Documents: Ford Administration Debated Use of Wiretaps





An intense debate erupted during the Ford administration over the president's powers to eavesdrop without warrants to gather foreign intelligence, according to newly disclosed government documents. George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are cited in the documents.

The roughly 200 pages of historic records obtained by The Associated Press reflect a remarkably similar dispute between the White House and Congress fully three decades before President Bush's acknowledgment he authorized wiretaps without warrants of some Americans in terrorism investigations.

"Yogi Berra was right: It's deja vu all over again," said Tom Blanton, executive director for the National Security Archives, a private research group that compiles collections of sensitive government documents. "It's the same debate."

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings begin Monday over Bush's authority to approve such wiretaps by the ultra-secretive National Security Agency without a judge's approval. A focus of the hearings is to determine whether the Bush administration's eavesdropping program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law with origins during Ford's presidency.

"We strongly believe it is unwise for the president to concede any lack of constitutional power to authorize electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes," wrote Robert Ingersoll, then-deputy secretary of state, in a 1976 memorandum to President Ford about the proposed bill on electronic surveillance.

George H.W. Bush, then director of the CIA, wanted to ensure "no unnecessary diminution of collection of important foreign intelligence" under the proposal to require judges to approve terror wiretaps, according to a March 1976 memorandum he wrote to the Justice Department. Bush also complained that some major communications companies were unwilling to install government wiretaps without a judge's approval. Such a refusal "seriously affects the capabilities of the intelligence community," Bush wrote.



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