime in
and it’s massive domestic surveillance programs. These articles were based primarily on leaks from patriotic or disgruntled employees and they finally forced an official response. President Gerald Ford’s Rockefeller Commission began by detailing many of the CIA’s illegal domestic activities in a report issued in 1975. The House and the Senate set up separate investigating committees. The House committee, chaired by conservative Congressman Otis Pike, sought to reassert the legislature’s power. It subpoenaed documents, held public hearings, resisted compromises, and looked into activities that the agencies preferred to keep secret. Its subpoenas were resisted; its investigators frustrated; in the end, its final report was suppressed by Congress itself. Portions of it were later printed in the Village Voice; the remainder remains unpublished. The Senate committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, preferred compromise to conflict. It negotiated with the agencies for material, allowed CIA officials to screen all documents it was given, rarely issued a subpoena or held a public session. Its voluminous reports, published in the summer of 1976, unearthed many intelligence agency crimes but are still incomplete. The Church committee even permitted the CIA to censor significant portions of the report, including four of it’s five case studies of secret CIA interventions abroad. Chile
These official investigations have been supplemented by private ones. The finest investigative reporters have published the results of their own digging. Civil litigation by the victims of agency programs has pried out further documents. Some further information will still come out, but on the whole, the intelligence agencies are slipping back into their secret routines. While the eyes of the bureaucrats are still blinking from the unaccustomed exposure, we may begin to sort out the crimes and abuses of the past and the implications for the future.
The investigations have shown that every intelligence agency had one or more surveillance programs that spied on law-abiding American citizens, in violation of the laws, the Constitution, and the traditions of the country. Their ominous scope is best portrayed by the code names used by the agencies: the CIA ran CHOAS, SETTER, HTLINGUAL, MERRIMAC, and RESISTANCE; the FBI added COMINFIL, VIDEM, STUDEN; the military had CABLE SPLICER and GARDEN PLOT; the NSA managed MINARET and SHAMROCK; the IRS had LEPRECHAUN and the SSS (Special Service Staff). All the techniques associated with secret police bureaus throughout history were used to gather information: black-bag break-ins, wiretaps and bugs, mail openings, cable and telegram interceptions, garbage covers, and informers.
The number of citizens who have been the objects of the professional voyeurs is truly staggering. The FBI headquarters in
alone has over 500,000 domestic intelligence files, each typically containing information on more than one group or individual. Nearly a quarter of a million first-class letters were opened and photographed by the CIA in the United States between 1953 and 1973, producing a computerized index of nearly one and one-half million names. The CIA’s six year Operation Chaos produced an index of 300,000 individual. Uncounted millions of international telegrams and phone calls have been intercepted by the National Security Agency. Some 100,000 Americans are enshrined in Army intelligence dossiers. The Internal Revenue Service created files on more than 11,000 individuals and groups. During a three-year period, from 1971-74, political grand juries subpoenaed between 1,000 and 2,000 persons. Washington
In addition both at home and abroad, the intelligence agencies went beyond the mere collection of information. They developed programs to disrupt, “neutralize,” and destroy those perceived as enemies - as threats to the political order at home and abroad. The CIA’s covert action programs around the world were paralleled by the FBI’s COINTELPRO at home, by the misuse of the IRS and the grand jury – all were part of a purposeful effort to live up to the mandate of a classified report of the 1954 Hoover Commission on Government Organization that “we must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated and more effective methods than those used against us.” Thus the illegalities exposed by the investigations were not isolated incidents of zealous agents exceeding their authority in the field, however frequently such may occur. Rather, the abuses were ongoing, bureaucratic programs, often continuing over decades, involving hundreds of officials, aimed at thousands of citizens, and ordered and approved at the highest levels of the executive branch.
The secret realm of government is the deformed offspring of the modern presidency, an expression of the powers claimed by presidents in the area of national security. The origins of the intelligence agencies, like those of the modern president, can best be traced from World War II. The CIA is modeled after the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which ran secret intelligence, sabotage, and paramilitary activities behind enemy lines during the war. The FBI’s authority to spy on citizens derives from a secret directive issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 in response to opposition to the war at home and rumors of possible Nazi sabotage of American preparedness efforts.
War greatly expands a president’s powers and capabilities, for he acts not simply as the chief executive, but as the commander in chief. The legislative role naturally contracts as open deliberations replaced by secret command. Political liberties are constricted; citizens are called to soldiery; obedience and sacrifice replace independence and questioning. Fear and hatred of the enemy provide the political base for the expanded authority of the president and the military.
War also requires intelligence, to discover plans of the enemy and to prevent the uncovering of one’s own. Intelligence agencies operate at home and abroad, to spy and to frustrate the spies of others; to subvert and to deter the subversion of others; to sabotage and to guard against sabotage.
, the wartime emergency never ended. After United States World War II, America assumed the mantle of as guarantor of world stability. Open warfare was followed by permanent cold war; Hitler’s Britain Germany was replaced by Stalin’s ; Nazi fifth columns were replaced by Communist parties. The nuclear balance of terror made the president a literal arbiter of life and death. Thus the wartime powers of the president were never relinquished; the wartime institutions never dismantled. Intelligence activities born in total war were given permanent institutional homes. The CIA replaced the Russia in 1947; the FBI’s authority to spy on Americans was reaffirmed by Harry Truman in 1946. The president claimed the right to act alone and defend the “national security,” which would be defined within the White House. OSS
“National Security” is an inescapably political concept; one man’s subversion is another man’s salvation. The power to define threats to the “national security” is the power to draw the limits of behavior for leaders abroad and citizens at home. The postwar presidents claimed the power not only to define national security, but also to act – often in secret – to enforce it. The ability to act secretly both bolstered the president’s claim of authority and allowed administrations to engage in permanent intervention in politics at home and abroad in ways that were by design offensive to American values. As a result, a secret realm of government developed to watch and, if necessary, disrupt political opponents at home and abroad.
Using secret intelligence agencies to defend a constitutional republic is akin to the ancient medical practice of employing leeches to take blood from feverish patients. The intent is therapeutic, but in the long run the cure is more deadly than the disease. Secret intelligence agencies are designed to act routinely in ways that violate the laws or standards of society. As long as an overwhelming consensus exists on who the enemy is, few are troubled by the incompatibility. Over time, however, the secret activities of the intelligence agencies inevitably become removed from the popular conception of what is necessary. Eventually the society disagrees about the nature of the enemy. At that point, those who lead the dissent become a threat to the intelligence agencies, an enemy to the secret definition of national security.
In the 1950s, the anti-Communist consensus amply supported the secret activities of the government. “Soviet imperialism” had to be contained, and that in turn was equated with stopping Communist expansion abroad and Communist infiltration at home. The unified enemy made resolute presidential activities at home and abroad popular with the vast majority of Americans. Those who disagreed were few, and were generally dismissed as dupes or fellow travelers, if not actual Communists.
In this atmosphere, the activities and targets of the intelligence agencies naturally expanded as time went by. The CIA started by opposing what were believed to be Soviet-controlled Communist parties in Western Europe, but was soon involved in opposing third world leaders whom even the CIA considered independent and nationalist, but who were too Marxist, too friendly to the
Soviet Union, or too charismatic for the agency’s taste. Thus the most recent CIA operations to come to light have been the attempt to “destabilize” the democratically elected Allende government in Chile, to provide “electoral support” against the independent Communist party in Italian elections, and to supply arms and mercenaries to intervene against an independence movement in . Angola
Similarly the FBI started with a mandate to monitor wartime sabotage, but quickly expanded that to include more and more of the politically active in its files. After the war, each successive movement for political change became a target for FBI surveillance or disruption: The “old left”, the civil rights movement, the student movement, the antiwar movement, the women’s movement, the public interest community, the consumer and environmental movements. By 1972, the FBI found it had a significant portion of the delegates to the national convention of the Democratic party under surveillance, and many of the organizations to which they belonged singled out for disruption.
The cancerous growth of programs—in size, scope, and targets—often came in response to presidential urging. Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy pressed an anti-Communist crusade abroad which led to CIA assassination efforts in Africa and the
Caribbean. Lyndon Johnson urged the agencies to respond to urban disorders and the antiwar movement, and Richard Nixon increased the pressure, demanding that a range of political opponents be watched or harassed. Often the secret agencies would expand upon the vague directives that established their programs. The army was directed to prepare for policing American cities in case of urban riots. This directive was translated into a massive intelligence program that spied on thousands of civilians, including environmental, civil rights, and antiwar groups. The CIA’s office of security was charged with protecting agency installations; in the 1960’s, this provided the excuse to infiltrate agents into political groups in , including the Urban League, the Humanist Society, and Women Strike for Peace. Washington
Sometimes programs were initiated without the direct order or approval of the president or the attorney general. The FBI’s COINTELPRO activities were started on J. Edgar Hoover’s authority alone. The CIA’s mail-opening program and NSA’s “watch-list” operations were also begun without express orders from the White House. Although such programs may not have had the specific approval of a president, they seldom exceeded the official consensus on what needed to be done to political dissenters.
Many of the programs involved illegal techniques or activities, or developed without legal authority. Internally, national security provided the absolution for law-breaking; higher orders provided the authority. Agents in the field rarely questioned their orders, and seldom survived in an agency if they did. The widespread assumption was that the agencies were above the law, doing what had to be done for the nation’s security.
Concern for illegality generally was expressed by increased secrecy. Illegal operations had a high “flap potential” if exposed, and the agencies developed special procedures to cover them up. The IRS and the NSA both issued special warnings to keep their political programs secret. The FBI developed a special Do Not File file for illegal techniques such as break-ins, or highly questionable operations like bugging columnists Joseph Kraft in
Europe. Similarly the CIA constantly reiterated warnings that exposure would lead to “flap,” and that an adequate cover story had to be developed.
By the mid-sixties, the dangers posed by a permanent secret realm in a constitutional republic became apparent. The executive branch had developed a conception of national security that had little to do with defense of the country and security of the people. The debacle in
ended the consensus that had survived for over a decade. A growing number of people began to doubt the wisdom and question the authority of the president and his national security bureaucracy. President Johnson and President Nixon both accurately viewed the protests as a threat to their ability to act abroad, a challenge to their definition of national security. The secret intelligence agencies were marshaled to spy on and disrupt the anti-war dissenters. During the Nixon years, when a majority of the population opposed the war, the president and his secret police were at direct odds with most of the politically active citizenry. Thus Nixon kept calling on a “silent majority” to come to his aid. Vietnam
Under these conditions, programs initially protected merely by secrecy had to be covered up by lies. As the covert activities of the secret agencies conflicted more and more with the views of the public, legislators and reporters began to inquire about different activities. Deception was the routine response to public inquiry. Thus CIA Director Richard Helms found it necessary to lie under oath about both the domestic and the international exploits of the CIA. Helms had not been indicted for perjury because of the general feeling within the Justice Department that his duty was t lie. Nixon made the same transition from secrecy to lies in the attempt to avoid the Watergate probes.
Exposure or the possibility of it moved the agencies to end some of their illegal programs. No internal control mechanism was so effective. J. Edgar Hoover curtailed the FBI’s wiretap, break-in, mail-opening, and garbage cover operations in 1966 for fear their revelation might “embarrass the Bureau” (read “J. Edgar Hoover”).
also scuttled the Huston plan by reciting fears of its exposure. The FBI’s formal COINTELPRO program was terminated in 1971 in response to disclosures about it in the press. IRS payments to confidential informants were suspended in reaction to a journalistic investigation of Operation LEPRECHAUN. The NSA’s Operation SHAMROCK, the program of obtaining international telegrams from telegraph companies, was discontinued in the face of the Senate Select Committee’s investigation of the program in 1975. Hoover
Exposure came because of the failure in
and the excesses of Richard Nixon; the policy consensus broke apart before the independent institutions—the press, the Congress, and the courts—had been entirely desiccated. The struggle to bring Richard Nixon to justice demonstrated what a close call it was. The investigation of the intelligence agencies reveals that the conflict is far from resolved. Vietnam
This book provides an account of the abuses of the secret realm of government. The activities described are all fully documented in official public sources. Our focus is on abuses and threats to the American constitutional system. We leave to others a full statement of the activities of these agencies and of the economic and political roots of presidential power on which their actions depend. The first part of the book describes the two major agencies and their principal activities—the CIA abroad and the FBI at home. Two case studies—one of the CIA campaign against Salvador Allende and the other on the FBI vendetta against Martin Luther King, Jr.—graphically illustrate how these agencies operate. The second part of the book reviews the activities initiated by each of the other agencies in response to the protest movement of the sixties. In each chapter, a brief background of the specific bureaucratic history of political spying is provided. This book concludes with a review of the controls and restructuring necessary if these agencies are to be curtailed in the future. This last part is most important, because the intelligence agencies are still engaged in many of the activities detailed in the text. Although the book deals in large part with the past—the history of programs of the secret realm—the abuses continue. In this the investigation of the intelligence agencies differs from the inquest into the crimes of Richard Nixon. The impeachment proceedings ended with the president resigning in disgrace, his aides and co-conspirators removed from office, many indicted and convicted. The investigations of the intelligence agencies have, thus far, provided no significant reforms. The CIA’s Clandestine Services still engages in covert operations abroad; the NSA still monitors the international communications of American citizens without a warrant; the FBI still spies on citizens engaged in political activities protected under the First Amendment. No legislation has yet been passed by the Congress to limit in law the activities of the intelligence agencies. The only “reforms” have been ordered by executive directive, and these have generally legitimated the past abuses. The political struggle to control these agencies still lies ahead. Its outcome depends—as did the impeachment hearings—on the reactions of American citizens throughout the country.
The question is whether or not the secret realm can be dismantled and curtailed, so that the political liberties of American citizens will be respected and the secret intervention of
abroad ended. If not, we may leave a legacy predicted by Malcolm Muggeridge when he wrote: America
In the eyes of posterity it will inevitably seem that, in safeguarding our freedom, we destroyed it; that the vast clandestine apparatus we built up to probe our enemies’ resources and intentions only served in the end to confuse our own purposes; that the practice of deceiving others for the good of the state led infallibly to our deceiving ourselves; and that the vast army of intelligence personnel built up to execute these purposes were soon caught up in the web of their own sick fantasies, with disastrous consequences to them and us.