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Profile: Richard Ober
Richard Ober was a participant or observer in the following events:
1974 New York Times headline. [Source: New York Times]The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has repeatedly, and illegally, spied on US citizens for years, reveals investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a landmark report for the New York Times. Such operations are direct violations of the CIA’s charter and the law, both of which prohibit the CIA from operating inside the United States. Apparently operating under orders from Nixon officials, the CIA has conducted electronic and personal surveillance on over 10,000 US citizens, as part of an operation reporting directly to then-CIA Director Richard Helms. In an internal review in 1973, Helms’s successor, James Schlesinger, also found dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens both past and present (see 1973). Many Washington insiders wonder if the revelation of the CIA surveillance operations tie in to the June 17, 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters at Washington’s Watergate Hotel by five burglars with CIA ties. Those speculations were given credence by Helms’s protests during the Congressional Watergate hearings that the CIA had been “duped” into taking part in the Watergate break-in by White House officials.
Program Beginnings In Dispute - One official believes that the program, a successor to the routine domestic spying operations during the 1950s and 1960s, was sparked by what he calls “Nixon’s antiwar hysteria.” Helms himself indirectly confirmed the involvement of the Nixon White House, during his August 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee (see August 1973).
Special Operations Carried Out Surveillance - The domestic spying was carried out, sources say, by one of the most secretive units in CI, the special operations branch, whose employees carry out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors. “That’s really the deep-snow section,” says one high-level intelligence expert. The liaison between the special operations unit and Helms was Richard Ober, a longtime CI official. “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms,” says a former CIA official. “I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.” After the program was revealed in 1973 by Schlesinger, Ober was abruptly transferred to the National Security Council. He wasn’t fired because, says one source, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.” Angleton denies any wrongdoing.
Supposition That Civil Rights Movement 'Riddled' With Foreign Spies - Moscow, who relayed information about violent underground protesters during the height of the antiwar movement, says that black militants in the US were trained by North Koreans, and says that both Yasser Arafat, of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the KGB were involved to some extent in the antiwar movement, a characterization disputed by former FBI officials as based on worthless intelligence from overseas. For Angleton to make such rash accusations is, according to one member of Congress, “even a better story than the domestic spying.” A former CIA official involved in the 1969-70 studies by the agency on foreign involvement in the antiwar movement says that Angleton believes foreign agents are indeed involved in antiwar and civil rights organizations, “but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
'Cesspool' of Illegality Distressed Schlesinger - According to one of Schlesinger’s former CIA associates, Schlesinger was distressed at the operations. “He found himself in a cesspool,” says the associate. “He was having a grenade blowing up in his face every time he turned around.” Schlesinger, who stayed at the helm of the CIA for only six months before becoming secretary of defense, informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the Watergate break-in, as well as another operation by the so-called “plumbers,” their burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office after Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the press. Schlesinger began a round of reforms of the CIA, reforms that have been continued to a lesser degree by Colby. (Some reports suggest that CIA officials shredded potentially incriminating documents after Schlesinger began his reform efforts, but this is not known for sure.) Intelligence officials confirm that the spying did take place, but, as one official says, “Anything that we did was in the context of foreign counterintelligence and it was focused at foreign intelligence and foreign intelligence problems.”
'Huston Plan' - But the official also confirms that part of the illegal surveillance was carried out as part of the so-called “Huston plan,” an operation named for former White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see July 26-27, 1970) that used electronic and physical surveillance, along with break-ins and burglaries, to counter antiwar and civil rights protests, “fomented,” as Nixon believed, by so-called black extremists. Nixon and other White House officials have long denied that the Huston plan was ever implemented. “[O]bviously,” says one government intelligence official, the CIA’s decision to create and maintain dossiers on US citizens “got a push at that time.…The problem was that it was handled in a very spooky way. If you’re an agent in Paris and you’re asked to find out whether Jane Fonda is being manipulated by foreign intelligence services, you’ve got to ask yourself who is the real target. Is it the foreign intelligence services or Jane Fonda?” Huston himself denies that the program was ever intended to operate within the United States, and implies that the CIA was operating independently of the White House. Government officials try to justify the surveillance program by citing the “gray areas” in the law that allows US intelligence agencies to encroach on what, by law, is the FBI’s bailiwick—domestic surveillance of criminal activities—when a US citizen may have been approached by foreign intelligence agents. And at least one senior CIA official says that the CIA has the right to engage in such activities because of the need to protect intelligence sources and keep secrets from being revealed.
Surveillance Program Blatant Violation of Law - But many experts on national security law say the CIA program is a violation of the 1947 law prohibiting domestic surveillance by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Vanderbilt University professor Henry Howe Ransom, a leading expert on the CIA, says the 1947 statute is a “clear prohibition against any internal security functions under any circumstances.” Ransom says that when Congress enacted the law, it intended to avoid any possibility of police-state tactics by US intelligence agencies; Ransom quotes one Congressman as saying, “We don’t want a Gestapo.” Interestingly, during his 1973 confirmation hearings, CIA Director Colby said he believed the same thing, that the CIA has no business conducting domestic surveillance for any purpose at any time: “I really see less of a gray area [than Helms] in that regard. I believe that there is really no authority under that act that can be used.” Even high-level government officials were not aware of the CIA’s domestic spying program until very recently. “Counterintelligence!” exclaimed one Justice Department official upon learning some details of the program. “They’re not supposed to have any counterintelligence in this country. Oh my God. Oh my God.” A former FBI counterterrorism official says he was angry upon learning of the program. “[The FBI] had an agreement with them that they weren’t to do anything unless they checked with us. They double-crossed me all along.” Many feel that the program stems, in some regards, from the long-standing mistrust between the CIA and the FBI. How many unsolved burglaries and other crimes can be laid at the feet of the CIA and its domestic spying operation is unclear. In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine listed a number of unsolved burglaries that its editors felt might be connected with the CIA. And Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), the vice chairman of the Senate Watergate investigative committee, has alluded to mysterious links between the CIA and the Nixon White House. On June 23, 1972, Nixon told his aide, H.R. Haldeman, “Well, we protected Helms from a hell of a lot of things.” [New York Times, 12/22/1974 ]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William Colby, Seymour Hersh, Rolling Stone, Richard Ober, Tom Charles Huston, Richard M. Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Helms, Central Intelligence Agency, Black Panthers, Howard Baker, James Angleton, New York Times, H.R. Haldeman, KGB, James R. Schlesinger, Jane Fonda, Henry Howe Ransom
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate
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