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"Our First Amendment was a bold establish a country with no legal restrictions of any kind upon the subjects people could investigate, discuss and deny. The Framers knew, better perhaps than we do today, the risks they were taking. They knew that free speech might be the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny."

                  U.S. Supreme Court Justice
                  Hugo Black


In a recent syndicated article by David Kaplan of California's Center for Investigative Reporting, recent lapses of Constitutional memory by agencies of the federal government were enumerated:

  • Until 1974, the CIA conducted a widespread, illegal spying operation within the United States. According to Congressional reports, the names of 300,000 U.S. citizens were cross-indexed within agency files, and thousands of Americans were placed on "watch lists" to have their mail opened and telegrams read.
  • The Pentagon's intelligence operations spilled into a highly questionable area during the 1960s and early 1970s. The U.S. Army Intelligence Command, among others, ran a far-reaching domestic spying program that, at its height, fielded over 1500 plainclothes agents from 350 offices to spy on anti-war and civil rights groups.
  • The Army's program was, in the words of a Congressional subcommittee, "both massive and unrestrained," and compiled an estimated 100,00 dossiers on U.S. citizens. The Secretary of the Army subsequently ordered those files destroyed, although, like the CIA, there are now indications that such activities may have continued.
  • Under J. Edgar Hoover, the [FBI] mounted the largest known program yet in domestic surveillance. Between 1965 and 1975, the FBI opened more than 500,000 intelligence files on more than one million Americans, according to a Congressional report.... Among the Bureau's targets: Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam War Groups, and the underground press.

In the Final Report of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, the FBI's most infamous privacy-violating project - COINTELPRO - was castigated in no uncertain terms:

"COINTELPRO is the FBI acronym for a series of covert action programs directed against domestic groups.... Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that...the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence."

Richard Criley of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, himself a victim of government surveillance abuse, has chronicled privacy violations by federal agencies for many years:

"In the City of Chicago alone, from 1966 to 1976, the FBI employed (at a cost of $2.5 million) over 5,000 secret undercover informers to operate within civic and political organizations which were violating no laws. For 16 years (1960 to 1977), the FBI employed 1,600 informers to infiltrate one small political group, the Socialist Workers Party (at an estimated cost of $26 million). Such was the national pattern.

"The information gathered by the FBI's informant network was supplemented by illegal wiretaps, letter openings, burglaries of office files, secret examination of bank records, clippings from newspapers, and physical surveillance. At the FBI and other government offices, vast files of organizations' political policies and individuals' opinions were catalogued according to their degrees of presumed "dangerousness" in the FBI's secret "Security Index."

"Thousands of individuals in the FBI Index were targeted for round-up and detention in case of a "national emergency," although it is still unclear what constituted a "national emergency." The FBI created this detention list in the 1940's, even before the legislation was passed providing any statutory authority (the Emergency Detention Act of 1950)."

In Chicago, the local police intelligence unit amassed files on over 200,000 citizens and groups ranging from the PTA to the Communist Party. They had already considered plans to computerize the file system when a series of civil lawsuits brought their activities to light. Chicago was just one of several cities with similar surveillance units. "Many of these political surveillance units -- which have also surfaced in Detroit, Seattle, and elsewhere -- have been disbanded as the result of public outrage and, in some cases, lawsuits," writes Kaplan. "Civil liberties watchdogs, however, believe that other units whose activities remain secret continue to grow."

"These agencies have been aided by a private, federally-funded network of computerized files, the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit, whose membership includes some 240 local and state police forces," writes Kaplan. "Among the subjects catalogued in LEIU files have been minority, labor and community organizers, many with no criminal records."


The LEIU is a publicly-funded yet for many years privately-operated enforcement intelligence gathering apparatus. LEIU and related organizations received federal funds to computerize a data base which included erroneous data and reports on political activists as well as criminals.

The evidence of LEIU's political spying was in the form of hundreds of five-by-eight-inch index cards on so-called "organized crime" figures distributed by the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit to member police agencies. LEIU's rather novel definition of "organized crime" was sufficiently broad to include card dossiers reporting the lawful political activities of anti-war, Black, Native American, community, and labor organizers. This discovery flatly contradicted repeated claims by LEIU officers testifying before congressional committees that their files pertained solely to criminal activities.

The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit was formed in 1956 at a San Francisco meeting of representatives of 26 law enforcement agencies from seven western states. LEIU was later expanded to encompass agencies from many other states. The official purpose of the group was "to promote the gathering, recording, and exchange of confidential information not available through normal police channels, concerning organized crime." The unofficial purpose was to establish a national criminal intelligence network independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose agents frequently refused to share information with local law enforcement officers.

By 1962, the LEIU had clearly expanded the scope of its interest to include noncommittal activity. That year, a regional meeting in San Francisco included a discussion of "police intelligence units' role in securing information concerning protest groups, demonstrations, and mob violence," according to an FBI summary. Seventy-two persons attended that meeting, and in addition to local and state law enforcement officials, the FBI noted the presence of representatives from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and several military investigative units.

The lack of accuracy and plethora of unverified reports and innuendoes in the LEIU files prompted investigations of the LEIU by local, state and federal agencies. The federal General Accounting Office found that only a small percent of the information recorded on the LEIU cards could be completely documented. Responding to the mounting criticisms of the files by the GAO and other investigative groups, LEIU in 1979 removed 145 subject cards. The cards were purged to meet new LEIU guidelines designed to strike a balance between "the civil rights and liberties of American citizens and the need of law enforcement to collect and disseminate criminal intelligence," according to an LEIU memo.

High-sounding words, but as critics have pointed out, the policy can be reevaluated and changed by the LEIU board as soon as the controversy dies down. Besides, LEIU will not reveal what cards were destroyed and what cards were retained.

Given the flawed quality of the LEIU's date, it is perhaps surprising the federal government spent close to two million dollars on a scheme to computerize it. The General Accounting Office found that the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, a now-terminated program to supply federal funds to beef up local police forces, awarded eight grants totaling over $1.7 million to research and establish the Interstate Organized Crime Index (IOCI). The Index was a partial computerized of the LEIU cards and public record information that could be used only by LEIU members, who requested searches by calling a toll-free number at a computer facility in Sacramento, California.

The IOCI computer could also keep track of which police units submitted data, so that requesting police agencies could be directed to the source of the information to trade details totally outside the data bank. The General Accounting Office was bothered by the lack of safeguards regarding the verification of the computerized data and the security of the information dissemination.

"We believe intelligence-gathering projects, because they are secretive and sensitive, need to be closely scrutinized. IOCI was not," concluded the GAO study.

GAO investigators were particularly concerned that "in many cases, contributing member agencies did not provide public record support for entries in the index, although a special condition of the (LEAA) grants required entries to be based on such information."

Some LEIU critics charge that the whole LEIU/IOCI scheme was an intentional attempt to circumvent congressional mandates prohibiting the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration from establishing a federally funded national police network and centralized dossier system.

One of these critics is Sheila O'Donnell of the Public Eye network, an investigator who points to a 1974 meeting between officials of the FBI and LEAA. On that occasion, according to an FBI memo, LEAA assistant administrator Richard Velde tried to establish a "joint FBI-LEIU operation" to create a "national communication network" for dissemination of information about "terrorists and extremists" during the Bicentennial.

The FBI rejected the plan because it was "questionable from a legal standpoint" and not feasible because of the "political climate." Another FBI memo, written a month later, reports strained relations between the LEAA and the FBI, with the LEAA threatening to withhold funds from FBI related projects.

Within the next few months the LEAA awarded almost half a million dollars in grants to evaluate and implement an on-line computer system for the IOCI. One grant, for $324,000, had to be rewritten so as not to be in violation of pending federal legislation "dealing with privacy and security," according to the General Accounting Office.

That same year, Velde co-signed an LEAA grant for $77,000 that in effect transferred some of the support services for the IOCI computer index from a California law enforcement foundation to a newly incorporated private company called Search Group, Inc. Search Group itself was originally a "consortium of representatives from each state, appointed by their respective governors," the GAO found. SEARCH stood for "System for Electronic Analysis and Retrieval of Criminal Histories."

That $77,000 LEAA grant was administered by Paul K. Wormeli, who three years later, in 1977, was deputy administrator for administration of the LEAA and in that capacity cosigned (along with Richard Velde) a grant for $299,999 to continue and update the manual IOCI system and also fund the "acquisition, installation, and operation of the minicomputer system." As a Detroit Police Board investigator remarked concerning the merry-go-round of funders and fundees involved in the LEIU-IOCI network. "It is difficult to discern where one agency begins and the other one ends."

Even the FBI was worried about the LEIU's computerized intelligence network. One FBI memo remarks of an incident involving LEIU's information system: "This is indeed an outstanding example of one of the worst features of any kind of a national clearinghouse as such for criminal information. It would also seem to be an indictment of the LEIU and the high-sounding purposes promoted for this organization...." Of course, one must remember that the FBI and the LEAA were feuding over who should control the computerized spy empire.


Fearing the potential for abuse, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sought copies of the LEIU cards and computer printouts from the IOCI data base under the terms of the California Public Records Act. A lower court ordered the material provided, but the case was appealed.

The California Supreme Court recognized that the California's Public Records Act's "intelligence information" exemption "severely limits the information subject to disclosure," yet it did "not entirely protect the index cards and printouts."

The California Supreme Court ruled that while certain information from the IOCI print-outs should be provided to the ACLU, the burden and cost of segmenting out exempt information from the cards was sufficient to bar the release of that information.

In a lengthy dissent, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Bird discussed the issue of maintenance of law enforcement records that has significance to all law regarding those records and how they are maintained:

"Simple logic and experience dictate that the public's right to know not be overridden by claims of bureaucratic inconvenience.

"The bureaucracy - rather than the Legislature, the courts, or the people - will [now] be empowered to determine what records will be revealed. It is the bureaucracy that decides in what form and where to keep its records. By commingling exempt and nonexempt information and spreading out responsibility for the compilation and storage of records, the agency can be assured of a tenable claim of exemption [from being forced to provide records].

"At the very least, already wary agencies are discouraged from creating internal procedures that will assure that disclosable information can be easily separated from what is exempt."

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