Saturday, July 13, 2013

Remembering Nixon and his Enemies

On June 5, 1970, President Nixon met with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, CIA Director Richard Helms (famous for his failed plan to assassinate Fidel Castro), and the heads of the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to discuss a proposed new domestic intelligence system. Nixon claimed to believe that “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans —mostly under 30 — are determined to destroy our society.” He expressed frustration at the fact that these varied intelligence agencies were more concerned with maintaining operational independence and protecting their “turf” than with uncovering agitators attempting to stir up a domestic insurrection. 

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we see that the supposed domestic insurrection evaporated once the United States withdrew from Vietnam, and it is reasonable to conjecture that young Americans were far more interested in ending the war than in installing a Communist regime. This is true even if they did wear Chairman Mao t-shirts from time to time, and painted Ho Chi Minh’s profile on a giant LNG storage tank outside of Boston. The under 30 crowd did not destroy society, but they did leave behind some disturbing vestiges such as geriatric motorcycle clubs and the loss of what could have been productive years that were instead spent listening to the Grateful Dead.

On July 14, 1970, President Nixon approved the “Huston Plan,” named for Nixon aide Tom Charles Huston. This plan greatly expanded domestic intelligence-gathering by the FBI, CIA and other agencies. The plan authorized the CIA, FBI, NSA, and military intelligence agencies to escalate their electronic surveillance of “domestic security threats” in the face of supposed threats from Communist-led youth agitators and antiwar groups.

The plan authorized the surreptitious reading of private mail, lifted restrictions against surreptitious entries or break-ins to gather information, authorized the placement of covert informants on college campuses, and established anew, White House-based, “Interagency Group on Domestic Intelligence and Internal Security.” When advised by Huston that parts of this plan were clearly illegal, Nixon responded that he did not want to be informed of the activities undertaken under the auspices of this new agency.

W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI, later called Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” The term gauleiter refers to a party line enforcer controlling a political district, specifically during the Nazi regime (the reader should be reminded that this comparison to Hitler was made several years before the imposition of Godwin’s Law. It should also be noted that, given his ferocious anti-Semitism, comparisons between Nixon and Hitler might not be as tenuous as one might think). Mr. Felt would later be revealed as the informant Deep Throat (not to be confused with Deep Throat), whose leaks were critical in mobilizing an investigation into the illegal activities of President Nixon.
Within days, J. Edgar Hoover confronted Huston and insisted that his agency would not conduct covert activities against law-abiding Americans without the president’s express authorization. Hoover either resented encroachments on the FBI’s turf or recognized the risk of becoming the scapegoat should the illicit activities be exposed. The Huston Plan was scrapped, days after it was authorized.
Regardless of the failure of the short-lived Huston Plan, Nixon administration officials ordered members of the FBI and other agencies executed the plan to break into the homes of friends and family members of suspected anti-Vietnam War activists. Law enforcement agents followed these instructions, without warrants, in order to uncover any evidence of wrong-doing. Mark Felt would later be imprisoned for his role in directing FBI agents to break into the houses of American citizens to conduct extrajudicial investigations.

W. Mark Felt (right) aroused President Nixon’s wrath. Nixon advised Alexander Haig, “Everybody is to know that he is a goddamn traitor and just watch him damned carefully.”

Mr. Felt once commented to his daughter, “I guess people used to think Deep Throat was a criminal, but now they think he's a hero (source).”

In 1973, CIA Director James Schlesinger reviewed CIA surveillance operations against U.S. citizens. He found numerous of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against U.S. citizens going as far back as the 1950’s, including break-ins, wiretaps, and the surreptitious opening of personal mail.  However, the earlier surveillance operations did not directly target U.S. citizens. Instead, the operations were focused on “suspected foreign intelligence agents operating in the United States.” This had changed during the Nixon administration. As Schlesinger discovered, the CIA was focusing its illegal surveillance efforts against antiwar protesters, civil rights organizations, and political “enemies” of the Nixon administration.

The lessons of the Nixon Era amply demonstrate the truth of James Madison’s statement, “All men having power ought to be mistrusted.” And perhaps more to the point, “It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”
P.S. With respect to the question, "is there evidence that the apparatus of government is being used TODAY to harass peaceful protestors who have committed no crime?" please refer to the following links: ALEC protests, fracking, Occupy Wall Street, agri-business protests. To see "protesting Keystone XL" defined as "terrorism," go here.

The preceding essay draws extensively from entries located at the History Commons, except where noted.

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