Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Spying and Seberg

AMY GOODMAN: And your colleagues at the N.S.A. right now, their feelings, the National Security Agency?
RUSSELL TICE: Boy, I think most folks at N.S.A. right now are just running scared. They have the security office hanging over their head, which has always been a bunch of vicious folks, and now they've got, you know, this potential witch hunt going on with the Attorney General. People in the intelligence community are afraid. They know that you can't come forward. You have no protections as a whistleblower. These things need to be addressed.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean you have no protection?
RUSSELL TICE: Well, like I said before, as a whistleblower, you're not protected by the whistleblower laws that are out there. The intelligence community is exempt from the whistleblower protection laws.
AMY GOODMAN: So why are you doing it?
RUSSELL TICE: Well, ultimately, I don't have to be afraid of losing my job, because I have already lost my job, so that's one reason. The other reason is because I made an oath when I became an intelligence officer that I would protect the United States Constitution, not a president, not some classification, you know, for whatever, that ultimately I'm responsible to protect the Constitution of the United States. And I think that’s the same oath the President takes, for the most part.

The above is from "National Security Agency Whistleblower Warns Domestic Spying Program Is Sign the U.S. is Decaying Into a 'Police State'" on today's Democracy Now! and Lydia asked that we note it. If you missed Democracy Now! today, Russell Tice worked for the NSA and has now made an offer to testify before Congress.

We'll also pull from the introduction of the segment because Amy Goodman and company continue to do an excellent job of providing historical context to the Bully Boy's authorizating the NSA to spy on Americans without a warrant:

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that the NSA passed on records of intercepted email and phone calls to other government agencies including the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security. This news come on the heels of several other reports that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, military intelligence and local police departments have all been engaged in monitoring peaceful groups including Greenpeace, PETA -- the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Catholic Worker, anti-war groups and even bicyclists in New York City. During the 1960s and 1970s, the military used NSA intercepts to maintain files on U.S. peace activists. It was this domestic surveillance that led Congress to intervene and pass Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 in order to prevent future such abuses. The statute permits domestic intelligence surveillance with the approval of a court order from the FISA court.
In 1975, Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho, said, "We have a particular obligation to examine the NSA, in light of its tremendous potential for abuse. . . . The interception of international communications signals sent through the air is the job of NSA; and, thanks to modern technological developments, it does its job very well. The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications."
Now Congress is considering holding a new round of hearings on Bush’s domestic spying program. A bipartisan group series of Senators have already issued their public support including several top Republicans including Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Two weeks ago, a former NSA intelligence officer publicly announced that he wants to testify before Congress. His name is Russell Tice. For the past two decades he has worked in the intelligence field both inside and outside government, most recently with the National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency. He was fired in May 2005 after he spoke out as a whistleblower.

The climate of ignorance of our own history allowed this to happen, Trevor argues in an e-mail on the broadcast of this story. Trevor joins a long list of members who were not taught about the Church Committee or the Pike Committee in school. Even if Trevor was the only one making that point (he's not), it would be worth noting because I think for people who lived through that period, it may be assumed that something as big as the information the committees discovered would naturally make it into the history texts. (And both committees were big -- the Pike Committee was big enough for the New York Times to slam Daniel Schorr -- who leaked the report).

People have learned of this on their own. The first time I mentioned Jean Seberg a few months ago at The Third Estate Sunday Review a few members wrote to ask if I was sure what I was talking about -- the government spying on an actress? They did their own research and learned that, yes, it was true and that it went way beyond that. Someone asked at one point (the third or fourth time I'd mentioned Seberg) why I brought her up as opposed to others? That's a good question because there are a long list of victims (some who managed to continue their lives and some who weren't as fortunate).

We focus on the press here. And Seberg (Breathless is a good place to start if you never seen one of the films she made) is a solid example, to me anyway, of the problems with the press. Just to recap (and sorry for those who've followed comments at The Third Estate Sunday Review on this topic), Seberg is attacked by two press organs. The FBI wanted to plant a rumor about Seberg. She was an actress and she was also involved in politics. That included the Black Panthers which appeared to be a source of some of the "nervousness" about her (my term). (The reports from that period, clandestine spying by the FBI, the CIA and military intel, focus on any sexual aspect they can to the point that you visualize a bunch of prigs with their noses pressed to a bedroom window. There's a scene in Coming Home where Jane Fonda and Jon Voight are being spied upon and the comments focus on sex which is a good reflection of what the reports focused upon.)

So Seberg's on the enemy list (Nixon's) and she's spied upon. And the FBI floats the idea of planting a rumor that she's pregnant by a Black Panther in order to attempt to destroy her with the oft cited "middle America." At one point J. Edgar Hoover writes a memo saying not to go through with the plan. Either there are memos that were never released or someone elected to
act upon their own. So a blind item pops up in Joyce Haber's gossip column about an actress who's pregnant by a Black Panther. The item is written in such way that it could be any number of actresses (including Jane Fonda -- Seberg was married and living in Paris at the time) except for noting that the actress was filming a musical (that would be Paint Your Wagon).

Haber was the fall guy for that blind item in the eyes of many. But Haber didn't just come across the information. It was fed to her by her editor. Her editor, who claimed later that he couldn't recall anything about the matter, passed it to Haber by Bill Thomas who wrote on the tip that it came from a good source. He couldn't remember anything though when, in the seventies, it was revealed that the FBI had planned to plant a story like that with the press. When it came out in the seventies (as a result of the committees), Thomas struck the pose of "I don't remember." Haber was quite clear that she didn't take planted information from the FBI and, if this was planted information, Thomas was the one who needed to answer for it.

But, big surprise, everyone looked the other way. That shows you the problems with the press (mainstream) right there. But that's only the first example. Apparently the attempts to shock America over an interracial romance weren't completed. There were additional blind items. (And Nixon's staff, Erlichman, Mitchell, etc. received reports from Hoover that they presumably passed on in some form.) But then the "news organ" Newsweek, supposedly not a gossip rag, runs with it as well.

Edward Behr was the author of the piece. His claim is that he included at the end of the article to demonstrate his knowledge of the subject but didn't intend for it to be included. (It being that Seberg was pregnant by an African-American and not her husband, Romain Gary.) Behr may be genuine in his remarks because in his report that section was labeled "strictly FYI." Somehow (or "somehow") this false fact made it into Newsweek. The editor (Kermit Lansner) offered an excuse (my opinion, lame) that he hadn't checked the edition as he usually did because he'd had a scooter accident that day. (Late in the day, by the way. I'm thinking it was three or four o'clock, as Lansner told the story, when he had his scooter mishap.) True or not, the "fact" that Seberg was pregnant by "a black activist" makes it into Newsweek.

I'm sure that was just a coincidence. I'm sure that these coincidences just happen. It just happens that a rumor the FBI was interested in planting gets pushed onto Haber by her editor (Thomas) and it just happens that a false fact labeled "strictly FYI" ends up in Newsweek which did have fact checkers and was aware of the issue of libel. It didn't even run as a rumor, it ran as a fact in an item on Jean Seberg. I'm sure that all of that just magically happened and Nixon and his crowd were just, by magic, getting all the breaks when it came to this false story.

(Yes, that was sarcasm.)

When the Times (New York) ran a story about Jane Fonda and John Kerry in 2004, about the photo (doctored or genuine, I don't remember) people rolled their eyes because one of the claims (false) was that Fonda and Kerry were at another event together (the doctored photo).
Where Jane Fonda was in the early seventies should never be in question because the government recorded her every move. (Kerry was somewhere on the east coast. The undoctored photo was taken by Al Franken's brother, I believe, who immediately noted that the new one featuring Fonda and Kerry onstage together was a fake. To end this out, Fonda was in Los Angeles, as the FBI noted, at a fund raiser -- I believe for the Black Panthers.)

Now maybe the reporter who worked on that story for the Times suffered the same fate that so many did -- we expected would learn about COINTELPRO and other activities in their schooling and they didn't learn of it. Or maybe the reporter was just lazy. I don't know. But, my opinion, the false rumor never should have been floated in the paper in 2004 when it could have easily been dismissed via the government's own records.

I'm off on a tangent where even I've lost my place. But the point here is that Seberg was engaged in lawful activities protected by the Constitution. Those activities made the government nervous so she was (illegally) spied upon. The government floated the idea of creating false rumors about her and planting them with the press. (That happened also with a number of other actors, by the way.) And two large press organs, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek, just happened to print the items that the FBI was interested in having planted.

Just happened.

It's just a coincidence that the government's smear plan on Seberg makes it into the press.

If you're a trusting soul, I guess. And I guess I'm not. And that's why we don't highlight Newsweek here and why I don't purchase the magazine. Robert Parry has rightly documented serious problems (more than that) at the magazine in the eighties when he worked for it. That should be enough to bother many people. But it didn't start there and if it ended there . . .

This isn't "wild talk." I've not offered my own theories. This is public record. And it was embarrassing for the Los Angeles Times when it came out in the mid-seventies. I don't remember Newsweek being embarrassed. (I don't remember the Times being that embarrassed. If they had been, the Reagan defense of "I don't recall" wouldn't have flown.)

So that's why I focus on Seberg. She was on the enemies list (Nixon's), she was spied on by the government, Nixon received reports on her (via Ehrlichman), the FBI devised a smear campaign to attempt to shock "middle America" and devalue Seberg and that smear campaign appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. In terms of Harber's piece, it was a blind item (an obvious one). In terms of Newsweek, the magazine that never prints that an actor is gay or lesbian until they come out, they ran it as fact. And somehow no one thought that this was something worthy of checking out. It's interesting the way Nixon's interests were so well served by the mainstream press with regards to Seberg but, of course, it was all some big coincidence. That's what the story supposedly is. Like the supposed story on Valerie Plame is that the outing just happened without planning on the part of anyone.

I think a lot of people who lived through that time period and remember it as a big deal (which it was) wrongly assume that this made it into the history texts and that young students were taught about it and how the government abused the rights of citizens. It certainly should have made it into the texts but it obviously didn't make it into many used by our school systems (if any).

(FYI, there was a period during which Jodie Foster was interested in making a film on Seberg's life. Possibly current events might increase interest in such a film?)

With any topic, it's (my opinion) best to put a face on it so we're not talking about the abstract when we're discussing something that happened. For instance, after Newsweek published their article, Jean Seberg lost her baby. (Was Nixon's staff briefed on that as well and did they throw a party?) It's like when Mark Felt was being hailed as a hero for working through a personal grudge. Apparently Felt's activities at the FBI were unknown to many. Which is why we didn't hail him as hero here because his actions were known here. (And Democracy Now! did a great interview with Jennifer Dohrn who was spied upon and who had a pair of her underwear seized on a sneak and peak search.)

What happened then was disgusting. What we know of now is disgusting, what we know is happening currently, but it's probably just a very small slice of what's going on. Trevor thinks we got to the current spying because we don't know our own history. I can agree with that. I would also add that if we knew our history (which Trevor probably would add as well), we would have been alarmed as a nation when the signs started emerging that we were entering another dark period in the country's history. Long before the New York Times broke the story on the NSA spying, Matthew Rothschild, to name but one person, was already documenting the violations of our civil liberties.

In fact, I was leading up to a conclusion and intended to save Lloyd's highlight, Rothschild's latest, but let's go out with that highlight instead. This is from Matthew Rothschild's "History Professor's Mail Opened by Homeland Security" (McCarthyism Watch, The Progressive):

Grant Goodman is an 81-year-old emeritus professor of Asian history at the University of Kansas.
He has had an ongoing correspondence by snail mail with a former professor of history at the University of the Philippines, where Goodman had taught on three separate occasions.
In early December, he was shocked when a letter arrived from her that had already been opened.
"The bottom of the envelope had been slashed open and then retaped with green tape," says Goodman. "And it said, 'Opened by Border Protection' in great big letters. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security seal is on it, too."
Goodman believes his rights have been "absolutely" violated, he says. "I just couldn't believe it and wondered what in the world is going on."
This story was broken by Joel Mathis of the
Lawrence Journal-World.
No one at the press office at the Department of Homeland Security was available for comment to The Progressive on January 2, but a spokesman told the Journal-World that "he didn't know how often the agency opened mail from abroad. And he wouldn’t discuss the criteria for opening letters."

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