CIA to Air Decades of Its Dirty Laundry
The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency’s worst illegal abuses — the so-called “family jewels” documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.
The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency’s opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of “unwitting” tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs.
“Most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA’s history,” Hayden said in a speech to a conference of foreign policy historians. The documents have been sought for decades by historians, journalists and conspiracy theorists and have been the subject of many fruitless Freedom of Information Act requests.
In anticipation of the CIA’s release, the National Security Archive at George Washington University yesterday published a separate set of documents from January 1975 detailing internal government discussions of the abuses. Those documents portray a rising sense of panic within the administration of President Gerald R. Ford that what then-CIA Director William E. Colby called “skeletons” in the CIA’s closet had begun to be revealed in news accounts.
A New York Times article by reporter Seymour Hersh about the CIA’s infiltration of antiwar groups, published in December 1974, was “just the tip of the iceberg,” then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger warned Ford, according to a Jan. 3 memorandum of their conversation.
Kissinger warned that if other operations were divulged, “blood will flow,” saying, “For example, Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of [Cuban President Fidel] Castro.” Kennedy was the attorney general from 1961 to 1964.
Worried that the disclosures could lead to criminal prosecutions, Kissinger added that “when the FBI has a hunting license into the CIA, this could end up worse for the country than Watergate,” the scandal that led to the fall of the Nixon administration the previous year.
In a meeting at which Colby detailed the worst abuses — after telling the president “we have a 25-year old institution which has done some things it shouldn’t have” — Ford said he would appoint a presidential commission to look into the matter. “We don’t want to destroy but to preserve the CIA. But we want to make sure that illegal operations and those outside the [CIA] charter don’t happen,” Ford said.
Most of the major incidents and operations in the reports to be released next week were revealed in varying detail during congressional investigations that led to widespread intelligence reforms and increased oversight. But the treasure-trove of CIA documents, generated as the Vietnam War wound down and agency involvement in Nixon’s “dirty tricks” political campaign began to be revealed, is expected to provide far more comprehensive accounts, written by the agency itself.
The reports, known collectively by historians and CIA officials as the “family jewels,” were initially produced in response to a 1973 request by then-CIA Director James R. Schlesinger. Alarmed by press accounts of CIA involvement in Watergate under his predecessor, Schlesinger asked the agency’s employees to inform him of all operations that were “outside” the agency’s legal charter.
This process was unprecedented at the agency, where only a few officials had previously been privy to the scope of its illegal activities. Schlesinger collected the reports, some of which dated to the 1950s, in a folder that was inherited by his successor, Colby, in September of that year.
But it was not until Hersh’s article that Colby took the file to the White House. The National Security Archive release included a six-page summary of a conversation on Jan. 3, 1975, in which Colby briefed the Justice Department for the first time on the extent of the “skeletons.”
Operations listed in the report began in 1953, when the CIA’s counterintelligence staff started a 20-year program to screen and in some cases open mail between the United States and the Soviet Union passing through a New York airport. A similar program in San Francisco intercepted mail to and from China from 1969 to 1972. Under its charter, the CIA is prohibited from domestic operations.
Colby told Ford that the program had collected four letters to actress and antiwar activist Jane Fonda and said the entire effort was “illegal, and we stopped it in 1973.”
Among several new details, the summary document reveals a 1969 program about CIA efforts against “the international activities of radicals and black militants.” Undercover CIA agents were placed inside U.S. peace groups and sent abroad as credentialed members to identify any foreign contacts. This came at a time when the Soviet Union was suspected of financing and influencing U.S. domestic organizations.
The program included “information on the domestic activities” of the organizations and led to the accumulation of 10,000 American names, which Colby told Silberman were retained “as a result of the tendency of bureaucrats to retain paper whether they needed it or acted on it or not,” according to the summary memo.
CIA surveillance of Michael Getler, then The Washington Post’s national security reporter, was conducted between October 1971 and April 1972 under direct authorization by then-Director Richard Helms, the memo said. Getler had written a story published on Oct. 18, 1971, sparked by what Colby called “an obvious intelligence leak,” headlined “Soviet Subs Are Reported Cuba-Bound.”
Getler, who is now the ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting Service, said yesterday that he learned of the surveillance in 1975, when The Post published an article based on a secret report by congressional investigators. The story said that the CIA used physical surveillance against “five Americans” and listed Getler, the late columnist Jack Anderson and Victor Marchetti, a former CIA employee who had just written a book critical of the agency.
“I never knew about it at the time, although it was a full 24 hours a day with teams of people following me, looking for my sources,” Getler said. He said he went to see Colby afterward, with Washington lawyer Joseph Califano. Getler recalled, “Colby said it happened under Helms and apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again.”
Personal surveillance was conducted on Anderson and three of his staff members, including Brit Hume, now with Fox News, for two months in 1972 after Anderson wrote of the administration’s “tilt toward Pakistan.” The 1972 surveillance of Marchetti was carried out “to determine contacts with CIA employees,” the summary said.
CIA monitoring and infiltration of antiwar dissident groups took place between 1967 and 1971 at a time when the public was turning against the Vietnam War. Agency officials “covertly monitored” groups in the Washington area “who were considered to pose a threat to CIA installations.” Some of the information “might have been distributed to the FBI,” the summary said. Other “skeletons” listed in the summary included:
· The confinement by the CIA of a Russian defector, suspected by the CIA as a possible “fake,” in Maryland and Virginia safe houses for two years, beginning in 1964. Colby speculated that this might be “a violation of the kidnapping laws.”
· The “very productive” 1963 wiretapping of two columnists — Robert Allen and Paul Scott — whose conversations included talks with 12 senators and six congressmen.
· Break-ins by the CIA’s office of security at the homes of one current and one former CIA official suspected of retaining classified documents.
· CIA-funded testing of American citizens, “including reactions to certain drugs.”
The CIA documents scheduled for release next week, Hayden said yesterday, “provide a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency.”
Barred by secrecy restrictions from correcting “misinformation,” he said, the CIA is at the mercy of the press. “Unfortunately, there seems to be an instinct among some in the media today to take a few pieces of information, which may or may not be accurate, and run with them to the darkest corner of the room,” Hayden said.
Hayden’s speech and some questions that followed evoked more recent criticism of the intelligence community, which has been accused of illegal wiretapping, infiltration of antiwar groups, and kidnapping and torturing of terrorism suspects.
“It’s surely part of [Hayden’s] program now to draw a bright line with the past,” said National Security Archive Director Thomas S. Blanton. “But it’s uncanny how the government keeps dipping into the black bag.” Newly revealed details of ancient CIA operations, Blanton said, “are pretty resonant today.”