ACLU Urges Congress to Put in Place Guidelines to Prevent Civil Liberties Abuses by New Intelligence Umbrella Agency

July 22, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged lawmakers to put in place guidelines to help prevent the Central Intelligence Agency’s leadership of the new domestic intelligence umbrella agency from resulting in widespread infringements on civil liberties.

“”The CIA needs to use every shady trick in the book to accomplish its mission overseas,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”To allow those methods to govern intelligence gathering on American soil is an invitation for disaster. The President must ensure that appropriate curbs on its authority are imposed.””

President Bush announced the new umbrella agency – Terrorism Threat Integration Center (or TTIC) — in his last State of the Union address. TTIC was the subject of a hearing today before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

TTIC currently collects both foreign intelligence and domestic counter-intelligence units from the FBI, CIA and other agencies under one administrative framework, led by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, which is responsible for analyzing, directing and disseminating intelligence information on terrorism to other federal, state and local agencies.

The ACLU’s concerns stem from the vagueness of the authority given to Tenet. If the CIA were allowed to step outside of its statutory charter, the ACLU said, and engage in domestic intelligence gathering, infringements on civil liberties – similar to those visited on civil rights and anti-war dissidents in the 1960s – would be the inevitable result.

“”When the government is permitted to spy on Americans without prior suspicion of criminal activity or intent,”” Edgar said, “”unwarranted harassment, blackmail, detention, interrogation, wiretapping and blacklisting inevitably follow.””

Historically, the CIA’s most notorious political spying and harassment program, codenamed “”Operation CHAOS,”” exhibited the problems with the CIA operating on American soil, the ACLU said. The program, initiated in the 1960s, collected dossiers on upwards of 7,000 Americans, a clear violation of its founding charter and mission.

Other intelligence agencies that would logically be a part of the new umbrella agency have checkered histories as well, which mirror the Operation CHAOS excesses of the CIA. Military intelligence units operated a domestic political spying program called CONUS (Continental United States) during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, which had dossiers on 100,000 peace activists and frequently infiltrated political meetings and rallies. The FBI established the infamous COINTELPRO political spying unit under J. Edgar Hoover, which engaged in concerted and illegal character assassination campaigns against civil rights leaders, most notably the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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