Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

U.S. Spy Wars

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

U.S. Spy Wars

Article excerpt

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know a lot about what the National Security Agency has secretly been up to. As a result, Congress, a U.S. District Court judge and the White House are considering ways to rein in the agency and protect our privacy. But we have yet to hear answers to key questions about how our intelligence agencies use the NSA's cache of data: Which Americans have been targeted, and why?

We know the NSA has compiled call records on virtually every American who has used a phone, vacuumed up Internet data such as chats, photographs, emails, videos and documents of targeted foreigners and created a database from the "incidental collection" of Americans' Internet data that it says it may search without a court order. In the process, the NSA repeatedly exceeded its restrictions. And, significantly, its work has been driven by requests from "customer" agencies such as the FBI and CIA.

The Obama administration says the NSA's secret activities are legal and crucial to protecting the nation against terrorism. But similar national security claims led to granting our intelligence agencies great secrecy and power during the Cold War that in turn led to gross violations of our constitutional rights.

Only in the wake of the Watergate scandal and media reports based on leaks of classified information did Congress hold the first and, to date, the most thorough public hearings on intelligence activities with respect to the rights of Americans.

In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee, named for its chairman, Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, made shocking and still-relevant findings. It found that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans who dissented against government policy, on the pretext that they were part of a Kremlin-controlled plot.

The bureau went beyond surveillance to mount, in the committee's words, a "sophisticated vigilante operation" called COINTELPRO to "disrupt" and "neutralize" dissent, turning counterintelligence techniques developed for use against foreign enemies on students protesting the Vietnam War, civil rights groups and nonviolent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

FBI officials went so far as to foment violence between the Black Panthers and a rival black power group, United Slaves, in Southern California, the committee found, and then proudly claimed credit for shootings and beatings.

At the University of California, FBI files subsequently uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act show the bureau harassed Mario Savio, a leader of the 1964 Free Speech Movement, waged a concerted campaign to oust UC President Clark Kerr because FBI officials disagreed with his policies and gave personal and political help to Ronald Reagan, who had been an FBI informer in Hollywood and as governor vowed to crack down on Berkeley protests.

The Church Committee also investigated NSA surveillance and its relationship to its "customer" agencies and their activities. …

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