Operation CHAOS

from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


In theory, the CIA's charter prohibits it from engaging in domestic operations. In practice, that's taken about as seriously as Frank Sinatra's periodic announcements that he's retiring from show biz.

The CIA explains its massive presence on US campuses by saying that so many foreign students attend US universities, it would be a shame not to try to recruit them. The Domestic Contacts Division is needed to glean information from US tourists and businessmen returning from abroad. Then there's the Domestic Operations Division, which handles foreign interventions on US soil, like breaking into foreign embassies.

In order to do all that, the CIA has had to set up the same sort of network of phony businesses and front organizations it uses overseas. But other than that, it claims it never operates domestically.

Unfortunately, that's not true. From 1959 to at least 1974, the CIA used its domestic organizations to spy on thousands of US citizens whose only crime was disagreeing with their government's policies.

This picked up speed when J. Edgar Hoover told President Johnson that nobody would be protesting his Vietnam war policies unless they were being directed to do so by some foreign power. Johnson ordered the CIA to investigate.

In response, the CIA vastly expanded its campus surveillance program and stepped up its liaisons with local police departments. It trained special intelligence units in major cities to carry out "black bag" jobs (break-ins, wiretaps, etc.) against US "radicals."

In 1968, the CIA's various domestic programs were consolidated and expanded under the name Operation CHAOS. When Richard Nixon became president the following year, his administration drafted the Huston Plan, which called for even greater operations against "subversives," including wiretapping, break-ins, mail-opening, no-knock searches and "selective assassinations." Bureaucratic infighting tabled the plan, but much of it was implemented in other forms, not only by the CIA but also by the FBI and the Secret Service.

With the revelation of CIA and White House complicity in the Watergate break-in, light began to shine on Operation CHAOS. After a period of "reform," much of CHAOS's work was privatized, and right-wing groups and "former" CIA agents now provide the bulk of the CIA's domestic intelligence.

CIAs Greatest Hits

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