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The Dismantling of American Liberties - Act II

Updated on September 10, 2012

The CIA Act provided exemption from lawful responsibility to American citizens

The CIA Act was signed into effect in 1949, in order to grant the same authorities afforded other intelligence agencies in the US government. Prior to the Act, the CIA had been acting without that authority. With the passing of the Act, the agency was authorized to receive and spend money, administer overseas employees, and protect the confidentiality of its activities. Allen Dulles and William Harding headed up and submitted the Dulles-Jackson-Correa Report, completed to analyze shortcomings and areas of weakness within the organization. It was this report that was most responsible for the reorganization of the CIA less than two years after its inception.

In addition to the usual permissions and authorities, the CIA was actually awarded a great many more freedoms than any other intelligence agency had been granted. Specifically, they enjoy more freedom from legislative restrictions. They are able to temporarily transfer employees from other agencies into the CIA, thereby allowing them to work at the CIA, but to truthfully say they do not work FOR the CIA. The agency is also exempt from laws which require listings of organizations, functions, the names, titles, and salaries of employees, as well as how many employees. The Director of the Bureau of the Office of Management and Budget may not report information about the CIA. The agency may also improve properties, acquire land, and construct buildings without the limitations any other agency would have to abide.

One of the most important restraints placed on other agencies does not apply to the CIA. They may exchange funds with other agencies without accounting for its expenditure. They may spend money for which they are not budgeted “without regard to the provisions of law and regulations relating to the expenditure of government funds.” In essence, they have license to be a rogue agency, without the necessity to answer for their actions to anyone other than the president.

Non-supporters of the CIA Act deemed "unpatriotic"

Though the Act was passed with a strong majority, there were arguments against it. Those arguments persist to this day. The main concerns are centered on the secrecy of the agency and the possibility that agents could spy on US citizens in direct conflict with constitutional rights. The supporters argued that removing secrecy would put agents in mortal danger. Those senators who were skeptical of the need for such extreme secrecy were told that the Senate Committee on Armed Services had been privy to some of the confidential information that couldn't be shared, and assurance was given that it was necessary to support the Act. The attack on Pearl Harbor was used to gain support by saying it could have been avoided had US Intelligence been granted the same capabilities prior to WWII. There was also an implication that not supporting the CIA Act was unpatriotic.

The Iran-Contra Affair was a failed and illegal CIA operation

Concerns about the secret activities of the agency persisted for another 40 years and came to a head following the Iran-Contra Affair. Reagan officials secretly worked out a deal for the sale of arms to Iran, a country which was subject of an arms embargo. Working through Israel, a deal was struck that essentially was designed to trade arms for help in rescuing six American hostages being held by the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah. It was hoped through the sale of the arms and release of the hostages that US intelligence agencies would be able to fund the Nicaraguan Contras, though such funding had been prohibited by Congress.

The plan met with failure, causing a major political scandal with far reaching repercussions. Though Ronald Reagan and his Vice President, George H. W. Bush managed to avoid prosecution due to a lack of evidence, fourteen administration officials were indicted. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were dropped on appeal. Oliver North, a staff member of the National Security Council, was one of those convicted. However, the convictions were vacated due to concerns with the validity of uses of testimony. Those who were indicted or convicted were all pardoned by President George H. W. Bush during the last days of his presidency. Some of these same convicted felons were then brought into the second President Bush's administration, several years later.


CIA amendments increased congressional oversight

In 1988, amendments to the CIA Act increased congressional oversight of the agency, creating the office of the Inspector General of the CIA. His duties included investigating allegations of misconduct by employees, and performing other investigations and audits deemed necessary. Semi-annual reports to congress regarding CIA activities became a requirement.

1996 saw the creation of the office of the General Counsel of the CIA, who is the head lawyer for the agency. His duty is to ensure that the agency works within the constraints of the law, and to defend it from lawsuits. He also reviews any proposed operations, making sure they are in compliance with the law and US treaties.

The CIA violates the Freedom of Information Act

The continuing dissatisfaction over the secrecy of the agency has been the driving force for most litigation in connection to the CIA Act. A great majority of the cases involve challenges that the secrecy provisions are illegal in relation to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The courts have decided that the CIA is exempt from the requirements of the FOIA.

Supreme Court says taxpayers have no right to question the constitutionality of the CIA

In the 1974 case of United States v. Richardson, the Supreme Court addressed the challenge that the CIA Act is unconstitutional. The argument presented that the secret funding provisions violated the Statement and Account Clause of the Constitution, which requires the government to publish an account of public expenditures. According to the Court's response, a taxpayer has no right to challenge the provisions in court because the individual isn't specifically harmed by the provisions. What this means is that there is no way to have the secrecy provisions found unconstitutional, because the Court has ruled that a taxpayer has no right, therefore, a taxpayer cannot maintain a challenge in a court of law, in order for it to be ruled upon.

A taxpayer has no right? No right to ask where his tax dollars are being spent? No right to monitor if the expense is something their character and integrity will support? No right? To say that a taxpayer has no right because he isn't specifically harmed by the provisions, is a transparent effort at resisting the need to address the challenge. Every taxpayer has the right and the duty to question, even if it's merely for peace of mind. Ever increasing taxes being charged against the taxpayer, to pay for a government that has been growing beyond the needs of the people who govern it, is certainly harm enough to warrant the challenge.

Go to Act III

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