Executive orders vary widely. One of the most famous executive orders, the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves in the United States under President Abraham Lincoln. A more infamous example came under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who issued an executive order to intern Japanese-Americans in prison camps in 1942.
President Ronald Reagan signed EO 12333 within his first year in office, 1981, largely as a response to the perceived weakening of the American intelligence apparatus by his two immediate predecessors, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Later, EO 12333 was amended three times by President George W. Bush between 2003 and 2008.
“Reagan did this at every opportunity: with military exercises, challenging the Soviets in their own airspace and waters, across the board. The gloves were coming off,” Melvin Goodman told Ars. Goodman was the CIA’s division chief and senior analyst at the Office of Soviet Affairs from 1976 to 1986. He’s now the director of the National Security Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC.
Bush’s reasons for strengthening EO 12333 were similar. After the United States faced another existential threat in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Bush—and later President Barack Obama—used EO 12333 to expand American surveillance power. But if EO 12333 is essentially a reaction, how was mass surveillance handled beforehand?