Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

FC: The Privacy Snatchers

------- Forwarded message follows ------- Date sent: Sat, 16 Oct 1999 13:24:31 -0400 To: From: Declan McCullagh <> Subject: FC: The Privacy Snatchers Send reply to:

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
>Department accusation
> 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 elections.

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 newspapermen.

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.

Mail Monitoring

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 leaders.

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 been prosecuted.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Even the personal life of the First Lady of the United States is fair game to the eavesdrop establishment.

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 Democracy.

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 room.

Socialist Stalking

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 party members.

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 in office.

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.

IRS Prying

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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