Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Government, History, The Law — Rick Moran @ 11:08 am

The release of nearly 700 pages of formerly classified documents detailing CIA lawbreaking from the 1950’s to the 1970’s will hardly surprise those who have been critics of the agency. Many of the “black bag” operations, the wiretaps, the surveillance, the unusual experiments on American citizens, have been hinted at or exposed through the years so there are no real bombshells - although I found the process of how these operations were compiled fascinating.

Evidently, former DCIA James Schlessinger ordered the review of CIA operations from the 1950’s on, regarding activities that “fell outside of the Agency’s charter” when he discovered two of the Watergate burglars had help from inside the agency to carry out some of their domestic spying on Democrats. What he discovered - the so-called “Family Jewels” - was placed in a file and the Justice Department was briefed by Schlessinger’s successor, William Colby.

Here is a summary of these illegal activities per a contemporary Justice Department memo obtained by The National Security Archive:

1. Confinement of a Russian defector that “might be regarded as a violation of the kidnapping laws.” (A reference to James Angleton’s holding of defector Yuri Nosenko).

2. Wiretapping of two syndicated columnists, Robert Allen and Paul Scott.

3. Physical surveillance of muckraker Jack Anderson and his associates, including current Fox News anchor Britt Hume.

4. Physical surveillance of then Washington Post reporter Michael Getler.

5. Break-in at the home of a former CIA employee.

6. Break-in at the office of a former defector.

7. Warrantless entry into the apartment of a former CIA employee.

8. Mail opening from 1953 to 1973 of letters to and from the Soviet Union.

9. Mail opening from 1969 to 1972 of letters to and from China.

10. Behavior modification experiments on “unwitting” U.S. citizens. (LSD and other drug trials)

11. Assassination plots against Castro, Lumumba, and Trujillo (on the latter, “no active part” but a “faint connection” to the killers).

12. Surveillance of dissident groups between 1967 and 1971.

13. Surveillance of a particular Latin American female and U.S. citizens in Detroit.

14. Surveillance of a CIA critic and former officer, Victor Marchetti.

15. Amassing of files on 9,900-plus Americans related to the antiwar movement.

16. Polygraph experiments with the San Mateo, California, sheriff.

17. Fake CIA identification documents that might violate state laws.

18. Testing of electronic equipment on US telephone circuits.

These files were slated to be released years ago - except George Tenet refused:

CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden announced today that the Agency is declassifying the full 693-page file amassed on CIA’s illegal activities by order of then-CIA director James Schlesinger in 1973–the so-called “family jewels.” Only a few dozen heavily-censored pages of this file have previously been declassified, although multiple Freedom of Information Act requests have been filed over the years for the documents. Gen. Hayden called today’s release “a glimpse of a very different time and a very different Agency.”

“This is the first voluntary CIA declassification of controversial material since George Tenet in 1998 reneged on the 1990s promises of greater openness at the Agency,” commented Thomas Blanton, the Archive’s director.

Hayden also announced the declassification of some 11,000 pages of the so-called CAESAR, POLO and ESAU papers–hard-target analyses of Soviet and Chinese leadership internal politics and Sino-Soviet relations from 1953-1973, a collection of intelligence on Warsaw Pact military programs, and hundreds of pages on the A-12 spy plane.

Those last documents will be a boon to Cold War historians. Down through the years, we’ve had leaks from those analyses but never the whole story of what the CIA knew, what they believed, and what they were telling policy makers. It should make for fascinating reading.

As for the rest, it is apparent that for 25 years or more, the CIA was an agency out of control, beyond the law, and shockingly insensitive to civil liberties.

What new?

I have rarely been surprised or horrified by what the CIA has done down through the years “in our name.” The world is a cold, brutal place and there are many times when the “ends/means argument” is not relevant. Nor is the criticism that there was “no moral difference” between what the Soviets were doing and what the CIA did valid. Of course there was a difference; they were the enemy and what the CIA did most of the time to protect the United States was its own moral justification - survival.

Clearly, this was not always the case. The Agency was a good friend in Latin America of American business interests like United Fruit Company and AT & T. Helping to overthrow governments not friendly to American corporations is a whole other story - one that needs telling. But by and large, CIA actions down through the years have been necessary. Whether we can decide if those actions were “moral” or not is a luxury granted those who can sit in judgement enjoying the benefits of freedoms protected and fought for by some of the most dedicated public servants in our nation’s history.

Domestic spying operations initiated by Nixon brought the Agency great shame, as well it should. Nixon’s paranoia about his enemies should not have led to the kinds of surveillance carried out against American citizens by the CIA. Someone, somewhere should have stood up to the President and told him that what he was suggesting was outside the Agency’s charter and illegal to boot. The fact that no one did - at least no one that we know of - should not surprise us given that list above.

If you enjoy playing “what if” with history, let’s go ahead and put Humphrey in Nixon’s shoes from 1969-72. Thousands of people in the streets calling for not only the defeat of the United States military on the field of battle but also calling for the overthrow of the US government. Clear evidence that a substantial source for funding this movement came from our bitter enemies. Certain involvement in the anti-war movement by the KGB and the GRU (Soviet Military intelligence).

What would Hubert have done? How much differently would he have reacted to this grave threat to our internal security? It certainly puts a little different light on things when you take Nixon’s name away and substitute the beloved Humphrey. Anyone who says that Humphrey would have done none of the things Nixon did or that everything he did would have been on the up and up is not being rational. Presidents do what they feel they have to do to protect the country. And Humphrey would have been no different. Not being a paranoid, I imagine a lot less of what Nixon did would have been going on. But I can imagine Humphrey feeling it necessary to open mail and perhaps utilize the CIA’s expertise in “black bag” operations.

A fascinating exercise but not really germane. For some, the revelations contained in the documents will validate a world view where the CIA was “off the reservation” and out of control. For others, the documents will be interesting historical curiosities and nothing else. But somewhere, there is the truth. And revealing that truth is always a good thing no matter where you stand.


  1. Good post Rick. The only thing I would add is that CIA coup-plotting in support of US corporations and other questionable covert actions is pretty well documented in books such as “President’s Secret Wars” by John Prados among others.

    Comment by Andy — 6/22/2007 @ 11:45 am

  2. Gee…this is it?

    Break in of a former employee’s home?
    Break into the office of a former defector?
    Fake CIA Documents?
    Testing of electronic equipment on US Telephone circuits?

    Wow…real family jewels there. Maybe there are some more in the rest of the reports and this is just the first 18, but if this is all they did for 20 years, we got a real poor return on our money.

    Comment by headhunt23 — 6/22/2007 @ 12:01 pm

  3. [...] Rick Moran has a wonderful analysis of the CIA files that were released yesterday. The so-called “Family Jewells” files details illegal activities that date back to the 1950s. [...]

    Pingback by …getting paid to watch » The CIA “Family Jewels” Files — 6/22/2007 @ 12:05 pm

  4. Interesting digging. Wonder what really made them release that stuff now.

    Hopefully it doesn’t take 30 more years to find out about moles the moles that penetrated the FBI and CIA and the dirt on Saddam that hasn’t come out yet.

    Comment by Mark — 6/22/2007 @ 2:03 pm

  5. “What would Hubert have done? . . . . A fascinating exercise but not really germane.”

    Rick, you often use the above rhetorical device: Introduce a topic, expound on it for a while, then declare the topic not meaningful. You are a 100 times better writer than I, but I always assume you mean to make a point when you offer a paragraph. What gives with this approach? Not trying to be snarky, I am genuinely confused as to where you are going with this device, as clarity is your hallmark. Help.

    Comment by ed — 6/22/2007 @ 2:42 pm

  6. Ed:

    I think I usually use that “device” when positing hypotheticals or, as in this case, practicing a little alternative history which most real historians find less than useful.

    It’s a way of downplaying whatever conclusions you want to draw from a hypothetical - which is, after all, by definition unsupported by much evidence - or an alternative history scenario that is by its nature fraught with danger.

    Comment by Rick Moran — 6/22/2007 @ 2:46 pm

  7. Re:, Latin America, the CIA has a reputation that allows every polititian to use America as the boogy man and the cause of all problems. Hugo Chavez could blame the CIA for opposition and be believed all over Latin America. We will pay for our activities supporting exploiters and dictators for many years in the future. Our successes were all short term.

    Comment by Carlyle Perry — 6/22/2007 @ 4:04 pm

  8. Carlyle has a good point, the CIA is now not only the cause of every problem but also a great excuse for cracking down on dissidents who are “obviously” working towards some CIA objective. The other problem with these types of operations is that they invite retaliation, especially if it is political assassination.

    Comment by grognard — 6/23/2007 @ 1:57 pm

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    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day…so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.

    Comment by David M — 6/24/2007 @ 6:27 am

  10. [...] Rick at Right Wing Nut House has his take on the release of the CIA lawbreaking operations [...]

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  11. Thousands of people in the streets calling for not only the defeat of the United States military on the field of battle but also calling for the overthrow of the US government.

    No, Rick, I was marching and protesting to end the war and bring the troops home. And yes, many of us were calling for Nixon to be impeached, which you may not have heard, almost happened.

    This “straw man” type of statement, which you seem to use often, is really pretty cheap.

    Comment by SteveAudio — 6/24/2007 @ 11:48 pm

  12. Take Me Out to Buzkashi…

    Football and hockey are for sissies. PJM’s Rick Moran introduces us to the Afghani national sport, in which death is common and broken bones are just part of the game…….

    Trackback by Pajamas Media — 6/25/2007 @ 4:25 am

  13. “This “straw man” type of statement, which you seem to use often, is really pretty cheap.”

    It’s not a strawman since there were actually people who called for the government to be overthrown.

    Nixon got us out of Vietnam, you should’ve been hailing him.

    Comment by Shawn — 6/25/2007 @ 4:46 pm

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