CIA to Reveal 'Skeletons'
Agency to declassify records of abuses, from domestic spying to assassination attempts
WASHINGTON - 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 Hayden said Thursday.
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 on Thursday published a separate set of documents from January 1975 detailing internal government deliberations of the abuses. Those documents portray a rising sense of panic within the administration of President Ford that what then-CIA Director William Colby called "skeletons" in the CIA's closet had begun to be revealed in news accounts.
An article about the CIA's infiltration of anti-war groups, published by New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh in December 1974, was "just the tip of the iceberg," then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned Ford, according to a Jan. 3, 1975, memorandum of their conversation.
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 trove of CIA documents, generated as the Vietnam War wound down and agency involvement in President Richard 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 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 back 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 story that Colby took the file to the White House. The National Security Archive release included a six-page summary of a Jan. 3, 1975, conversation 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.
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.
Other "skeletons" listed in the summary included the "very productive" 1963 wiretapping of two columnists -- Robert Allen and Paul Scott -- whose conversations included talks with 12 Senators and six congressmen; and the "personal surveillances" for two months in 1972 of muckraking columnist Jack Anderson and staff members, including Les Whitten and Brit Hume, and of Washington Post reporter Mike Getler between October 1971 and April 1972.
The CIA documents scheduled for release next week, Hayden said Thursday, "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 of the questions that followed evoked more recent criticism of the intelligence community, which has been accused of illegal wiretapping, infiltration of anti-war groups and the 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 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."
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