Human Rights

USA Theme A-2 - Page 6

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Domestic Consequences

As national borders have become more traversable, the concept of covert operations mounted by other nations has had an especially unpleasant side effect: the surveillance of one's own citizens. This surveillance is a result of government fears that its citizens would be influenced by covert activities of other states. For example, from the Red Scare following World War I to the Watergate scandals of the 1970s, a clandestine and often illegal campaign was mounted against American citizens by key elements of their own government. The official term for the practice was "political intelligence," but the real purpose was to restrict and suppress various forms of political dissent. Toward this end the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, federal grand juries, congressional committees, and private organizations have worked together to keep tabs on their fellow citizens. The eventual, and usually inevitable, revelation of such practices, casts serious doubts on the guarantee of civil liberties that citizens expect of democratic regimes.[11]

In recent years concerns have been raised that such practices are being directed against Americans opposed to the government's policy in Central America. The FBI confirmed that it had assigned agents to infiltrate and monitor CISPES (Citizens in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). Many other groups and individuals who offered the public an alternative view of U.S. policy in Central America encountered harassment. The IRS even initiated an audit of Reichler and Applebaum, the law firm that represented the Nicaraguan government before the World Court.[12]

Travelers also faced harassment from the FBI. Under the guise of collecting "counterintelligence" information, FBI agents visited and interrogated over a hundred citizens who had been to Nicaragua or had attended public functions sponsored by groups critical of U.S. policy. In testimony before Congress, FBI director William Webster claimed there had been a "foreign counterintelligence purpose" for every interview. The "tasking" to conduct the interrogations, Webster testified, had come from the National Security Council.
During Reagan's first term the administration made a similar effort to undermine lawful dissent. At the height of the nuclear freeze movement, the president repeatedly stated or implied there was solid evidence the movement was under the influence of communists and foreign agents.