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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: The Privacy Snatchers
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- Subject: [FYI] (Fwd) FC: The Privacy Snatchers
- From: "Axel H Horns" <email@example.com>
- Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999 09:10:22 +0200
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Date sent: Sat, 16 Oct 1999 13:24:31 -0400
From: Declan McCullagh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: FC: The Privacy Snatchers
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One response to my column this week:
>Since when were limits on police power "antisocial"? Ensuring the
>function of a democracy is a highly social act. The Justice
> reminds me of "communist!" in the '50's.
It's useful to consider precedent. Forthwith, this history.
The Privacy Snatchers
By Declan McCullagh
History reveals that time and again, the FBI, the
military and other law enforcement organizations
have ignored the law and spied on Americans
illegally, without court authorization. Government
agencies have subjected hundreds of thousands of
law-abiding Americans to unjust surveillance,
illegal wiretaps and warrantless searches. Eleanor
Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., feminists, gay
rights leaders and Catholic priests were spied on.
The FBI used secret files and hidden microphones
to blackmail the Kennedy brothers, sway the
Supreme Court and influence presidential
In these cases, police violated the law by
eavesdropping without a judge's approval, which
the Constitution requires. Now the FBI wants to
require Americans to use only computers and
telephones with a secret backdoor. Such easy
access is the fantasy of every unethical policeman
and corrupt bureaucrat. Of course, they pledge
never to use it without court authorization. Can
we trust them?
Martin Luther King
The FBI's campaign to destroy Dr. Martin Luther
King began in December 1963, soon after the famous
civil rights March on Washington. It started with
an extensive -- and illegal -- electronic
surveillance of King that probed into every corner
of his personal life.
Two weeks after the march, the same week King
appeared on the cover of Time magazine as "Man of
the Year," FBI agents inserted a microphone in
King's bedroom. ("They had to dig deep in the
garbage to come up with that one," FBI director J.
Edgar Hoover said of the Time cover story.) Hoover
wiretapped King's phone and fed the information to
the Defense Department and to friendly
When King travelled to Europe to receive the
Nobel Peace Prize, Hoover tried to derail meetings
between King and foreign officials, including the
Pope. Hoover even sent King an anonymous letter,
using information gathered through illegal
surveillance, to encourage the depressed civil
rights leader to commit suicide.
"The actions taken against Dr. King are
indefensible. They represent a sad episode in the
dark history of covert actions directed against
law-abiding citizens by a law enforcement agency,"
a Senate committee concluded in 1976.
Hoover's legacy? The FBI headquarters proudly
bears his name today.
Opening mail may be an imprecise form of
surveillance, but that didn't stop the FBI and CIA
from surreptitiously reading hundreds of thousands
of letters from 1940 to 1973. Government employees
(who took special classes to learn this skill)
would stealthily open the envelope and photograph
whatever was inside.
The CIA did it randomly. One agent testified
before Congress, "You never know what you would
hit." Included in the agency's dragnet were three
U.S. senators, a congressman, a presidential
candidate and many business and civil rights
Under federal law, opening mail not addressed to
you results in fines of up to $2,000 and five
years in jail. But not one agent appears to have
Even the personal life of the First Lady of the
United States is fair game to the eavesdrop
In March 1943 Eleanor Roosevelt checked into
Chicago's Blackstone Hotel on her way to Seattle.
In addition to bugging her rooms, the Army
Counter-Intelligence Corps followed her whenever
she left the hotel.
Her crime: endorsing left-wing organizations such
as the YMCA and the American League for Peace and
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover hated Mrs.
Roosevelt. He ordered the FBI to investigate Edith
Helm, Mrs. Roosevelt's longtime social secretary,
and another of her aides, Malvina Thompson. ("This
type of investigation seems to me to smack too
much of the Gestapo methods," Eleanor Roosevelt
said at the time.)
Hoover later visited the comedian W.C. Fields, who
also despised Mrs. Roosevelt, and obtained from
him three miniature paintings of the First Lady.
"Viewed upside down they depicted, in grossly
exaggerated anatomical detail, a woman's sex
organs," writes Curt Gentry in his biography of
Hoover. They became a highlight of the FBI
director's private tour of his basement recreation
In 1986 a federal judge awarded $264,000 in
damages to the Socialist Workers Party to
compensate for 36 years of government
harassment. The FBI used wiretaps, bugs and
surreptitious entries to monitor and disrupt the
group from 1941 to 1976.
The FBI made at least 204 surreptitious entries of
SWP offices and photographed at least 9,864
documents. Agents also broke into the homes of
A 1966 FBI memo admitted: "We do not obtain
authorization for 'black bag' jobs from outside
the Bureau. Such a technique involves trespass and
is clearly illegal; therefore, it would be
impossible to obtain any legal sanction for it.
Despite this, 'black bag' jobs have been used
because they represent an invaluable technique in
combatting subversive activities aimed directly at
undermining and destroying our nation."
The court ruled, however, that the SWP was not
"subversive" but was instead a peaceful,
law-abiding organization -- that has the same
right to be nutty as any other group of Americans.
Meddling With The Press
It was an early spring day in 1969 when President
Nixon ordered illegal wiretaps of 13 government
officials and four journalists. His stated goal:
to learn who was leaking sensitive information and
embarassing the White House.
The taps never did uncover the source, and Nixon
complained that they produced "just gobs of
material: gossip and bull." But the material
collected about the personal lives of the targets
was priceless: social contacts, marital problems,
drinking habits, employment situations and even
sex lives. The agents collected political
information, too, especially about Nixon's
Democratic opponents. Even a Supreme Court
justice, who spoke to one of the wiretap victims
about a manuscript, was drawn into the net.
About 20 months later, just weeks before Hoover
was due to testify before a House committee, the
FBI ended the wiretaps. When Time magazine learned
of the story two years later and asked the White
House to comment, a spokesman denied that any
wiretaps were asked for or received. A month later
the new FBI director told the same story to the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
In another case in 1969, John Ehrlichman ordered a
wiretap of newspaper columnist Joseph Kraft. A
security consultant for the Republican National
Committee installed the tap of Kraft's home. When
Kraft travelled overseas, the FBI asked local
authorities to wiretap his hotel room.
Supreme Court Snooping
The reach of law enforcement agents did not even
end at the august doors of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not only did FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
influence which justices would be appointed, he
wiretapped them and spied on them once they were
The FBI admitted in 1988, in response to a
Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, that Justice
William O. Douglas had been the target of numerous
wiretaps. (When Justice Douglas in June 1970 was
discussing the impeachment of another justice,
Hoover sent H.R. Haldeman a detailed report on the
intercepted conversation.) Agents also listened in
on the conversations of justices Earl Warren, Abe
Fortas and Potter Stewart.
"For years William O. Douglas had been writing, in
great secrecy he believed, the final volume of his
memoirs, dealing with his Court years," writes
Curt Gentry in his Hoover biography. "He was so
obsessed with preventing leaks that he made only
one copy of the manuscript. Sometime between
October 4 and November 12, 1968, the final draft
of his section on Lyndon Baines Johnson was stolen
from his office in the Supreme Court." After
finding he was unable to recreate the lost
chapter, Douglas never forgave Hoover.
The FBI's high court informants were well-placed.
They included the chief of the Supreme Court
police, Captain Philip H. Crook. The court's
clerk, Harold B. Willey, too, helped FBI agents
"know what action individual judges, or the court
as a whole, was taking," a bureau memorandum says.
Civil Rights Spying
The FBI's investigation of the NAACP began in 1941
and continued for at least 25 years. It focused on
chapters in cities across the nation, but the
FBI's New York field office was particularly
enthusiastic, sending to headquarters a 137-page
report in 1957 and dossiers on all the NAACP board
members and national officers in 1966.
Then there was the Army's nationwide domestic
surveillance program conducted in the late 1960s.
Its targets? "The civil rights movement" and the
"anti-Vietnam/anti-draft movements." The spooks
compiled dossiers on more than 100,000 Americans,
including Joan Baez, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Rev.
William Sloane Coffin, Congressman Abner Mikva and
Senator Adlai Stevenson III.
Free speech rights were also trampled. In 1967, a
memo to all FBI field offices ordered agents to
counter what the government viewed as a "Black
Nationalist" threat. "Consideration should be
given to techniques to preclude" leaders of
unapproved groups "from spreading their philosophy
publicly through various mass communication
media," the memo said.
When Gregory Millman published an article in the
September 1991 issue of Corporate Finance that
displeased the Internal Revenue Service, the
agency struck back.
Millman's article said the IRS had failed to
collect billions in taxes owed by large
corporations like General Motors. Who had leaked
this information to a reporter?
"Almost immediately, without informing Millman,
the IRS obtained from the telephone company a list
of all the numbers the reporter had dialed from
his phone. But then the IRS cast a much wider net,
requesting telephone companies all over the
country to provide it with the toll record of all
the telephone calls made by those persons whom
Millman had called," writes David Burnham in
"Above the Law."
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