U.S. intelligence discussed at UVSC

More authority may not prevent terrorism, FBI scholar says

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 26 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

OREM — Expanding the authority of U.S. intelligence agencies will not prevent terrorism, espionage or sabotage, a leading scholar on the FBI says.
"The result (of expanding intelligence authority) will ensure civil liberties and privacy will probably be violated," said Athan Theoharis to about 100 students at Utah Valley State College on Monday.
Theoharis, an emeritus history professor at Marquette University, was the first lecturer this year for the Turning Points in History Lecture Series at UVSC.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government welcomed a series of measures, such as the USA Patriot Act, that expanded surveillance authority.
"The premise of this was the FBI, being a prisoner of a law enforcement mentality, we have been unable to anticipate 9/11," Theoharis said. "If we look at this historically, it's deja vu all over again."
The bureau was created as a law enforcement agency to investigate federal crimes in 1908, but by 1936, received the authority to anticipate crimes to prevent them, called counterintelligence.
In the 1930s, the country feared World War II in Europe, communism and the Soviet Union, creating an environment in which counterintelligence was permitted.
In 2001, the people in the United States felt vulnerable knowing that a powerful nation could be attacked by 19 plane hijackers.
Theoharis described FBI investigations during the 1940s and 1950s of the Communist Party headquarters, a newspaper gossip columnist and Hollywood actors, producers and stage hands in which agents illegally broke into buildings to photocopy documents, opened mail and planted "bugs" in phones.
The most information the FBI gleaned were names of Communist Party members and juicy extramarital affairs. The bureau never gained any information on sabotage or espionage, Theoharis said.
The reason? The Soviet Union was aware of counterintelligence efforts in the United States and ensured that its spies were nondescript.
During the month before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the FBI was investigating 70 people they believed were associated with Osama bin Laden. None of them were related to the 19 hijackers.
Successful counterintelligence is difficult to achieve, Theoharis said.
An example of FBI success was its investigation of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The bureau interviewed someone who provided information about a plot to blow up the United Nations building in New York, which the FBI was able to prevent.
"There are a number of cases where the FBI is successful," said Theoharis. "They are a result of good luck, or it does happen upon the right individuals."

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