The Huston Plan

Early on in his presidency, Richard Nixon became determined to guard the republic from what he saw as the subversive threat from an escalating cadre of leftist, black militant, and antiwar groups.  In 1970, he commissioned 29-year-old White House Aide Tom Huston to devise a plan for expanding domestic surveillance of such organizations and leaders.  The resulting “Huston Plan” was a wide-ranging proposal to expand the administration’s domestic intelligence, including electronic surveillance, mail openings (the secret opening of mail to and from suspected subversives’ mail to gather information), “surreptitious entry” (law enforcement agent break-ins without a warrant), and an increase in campus informants and military undercover agents.  Nixon contended that he later rescinded his approval of the Huston Plan when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover voiced objections.  Nevertheless, some of its recommendations clearly went into effect.  The following document is excerpted from a July 1970 Tom Huston memo to White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.  The memo, written one week after the “Huston plan,” briefly outlines some of his recommendations in that plan, and also itemizes (in the sections entitled “Rationale”) some of the “pros” and “cons” of implementing those recommendations.  The excerpt below covers only Huston’s sections on mail openings (“mail coverage”) and “surreptitious entry.”

Mail Coverage


  Restrictions on legal coverage should be removed.

                    ALSO, present restrictions on covert coverage should be relaxed on
          selected targets of priority foreign intelligence and internal security interest.


          There is no valid argument against use of legal mail covers except Mr.
     Hoover’s concern that the civil liberties people may become upset.  This
     risk is surely an acceptable one and hardly serious enough to justify
     denying ourselves a valuable and legal intelligence tool.

                    Covert coverage is illegal and there are serious risks involved.  However,
          the advantages to be derived from its use outweigh the risks.  This
          technique is particularly valuable in identifying espionage agents and other
          contacts of foreign intelligence services.

Surreptitious Entry


                    Present restrictions should be modified to permit procurement of vitally
          needed foreign cryptographic material.

                    ALSO, present restrictions should be modified to permit selective use of
          this technique against other urgent and high priority internal security


          Use of this technique is clearly illegal: it amounts to burglary.  It is also
     highly risky and could result in great embarrassment if exposed.  However,
     it is also the most fruitful tool and can produce the type of intelligence
     which cannot be obtained in any other fashion.

                    The FBI, in [FBI Director] Mr. Hoover’s younger days, used to conduct
          such operations with great success and with no exposure.  The
          information secured was invaluable.

          NSA [National Security Agency] has a particular interest since it is possible
     by this technique to secure materials with which NSA can break foreign
     cryptographic codes.  We spend millions of dollars attempting to break
     these codes by machine.  One successful surreptitious entry can do the
     job successfully at no dollar cost.

                    Surreptitious entry of facilities occupied by subversive elements can turn
          up information about identities, methods of operation, and other invaluable
          investigative information which is not otherwise obtainable.  This technique
          would be particularly helpful if used against the Weathermen and Black

                    The deployment of the Executive Protector Force has increased the risk of
          surreptitious entry of diplomatic establishments.  However, it is the belief of
          all except Mr. Hoover that the technique can still be successfully used on a
          selective basis.