Wiretaps & National Security
DURING its current term, the Supreme Court will be hearing argument on whether warrantless “national-security” wiretaps are constitutional. The phrase “national security” conjures up the image of spies, sabotage, and invasion, but a considerable number of such taps are conducted against domestic organizations or individuals who are suspected of activities deemed contrary to the national interest. It was recently learned, for example, that such persons as Martin Luther King and Elijah Muhammad and such organizations as the Jewish Defense League and the Black Panther party have been the subject of extended national-security taps. These taps are authorized exclusively by the prosecutorial arm of the government-by the attorney general-without the need for a judicial warrant based on probable cause. How many national-security taps and “bugs” are currently in operation, and against what sorts of persons, is a well-guarded secret, but bits of information that are slowly emerging raise some disturbing questions.
The case presenting the issue of the constitutionality of warrantless national-security taps involves “Pun” Plamondon, an alleged “White Panther” standing trial for conspiracy to blow up a CIA office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Plamondon’s lawyer, William Kunstler, filed a pre-trial motion asking the government to disclose whether any of the defendant’s conversations had been monitored. Motions of this kind are made rather routinely these days in so-called political cases, and-not infrequently-they strike paydirt, as Kunstler’s motion did. It elicited an affidavit from the attorney general himself, acknowledging that “Plamondon has participated in conversations which were overheard by government agents,” and that no warrant had been obtained. But Mitchell vigorously asserted that the tap-which was on some unnamed person’s phone, not on Plamondon’s-was legal, since it was “employed to gather intelligence information deemed necessary to protect the nation from attempts of domestic organizations to attack and subvert the existing structure of the government.”
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