The CIA declassified nearly 700 pages of secret records Tuesday recording its illegal activities during the first decades of the Cold War, publishing a catalog of adventures that run the gamut of spy movie clichés from attempts to kill foreign leaders and intercept Americans’ mail to garden-variety break-ins and burglaries.
“Most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA’s history,” the CIA’s director, Gen. Michael Hayden, said last week in announcing plans to release the documents, which had been considered so sensitive that they were known internally as the agency’s “family jewels.”
The documents were compiled beginning in 1973 at the order of then-CIA Director James Schlesinger, who wanted to be prepared for congressional investigations he expected in the wake of disclosures that arose during the Watergate scandal. Schlesinger’s successor, William Colby, was outraged at much of the material, which he collected in a report to President Gerald Ford in 1975.
Much of the material had previously entered the public record through nearly 30 years of requests by academics, authors and journalists under the Freedom of Information Act. But many new details emerge in a review of the documents by MSNBC.com, including the never-before-disclosed news that CIA Director Allen Dulles personally approved the agency’s plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1960 and 1961.
Operation CHAOS — still sensitive
Even after more than 30 years, the CIA chose to keep scores of pages partly or totally blacked out. Much of the redacted material appears in sections relating to Richard Ober, head of the Special Operations Group and deputy to James Jesus Angleton, the agency’s legendary chief of counterintelligence.
Ober directed Operation CHAOS, a highly secretive covert operation to spy on racial, anti-war and other protest groups inside the United States.
The CIA’s charter bans domestic spying, but in 1976, the final report of the special Senate subcommittee headed by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, to investigate CIA abuses concluded that the CHAOS project had amassed files on more than 7,000 American citizens and 1,000 domestic organizations. That information was disseminated in thousands of reports to the FBI and other agencies.
Americans’ communications intercepted
It has also long been known that the CIA routinely intercepted international mail and telephone calls of U.S. citizens, but the scope of that espionage becomes clearer in the new documents.
For 20 years beginning in 1953, the CIA opened and copied all mail to and from the Soviet Union that passed through John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The operation, which used the information to compile a watch list of suspicious people, was approved by three successive postmasters general, the documents indicate.
Likewise, for three years beginning in 1969, the CIA similarly opened mail to and from China that passed through San Francisco.
And the agency intercepted radio telephone calls involving U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to and from South America “for drug-related matters” involving the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
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General Counsel Lawrence R. Houston, asked for his ruling on the legality of the operation, replied on Jan. 29, 1973, that since the reports were going to the BNDD, they were for law enforcement purposes, which the CIA was barred from. Accordingly, the intercepts were illegal, he concluded.
Soviet defector jailed for two years
The papers also flesh out details of the detention of a Soviet defector, Yuri Nosenko, who was held in a cell from August 1965 to September 1967 because the CIA feared he might be a plant.
Nosenko, deputy chief of the Seventh Department of the KGB, was responsible for recruiting foreign spies. He claimed to have been the KGB handler of the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, who he said was rejected as not having been intelligent enough to work as a KGB agent.
After more than two years confined in a cell with only a cot, Nosenko was released and given a false identity. He became an adviser to the CIA and the FBI for $35,000 a year and a lump sum payment of $150,000 for his trouble.
The papers indicate that the CIA regularly confined defectors for interrogation, but only outside the United States, and the agency was concerned that the detention of the Soviet defector might violate kidnapping laws. “The possibility exists that the press could cause undesirable publicity if it were to uncover the story,” David H. Blee, chief of the Soviet Bloc Division, wrote in a memo.
- The CIA conducted surveillance on numerous journalists, including Brit Hume, now an anchor for Fox News. Hume was working for investigative columnist Jack Anderson when he, Anderson and other Anderson associates were put under surveillance in 1972 after Anderson published a column, considered inside the agency as highly damaging, reporting that the CIA was “tilting” toward Pakistan in its Middle East operations.
Another journalist who was placed under surveillance was Michael Getler, then the intelligence reporter for The Washington Post. There was no indication that the CIA conducted any illegal wiretaps or other unlawful operations against Getler.
- From 1963 to 1973, the CIA authorized and funded “behavioral modification” research on Americans without their consent. The research primarily involved observation of their reactions in public, but some of it involved reactions to undisclosed drugs, the documents report.
- In fiscal 1971 and 1972, “Agency funds were made available to the FBI.” No further details are given on what this account was for.
- The CIA investigated plans to disrupt the 1972 national political conventions and provided operational support — inside the United States, where such activities are the purview of the FBI — for Secret Service operations.
For the Republican convention in Miami, the agency ran name checks on foreign nationals and set up a safe house for the Secret Service. For Nixon’s renomination in San Diego, it ran name checks on all hotel and convention employees, noting, “We anticipate there will be several thousand names to be checked.”
- In May 1973, Angleton reported that the CIA had looked into the operations of the Investors Overseas Service for White House counsel John Dean. The company employed President Richard Nixon’s nephew, and Dean was concerned that the connection could generate “adverse publicity,” Angleton wrote.
Six reports were eventually generated, which the CIA channeled to Dean, now a prominent critic of the Bush administration, through Fred Fielding, who serves President Bush in Dean’s old job of White House counsel. The nature of the reports is not disclosed.
CIA director’s unusual literary pursuits
The papers also include some disclosures that can only be described as odd.
In 1972, Colby submitted an article for publication in the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade, titled “Should Lesbians Be Allowed to Play Professional Football?” Parade Editor Lloyd Shearer replied in a letter in April that he found the article “intriguing” and planned to publish it “in a future issue.”
And we learn that some in the agency were also exasperated by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who made frequent demands on the CIA, the papers reveal. One memo, dated May 7, 1973, complains about the “inordinate amount of time” and “fairly sizeable amount of money that has been expended in support of these measures.”
The 693 pages of CIA disclosures were turned over in 1975 to three investigative panels — special House and Senate committees and a commission headed by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Much of the material has since seen the light of day, but Tuesday marked the first time the CIA had publicized its clandestine past.
In his address last week, to a conference of historians, Hayden acknowledged that the papers “provide a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency.”
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