Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation examines archival documents as well as Congressional committee investigations and records to understand the scope and legality of domestic surveillance in the mid-twentieth century. Additionally, it works to understand how the intelligence agencies that carried out such surveillance were able to avoid meaningful punishment, even though their actions were often illegal.
There has been a recent revival of concerns over the abilities of secret intelligence agencies to intercept and examine the communications of U.S. citizens. While the current revelations about domestic surveillance are certainly disconcerting, the reality is that domestic surveillance has a long and sordid history in the United States.
With the advent and adoption of new technologies for communication, government access to the words and ideas of citizens proliferated in the twentieth century. This meant that surveillance could be carried out more broadly and efficiently than ever before. Such surveillance captured the communications of politicians, activists, workers, students, parents, teachers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Supreme Court Justices.
The aim of this dissertation is two-fold. First, it seeks to understand how such surveillance impacts civil liberties, with special attention paid to First Amendment protections of speech, the press, and association, and Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizure. This work finds that government surveillance has the consequences of chilling speech and stifling intellectual privacy. This study examines National Security Agency operations SHAMROCK and MINARET; Federal Bureau of Investigation Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) operations Communist Party USA, Socialist Workers Party, Black Nationalist Hate Groups, and New Left; and Central Intelligence Agency operations HTLINGUAL, CHAOS, MERRIMAC, and RESISTANCE. The examination of these operations concludes that the NSA, FBI, and CIA fundamentally violated the constitutional rights of countless citizens and these violations were carried out knowingly and repeatedly.
The second aim of this dissertation is to investigate how these agencies were able to avoid meaningful punishment. To understand how they skirted punishment, it is necessary to think of the United States as a dual state. The dual state theory was developed in the 1930s by German legal scholar and political scientist Ernst Fraenkel. Fraenkel sought to understand the political, economic and legal changes taking place in Germany under the Third Reich. His theory suggests that in a dual state, there is Normative State, which is charged with enforcing normative laws such as contract and traffic law, and there is a Prerogative State, which arbitrarily applies laws to groups and individuals determined to be acting “politically” or in ways that threaten the current regime—in Germany, the Prerogative State was synonymous with the Gestapo.
In much the same way, members of the American Prerogative State arbitrarily apply and suspend laws based on their perceptions of individual and group activities and ideologies. They can violate the constitutional rights of those people and organizations believed to threaten the government. Thus, the NSA, FBI, and CIA are not only members of the intelligence community, they are also members of the American Prerogative State and, as such, are able to violate laws with impunity. The dual state theory explains why these agencies were not punished for the illegal and unconstitutional surveillance practices that took place between World War II and the Vietnam War.
Rollins, Tyler Russell, "Domestic Surveillance in the United States: World War II to Vietnam" (2016). College of Media, Communication, and Information Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 5.