The U.S. government has a long history of domestic spying carried on by several agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to Verne Lyon, a former CIA undercover operative: “For over fifteen years, the CIA, with assistance from numerous government agencies, conducted a massive illegal domestic covert operation called Operation CHAOS. It was one of the largest and most pervasive domestic surveillance programs in the history of this country.”
The mission of CHAOS, which was to spy on thousands of U.S. citizens, was operable under every U.S. president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Richard Nixon. During the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, the CIA vastly expanded domestic intelligence programs that collected information on college and university campuses with absolutely no operating or governing guidelines other than directions to “don’t get caught.”
Johnson’s program focused on the U.S. peace movement and expanded so greatly that the CIA created a special operations group to carry out its activities. To retrieve Verne Lyons’ article “Domestic Surveillance: The History of Operation CHAOS,” go to www.serendipity.li/cia/lyon.html.
Another agency that conducts widespread domestic spying is the National Security Agency. Its world headquarters are at Fort Meade, Md., not far from Washington, D.C.
According to James Bamford, author of “Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organization”: “During the Vietnam war, the Agency was heavily involved in spying on the domestic opposition to the government. Many Americans on the watch list of that era were there solely for having protested against the war.”
Many of those targeted were well-known Americans such as folk singer Joan Baez, beloved pediatrician Benjamin Spock and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
In speaking of the NSA’s collection of data on religious groups requested by the FBI, former NSA official Frank Raven said: “When J. Edgar Hoover gives you a requirement for complete surveillance of all Quakers in the United States, and when Richard Nixon is a Quaker and he’s president of the United States, it gets pretty funny.”
Regarding the NSA’s present-day spying capabilities, Bamford says: “The NSA has the ability to eavesdrop on your communications — landlines, cell phones, e-mails, BlackBerry messages, Internet searches and more — with ease.”
To retrieve Bamford’s article “Big Brother is Listening,” go to www.theatlantic.com/doc/200604/nsa-surveillance.
Then there is the FBI. In 1977, with the help of Illinois Rep. Paul Simon (later U.S. Sen. Simon), I secured my own FBI file under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The file contains 28 pages of information collected at MU and other nearby locations from May 5, 1965, until April 18, 1970. Reports of activities included my presence at anti-war protests, speaking engagements, organizing activities and other free speech items — none of which was illegal.
Supporters of widespread domestic spying often say, “What’s the big deal? If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
The big deal is that much of the aforementioned government activity is illegal. Secondly, it discourages free speech on the part of citizens who wish to speak truth to power. And thirdly, the records of such spying can totally ruin careers and prevent those spied upon from securing jobs for which they are applying — especially those with the federal government. In my own case, I was selected from a pool of some 160 applicants for a GM 15 senior level position with a prominent federal agency in Washington, D.C. I was told I had been chosen for the job but later was denied the job following a routine “background check.”
As a cynic on such matters, I was not surprised at the outcome, but I am outraged at the idea that so much time and money is spent on the activities of Quakers, civil rights leaders, anti-war activists and others who, if they had been listened to, would have saved the United States thousands of lives and billions upon billions of dollars with the prevention of a 50-year misguided foreign and military policy.
Bill Wickersham is an adjunct professor of peace studies at MU, a member of Veterans for Peace and a member of the U.S. Steering Committee of Global Action to Prevent War.