The Army still watches civilian politics. Despite over 50 Congressional inquiries, the threat of House and Senate hearings, and a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 1,000 plainclothes soldier-agents continue to monitor the political activities of law-abiding citizens.
Some reforms have occurred since this blanket surveillance was first revealed in the January issue of this magazine. The Army has admitted that its CONUS (Continental U.S.) intelligence program exceeded its needs in preparing for riots and has agreed to cut it back. It has also promised to destroy two widely circulated “blacklists” on dissenters and to scrap its computerized data banks containing records on the membership, ideology, programs, and practices of virtually every activist political group in the country, from the violence-prone Weathermen to the non-violent Urban League. Important as these reforms are, however, they are deceptive.
The First Plausible Denials
When The Washington Monthly reached the newsstands on January 9, the Army high command dove for cover. The Pentagon’s office of Public Information refused to comment. Reporters were told to submit their questions in writing. From its headquarters at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, the Army Intelligence Command flashed orders to each of its intelligence groups limiting the collection of domestic intelligence to only the most “essential elements of information.” Agents were forbidden to discuss any aspect of the program with newsmen and were warned that any who did would be prosecuted for breach of national security. From his office on the second floor of the Pentagon, Robert E. Jordan III, Army General Counsel and Special Assistant to the Secretary for Civil Functions, suspended all replies to Congressional inquiries. In violation of its own regulations, the Army even re-fused to acknowledge receipt of them.
By the end of the month, however, the rising tide of criticism could not be ignored. Recognizing this, the Army issued, on January 26, the first in a series of partial admissions. In the jargon of the spy trade, such admissions are known as “plausible denials,” because they are invested with just enough truth to mask an essential falsehood. Thus the Army confirmed the existence of the nationwide intelligence apparatus (true), but said that it collected political intelligence only “in connection with Army civil disturbance responsibilities” (false).
“Civil disturbance incident reports are transmitted over [an] … automatic voice network teletype system to the U.S. Army Intelligence Command head- quarters” (true) and “information on incidents by types and geographical location is placed in the data bank from key-punched cards” (also true). But: “This is incident information only and does not include individual biographies or personality data” (false). The statement also acknowledged that the Army “does publish an identification list, sometimes with photos, of persons who have been active in past civil disturbance activity” (true), but failed to mention that the list (actually a book-let) also contained detailed descriptions of persons and organizations never involved in civil disturbances.
Finally, the Army admitted in a back-handed way that its agents had infiltrated civilian political groups: “For some time there has been a special prohibition against military persons under-taking such activities as undercover operations in the civilian community.” Of course, it did not say when the order was issued, or whether it was being obeyed. (It is not.)
The “plausible denials” satisfied no one. Inquiries directed to the Secretary of the Army, Stanley R. Resor, poured forth from both Houses of Congress. Legislators of such diverse persuasions as Senators Williams of Delaware, Hart of Michigan, Dole of Kansas, Brooke of Massachusetts, Percy of Illinois, Fulbright of Arkansas, and Cook of Kentucky demanded to know if the charges were true and, if so, by what authority and for what purpose the Army was spying on law-abiding citizens.
Congressman Cornelius E. Gallagher (D-N.J.), Chairman of the House Invasion of Privacy Subcommittee, and Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. (D-N.C.), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, led the attack. Gallagher wrote to Secretary Resor on January 26: “I am deeply concerned about the implications of collecting dossiers on Americans who are pursuing constitutionally protected activities, especially when they are to be imbedded in immediately avail-able form in a computerized data system.”
Senator Ervin, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a former judge, was more outspoken. “The Army,” he said in a Senate speech on February 2, “has no business operating data banks for the surveillance of private citizens; nor do they have any business in domestic politics.”
When the Army continued to avoid inquiries during the month of February, however, members of Congress expressed annoyance at being ignored. Congress-man Gallagher, usually a staunch friend of the military, was especially fed up. After waiting over two weeks for the Army to acknowledge his letter, he threatened to hold hearings.
Still the Army stalled for time. It had good reason. Like Congress and the public, its civilian hierarchy first learned of the Intelligence Command’s unbridled curiosity from the press. Unable to learn more from the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, who greatly downplayed the CONUS system’s capabilities, the civilians resolved to conduct their own inquiry. This reached a point of revelation sometime in mid-February when Army General Counsel Jordan went to Fort Holabird and watched as the computer bank on dissidents disgorged a lengthy print-out on Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On February 25, Jordan dispatched the Army’s first reply to more than 30 Congressional critics. Each received the same letter, regardless of the questions he had asked. It opened with a lengthy defense of the Intelligence Command’s library of security clearance dossiers —never at issue—and closed with a brief confession: “There have been some activities which have been undertaken in the civil disturbance field which, on review, have been determined to be beyond the Army’s mission requirements.” “
For example, the Intelligence Command published . . . an identification list which included the names and descriptions of individuals who might become involved in civil disturbance situations.” And: “The Intelligence Command has operated a computer data bank . . . which included information about potential incidents and individuals involved in potential civil disturbance incidents.” Jordan assured members of Congress that both the identification list and the data bank had been ordered destroyed. “Thus,” he concluded, “the Army does not currently maintain the identification list referred to above. No computer data bank of civil disturbance information is being maintained . .”
Again, the denials were both plausible and deceptive. Jordan’s seemingly candid letter failed to mention that in addition to the Fort Holabird computer (an IBM 1401) and the Intelligence Command’s identification list (published in over 330 copies), the Army also maintained:
- over 375 copies of a two-volume, loose-leaf encyclopedia on dissent en-titled “Counterintelligence Research Project: Cities and Organizations of Interest and Individuals of Interest” but popularly known as “the Compendium.” Compiled by the domestic intelligence section of the Counterintelligence Analysis Division (CIAD), a Pentagon-based unit responsible for briefing high Army officials like Jordan on protest politics, the Compendium contained descriptions of hundreds of organizations and individuals, including the John Birch Society, the Urban League, the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee, Negro play-wright LeRoi Jones, and the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- a computer-indexed, microfilm archive of intelligence reports, news-paper clippings, and other records of political protests and civil disturbances at CIAD headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The index to this data bank is a computer print-out, 50 lines to a page, a foot-and-a-half thick. It catalogues microfilmed documents relating to such groups as Young Americans for Freedom, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Individuals listed include Rear Admiral Arnold E. True and Brigadier General Hugh B. Hester (war critics), Georgia State Representative Julian Bond, and folk singers Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Arlo Guthrie.
- a computerized data bank on civil disturbances, political protests, and “resistance in the Army (RITA)” at the Continental Army Command headquarters, Fort Monroe, Virginia. The civil disturbance-political protest side of this data bank was developed because the Continental Army Command hoped to recapture supervision of its riot control troops from the Pentagon’s special 180-man Directorate for Civil Disturbance Planning and Operations.
- non-computerized regional data banks at each stateside Army command and at many military installations. In addition to the usual agent reports, incident reports, and newspaper clippings, these records include booklet-size “CONUS intelligence summaries” published each month by the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Armies, and the Military District of Washington.
- non-computerized files at most of the Intelligence Command’s 300 state-side intelligence group offices. These re-cords on local political groups and individuals are similar to, but more detailed than, the records at Fort Holabird which the Army promised to destroy. The-political files of the 108th Military Intelligence Group’s Manhattan offices, for ex-ample, take up five four-drawer file cabinets and require a full-time custodian.
Congressional reactions to Jordan’s admissions, omissions, and denials were mixed. Congressman Gallagher—although fully aware of the omissions—seemed pleased. Without withdrawing his threat of hearings, he announced to the press that the Army would no longer keep tabs on peaceful demonstrations or publish a list of individuals who might be involved in a riot. His announcement, repeated in interviews over the weekend, became the basis of widespread and erroneous newspaper reports. The New York Times of February 27 was typical: “Army Ends Watch on Civil Protests.” Gallagher got the credit for the apparent victory.
Other members of Congress were slower to react and before they did Morton Kondracke of The Chicago Sun-Times reported on February 28: “The Army acknowledged yesterday that it maintains files on the political activities of civilians other than the computerized political data bank it told Congressmen it was closing down.” Kondracke, a thorough reporter, listed them all.
The following Monday, Senator Ervin expressed his dissatisfaction with Jordan’s letter. In a letter to the Secretary of the Army he reiterated his demand for a complete report to Congress, and in a Senate floor speech denounced the surveillance as a “usurpation of authority.” “The business of the Army in [civil disturbance] . . . situations is to know about the conditions of highways, bridges, and facilities. It is not to predict trends and reactions by keeping track of the thoughts and actions of Americans exercising first amendment freedoms.” “If there ever were a case of military overkill,” he added, “this is it . . . . I suggest the Army regroup and define its strategic objectives, lower its sights, and re-identify its enemy. Under our Constitution that enemy is not the American citizen.”
The Army Regroups
Within the Army, much regrouping was already going on. A letter received by Congressman Gallagher from sources close to the 116th Military Intelligence Group at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., described what was happening at the lower echelons:
On the morning after news reports about the dismantling of the CONUS system first appeared in the Washington papers . . . members of the 116th were . informed that their unit and its operations would be unaffected . . . . They were told that the only major effect of the- Congressional and press criticism would be destruction of the national data bank and related files that were kept at Fort Holabird. Files kept by the regional M.I. Groups (which were the basis for the Fort Holabird file and contained more in-formation) would remain intact, and members of the M.I. Groups would continue their operations of surveillance, in-filtration, and reporting as previously.
In addition, all files and operations of the 116th were to be classified to prevent the release of any information about them; disclosure of such information would subject people who released that information to court-martial or prosecution in civilian court for violation of national security.
At the present time, the files of the 116th M.I. Group consist of a 5×7 card file on several thousand persons in the Washington area. On these cards are a picture of each person, his name and ad-dress, occupation, background, a record of political groups with which he has been affiliated, notes on political meetings, rallies, and demonstrations which he has attended, and summaries of his views on political issues.
To gather such information, the 116th routinely assigns some 20 of its men as full-time undercover agents to infiltrate political groups and observe politically active persons … . Some of these officers have grown beards and long hair to pass as students on local college campuses. In addition, other members pose as members of the working press to obtain pictures of those involved in political activities; concealed tape recorders are also commonly used to record speeches and conversations at political events. Until very recently the 116th’s standard equipment also included a full TV video-tape camera and sound truck labeled “Mid-West News,” which was used to record major demonstrations.
Higher up the chain of command, officials at Fort Holabird also balked at carrying out the new policy. Questioned by Joseph Hanlon of Computerworld on March 10, an Intelligence Command spokesman refused to say whether the computer tapes there had actually been erased or merely placed in storage. He admitted, however, that the “input” to the data bank (presumably the key-punch cards) had not been destroyed.
Higher still, the civilians supposedly in charge of the Army struggled to find out what their military subordinates were doing. Robert Jordan, surprised by the Washington Monthly article and by his pilgrimage to the Fort Holabird computer, was taken aback once more on February 27 during a conference with Congressman Gallagher. Asked why his letter made no mention of the microfilm archives at CIAD, he replied:”I’ll have to check into that.”
To help Jordan out, Secretary Resor wrote to the Army Chief of Staff, General William C. Westmoreland, on March 5: “I would appreciate your asking all commanders in CONUS, Alaska, and Hawaii down to the installation level to report whether their command has any form of computerized data bank relating to civilians or civilian activities, other than data banks dealing with routine administrative matters . . . .”
The Under Secretary Tries His Hand
The results of this canvass have not been made known, but on March 20 Under Secretary of the Army Thaddeus R. Beal wrote long letters to both Ervin and Gallagher. He claimed: “The only other `intelligence files’ concerning civilians maintained by the Army consist of the files maintained by the Counterintelligence Analysis Division.” No reference was made in either letter to: 1) the Continental Army Command’s computer files at Fort Monroe, about which Gallagher had made specific inquiries; 2) the regional data banks kept by most of the 300 offices of the Army Intelligence Command; or 3) similar re-cords maintained by the G-2s (intelligence officers) of each stateside Army command and of many Army posts.
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