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 year.
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.