The Internal Revenue Service

excerpted from the book

The Lawless State

The crimes of the U.S. Inteligence Agencies

by Morton Halperin, Jerry Berman, Robert Borosage, Christine Marwick

Penguin Books, 1976


PRESIDENT NIXON: Do you need any IRS (unintelligible) stuff?

JOHN DEAN: Uh-Not at the-. . . Uh, there is no need at this hour for anything from IRS, and we have a couple of sources over there that I can go to. I don't have to fool around with Johnnie Walters [IRS commissioner] or anybody, we can get right in and get what we need.

(Excerpts from a transcript of a tape recording of a conversation among President Richard Nixon, John Dean, and H. R. Haldeman, March 13,1972.)

No agency of the United States federal government retains more information on American citizens than the Internal Revenue Service, and no other agency is given more arbitrary powers to compile this information than the IRS. Tax files are a virtually endless repository of financial records for all working Americans, corporations; private associations, and political groups. To determine that a fair and equitable tax is paid, citizens are required to entrust a yearly accounting of financial worth to the Internal Revenue Service detailing the earning and expenses of their daily lives, charitable and political organizations they support, medical information and other tangible records covering travel, residence, and education. Businesses and organizations file similar types of information with the IRS, including complete lists of employees and earnings; and tax-exempt organizations are held accountable for the programs and "political" positions which they hold.

By law, the IRS maintains far-reaching investigative powers to enforce tax statutes. Unlike the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, the Internal Revenue Service may legally investigate any American without a judicial warrant and without reason to believe a crime has been committed. Moreover, it can demand the production of records entirely on its own authority. When marshaled for purposes above and beyond the collection of revenue taxes, the Internal Revenue Service is an ominous weapon of the government. It can endlessly harass all who cross its path, and at the same time gather information otherwise unobtainable through legal means.

Like the CIA and the FBI, the IRS was used as an instrument of the government's war against dissent in the 1960s. The IRS was a valuable component of the overall mechanism: it coordinated with the FBI and the Justice Department to harass dissidents, provided information to the FBI and the CIA (which in some cases was used to disrupt domestic dissent), and was asked to serve as the president's "hired gun" against various administration opponents. The IRS divulged its trusted records to the White House and to the intelligence agencies without following legal procedures to protect the privacy rights of innocent taxpayers. Yet, unlike the FBI and the CIA, the IRS acted at the behest of others, like a programmed robot. There was no J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Helms to direct the IRS on its campaign against dissent. Instead, it operated on general orders from congressional subcommittees and the White House and executed special "hits" against priority targets.


In 1969, following the inauguration of Richard M. Nixon the IRS was pressured into playing an even larger role in the secret government campaign against activist organizations and individuals. Yielding to the White House and Congress, the IRS created an institutional strike force against political dissent. Like the attacks on organized crime in the 1950s and 1960s, the Special Services Staff was designed to trigger the government's tax-enforcement apparatus on the basis of political criteria...

On July 2, 1969, officials of the Compliance Division of the IRS first met to discuss the creation of a group inside the IRS to examine "ideological organizations" and to collect intelligence on dissident groups through a "strike force" approach. Later that month, the Special Service Staff was established "to coordinate activities in all Compliance Divisions involving ideological, militant, subversive, radical and similar type organizations; to collect basic intelligence data, and to insure that the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code concerning such organizations have been complied with." The Special Service Staff was a mechanism to take advantage of the decentralized- character of the IRS. Its purpose was to gather information on political groups and individuals throughout the government, and to stimulate audits by local and district IRS offices based upon this information. It remains unclear how instrumental White House and congressional pressure had been in establishing the SSS. Although influenced by outside pressures, which led IRS officials to believe they had made a "commitment" to the White House to follow up on the administration's initial interest, officials within the IRS assumed responsibility for forming the special unit. As with the FBI and military intelligence programs, interest from the higher levels of the White House triggered a bureaucratic reaction that may have exceeded the expectations of the president and his aides.

Once in operation, the SSS became a political tool responsive to the FBI, the Internal Security Division of the Justice Department, and other government agencies monitoring political dissent. Paul Wright, who headed the SSS, felt, like J. Edgar Hoover, "that he was participating in an effort to save the country from dissidents and extremists," and identified the smaller operations of SSS with the larger campaign conducted by the FBI. In one instance where he pressed the Detroit District Office to reopen an audit case on a group of political activists, he gave as primary reason that "they are notorious campus and antidraft activists having records under anti-riot laws. They are the principal officers in the Radical Education Project, an offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society, and have been identified as members of certain Communist front organizations.... while revenue potential might not be large in some cases, there are instances where enforcement against flagrant law violaters would have some salutary effect in this overall battle against persons bent on destruction of this government." These were hardly tax-related criteria. As the July 24, 1969, memorandum creating the SSS had asserted, "from a strictly revenue standpoint, we may have little reason for establishing this committee or for expending the time- and effort which may be necessary." Nevertheless, political considerations dictate that "We must do it."

Indeed, those in the executive agencies who had initially pressured the IRS to initiate action against dissident organizations, saw the Special Service Staff as an important complement to other methods of harassing political dissidents. The ability to stimulate an audit of an organization or individual created a legitimate "administrative" COINTELPRO operation-one which was particularly effective against those tax-exempt organizations involved in political activity that had proved difficult to reach.

For the most part, the SSS did not even make the decision about which groups or individuals were to be watched. Unlike every other special compliance group within the IRS, in which target selection is based solely on tax criteria, the SSS initiated investigations in response to information reports from outside agencies. The FBI was the single largest source of targets for the Special Service Staff. In its four years of operation, the SSS received 11,818 separate reports from the FBI, over 6,000 of them classified, including FBI COINTELPRO reports, and an FBI list of over 2,300 organizations categorized as "Old Left," "New Left," and "Right Wing." If the subject of an FBI report had not already been under examination, the SSS would sometimes begin a file on that person or group. Information from the FBI comprised 43 percent of the data gathered by the SSS, and in its first year of operation more than four of every five SSS referrals to the field for audit noted the FBI as an important source of information. The Inter-Divisional Information Unit (IDIU) of the Department of Justice also provided leads for SSS investigations, including lists of 10,000 and 16,000 persons and organizations that might potentially engage in civil disturbances, and the Internal Security Committees of the Congress also provided the SSS with a list of target groups and individuals. Beyond these sources, the SSS had access to the army's Counter-lntelligence Compendium which listed "dissident individuals and organizations, and made contact with the air force's Counter-lntelligence unit as well.

The Lawless State

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