No New Thing Under the Sun

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"No New Thing Under the Sun"

It’s worth recalling, now and again, that the Bush administration’s efforts to leverage wartime hysteria into serious abuses of civil liberties is hardly a new story in American history. Amy Zegart, for example, writes up some newly declassified documents relating to the CIA’s LBJ-vintage (and then continuing into the Nixon years) “Restless Youth” initiative:

: The C.I.A.’s Restless Youth study, which appears to have been commissioned in the late 1960s to examine radical American college students. In a meticulously worded 1973 memo, the C.I.A.’s deputy director for intelligence details exactly which version of that study went to whom. Notably, the president, his national security adviser and the deputy secretary of defense got the fully loaded version that included the agency’s highly sensitive investigations of American students. Other Cabinet members got versions without the U.S. student radicals section. And Attorney General John Mitchell got an even more abbreviated edition in March 1969. There’s more: an unsigned 1968 memo on the next page explicitly notes that Restless Youth violated the C.I.A.’s charter AND that it was conducted at the behest of the national security adviser at the time, Walt Rostow.

I suppose the difference is that these days David Addington would have written a memo about how the CIA was under no obligation to abide by the CIA’s charter because the CIA’s not part of the executive branch or something. Back then the mentality seems to have been more, “we want to do X, but X is illegal, so let’s keep things quiet.”

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