Another Republican President wanted to spy on Americnas (and Bush’s daddy was involved)


    The White House was eager to protect its ability to gather foreign
    intelligence. Congress was eager to rein in executive power. What
    sounds like a new debate over the president’s ability to eavesdrop
    without warrants occurred 30 years ago.

    Documents from the Ford
    administration reflect a remarkably similar dispute between the White
    House and Congress a generation before President Bush acknowledged that
    he authorized wiretaps without warrants on some Americans in terrorism
    investigations.

    “Yogi Berra was right: It’s deja vu all over
    again,” said Tom Blanton, executive director for the National Security
    Archive, a private group at George Washington University that compiles
    collections of sensitive government documents. “It’s the same debate.”

    Senate
    Judiciary Committee hearings begin Monday on 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 administration’s eavesdropping program violated the Foreign
    Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law with origins during Ford’s
    presidency.

    “We strongly believe it is unwise for the president
    to concede any lack of constitutional power to authorize electronic
    surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes,” Robert Ingersoll,
    then-deputy secretary of state, wrote in a 1976 memorandum to President
    Ford about the proposed bill on electronic surveillance.

    The document was among roughly 200 pages of historic records obtained by The Associated Press.

    George
    H.W. Bush, then director of the CIA, wanted to ensure “no unnecessary
    diminution of collection of important foreign intelligence” occurred
    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,” he wrote.

    In another document, Jack Marsh, a White
    House adviser, outlined options for Ford over the wiretap legislation.
    Marsh alerted Ford to objections by then-CIA Director Bush, Defense
    Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and
    White House national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.

    Some experts weren’t surprised the cast of characters in this national debate remained largely unchanged over 30 years.

    “People
    don’t change their stripes,” said Kenneth C. Bass, a former senior
    Justice Department lawyer who oversaw such wiretap requests during the
    Carter administration.

    Lisa Graves, senior counsel for
    legislative strategy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said
    comparing the Ford-era debate to the current controversy is “misleading
    because no matter what Mr. Cheney or Mr. Rumsfeld may have argued back
    in 1976, the fact is they lost. When Congress passed the Foreign
    Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978, Congress decisively resolved
    this debate.

    “Unlike the current administration, the Ford
    administration never claimed the right to violate a law requiring
    judicial oversight of wiretaps in foreign intelligence investigations
    if Congress were to pass such a law.”

    The National Security
    Archive separately obtained many of the same documents as the AP and
    planned to publish them on its Web site Saturday.

    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 then-White House chief of staff Dick
    Cheney, 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.

    “I was surprised,”
    Hersh said in a telephone interview Friday. “I was surprised that they
    didn’t know I had a house and a mortgage.”

    One option outlined at
    the 1975 meeting was to “ignore the Hersh story and hope it doesn’t
    happen again.” Participants worried about “will we get hit with
    violating the First Amendment to the Constitution?”

    CIA Director
    Porter Goss told lawmakers this week that recent disclosures about
    sensitive programs were severely damaging, and he urged prosecutors to
    impanel a grand jury to determine “who is leaking this information.”
    The National Security Agency earlier asked the Justice Department to
    open a formal leaks investigation over press reports of its terrorism
    wiretaps.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.

    © 2006 The Associated Press