Jewish World Review December 12, 2012/ 28 Kislev 577
Government snooping's historical precedent
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | In 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency was created to fill the vacuum left by the dissolution of the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS). But it was nearly thwarted by a major concern: that it would become an agent of domestic intrusion, to the detriment of all Americans. In other words, no one would be immune from its prying eyes.
With the examples of Hitler's Gestapo and Stalin's secret police in front of them, members of Congress and their constituents were sensitive to the possible dangers of unintended consequences. Their basic freedoms, they believed, were always at stake in governments that history had shown could turn despotic overnight, particularly with such a broad-based intelligence weapon.
Among those fueling this argument were conservative factions, helped along by publishing giant Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. His chief political writer in Washington was leaked a story from the White House suggesting a conspiracy to spy on Americans.
President Harry Truman had political reasons for its circulation. He didn't want the new CIA's architect, former OSS chief and Roosevelt loyalist William (Wild Bill) Donovan, to be its first director.
Washington law enforcement titan J. Edgar Hoover also was more than a bit uneasy about the new agency, seeing a threat to the future of his own FBI.
The result was that the ultimate charter establishing this new superspy agency limited its activities to foreign intelligence operations. The FBI — with the automatic restraints of the Justice Department in which it resided — would be responsible for all domestic counterintelligence. There would be some necessary coordination between the agencies when the occasion arose.
But that occurred less than expected because of a growing animosity between the two, fostered by the long-tenured Hoover.
Ironically, Congress now faces another dilemma not unlike that one — whether to sanction the extension of warrantless electronic interceptions of emails and telephone calls of foreigners overseas. Some say these activities are absolutely necessary in the war on terrorism; others argue that they often encroach on legitimate conversations by Americans talking to foreign subjects.
The House has approved the extension and the Senate must do so by the end of the year or the authority expires.
The activity is sanctioned once a year by a special court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. There is no arguing that under this blanket approach to approval, the intercepts already have invaded the privacy of countless citizens.
A group of determined senators wants to know how many communications involving Americans have been collected. They also want the government to obtain court approval before processing data gleaned from individual U.S. citizens.
People are kidding themselves if they believe in the government's ability to protect the interests of the rest of us while simply culling the seeds of destruction that led to countless attempts at terrorism, including Sept. 11, 2001.
As an example of what can happen without proper restraints, an old friend cites the case of a man who's stopped on a street corner by a stranger asking for a light. He supplies the light, passes a few pleasantries, and smiles and hands the stranger his matchbook before saying good day. Unbeknown to the man, the stranger is under government surveillance; the next thing he knows, so is he — with every facet of his life being examined.
No one wants the government's hands tied in responding quickly to possible imminent national danger.
But there are legitimate concerns, just as there were back in 1947, about how far we can encroach on privacy and other rights without probable cause. Those worries can't be put aside simply by assurances from a government bureaucrat.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told reporters that the law is not a tool for spying on Americans.
That may not be intended, but that's not to say it hasn't happened as hundreds of our fellow citizens have had their overseas conversations scooped up in what can only be described as a very dangerous exercise.
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