President Nixon Approves Plan to Expand Domestic Intelligence-Gathering
July 23, 1970 Nixon approves a plan for greatly expanding domestic intelligence-gathering by the FBI, CIA and other agencies. He has second thoughts a few days later and rescinds his approval.
After President Nixon approves of the so-called “Huston Plan” to implement a sweeping new domestic intelligence and internal security apparatus (see July 14, 1970), FBI director J. Edgar Hoover brings the plan’s author, White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see June 5, 1970), into his office and vents his disapproval. The “old ways” of unfettered wiretaps, political infiltration, and calculated break-ins and burglaries are “too dangerous,” he tells Huston. When, not if, the operations are revealed to the public, they will open up scrutiny of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and possibly reveal other, past illegal domestic surveillance operations that would embarrass the government. Hoover says he will not share FBI intelligence with other agencies, and will not authorize any illegal activities without President Nixon’s personal, written approval. The next day, Nixon orders all copies of the decision memo collected, and withdraws his support for the plan. [REEVES, 2001, PP. 236-237] W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI, later calls Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will note that the definition of “gauleiter” is, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “the leader or chief officoal of a political district under Nazi control.”
The Huston Plan was a 43 page report and outline of proposed security operations put together by White House aide Tom Charles Huston in 1970. It first came to light during the 1973 Watergate hearings headed by Senator Sam Ervin (a Democrat from North Carolina).
The impetus for this report stemmed from President Richard Nixon wanting more coordination of domestic intelligence in the area of gathering information about purported 'left-wing radicals' and the anti-war movement in general. Huston had been assigned as White House liaison to the Interagency Committee on Intelligence (ICI), a group chaired by J. Edgar Hoover, then Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director. Huston worked closely with William C. Sullivan, Hoover's assistant, in drawing up the options listed in what eventually became the document known as the Huston Plan.
Among other things the plan called for domestic burglary, illegal electronic surveillance and opening the mail of domestic "radicals". At one time it also called for the creation of camps in Western states where anti-war protesters would be detained.
In mid-July 1970 Nixon ratified the proposals and they were submitted as a document to the directors of the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
Out of these only Hoover objected to the plan, and gained the support of then Attorney General of the United States John Mitchell to pressure Nixon to rescind the plan. And despite the ultimate decision by the President to revoke the Huston Plan, several of its provisions were implemented anyway.
After the Huston Plan, the FBI lowered the age of campus informants, thereby expanding surveillance of American college students as sought through the Plan. In 1971, the FBI reinstated its use of mail covers and continued to submit names to the CIA mail program.
As details of the Huston Plan unfolded during the Watergate Hearings, it came to be seen as a part and parcel of what Attorney General Mitchell referred to as, "White House horrors". This would include the Plumbers Unit, the proposed fire-bombing of the Brookings Institution, the 1971 burglary of the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the creation of a White House enemies list, and the use of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to punish those deemed to be enemies.
The Huston Plan was also investigated by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chaired by Sen. Frank Church in 1976, into activities of the CIA and abuses of domestic intelligence gathering.