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Context of '1971: Subcommittee Uncovers Computer Surveillance System in Military’s Domestic War Room'

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In the wake of anti-war demonstrations and urban rioting in several US cities, the Pentagon establishes a set of civil disturbance plans designed to put down political protests and civil unrest. Conducted under the codename Operation Garden Plot, the new program significantly increases the role of the military in training for and intervening in social uprisings. The Pentagon develops contingency plans for every city considered to have potential for uprisings by students, minorities, or labor unions. Each area of the country follows a subplan of Operation Garden Plot. Operation Cable Splicer, for instance, covers the states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona (see May 1968, February 10, 1969, March 1969, and May 1970). Each region will conduct exercises and war games to practice and develop its individual plans. To oversee the operations, the Pentagon establishes the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations. The directorate will operate from the basement of the Pentagon in what becomes known as the “domestic war room” (see April 1968). [New Times, 11/28/1975; Salon, 3/15/2002; U.S Army, 8/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The government establishes the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations within the Department of Defense. The directorate will oversee civil disturbance operations, such as Garden Plot and Cable Splicer (see Winter 1967-1968), and conduct surveillance on US citizens in search of possible security threats. The directorate is headquartered in the basement of the Pentagon in what will become known as the “domestic war room.” The center utilizes a massive computer system to monitor “all public outbursts and political dissent” within the United States. New Times magazine will describe the war room as follows: “Surrounded by acetate map overlays, a fulltime staff of 180, including around-the-clock ‘watch teams,’ [uses] teletype machines, telephones, and radios to keep in constant communication with every National Guard headquarters and all major military installations in the continental United States.” Seven Army infantry brigades totaling 21,000 troops are at the directorate’s disposal. [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Military and law enforcement officials gather at the California National Guard’s training center for a workshop seminar on civil disturbance control. The program, known as Cable Splicer I, is designed to prepare officials for a future exercise, Cable Splicer II, which will be conducted in March 1969 (see February 10, 1969 and March 1969). Operation Cable Splicer is a subplan of Operation Garden Plot, a national program established by the Pentagon to quash political uprisings and social unrest (see Winter 1967-1968). The subplan is designed to cover the states of California, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

California Governor Ronald Reagan, along with a variety of other local, state, and federal officials, kicks off a regional exercise known as Cable Splicer II at the Governor’s Orientation Conference. Operation Cable Splicer is part of Operation Garden Plot, a program established by the Pentagon to monitor and put down civil unrest (see Winter 1967-1968). Cable Splicer is a subplan designed to cover the states of California, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. Governor Reagan addresses an audience of approximately 500 Army officials and troops, local and state police officers, military intelligence personnel, private executives, and state legislators. “You know,” he says, “there are people in the state who, if they could see this gathering right now and my presence here, would decide that their worst fears and convictions had been realized—I was planning a military takeover.” According to New Times magazine, Chief Deputy Attorney General Charles O’Brien speaks bluntly about constitutional rights, “arguing at one point that if the Constitution prevents the police from gathering political intelligence, then the Constitution goes too far.” O’Brien continues: “This is a revolution, and anything goes. A civil disturbance anywhere in this state is an attack on the state itself.” Deputy Attorney General Buck Compton argues that “free speech, civil rights, [and] rights to assembly” have all become “clich├ęs.” Congressman Clair Burgener attends the conference, but is only vaguely aware of the scope of the upcoming exercise and emergency plans. He is later surprised to learn of the conference’s true nature. He will later tell New Times magazine, “If this was going on in this spirit, they were certainly pulling the wool over the eyes of the invited guests.” After reviewing the plans, he will say: “Well, I’ll be damned! This is what I call subversive.” The Cable Splicer II exercise will be conducted a month later (see March 1969). [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: Charles O’Brien, California National Guard, Ronald Reagan, US Department of Defense, Clair Burgener

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A large exercise, codenamed Cable Splicer II, is conducted in California to test and develop the ability of local, state, and federal officials to deal with political protests and urban rioting. Operation Cable Splicer is a regional subplan of the Pentagon’s Operation Garden Plot (see Winter 1967-1968). A month earlier, Governor Ronald Reagan and other officials ceremoniously kicked off the war game (see February 10, 1969). The exercise, which simulates a variety of civil disturbances, is spread across 23 political jurisdictions and includes National Guard officers, Army advisers, senior police and sheriff officers, and private executives. According to New Times magazine, “over 1,200 preplanned intelligence reports on supposedly imaginary events, people, and organizations” are pasted on index cards and handed to the participants to help “generate the make-believe war.” The magazine will later report: “The players listen to a special intelligence summary, learning the background of the civil disturbance that has led to the current ‘emergency.’ At that point, the ‘controllers’—usually senior National Guard officers and their Army advisers—begin play, feeding the IBM-card preplanned intelligence reports of dissident activity to the players. Seated at rows of desks dotted with telephones, facing a ‘situation map’ of their community, the players respond to the unfolding scenario.”
Storyline - In the first phase of the exercise, an arrest and shooting “provoke crowd unrest and threats against public officials.” Fourteen simulated hours later, rioters attack a police car and injure an officer. A member of a minority group is killed and two others are wounded. There are threats of retaliation against police officers. Mock intelligence reports suggest widespread rioting is likely, as dozens of apparent radicals are flown in on a “chartered flight” and picked up at the airport by 20 separate vehicles. The second phase of the exercise begins with “the ambush of several police cars, the attempted assassination of the mayor, the bombing of local armories, the destruction of vehicles and ammunition stocks, and the gathering of thousands of people in the streets.” The exercise participants call in police from outside jurisdictions and cities, but they are unsuccessful at quelling the violence. In the third phase of the exercise, according to New Times, “intelligence reports pouring into the Emergency Operations Center disclose more fire bombings, attempted assassinations of public officials, hoarding of water in certain areas, and sniping of fire trucks. The streets remain filled with thousands of people, and the National Guard is called to active duty.” As the crowd turns increasingly violent, the Army is called upon to take over for the National Guard. The crowd is finally dispersed, although the details of exactly how are unknown. “At their disposal,” New Times reports, “there are heavy artillery, armor, chemical and psychological warfare teams, and tactical air support.” The third phase concludes with a few “loose militants” unable to gain popular influence. [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: California National Guard, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Participants in a California civil disturbance exercise, codenamed Cable Splicer III, hold an “After Action Conference” to discuss the results. The exercise was designed to pracitce Operation Cable Splicer, a regional subplan of the Pentagon’s Operation Garden Plot (see Winter 1967-1968). The participants, which include Army officials, local police officers, and private executives, spend much of the conference pronouncing their disgust for leftists and other activists. According to New Times magazine, speakers at the conference condemn “university administrators who demur at giving the police free rein on the campuses; parents of ‘would-be revolutionaries’ who support their children; and legislators who investigate police actions.” Political demonstrators are referred to as “guerrillas,” “modern day barbarians,” “Brown Shirts,” “kooks,” and “VC.” Los Angeles Police Department Inspector John A. McAllister gives a lecture listing activities that “require police action,” including “loud, boisterous, or obscene” behavior on beaches, “love-in type gatherings in parks where in large numbers they freak out,” disruptions by “noisy and sometimes violent dissidents,” peace marches and rock festivals where “violence is commonplace and sex is unrestrained,” and “campus disruptions—which in fact are nothing more than mini-revolutions.” [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: John A. McAllister, Los Angeles Police Department

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, uncovers the existence of a sophisticated computer system used by the Department of Defense to monitor US citizens suspected of “subversive” activities. The system is operated from the military’s “domestic war room,” overseen by the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations in the basement of the Pentagon (see April 1968). It is designed to keep track of “all public outbursts and political dissent” inside the United States. The Senate subcommittee uncovers a database of thousands of US citizens labeled as possible threats to national security. According to New Times magazine, the subcommittee discovers “computerized files on 18,000 of the celebrated to obscure, on people such as Senator George McGovern and former Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent down to ordinary citizens who had, sometimes unknowingly, become ‘associated with known militant groups.’” [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations, George S. McGovern, Francis Sargent, US Department of Defense, Sam Ervin

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Sam Ervin.Sam Ervin. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]The US Senate votes 77-0 to create the Select Committee on Presidential Activities, which comes to be known as the Senate Watergate Committee. The chairman is Sam Ervin (D-NC), whose carefully cultivated image as a folksy “country lawyer” camouflages a keen legal mind. Ervin’s deputy is Howard Baker (R-TN). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Senate Republicans attempt to dilute the effectiveness of the investigative committee with resolutions demanding probes into the 1964 and 1968 elections as well—Hugh Scott (R-PA) says there is “wholesale evidence of wiretapping against the Republicans” in the 1968 campaign, yet refuses to present any evidence—but those resolutions fail in floor votes. After the vote, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns that the resolutions were drafted by White House lawyers. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 250-251] Ervin, already chosen to head the committee, told fellow senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who held his own ineffective senatorial investigation, that he knew little more about the Watergate conspiracy than what he read in the papers, but “I know the people around [President] Nixon, and that’s enough. They’re thugs.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 247] Ervin has already contacted Woodward and asked him to help him compile information. Ervin implies that he wants Woodward to convince his unnamed sources to come forward and testify. Woodward demurs, but he and colleague Carl Bernstein write a story reporting Ervin’s intention to call President Nixon’s top aides, including H. R. Haldeman, to testify. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 93-94] Woodward does suggest that Ervin should take a hard look at the secret campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972), and that everything he and Bernstein have found points to a massive undercover operation led by Haldeman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 247-249]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Baker, Hugh Scott, Sam Ervin, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the Senate Watergate Committee demand that President Nixon hand over a selection of presidential documents and the secret White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon refuses to hand over any of the requested material. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] He invokes “executive privilege,” which Nixon says is essential to maintaining the constitutional mandate of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Cox immediately subpoenas the documents and tapes, as does the Senate committee. Commitee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) says: “I deeply regret that this situation has arisen, because I think that the Watergate tragedy is the greatest tragedy this country has ever suffered. I used to think that the Civil War was our country’s greatest tragedy, but I do remember that there were some redeeming features in the Civil War in that there was some spirit of sacrifice and heroism displayed on both sides. I see no redeeming features in Watergate.” Vice chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) is a bit more equivocal, saying he is disappointed in being “on the brink of a constitutional confrontation between the Congress and the White House.” The documents, Baker says, are “essential, if not vital, to the full, thorough inquiry mandated and required of this committee.” In a letter to Ervin, Nixon says the tapes are not essential to the investigation; he has personally gone through them and they “are entirely consistent with what I know to be the truth and what I have stated to be the truth.” However, some of the comments on the tapes could be misconstrued, he says, and much of the conversations on the tapes are of a “frank and very private” nature. The tapes will remain “under my sole personal control,” Nixon writes. “None has been transcribed or made public and none will be.” Cox argues that, as a member of the executive branch himself, there is no issue over separation of powers; White House consultant Charles Alan Wright retorts in a letter to Cox that since he does not report either to the attorney general or the president, his role is hard to define. But if Cox is indeed a member of the executive branch, “you are subject to the instructions of your superiors, up to and including the president, and can have access to presidential papers only as and if the president sees fit to make them available to you.” Even more importantly, Wright notes, if the tapes become available to the judiciary, then the argument of separation of powers involving the executive and judicial branches is an issue. Cox rejects Wright’s argument. The ultimate arbiter of this dispute may not even be the Supreme Court, as it has no power to compel Nixon to turn over the tapes even if it rules against him. Impeachment and conviction seems the only legal method to ultimately force Nixon’s hand if he continues to be recalcitrant. [Washington Post, 7/24/1973]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Archibald Cox, Charles Alan Wright, Sam Ervin, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Department of Defense updates its civil disturbance response plan, codenamed Operation Garden Plot. The program was originally established in the 1960s (see Winter 1967-1968). The Pentagon utilizes lessons learned from the recent deployment of Marines and Army infantry troops in Los Angeles (see May 1-May 6, 1992). Marines called into Los Angeles had not been trained for domestic disturbances. An Army official reportedly says the military will now “provide standard riot duty training for all combat forces that could be called into the nation’s cities.” National Guard troops will also get “refresher training on riot control as part of their regular weekend training and two weeks of active duty.” [San Antonio Express-News, 5/17/1992]

Entity Tags: US Marine Corps, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After two days of widespread rioting in the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley and Governor Pete Wilson ask the White House for military assistance to supplement the California National Guard. President George H. W. Bush deploys 2,500 soldiers of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division from Fort Ord and 1,500 Marines from Camp Pendleton. Bush also federalizes approximately 8,000 National Guard troops. All three groups are placed under the command of Major General Marvin L. Covault as part of a decades-old Pentagon program codenamed Operation Garden Plot (see Winter 1967-1968). Combat troops, equipped with M-16 rifles, flak jackets, helmets, and riot batons, are the first to enter a US city since 1972. Marines take up positions in Compton and Long Beach; Army troops are sent to patrol the streets of Watts; and National Guard soldiers are deployed throughout the area. In a television address, Bush says the military will “use whatever force is necessary to restore order.” Bush announces he is sending into Los Angeles an additional 1,000 federal law enforcement officials, “including FBI SWAT teams and riot control units of the US Marshals Service, the Border Patrol, and other agencies.” According to the Washington Post, a Marine unit is on standby at Camp Pendleton “with light armored vehicles, eight-wheeled, 14-ton armored personnel carriers armed with 25mm cannon.” The troops in Los Angeles are ordered to return fire only when fired upon. Although few conflicts arise between soldiers and rioters, members of the National Guard shoot and kill a motorist that allegedly tries to run them down. Bush’s decision to activate the military will later be criticized for being unnecessary and coming after the majority of the violence had already ended. The riots will lead the military to increase military training for Operation Garden Plot in the coming months (see Spring 1992). [Washington Post, 5/2/1992; New York Times, 5/3/1992; Los Angeles Times, 5/10/1992; Reuters, 5/11/1992; San Antonio Express-News, 5/17/1992]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, US Border Patrol, Tom Bradley, Pete Wilson, US Marine Corps, California National Guard

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A confidential Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) document obtained by Wired news says the US Army is prepared to deploy combat troops in US cities in response to disruptions ranging from civil disobedience to a nuclear attack. The 75-page operations manual, created by FEMA in preparation for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, stresses the importance of preparing for “nuclear, biological, chemical, and civil disturbance events, as well as potential weather-related disaster events.” The document, according to Wired, “says that the US First Army will, if necessary, execute Operation Garden Plot to quell any serious civil disturbances.” Operation Garden Plot was first developed in the late 1960s to deal with potential protests and urban riots (see Winter 1967-1968). According to Wired, the current terrorism plans for the convention include “flying giant C-5 Galaxy cargo planes loaded with military gear into Willow Grove Naval Air Station, about 25 miles outside the city, and assembling troops at three National Guard armories near the downtown protest areas.” The FEMA document states, “The potential occurrence of an event that would reflect negatively on Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or the United States demands that every effort to preclude such an event be taken.” FEMA has a similar plan for the upcoming Democratic National Convention. [Wired News, 8/1/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, US First Army, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to columnist and defense expert William M. Arkin, the Bush administration updates the civil disturbance plan known as Operation Garden Plot. This military plan was first established in the late 1960s to deal with anti-war protests and urban riots (see Winter 1967-1968). Arkin reports: “The Army’s ‘Operation Garden Plot,’ a plan formulated in the 1960s for dealing with large civil disturbances, has been dusted off and updated to focus mostly on military intervention in response to a domestic event involving weapons of mass destruction.… Special Operations Command, and more specifically the super-secret Delta Force, now have a role in thwarting and responding to domestic terrorist incidents.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/26/2002]

Entity Tags: US Special Operations Command, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 pdf file] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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