Ford White House Weighed Wiretaps
Papers: Ford White House Weighed Wiretaps
By MARGARET EBRAHIM, Associated Press Writer 40
WASHINGTON - An intense debate erupted during the Ford
administration over the president's powers to
eavesdrop without warrants to gather foreign
intelligence, according to government documents.
George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are
cited in the documents.
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.
"Yogi Berra was right: It's deja vu all over again,"
said Tom Blanton, executive director for the National
Security Archive, a nongovernment research group at
George Washington University. "It's the same debate."
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.
"We strongly believe it is unwise for the president to
concede any lack of constitutional power to authorize
electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence
purposes," wrote Robert Ingersoll, then-deputy
secretary of state, in a 1976 memorandum to President
Ford about the proposed bill on electronic
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.
In another document, Jack Marsh, a White House
adviser, outlined options for Ford over the wiretap
legislation. Marsh alerted Ford to objections by Bush
as CIA director and by Rumsfeld, Henry Kissinger and
Brent Scowcroft over the scope of a provision to
require judicial oversight of wiretaps. At the time,
Rumsfeld was defense secretary, Kissinger was
secretary of state and Scowcroft was the White House
national security adviser.
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
The National Security Archive separately obtained many
of the same documents as the AP and intended 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 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
"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
Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.