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Times analysis suggests eavesdropping today dwarfs that of CIA exposed in 'Family Jewels'
Published: Tuesday June 26, 2007
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Independent historians of the Central Intelligence Agency don't see a gulf between the free-wheeling Cold War CIA and revealed in the so-called 'Family Jewels' and the US intelligence operation of today, according to an analysis to appear in Wednesday's New York Times.

Villanova political scientist David Barrett told the paper that the notion "that the CIA was once lawless but now meticulously followed the law was simply wrong."

“We don’t know everything that’s going on today,” David Barrett, a political scientist at Villanova University told the Times. “But it seems to me there’s already enough evidence to conclude that things are not so different today.”

James Bamford, a renowned history of the National Security Agency and of American intelligence in general who is a party to a lawsuit against the NSA over its warantless eavesdropping program, offered a similar opinion.

"Bamford said the scale of the National Security Agency’s interception of phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans and others in the United States in recent years... almost certainly dwarfs the electronic surveillance and the review of mail carried out by the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. in the 1960s," he said.

"If the collection details government spying on Vietnam War protesters, it has a contemporary echo in the Pentagon’s admission that a database called Talon improperly recorded the activities of Iraq war protesters," Bamford told the Times.

“These documents are supposed to show the worst of the worst back then,” he said. “But what’s going on today makes the family jewels pale by comparison.”

The controversial activities of the campaign against terrorism took place despite the changes enacted after the scandals of the 1970s.

The Bush administration chose to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, created in 1978 to oversee eavesdropping on American soil. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees, created to make sure past abuses would never be repeated, did little to rein in the N.S.A. wiretapping program or to set limits on interrogation practices until news reports set off a furor.

On the other hand, the recent surveillance activities appear so far to have been aimed at mostly people believed to pose a terrorist threat, not a political threat. So far there is no evidence of anything comparable, for example, to the F.B.I.’s relentless pursuit and harassment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the political abuses of Watergate.

“I think there’s a lower threshold today for activities that impinge on our privacy and civil liberties,” said Amy Zegart, author of the coming book “Spying Blind: The F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Origins of 9/11.”

But she added the caveat that the full story might not be known for decades, quoting a line about the William J. Casey, C.I.A. director under President Ronald Reagan: “The old joke was that Casey wouldn’t tell you your coat was on fire unless you asked.”