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Halkin v. Helms

United States Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia
690 F.2d 977 (1982)


In 1975, both the press and the President’s Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States (the Rockefeller Commission) disclosed that government agencies had collected information on U.S. citizens who opposed the Vietnam war through various intelligence-gathering programs. Operation CHAOS, carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the request of the president, aimed to determine how much influence and support foreign governments and organizations had on domestic critics of the war, and it did so by making use of the resources of other functioning CIA surveillance programs. Operation CHAOS produced many reports for the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other agencies, and files were developed and maintained on the individual and organizational plaintiffs. In addition to CHAOS, the CIA acquired the contents of international conversations by submitting “watchlists” comprised of thousands of subjects’ names to the National Security Agency (NSA). Based on these intelligence-gathering programs, 21 individuals and five organizations (plaintiffs) who were involved in different kinds of protests against U.S. involvement in Vietnam filed suit against seven CIA and government officials (defendants) for damages, and against the heads of the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, and Secret Service (defendants) for injunctive and declaratory relief. The claims were based on First, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendment violations, as well as the violation of the National Security Act of 1947, 50 U.S.C. § 403-4a. The district court dismissed the complaint based on the CIA director’s invocation of the state secret privilege during discovery, in response to the plaintiffs’ request for production of various documents concerning CHAOS and NSA operations. The plaintiffs appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (MacKinnon, J.)

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