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Office of the Naval Inspector General
History of Intelligence Oversight

The need for a Department of Defense (DoD) Intelligence Oversight (IO) program came as a result of activities conducted by DoD intelligence and counter-intelligence units against U.S. persons involved in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. During the 1960s and 1970s, the United States experienced significant civil demonstrations. Some demonstrations were believed to be beyond the ability of civilian authorities to control, and military forces were used to assist in the restoration of order. Units deploying for this purpose discovered they needed basic pre-deployment intelligence to perform their missions. Eventually, DoD intelligence personnel were using inappropriate clandestine and intrusive means to collect information on the legitimate expressions of U.S. persons, accumulating that information in a nationwide data bank, and sharing that information with law enforcement authorities.

For example, during the 1960s and 1970s:

  • Military counterintelligence special agents established, maintained, and disseminated files on civil rights activists and organizers.
  • Counterintelligence special agents penetrated organizations and recruited members as informers.
  • Radio communications of civil rights and anti-war demonstrators were improperly intercepted by military intelligence personnel.
  • Using media cover, military counterintelligence special agents infiltrated the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
  • Information collected by Defense elements was routinely transferred to civilian law enforcement authorities without evidence of criminal activity or relevance to the law enforcement missions of the receiving authorities.

In the early and mid 1970s several Congressional committees, including the Church, Pike, and Ervin committees, conducted investigations and public hearings. After three and a half years of investigation, these committees determined that what had occurred was a classic example of "mission creep." What had begun as a requirement to provide basic intelligence to commanders charged with assisting in the maintenance and restoration of order, had become a monumentally intrusive effort. This resulted in the monitoring of activities of innocent persons involved in constitutionally protected expression of their views on civil rights or anti-war activities. As a result of these investigations, DoD imposed severe restrictions on future surveillance of U.S. persons, required that information already in DoD files be destroyed, and established a structure to regulate future DoD intelligence collection.

In 1976, President Ford issued an Executive Order placing significant controls on the conduct of all intelligence activities. Executive Order (EO) 11905, as the charter for the Intelligence Community, included provisions for an intelligence oversight mechanism. Consequently, the Secretary of Defense directed establishment of an Inspector General for Intelligence in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, responsible for the independent oversight of all DoD intelligence activities. EO 12036, signed by President Carter in 1978, and the current Executive Order, EO 12333, signed by President Reagan in 1981, continued the requirement for oversight to maintain the proper balance between the acquisition of essential information by the Intelligence Community, and the protection of individuals' constitutional and statutory rights.