Operation CHAOS

Photo: Richard Nixon resigns.

In Operation CHAOS - in the dawn of the computer age - we find the kind of information sharing and reliance on technology that would become a hallmark of surveillance operations in the 21st century. According to the Congressional committee that investigated CIA domestic spying:

“As the material flowed into CHAOS from stations, domestic CIA components, and the FBI, it was analyzed, indexed and filed.  Every name of individuals and organizations was extracted and referenced in the central CHAOS computer system known as “HYDRA”….If a report on one individual referred to others, their names would be indexed also.  Any information which was received about an individual for whom CHAOS maintained a file, went into this file.  There was no winnowing of the material before its entry into the permanent record system of CHAOS.  Once the material was indexed and filed, the HYDRA computer system permitted its prompt retrieval.  By checking a name in HYDRA, one could find all the cables, memoranda or other documents referring to that individual, whether he was the subject of the material or merely mentioned in passing….In many instances the computer would refer a searcher to the file of another person, or some other CHAOS holdings in which the subject individual was mentioned, but there was not enough material to open a file. Thus, there were an estimated 300,000 Americans indexed in HYDA, but only an estimated 7,500 Americans for whom actual files were maintained.”

(Above quote from the Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate, “CIA Intelligence Collection about Americans: CHAOS and the Office of Security,” BOOI III, April 23, 1976, p. 7. Read the whole report.)

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