ce399 | research archive: (anti)fascism

Legal and Congressional Efforts to Disclose the CIA’s Black Budget: Richardson v. U.S. 1972 (excerpt)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 16/05/2011

Legal and Congressional Efforts to Disclose the CIA’s Black Budget

William Richardson was an ‘ordinary’ citizen who realized the inconsistency between the Constitution’s requirement that all government appropriations would have “a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures” published, and the CIA’s Act’s secrecy provision concerning the CIA budget. In 1967, Richardson made an effort to discover the true size of the CIA’s ‘black budget’ by writing a letter to the US Government Printing Office. He requested a copy of the CIA budget “published by the Government in compliance with Article I, section 9, clause 7 of the United States Constitution.” [10] Richardson received replies from the US Treasury that essentially rebuffed his efforts and he decided to start a Federal court action against the US government. He argued that the CIA Act was “repugnant to the Constitution” since it “operates to falsify the regular Statement and Account of all public Money.” [11] After three years of legal wrangling, Richardson’s case was dismissed by the Pittsburgh Federal Judge, Joseph P. Wilson, who decided that Richardson did not have ‘standing’ to sue the Federal government since he was not directly affected by issue at dispute. In short, the judge was taking the conservative legal position that a ‘generalized grievance’ is not a sufficient basis for a private citizen to take a US Federal Agency to court. Richardson appealed and in 1971, succeeded in having his case heard before a full bench of the United States Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (the penultimate legal court in the US). In his legal brief, Richardson claimed:

Never in the history of this country has so much money been spent without the traditional safeguard of openness and in direct defiance of constitutional provisions…. Billions are spent each year by unknown entities and this amount is spread throughout the Treasury’s reporting system to confuse the public and belittle the Constitution. [12]

The nine federal judges ruled in a 6-3 decision in 1972 that Richardson did have legal standing since the Court reasoned that a

… responsible and intelligent taxpayer and citizen, of course, wants to know how his tax money is spent. Without this information he cannot intelligently follow the actions of the Congress or the Executive. Nor can he properly fulfill his obligations as a member of the electorate. [13]

Richardson had won an extraordinary, though ultimately short lived, legal victory. He had succeeded in arguing that the ‘black budget’ was inconsistent with his constitutional obligations and that the CIA Act had doubtful constitutional standing. The 1971 decision of the Court of Appeals is the closest any US court has come to ruling on the constitutionality of the CIA Act. The Court had effectively decided that Congress had no right to deprive American citizens knowledge of the true size of the appropriated money that was being channeled to the CIA through other government agencies.

The Federal Government immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and in July 1974, the nine Supreme Court Justices ruled in a 5-4 decision, that Richardson did not have the legal standing to challenge the Federal government. [14] Adopting a conservative legal position, the Court argued that Richardson’s suit was nothing more than a generalized political grievance by a citizen that needed to be dealt with through the political system, rather than the legal system. The Supreme Court concluded that it did not need to examine the merits of Richardson’s case, since he did not have legal standing to bring the suit to the Court. The Supreme Court thus overturned the earlier ruling of the US Court of Appeals. The immediate consequence was that the black budget would remain a secret for some years yet. Despite the setback, Richardson had demonstrated that the ‘black budget’ and the CIA Act that created it, had dubious constitutional standing, and only required a challenge from a party with legal standing to most likely have it struck from the statute books. [15]

[10] Quoted in Weiner, Blank Check, 218.
[11] Quoted in Weiner, Blank Check, 219.
[12] Quoted in Weiner, Blank Check, 220-21.
[13] Quoted in Weiner, Blank Check, 222. Richardson v. U.S. 465 F. 2d 844, 853, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 1972.
[14]   For the courts ruling as well as dissenting opinions, see U.S. v. Richardson (418 U.S. 166) 167-202.
[15]   For further discussion see “The CIA’s Secret Funding and the Constitution,” 84 Yale Law Journal 613 (1975).
[16] See Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Whether Disclosure of Funds for the Intelligence Activities of the United States Is in the Public Interest, Report No. 95-274, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, June 16, 1977 (Government Printing Office, 1977). Also quoted in Weiner, Blank Check, 137-38

Full Paper:

http://www1.american.edu/salla/Articles/BB-CIA.htm#_ednref13

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