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Cold War Warrantless Wiretapping 85

Posted by kdawson
from the all-your-call-are-well-you-know-the-rest dept.
somanyrobots writes "President Gerald Ford secretly authorized the use of warrantless domestic wiretaps for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes soon after coming into office, according to a declassified document. The Dec. 19, 1974, White House memorandum, marked Top Secret / Exclusively Eyes Only and signed by Ford, gave then-Attorney General William B. Saxbe and his successors in office authorization 'to approve, without prior judicial warrants, specific electronic surveillance within the United States which may be requested by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.'" And reader jlaprise1 adds, "My research [from 2009] makes the news! President Ford authorized warrantless wiretaps in December 1976 and laid the foundation (PDF) for US telecommunications security policy."
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Cold War Warrantless Wiretapping

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  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @08:24AM (#31723220)
    This can't really surprise anyone. I'm sure there are plenty of things our government has kept from us either "for our own good" (their rationale for hiding their actions) and for national security reasons (we can't disclose everything). But how much do we really want to know? No matter how much they tell us we always suspect more ... and the conspiracy theorists will only use the truth to build even more elaborate plots of imaginative intrigue and nefarious actions.
    • by Cryacin (657549)
      If only there was a wise being striding forward to take over the world. At least there would be progress by one so skilled to manipulate so many. Unfortunately, we cannot attribute to malice that which is easily explained by incompetence. President Bush is the starkest reminder of that, followed by our dear friends on Wall Street.
      • by dbIII (701233)
        Bush was a shining example of the attitude that political office is a prize instead of a job. Let's hope there are no more playboy princes that run away and hide when the country needs them.
        • "My research [from 2009] makes the news! President Ford authorized warrantless wiretaps in December 1976 and laid the foundation (PDF) for US telecommunications security policy."

          That should read:

          ...laid the foundation for criminal violation of the United States federal government's authorizing document, the Constitution."

        • There's information available, and someone who wants it, and can pay. Beyond unfairly-authorized, there are sure to be lots of undocumented, secret abuses, at several levels of access to the technology, authority, information, and personnel, etc involved.
      • by thej1nx (763573)
        Why is it that always Republicans (both Ford and George Bush) who have been usually eager to subvert and corrupt existing laws, and don't even have the guts or decency to publicly accept the responsibility for doing so?

        And before folks start bashing me for being a democrat troll or something, I am not even American. It just seems to me as an outsider though, that based on statistics, having a Republican President usually ensures that American Democracy is turned into a mockery. And it is definitely a gra
        • by khallow (566160)

          Why is it that always Republicans (both Ford and George Bush) who have been usually eager to subvert and corrupt existing laws, and don't even have the guts or decency to publicly accept the responsibility for doing so?

          Too much power, not enough accountability. I'm not sure why you mention "Republicans" explicitly, since this is a problem common to both dominant parties.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jlaprise1 (1042514)

      With respect to electronic surveillance, legality wasn't at issue. In 1974, the law did not recognize the existence of electronic surveillance. It did however regulate lawful and unlawful physical entry.

      The originally redacted text was "That the minimum physical intrusion necessary to obtain the information sought will be used."

      This clearly contradicted constitutional protections for unlawful search and seizure. Until the advent of FISA, all of the other aspects of the memo were legal or perhaps better defi

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Considering Ford was on the spot taking a bribe from Suharto for looking the other way on the day of the invasion of East Timor it really shouldn't surprise anyone. The money went to a Republican Party campaign fund instead of into his own pocket but he was still for sale to foreign powers. He was a far worse President than Nixon.
    • > This can't really surprise anyone. I'm sure there are plenty of things our
      > government has kept from us either "for our own good" (their rationale for
      > hiding their actions) and for national security reasons (we can't disclose
      > everything).

      1/ it shouldn't surprise anyone who has been watching the actions of the USA over the last 10 years because the government of that country has proven that it cannot be trusted.

      2/ The government of the USA demonstrates repeatedly that it doesn't trust the peo

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @09:07AM (#31723472)

    I remember an old joke that went something like this...

    "NSA is conducting advanced research in the fields of applied mathematics, signal processing, and cryptography. To apply for one of these exciting positions, just pick up the phone, call your grandmother, and ask for one!"

    Life imitates art :-)

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @09:15AM (#31723484)

    I guess we'll find out in ~40 years, when we are either dead, or too old to care any more.

    Although, "Get off my lawn!" crimes have no statute of limitations, and you are never to old to scream it.

    So what secret authorizations were issued by Bush . . . and are still in effect under Obama?

    I guess I will probably never know.

    Ah, isn't ignorance bliss?

    • Why bother to ask? (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The majority of people would just label the answers as conspiracy theories. Do you know that THERE WERE people during cold war times who accused the government of warrantless wiretapping? And what did those people receive in return? They were either labelled as conspiracy theorists or KGB agents or communist sympathizers. Pretty much the same is happening now against intellectuals like Noam Chomsky.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Garrett Fox (970174)
      Well, for starters, Obama has continued Bush's warrantless wiretapping policy. Second, he's continued the tradition of re-authorizing the ongoing state of national emergency which has existed, continuously, since at least 1979. (Each President has issued executive orders, publicly available, declaring that a "state of emergency" exists because of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, not to mention other extreme emergencies like diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone.)

      I wouldn't be too upset about these, because the a
  • A Little HIstory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 04, 2010 @09:22AM (#31723518)
    Who was Ford's first Chief of Staff? Donald Rumsfeld. And when Rumsfeld became his Secretary of Defense, who did Ford appoint Chief of Staff in his place? Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld's assistant. And who did Ford make his head of the CIA? George H. W. Bush. All of this happened during the "Halloween Massacre" of November 1975. This put Rumsfeld and Bush on Ford's NSC. Cheney would not have on the NSC, but he certainly would have known about it. Consider this story about memos Cheney wrote in 1975 regarding a Seymour Hersch story about the US tapping Soviet underwater cables. Cheney was clearly in the loop on intelligence and surveillance programs. So three of George W. Bush's closest advisors - his father, his Secretary of Defense, and his Vice-President - would have known about this. Don't you think when Cheney or Rumsfeld suggested this, they said to W. "Gerry Ford did it, and no one complained that it was unConstitutional - just ask your father." (Admittedly, Rumsfeld and Bush Sr. aren't exactly friendly - Rumsfeld tried to push Bush Sr. out at CIA back in the Ford days, and Bush Sr. was one of the main critics in the back-office attempts - eventually successful - to push Rumsfeld out at Defense in 2006. But it's very interesting to see how closely the Ford Administration was tied to the W. administration.) My point is that there was a cabal in the Ford and Bush administrations, with Rumsfeld and Cheney at its core, who have a history of evangelizing the idea of broad electronic surveillance which I would argue violates our Constitutional guarantees against arbitrary searches. There were other cliques in the W. administration with similar ideas (John Poindexter), so perhaps we should see this as something that W. believed in, strongly.
    • Re:A Little HIstory (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jlaprise1 (1042514) <j-laprise@northwestern.edu> on Sunday April 04, 2010 @09:37AM (#31723608)

      All true...though Ford was really concerned about the Soviet threat. He genuinely believed that this was the only way to deal with the threat of soviet eavesdropping on US microwave telecommunications. Ford was actually a champion of personal privacy. It's just that competing with the personal privacy that we think of everyday , there is a second kind of privacy which the government is concerned with. Their focus is protecting citizens from foreign surveillance threats and as these and other documents show, the responsibility of government to protect citizens' privacy from external threats trumps citizens' right to avoid surveillance from their government.

      This duality is clear in the documentary record but does not show up in public. It's only a debate held in the White House. Perhaps it should be entertained elsewhere as well...

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Very interesting. All supporting my claim that Bush Jr. was basically a facade for those really running the show.

      What good is the Constitution without mandatory jail time for violating it? These men all knew (and we can now throw Ms. Rice into that mix) that they were violating the Constitution they swore to uphold. Yet our Congress will not hold those accountable. Where is the office of Special Prosecutor when you really need it?

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @09:30AM (#31723560) Homepage

    President Gerald Ford secretly authorized the use of warrantless domestic wiretaps for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes soon after coming into office, according to a declassified document.

    Obligatory image link:

    http://images.google.com/images?q=ford+cheney+rumsfeld [google.com]

  • by Aurisor (932566)

    I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @09:51AM (#31723686) Homepage Journal

    What finally pushed the Congress into preparing to impeach Nixon was the revelation that Nixon was secretly (and, of course, warrantlessly) wiretapping Congress. Keeping Vietnam going, using the CIA to break into Democratic campaign HQ at the Watergate (and a shrink's office) - all just "business as usual". But the wiretapping was enough to push them over the edge.

    So George Bush Sr, Republican National Committee Chair, went to Nixon to explain that enough Congressional Republicans would vote to impeach that he would be impeached. So Nixon resigned. And Ford, who Nixon had got to replace his original VP, Spiro Agnew, when Agnew was convicted of income tax evasion (on massive bribes he'd taken but not reported to the IRS), inherited Nixon's evil empire. George Bush Sr inherited the CIA.

    And then Ford started warrantlessly wiretapping people, just like Nixon had. Nixon was wiretapping not only Congress, but all kinds of political enemies, including anti-war and environmentalist activists, counterculture figures like John Lennon. Nixon turned the White House into a Republican Kremlin. And Ford kept it that way.

    In 1978, with Democrat Carter in the White House a Democratic Congress passed FISA, which was designed to be the supreme law controlling wiretapping. Nominally subordinate to only the 4th Amendment, which it violated by allowing exceptions to the Amendment's requirement of a warrant issued prior to any wiretapping.

    Republican George Bush Jr inherited the presidency in 2000. And soon wiretapped every American, all our phonecalls and email, without a warrant. Even though the FISA court issued a warrant, before or after the fact, for every single one of the hundreds of thousands of requests it got, however invalid any of those requests might have been.

    Even to the point of wiretapping conversations between defendants and their lawyers in cases brought by the Bush "Justice" Department, which was just ruled illegal [scienceblogs.com], years later. With Bush leaving office unimpeached.

    The Congress should've impeached Nixon. It should have impeached Bush. Hell, it should've impeached Reagan, for running the secret Iran/Contra wars, illegally supplying Iran with weapons and shipping drugs like cocaine and opium around on CIA planes - the investigation probably would have turned up warrantless wiretapping to protect the other illegal programmes.

    But we didn't. And Republicans, even Bushes (and Cheneys) get to walk around free, free to run for office. And a large section of the public that believes "it's only a crime if you get caught" treats those criminals and traitors to their oaths to protect the Constitution as "statesmen".

    As every time before, the next one will be even worse. Hi, president Romney, how ya doin'?

    • I am afraid you folks down south of the border (I am Canadian) have been reduced to having an illusion of democracy and your Constitutional Rights. I know the average American supports the Constitution and believes implicitly in the American system of government etc. Its a great system overall, but I think its been abused for the past 50 years or so - at least by the Republicans when in power. You don't have a right to privacy, you don't have the right of free speech, you don't have the right to avoid unlaw

      • by hduff (570443)

        Its a great system overall, but I think its been abused for the past 50 years or so - at least by the Republicans when in power.

        It's been abused by politicians and bureaucrats of all political persuasions for as long as there have been politicians and bureaucrats.

        And the US doesn't have a monopoly on that kind of behavior BTW.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I love how you always have to get Reagan in on it. It's the moonbat circle of truth.

      The vast majority of people that actually did the acts you speak were around for administrations of both parties. You choose to see the evil figure head in your ideological opposite party. Shocking, I know. This is what happens when you build a giant central government with large police and intelligence organs. To think it would magically be less of a problem when your team is in office is delusional. The only differen

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Except Reagan was guilty of violating the Boland Amendment. As well as guilty of supplying our enemy, Iran, with weapons. And guilty of letting the CIA ship addictive drugs into the US.

        The fact that others were also guilty doesn't mean that Reagan wasn't also guilty.

        It's your problem that the facts interfere with your deification of Reagan.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MasterOfMagic (151058)

      Nominally subordinate to only the 4th Amendment, which it violated by allowing exceptions to the Amendment's requirement of a warrant issued prior to any wiretapping.

      Um, no. The Fourth Amendment says no unreasonable search or seizure, not no unwarranted search and seizure. It does, however, set out what a warrant requires, but it does not require a warrant for a lawful search:

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      There are many cases where a warrentless search has been held to be reasonable, and thus not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

      That being said, warrantless wiretapping of the entire US population is, indeed, an unreasonable intrusion, in my opinion.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Doc Ruby (173196)

        No. The Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently held that no search is reasonable without a warrant, except in "exigent circumstances", where delay for a warrant is likely to give the suspect time to destroy the evidence required for a warrant. The only other exceptions, automobiles and consented searches, do not apply here. And the FISA requirements for post facto warrants do not limit issuance in only exigent circumstances.

    • Thing is, wiretapping by the US Federal Government was long standing Standard Operating Procedure since Telephones were deployed in the 1900 and telegraphs since the 1860'. It was around a long time before Nixon. I don't think the government didn't need a warrant up until the 1920's.

      Even then, phones can be tapped, it's just that evidence gathered isn't court admissible. But the type of work the NSA et. al. are doing is intelligence gathering. Whether or not it's court admissible isn't a grave concern.

    • On the contrary, I doubt the government is doing anything illegal. They are using techno-legal arbitrage.

      Current laws do not protect metadata. The government likely analyzes metadata to find possible terrorist suspects by looking for patterns. It presents those analyses to the FISA court as evidence to look at the content of suspect individuals and FISA grants a warrant. All of this is strictly legal or at least extralegal.

      The problem is that telecommunications companies are likely complicit. Private teleco

    • For consistency's sake, you also want Obama impeached for continuing the policy [nytimes.com], right?
  • by jjo (62046) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @10:51AM (#31724078) Homepage
    There seems to be a common understanding around Slashdot that domestic warrantless wiretapping is always unconstitutional.

    Wiretapping is not mentioned in the Constitution, but one's "persons, houses, papers, and effects" have been interpreted in many but not all cases to include electronic communications. Some of the cases where the courts have not extended constitutional protection in this way are for foreign communications and for domestic communications with agents of foreign powers.

    A few years after the Ford memo mentioned above, Congress passed the FISA statute, in an attempt to somewhat restrict these constitutionally-permitted warrantless wiretaps. However, it is not a settled question whether the Congress has the right, through legislation, to restrict the President's authority, as Commander-in-Chief, to conduct otherwise-constitutional foreign intelligence operations.

    The bottom line is that the issue is not as clear as you might think.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What I find so sad is that every time a leader commits a crime in the United States someone finds new history to say "they've always done it that way". I think the country and the system deserve to actually follow their own laws maybe that way it might get better. Laws should apply to people in power, not just the downtrodden.

    • by hduff (570443)

      What I find so sad is that every time a leader commits a crime in the United States someone finds new history to say "they've always done it that way". I think the country and the system deserve to actually follow their own laws maybe that way it might get better. Laws should apply to people in power, not just the downtrodden.

      It makes you wonder if the business of government could be done without all this skullduggery or if we just consistently elect petulant egomaniacs that only feign any sense of morality while they do whatever the Hell they want.

  • And we tried "hopey changey" with Jimmy Carter... It's not much of a stretch to say we are in Nixon's 11th term in office.

  • Seems our overlords learned from history and chose to repeat it.

  • The really big deal in the document is the redaction. In the earlier version, item C allowing minimal physical intrusion was redacted. In the version I FOIAed it was declassified.

    What's the big deal? In 1974, electronic surveillance wasn't covered by the law. The law didn't even envision such a thing. Breaking and entering, however the law was well prepared to deal with.

    Ford authorized the DoJ to conduct break-ins without a warrant. I know really ironic coming on the heels of Nixon, but I have to reiterate;

  • The judicial branch has no teeth, and no balls. SCOTUS regularly place judicial precedence over what the Constitution actually says, and the actual intent of the Framers' words. I understand that when the shit hits the fan, the Constitution can and should be set aside. This applies to invasions, rebellions, repeated terrorist strikes, etc. But if it isn't an EMERGENCY, they should go to prison. Once the emergency is over, all unconstitutional executive actions should cease. At this point, we should focus o
    • 1. The constitution specifically makes room for such emergencies. If you think it is meant to be laid aside for any emergency, you are probably loved by a government eager to declare emergencies.
      2. Your order of operations is offensively backwards. First pass laws in your state. Why do you need to pass constitutional ammendments as your first option?
      3. You don't want to speed up the amendment process. It is not that difficult to raise a hopenchange mob, the damage to our nation would be irrevocable.

      • 1. The constitution specifically makes room for such emergencies. If you think it is meant to be laid aside for any emergency, you are probably loved by a government eager to declare emergencies.

        I know. I meant if they did it properly (with Congress' approval and in an actual emergency). I didn't properly word my original post.

        2. Your order of operations is offensively backwards. First pass laws in your state. Why do you need to pass constitutional ammendments as your first option?

        You are correct. That was rather stupid of me to post that.

        3. You don't want to speed up the amendment process. It is not that difficult to raise a hopenchange mob, the damage to our nation would be irrevocable.

        Yes, you're probably correct. That's why I said "(if that is possible to do without damaging it)." I personally haven't thought of a quicker method that doesn't pose a threat to the process.

  • One supposes, if there is any sanity in our legal system AT ALL, that information so gathered would never be admissible in court.

    But if the idea was to use it to figure out stuff like which previously trusted CIA employee shouldn't have further access to classified information, or should be deliberately fed misinformation, during the cold war, I suspect a lot of people would have been pretty okay with that.
  • All modern presidents have done the same thing. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=75&aid=96665 [poynter.org]
    • by hduff (570443)

      All modern presidents have done the same thing. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=75&aid=96665 [poynter.org]

      Which makes it right in which way?

      The citation implies that it all started with Truman and, I assume, the "threat of Communism" which, in retrospect, was mostly a boogeyman. Are you arguing that fear alone is a valid basis for surrendering any freedom?

  • What strikes me is that some of the discussions here are STILL about Republicans Democrates. Those people don't get it.
    The topic SHOULD be about the fact that a president that spies on his own citizens.

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