An intense debate erupted during the Ford administration over the president's powers to eavesdrop without warrants to gather foreign intelligence, according to newly disclosed government documents. George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are cited in the documents, AP reports. Excerpts (and background on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act follow). Full story here.
The roughly 200 pages of historic records obtained by The Associated Press reflect a remarkably similar dispute between the White House and Congress fully three decades before President Bush's acknowledgment he authorized wiretaps without warrants of some Americans in terrorism investigations.
Senate Judiciary Committee hearings begin Monday over Bush's authority to approve such wiretaps by the ultra-secretive National Security Agency without a judge's approval. A focus of the hearings is to determine whether the Bush administration's eavesdropping program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law with origins during Ford's presidency.
George H.W. Bush, then director of the CIA, wanted to ensure "no unnecessary diminution of collection of important foreign intelligence" under the proposal to require judges to approve terror wiretaps, according to a March 1976 memorandum he wrote to the Justice Department. Bush also complained that some major communications companies were unwilling to install government wiretaps without a judge's approval. Such a refusal "seriously affects the capabilities of the intelligence community," Bush wrote.
The documents include one startling similarity to Washington's current atmosphere over disclosures of classified information by the media. Notes from a 1975 meeting between Cheney, then White House chief of staff, then-Attorney General Edward Levi and others cite the "problem" of a New York Times article by Seymour Hersh about U.S. submarines spying inside Soviet waters. Participants considered a formal FBI investigation of Hersh and the Times and searching Hersh's apartment "to go after (his) papers," the document said.
This occurred before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which restricted domestic spying.
Background on FISA from Facts on File:
"President Carter signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into law Oct. 25, 1978. It was the first major legislation to restrict national security wiretapping.
"The bill required the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and other federal agencies to obtain court approval before conducting most electronic surveillance in foreign intelligence cases.
"The exception was for certain National Security Agency operations, such as the interception of communications between a foreign embassy and its government. Unless evidence of criminal activity could be presented to a court, the "bugging" of Americans was banned.
"All of the U.S. intelligence agencies were on record in favor of the final bill. The American Civil Liberties Union also supported the legislation but objected to the NSA warrant exemption."