In the FISA debate, Bush administration officials oppose any explicit rules against “reverse targeting” Americans in conversations with noncitizens, though they say they’d never do it.
But Lyndon Johnson found the tactic useful when he wanted to know what promises then-candidate Richard Nixon might be making to our allies in South Vietnam through confidant Anna Chenault. FBI officials worried that directly tapping Chenault would put the bureau “in a most untenable and embarrassing position,” so they recorded her conversations with her Vietnamese contacts.
Johnson famously heard recordings of King’s conversations and personal liaisons with various women. Less well known is that he received wiretap reports on King’s strategy conferences with other civil rights leaders, hoping to use the information to block their efforts to seat several Mississippi delegates at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Johnson even complained that it was taking him “hours each night” to read the reports.
Read the whole thing; Julian describes similar abuses in the Harding, Truman, Kennedy, and Nixon administrations. While I certainly hope that Presidents Obama, Clinton, or McCain wouldn’t do anything like this, it would be naive to enact legislation that requires us to simply trust them.