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Monday, March 28, 2011


As early as March 1981 the Reagan-Bush Administration paved the way for a new wave of covert operations. After Watergate, Presidents Ford and Carter tried to issue executive orders to curb the CIA's activities, particularly ones which involved the violation of the civil liberties of American citizens.
Yet a blue ribbon commission established in 1975 headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and coinci-dentally with Ronald Reagan as a private citizen as a member, concluded that "Presidents should refrain from directing the CIA to perform what are essentially internal security tasks."

A proposal put forth by the Bush-Reagan Administration as early as March 23rd, 1981, drafted by mid-level career agents, permitted the agency to undertake covert operations within the U.S. and to spy on American citizens. The new order no longer required the CIA to collect information by the "least intrusive means possible," thus enabling searches without warrants, surreptitious entries, and infiltration of political organizations (Time, March 23rd, 1981).

The push for the executive order was made under the guise of combating terrorism. In the early meetings of the National Security Council, it was argued that limits put on the CIA prevented the agency from conducting surveillance on suspected terrorists once they had entered the country. (How many terrorist attacks took place in the United States during the 1970s)

Some members of Congress didn't like the new regulations.
Don Edwards, then chairman of the House Civil and Constitutional Rights Subcommittee, said the draft order would "put the CIA back in the business of domestic spying" (Time, March 23rd, 1981).
The Bush-Reagan Administration used another technique to create the political framework for its string of secret agendas and covert operations. Writing in June 1989 in The Nation, Eve Pell, a staff reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco, describes how secret presidential decrees and National Security Decision Directives (NSDD) propelled America into some of the controversial events of the past decade. President Reagan issued nearly 300 NSDDs. It was an NSDD that enabled the CIA to begin arming Contra soldiers, and that led to the invasion of Grenada in 1983.

An NSDD is different than an executive order or presidential finding, as the latter are made known to the the House and Senate Intelligence committees, whereas NSDDs do not have to be revealed to any other branch of government. Of the 300 NSDDs issued by Reagan, less than fifty have been declassified in whole or in part by the National Security Council, the government body which decides if an NSDD will be made public. In other words, only 15 percent of the most important policy decisions made during the Bush-Reagan White House are known to the American people.

Allan Adler, a former legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Reagan-Bush Administration "had a pronounced proclivity for using NSDDs, apparently because it didn't have to make them public." Anna Nelson, an historian at
Tulane University, says that the Reagan White House was "extraordinary in its abuse of the process." "The original National Security Council documents were broad policy papers, with agency implementation," she also explained. "Some of Reagan's NSDDs bypassed even normal agency channels, as well as Congress. The arrogance of this arrangement is incredible."

Eve Pell argues that during the Reagan Administration, the NSDDs were the backbone of the hidden government, issued to evade congressional scrutiny and on certain occasions ordering actions which stand contrary to what the stated policy of the government was.

NSDD Number 77 is a good example of how Bush and Reagan employed NSDDs to serve secret agenda goals. It allowed the National Security Council to coordinate interagency efforts for what was called the "Management of Public Diplomac Relative to National Security." This directive served as a the basis for "public diplomacy activities" (i.e., propaganda) by enabling "organizational support for foreign governments and private groups to encourage the growth of democratic political institutions and practices." In reality, the directive created propaganda ministries in the National Security Council, the State Department and the White House.

The General Accounting Office believed these activities violated the law banning "covert propaganda" within the U.S. In 1987, then head of the House Government Operations Committee Jack Brooks asked National Security advisor Frank Carlucci for a list of all the NSDDs issued by the Reagan Administration since 1981. Carlucci refused and called into the question the constitutionality of the request. Speaker of the House Jim Wright, after being denied access to the same list, claimed "Congress cannot react responsibly to new dictates for national policy set in operation by the executive branch behind closed doors."

Brooks was unable to pass a bill requiring that the Speaker of the Senate be informed of any new NSDDs. At the hearing on that bill, Representative Louis Stokes asked "Is the secret policy of the United States the same as the public policy of the United States with respect to very sensitive matters such as terrorism and paramilitary covert actions?"


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