A Half-Century of Spying on U.S. Citizens

Washington, D.C.—This morning’s revelation of spying on Americans by the National Security Agency caused an uproar in the Senate, with members demanding an explanation from President Bush. The Senate then refused to authorize the extension of certain sections of the USA Patriot Act because the sections endangered civil liberties.

The New York Times on Friday said Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the U.S. in a search for terrorist activity—without court-approved warrants. Usually, warrants are usually required for domestic spying.

But there are other examples of intelligence agencies breaking the law to spy on Americans inside the U.S.:

  • The Defense Department finally has agreed to allow officers involved in Able Danger, a secret Pentagon program set up to map the international al Qaeda network, to testify before Congress. Over half the members of the House had signed a letter demanding such testimony after the Pentagon refused to produce the officers involved for questioning. Able Danger claims to have tracked Mohammad Atta, the lead hijacker, as long ago as 1998. The project supposedly was blocked from telling the FBI what it had discovered by Defense Department lawyers who feared word would get out that the government was breaking the law by letting intelligence agencies spy inside the U.S.

  • Last week J.D. Cash, a reporter who has tracked the Oklahoma City bombing case in the McCurtain Daily Gazette, a small-town Oklahoma newspaper, reported the paper had obtained Secret Service documents revealing the use of a secret military spy satellite by federal investigators after the bombing of the Murrah Building. According to the Gazette, the documents show the satellite was tasked to gather intelligence at Elohim City, a racist religious community in eastern Oklahoma.

  • In his testimony before the 9-11 Commission, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Defense Department could not protect Americans from attack within the country’s borders, but could only operate abroad. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Defense Deparment through one or another of its intelligence agencies openly spied on citizens within the U.S, under COINTELPRO, among other programs.

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