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Army History Center Author Says Domestic Spying Unproductive

Update 1/9/2007 – I uploaded a scan of pages 390-399, plus title page and table of contents for book discussed below.

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One of the great things about living in a country that still has a significant commitment to government openness are publications which admit past mistakes on the government.

A case in point is the book The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1945-1992 by Paul J. Scheips and published by the Army’s Center of Military History‘s Army Historical Series.

While it is mostly profiles how the Army and National guard performed well during the civil rights movement, there is a chapter dealing with political surveillance (pages 390-399).

The book mentions the scale of the data collection and types of data gathered by the Army (p. 395):

The great danger of such data lay in the fact that “Army intelligence, in the name of preparedness and security, had developed a massive system for monitoring virtually all political protest in the United States.” Military agents had even assembled private information about the finances, psychiatric records, and sex lives of individuals. The data collection was enormous, with “virtually every stateside unit” having its own set of files. Fourth US Army headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for example, had the “equivalent of 100,000 file cards on “personalities of interest,” and the III Corps at Fort Hood had computerized data on civilian political groups within its area. The size of the data banks demonstrated that the Army’s domestic intelligence operations had been going on “in various degrees of intensity, since 1940,” with roots extending back to World War I.

It also provides an evaluation of the surveillance in terms of effectiveness and it’s harm to a democratic society (p.399) [Emphasis mine]:

Overall, the Army’s venture into domestic surveillance generated a substantial backlash in the form of public and congressional criticism, while contributing little or nothing to the suppression of civil unrest. In some ways the Army’s tendency to apply foreign intelligence-gathering methods to domestic situations reflected its earlier error of applying the standards of foreign war to the control of domestic disturbances. The basic problem was a mind-set in the intelligence community that saw conspiracy in protest and the threat of revolution in disorder. It was this way of thinking that led to an improper gathering and storage of a great quantity of information on American citizens that was seriously at odds with the tenets of a democratic society. In doing this, the Army failed to maintain a constitutional discipline over itself, and the civilian leadership was much too slow in calling it to task. It was a dark chapter in the Army’s history of dealing with civil disturbances, which otherwise had been quite good during this troubled decade.

Remember, this isn’t Tom Hayden or some loony lefty talking. This is the judgment of someone writing for the Army’s own Center of Military History. This doesn’t make it the official opinion of the Army, but they felt the book was worthwhile to publish.

Ironically, the rise of networked computing allows the construction of databases far more intrusive than the ones denounced in this book.

The book is also well worth reading for the constructive role that the Army played in desegregation. Overall, I think Mr. Scheips gives the Army good marks for their role in the 1960s, aside from their unlawful surveillance activities.

This book is a third in series. The title, author and SuDoc information for the set are:

  1. The role of federal military forces in domestic disorders, 1789-1878 / 1988 Coakley, Robert W. D 114.19:R 64
  2. The role of federal military forces in domestic disorders, 1877-1945 1997 Laurie, Clayton D. D 114.19:R 64/2
  3. The role of federal military forces in domestic disorders, 1945-1992 / 2005 Scheips, Paul J. D 114.19:R 64/2/2005

As far as I can tell none of these books are on the Internet, but you can find them in many Federal Depository Libraries. Read them and then decide if we really want to grant the executive branch unlimited authority to watch our lives. We say no.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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