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OK, so it was the 1974 Church Committee, but bear with me.

I've spent a fascinating evening diving into some documents relating to domestic spying, Presidential powers, and Congressional oversight.  Initially I thought I'd make a few pithy points, but the more I read the more I realized that the latest domestic spying debate is part of a story that spans back to Roosevelt, Truman, and something called the Church Committee.  Have you heard of it?  I hadn't.

Now that you're here - If you haven't done so, at least read the findings of the Church Commission below.  They'll sound eerily familiar to you.  Though, Good luck on getting our current Congressional leadership to let a report like this come through.

Let's start with a guy many of us are familiar with - Seymour Hersh.  On December 22, 1974 Hersh, then a New York Times reporter, broke the story about "Operation CHAOS," a joint FBI-CIA effort to spy on U.S. citizens who were taking part in the anti-war movement.

See if Operation CHAOS reminds you of anything...

During the Vietnam War, a joint FBI-CIA effort called "Operation Chaos" spied on U.S. citizens involved in anti-war protest movements. The operation began in response to a directive from President Lyndon Johnson to find out if the anti-war movement was backed by any foreign group or government -- especially the Soviet Union.

CIA agents infiltrated U.S. protest groups and kept files on 7,200 U.S. citizens. Ultimately, they found no evidence of Soviet influence, but the operation was a potential time bomb -- the CIA's charter directly prohibited it from domestic operations.

On December 22, 1974, The New York Times broke the story of "Chaos." The operation had already been shut down, but the report sparked a furor in Washington and led to investigations by both a presidential commission and a congressional committee.

In fact, because of the growing assessment that the Executive Branch was unchecked, the Church Committee issued 14 reports during 1975 and 1976.  Book II is the one I took a look at tonight.  The Major Findings made my jaw drop.  

It's a little long, but I think you'll find it extremely interesting in light of our conversations today (I bolded some of the best passages):


The Committee finds that the domestic activities of the intelligence community at times violated specific statutory prohibitions and infringed the constitutional rights of American citizens. The legal questions involved in intelligence programs were often not considered. On other occasions, they were intentionally disregarded in the belief that because the programs served the "national security" the law did not apply.

While intelligence officers on occasion failed to disclose to their superiors programs which were illegal or of questionable legality, the Committee finds that the most serious breaches of duty were those of senior officials, who were responsible for controlling intelligence activities and generally failed to assure compliance with the law.

(a) In its attempt to implement instructions to protect the security of the United States, the intelligence community engaged in some activities which violated statutory law and the constitutional rights of American citizens.
(b) Legal issues were often overlooked by many of the intelligence officers who directed these operations. Some held a pragmatic view of intelligence activities that did not regularly attach sufficient significance to questions of legality. The question raised was usually not whether a particular program was legal or ethical, but whether it worked.
(c) On some occasions when agency officials did assume, or were told, that a program was illegal, they still permitted it to continue. They justified their conduct in some cases on the ground that the failure of "the enemy" to play by the rules granted them the right to do likewise, and in other cases on the ground that the "national security" permitted programs that would otherwise be illegal.
(d) Internal recognition of the illegality or the questionable legality of many of these activities frequently led to a tightening of security rather than to their termination. Partly to avoid exposure and a public "flap," knowledge of these programs was tightly held within the agencies, special filing procedures were used, and "cover stories" were devised.
(e) On occasion, intelligence agencies failed to disclose candidly their programs and practices to their own General Counsels, and to Attorneys General, Presidents, and Congress.
(f) The internal inspection mechanisms of the CIA and the FBI did not keep -- and, in the case of the FBI, were not designed to keep -- the activities of those agencies within legal bounds. Their primary concern was efficiency, not legality or propriety.
(g) When senior administration officials with a duty to control domestic intelligence activities knew, or had a basis for suspecting, that questionable activities had occurred, they often responded with silence or approval. In certain cases, they were presented with a partial description of a program but did not ask for details, thereby abdicating their responsibility. In other cases, they were fully aware of the nature of the practice and implicitly or explicitly approved it.

Elaboration of findings
The elaboration which follows details the general finding of the Committee that inattention to -- and disregard of -- legal issues was an all too common occurrence in the intelligence community.

While this section focuses on the actions and attitudes of intelligence officials and certain high policy officials, the Committee recognizes that a pattern of lawless activity does not result from the deeds of a single stratum of the government or of a few individuals alone. The implementation and continuation of illegal and questionable programs would not have been possible without the cooperation or tacit approval of people at all levels within and above the intelligence community, through many successive administrations.

The agents in the field, for their part, rarely questioned the orders they received. Their often uncertain knowledge of the law, coupled with the natural desire to please one's superiors and with simple bureaucratic momentum, clearly contributed to their willingness to participate in illegal and questionable programs. The absence of any prosecutions for law violations by intelligence agents inevitably affected their attitudes as well. Under pressure from above to accomplish their assigned tasks, and without the realistic threat of prosecution to remind them of their legal obligations, it is understandable that these agents frequently acted without concern for issues of law and at times assumed that normal legal restraints and prohibitions did not apply to their activities.

Significantly, those officials at the highest levels of government, who had a duty to control the activities of the intelligence community, sometimes set in motion the very forces that permitted lawlessness to occur -- even if every act committed by intelligence agencies was not known to them. By demanding results without carefully limiting the means by which the results were achieved; by over-emphasizing the threats to national security without ensuring sensitivity to the rights of American citizens; and by propounding concepts such as the right of the "sovereign" to break the law, ultimate responsibility for the consequent climate of permissiveness should be placed at their door.

There was more, so much more.  I'd recommend this link as a good way to read up a little more on the history of what is very much a struggle between branches of government, and on the meaning of the Constitution.

This explains a lot.  This report was issued during the Ford Administration.  Who was President Ford's Chief of Staff during this period?  Dick Cheney.  I'd say it is a safe bet that he acquired much of his desire to reassert Presidential authority from this period.  

In fact, I'd say his recent quotes confirm it:

Talking to reporters aboard his government plane as he flew from Islamabad, Pakistan to Muscat, Oman on an overseas mission, Cheney said a contraction in the power of the presidency since the Vietnam and Watergate era must be reversed.

"I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it. And to some extent, that we have an obligation as the administration to pass on the offices we hold to our successors in as good of shape as we found them," he said...

The vice president also told reporters that in his view, presidential authority has been eroded since the 1970s through laws such as the War Powers Act and anti-impoundment laws.

"Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam both during the '70s served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney said. But he also said the administration has been able to restore some of "the legitimate authority of the presidency."

Another interesting tidbit.  Who was the Director of the CIA from 1976 to 1977 who had to deal with the fallout from this Committee's findings?  That would be the elder George Bush. Not sure what that means, but it does add an interesting context to the motivating factors for the prime actors here.

Fascinating stuff.  Maybe we'll see a Joint Committee of Congress once again reign-in another overreaching Administration.  

Somehow I doubt that.

Maybe, just maybe we'll see some type of public discussion about privacy and how much power the government should have to snoop in our lives prior to the 2006 elections.  

After all, if as unlikely a source as a top official in the NSA had this to say, surely there is some hope - right?

Testifying in 2002 before the joint congressional committee investigating the attacks, its then-director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden (now deputy director of national intelligence), pleaded for such guidance.

"What I really need you to do," Hayden told lawmakers, "is to talk to your constituents and find out where the American people want that line between security and liberty to be. In the context of NSA's mission, where do we draw the line between the government's need for counterterrorism information about people in the United States and the privacy interests of people located in the United States?"

Where do we draw the line?  Cheney and the GOP have drawn theirs.  

Where is ours?

Originally posted to DBJ on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 08:31 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Church Commission Report (4.00)
    This report is a very vivid memory for some of us. The problem is, we can't do away with those who will rise again (Cheney/Rumsfeld)to do damage. We can only keep things like the Church Commission Report in memory and fight the thugs again and again.

    Good work, DBJ.

    Common Sense is not Common

    by RustyBrown on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 08:54:21 PM PST

    •  News to me - sadly (4.00)
      I was very small at the time, more concerned with Legos and Big Wheels.

      I found it amazing to read some of the things in the report that I'd never heard about - not in all of my college courses in History and in Poli Sci.  Operation CHAOS, the Church Committee, and SHAMROCK.  All were precursors to today's debate, and all just seem to be forgotten.

      Must be something to that adage about "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

      •  some irrelevent information (none)
        If you're interested, Lincoln was the first president to order a search of electronic messages for national security purposes

        in 1861 (or so) Lincoln ordered a review of all of the telegraph messages sent and recieved in Washington DC area for the year prior to the order, to search for possible confederate sympathizers

        I don't know anything about this except that Lincon ordered the act. Since it seemed related to this topic, I wanted to throw it into the conversation

  •  don't forget Rumsfeld! (4.00)
    He was President Ford's Chief of Staff from 1974-75 and the Secretary of Defense from 1975-77 who oversaw the power shift toward DoD at the expense of the State Dept and CIA.

    "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" -- George Santayana.

    Good work, DBJ.

    Unbossed--a dangerous blog for dangerous times.

    by em dash on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 09:22:40 PM PST

  •  Yep (none)
    Deja vu -- only worse, I suspect.  BTW, the Church Committee only touched the most visible part of the iceberg, even then.  Too bad for archived material it is necessary to go behind paywalls and to services like Lexis-Nexis.  But, the perversions of administrations were mirrored in states, as well -- with whom the Feds often collaborated.  Ever heard of the 'Sooner CIA'?  And encroachment by state governments did not end with that.  Colorado comes to mind.  Of course, today there are the 'Joint Terrorism Task Forces'.

    It is difficult to get the right answers if you don't ask the right questions!

    by wgard on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 09:34:25 PM PST

    •  I think you guys are making my point better than I (4.00)
      What I was really trying to get at was that this has all been done before to some degree.  Most of us of a younger generation aren't even aware.

      Of course, I went and dug it up myself.  But no help at all from my usual sources in the MSM.

      •  No help because (none)
        Most of this stuff happened before the internet, so unless someone has written a history, it is generally not available.  About the only way to get onto much of it is by digging through archives, or maybe having access to the NYT behind the paywall, or an archive service such as Lexis-Nexis.

        And yes, it has all happened before, in one form or another, and to one degree or another.    

        It is difficult to get the right answers if you don't ask the right questions!

        by wgard on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 10:50:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Deep roots and history (none)
        Hey wgard!  
          DBJ, good diary and good digging. Us geezers, hell I had to walk 8 miles down the beach to get my LA Free Press, those were the days. TV was better then, in that there were real journalists and the Frightwing hadn't seized the media and the K-street project wasn't spinning yet. The CIA was tho and the NSA  story today is the same story with a few hundred technical profundities added.
          This weekend was rich in the diary dept., I made a comment on the Church Report in the diary "Schumer: DoJ Investigating.."

       edsdet added a comment that contained a link to his diary that had a link to this chapter in this book: "George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography" -by Webster G. Tarpley & Anton Chaitkin
      Chapter 16- CIA DIRECTOR
      for a heaping helping of this aspect of the intersection of the Bush Crime Family and Rumsfeld and Cheney and the CIA and the Church Committee and so much more. READ IT, and thanks edsdet !
          Didn't Beezlebobo classify his daddy's presidential papers? Gee,I wonder why that is? This book has lots of stuff from Ford's papers, not Bush 41, at least that I saw.
          Also, along with all that stuff just in chapter 16, is the assertion that Carter won on election fraud! Man, I musta missed that at the time..
          That book has  a couple of hundred diaries' potential, we could get bannings and all kinds a ruckus.

      Somebody, do something, I got kids I care about, fer crying out loud!

      by KenBee on Tue Jan 03, 2006 at 03:22:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  good find! n/t (none)
  •  However (none)
    I think that it will turn out that what NSA and others are doing today makes intercepting foreign telegrams look like child's play.

    Knowing enough about advancements in technology - there's no reason that the NSA couldn't run all electronic correspondence through filters to look for suspicious patterns.  It'd be an easy step to diving into their credit, demographic, and other profiling info to see if they merit more screening.  With computers they could snoop on almost every American.

    •  dataveillance coming to a town near you! (none)
      Total Information Awareness, renamed Terrorism Information Awareness after Congress balked, was charged with data mining of US citizens. Score another one for the last defender of liberty, Sen. Feingold, who tried to shut it down.

      More info here.

      Unbossed--a dangerous blog for dangerous times.

      by em dash on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 10:07:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  there's a bunch about NSA... (none) the Church Committee reports.   Minaret, Shamrock, and so on; and some interesting technical stuff as well, including some testimony from an independent communications engineer about technical capabilities (which of course is now 30 years out of date).  

    This was the episode where Nixon (and probably Johnson) ordered NSA into the domestic collection business, where the Agency ultimately got burned for going along and swore they'd never do that again.  

    And this is what led directly to FISA and the FISA Court.  

    What would be interesting to find, are statements from Republicans about privacy issues and the need for Congressional & judicial oversight of executive power.  

  •  Convene a new Church Com, then fund members: (none)
    As RustyBrown wrote above, some of us were alive and aware when the Church Committee was active.  RustyBrown reminded us that we must remain ever vigilant in the future for the scum that are up and comers now - like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were then.

    Church was targeted for electoral defeat - and was defeated - not long after his committee completed its work.  Part of our vigilance must include making sure we strongly fund and support any who serve on any present-day version of such a committee (serve on the side of justice, of course).

    It's crucial.  The NaziGOP will try to make them pay, just like they've made Church and so many others pay.  Now it's our turn.  And we will NEVER LET UP.  They've betrayed their nation for the last time.

    "We, the people..." [shall] "establish justice!"

    by trupatriot on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 10:52:36 PM PST

  •  If you doubt (none)
    It is not all about the NSA, or even the CIA, or FBI.  During the years that led to the Church Report, military intelligence organizations were involved, too.  Anyone remember Army CI agents counting the mules in the "Poor Peoples' March" on Washington??:)

    Anyway, here is something for you to chew on -- this.  It will take you a bit of time to go through all of the site, but DO look at all of the pages for products.

    I2 is a Brit company, but only one of many that hawks intelligence/law enforcement software.  It has an office in northern VA, and it is listed on the GSA contract schedule.

    The number of law enforcement agencies/other agencies that use it is unknown -- not in the US and Britain.  There was a trade report some time ago about the US Army liscensing over 1000 copies, many to go to Iraq and some, at least, to go to training base.  How many copies wound up with CIFA - who knows?  Of course, NSA, et al, are far advanced from I2, but it just gives you some idea.  Oh, and want your own I2?  Just give them a call and pay the bill ... it is available to anyone.

    I can tell you from experience that in the hands of someone (not me) who is really proficient, I2's Analysts Notebook can really sing!  It can make connections/links as fast as you can feed it information.  And -- it runs on a desktop, not some supercomputer.  Plus, in the hands of the acolyte, it can do far, far more than is advertised.

    Good thing it was not around in the 60's-70's.  But, it is around now, with many, many similar 'tools'.  Now, whould I be concerned?  Not!  After all, I have nothing to hide.  But, now as for you, Citizen ... well ...

    It is difficult to get the right answers if you don't ask the right questions!

    by wgard on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 11:07:17 PM PST

    •  Interesting (none)
      i2 runs on a desktop, and can work with ove 100,000 phone calls at a time.  Imagine what you can do if you're the NSA and have access to some of the most powerful computers ever created.  

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