WASHINGTON — Call it the “family jewels” or the “skeletons in the closet,” the 702 pages of classified CIA files released June 26 expose the agency, once again, as deeply involved in assassinations, the Watergate conspiracy, a brainwashing project, training of provocateurs and terrorists, and spying on the American people.
The National Security Archives at George Washington University won release of the documents under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed 15 years ago. This reporter examined the documents at the archives’ public reading room.
CIA Director James Schlesinger ordered the “family jewels” files prepared in 1973 amid widespread anger over revelations of the CIA’s flagrant violations of its charter, which bars it from domestic spying. Released now, 34 years later, the files hardly measure up to a house cleaning. Page after page is blanked out entirely. Many memos deny outright the crimes or justify them.
There are repeated denials of any CIA involvement in the break-in at the Democratic Party’s Watergate headquarters the night of June 16-17, 1972. Yet a few pages further on is a memo reporting that Watergate conspirator Howard Hunt, a CIA contractor, had telephoned the agency in the spring of 1972 asking if the CIA “had a retiree who was accomplished at picking locks.” The CIA gave him the name of Thomas D’Amato, who had retired from the agency in July 1971. All five of the men arrested inside the Watergate that night had been CIA employees.
Malcolm Byrne, National Security Archives deputy director, told the World that on receiving the files “our first reaction was how little there was that we didn’t already know.” He cited the documents on CIA collaboration with underworld boss Santos Trafficante, in a “gangster-like action” to poison Cuban President Fidel Castro. The CIA furnished “six pills of high lethal content” and the assassins made six trips to Cuba to carry out the crime. Obviously, they failed. But memos on the plot were released by Sen. Frank Church in his 1975 report on CIA assassination schemes.
Yet there are nuggets of new information among the 702 pages. On page 213 we read that the CIA science and technology directorate chief, Carl Duckett, “thinks the Director would be ill-advised to say he is acquainted with this program.” It was a reference to CIA scientist Sidney Gottlieb’s drug experiments in the MK-Ultra program.
Unwitting MK-Ultra victims were subjected to massive doses of LSD and other mind-altering drugs. One federal employee, Frank Olson, a scientist at the Fort Detrick, Md., chemical-biological warfare center, plunged to his death from a hotel window in New York, Nov. 28, 1953, after the CIA fed him LSD. His son, Eric, accuses the CIA of murdering his father by pushing him out the window, fearing he would expose CIA germ warfare against North Korea.
Two memos signed by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton report in detail on the CIA’s training of hundreds of thousands of police in 26 nations on how to assemble “improvised explosive devices” and how to carry out sabotage, skills used by insurgents in Iraq today.
Several memos deal with “MHCHAOS,” otherwise known as “Operation CHAOS.” The CIA “recruited, tested, and dispatched … Americans with existing extremist credentials” who infiltrated peace organizations, one memo states.
Operation CHAOS also involved the illegal compiling of a database of 300,000 names of law-abiding American people and organizations, shades of the Patriot Act and the warrantless wiretapping ordered by George W. Bush.
Another flurry of memos warns against dissemination of a 1968 report, “Restless Youth,” and another on “Black Radicalism in the Caribbean,” arguing that “the likelihood that public exposure of the Agency’s interest in the problem of student dissidence would result in considerable notoriety particularly in the university world.”
Said Byrne, “It shows us that the wiretapping and surveillance, the monitoring of dissident groups that we see today is nothing new. It used to be the ‘Communist menace.’ Now it is ‘terrorists.’ It allows them to feel justified in collecting telephone data on people, ‘rendering’ suspected terrorists, downgrading the civil liberties of the American people. It should remind us of how important it is to preserve our civil rights. You can see from these documents, in the not-too-distant past, the serious abuses against those rights.”
Another lesson, Byrne said, is how hard it is to curb these abuses: “When Congress enacts a law that limits the CIA as happened in the early 1980s, the White House turns to another agency to get around the restriction.”
When Congress banned aid to the anti-Nicaraguan contras, Byrne noted, President Reagan assigned Lt. Col. Oliver North and the National Security Council to sell arms to Iran and funnel the profits through numbered Swiss bank accounts to the contras.
“Nowadays we see the Pentagon and the National Security Agency engaged in a lot of those activities,” said Byrne. “It is not surprising that presidents stretch things. But I don’t think we know the full story on how far this administration has gone.”
He added, “It only underscores the importance of opening up the historic record so we can maintain a level of accountability.”