21. SAY GOODBYE TO THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Six years after a president was forced to resign or face impeachment
because of abuses of power under the cover of national security ...
and four years after a Senate Select Committee reached the "fundamental
conclusion that intelligence activities have undermined the constitutional
rights of citizens ... Congress, last year, in the name of national
security and intelligence protection was on the verge of enacting the
most severe abridgement of freedom of the press since the Alien and
Sedition Laws of the late eighteenth century. And few Americans were
aware it was happening.
The Intelligence Identities Protection Act would make it a crime to
publish "any information that identifies an individual as a covert
agent" of the CIA or FBI. Part of the bill would prohibit CIA or
FBI employees from disclosing classified information about secret agents
but another section sweeps far more broadly.
In the candid words of Rep. Edward Boland (D-MA), chief sponsor of
the bill in the House of Representatives, this provision "could
subject a private citizen to criminal prosecution for disclosing unclassified
information obtained from unclassified sources."
The provision was aimed at the editors of Covert Action Information
Bulletin, a journal that opposes clandestine CIA interference with the
affairs of other countries and has been widely condemned for using public
information to identify CIA agents. Another sponsor of the legislation
stated that he wants "to put away" the Bulletin editors. But
that would also mean putting away the New York Times reporter who writes
a series of articles about CIA agents who secretly work to "destabilize"
the democratically elected government of Chile ... or any other journalist
or editor who makes the difficult decision to publish lawfully obtained
information about intelligence agencies in an effort to inform the public
of those activities.
As investigative journalist S. Duncan Harp said, "if people are
denied the knowledge that such (intelligence agency) abuses are taking
place, obviously they cannot act to put a stop to them. Furthermore,
it is clear that the threat of public exposure is a major deterrent
to the initiation of such activities."
While the Intelligence Identities Protection Act did not pass last
year, it was expected to receive a better reception in Congress this
The failure of the media to publicize thus overt attack on the First
Amendment qualified this story for nomination as one of the "best
censored" stories of 1980.
Civil Liberties, September, 1980, "Congress Shall Make No Law...,"
by John Shattuck, SCLU Legislative Director; WIN, Feb. 15, 1981, "Gutting
the First Amendment," by S. Duncan Harp.