Here are some of the self-described “family jewels” of the CIA during the Cold War:
CIA releases the 'family jewels'
By David Corn
On Tuesday, the CIA released its infamous "Family Jewels" file. This is a set of internal memos compiled in the mid-1970s after press reports revealed numerous CIA dirty tricks.
In 1973, CIA director James Schlessinger, having learned that Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and James McCord (both CIA veterans) had been in contact with the Agency while carrying out illegal activities for President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, ordered divisions within the CIA to report any activities they had engaged in since 1959 that might be outside the CIA's authority.
Deputy Director William Colby then assembled a loose-leaf notebook of the memos that poured in. The whole package totaled 700 pages. And though its existence has been known for years this secret file has never before been made public. It was considered to hold the agency's darkest secrets.
Many of these secrets did emerge during the congressional investigations of the 1970s: the joint CIA-Mafia attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro; CIA surveillance of American reporters and political dissidents; the CIA's secret jailing for three years of a suspected Soviet agent (who was not a Soviet agent). The newly-released documents are full of fresh details about some of these notorious episodes. But at least one of the "Family Jewels" seems to be missing.
The first document in the packet is a 1973 memo from Howard Osborn, then the CIA's director of security, to the CIA top management, and it summarizes the "jewels" compiled by his office. It lists eight problems - including the recruitment of mobster Johnny Roselli for the Castro hit. But blacked out from this document is the first item on Osborn's list. And a 2½-page description of this operation is also redacted from the "Family Jewels" file.
There are many other deletions in the "Family Jewels" file, and in most instances there's no telling exactly what has been excised. But much of the censored material seems to be related to how the CIA has created cover and fake documents. This is probably justifiable, says Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a public interest outfit that filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the "Family Jewels" 15 years ago, because such operational secrets may still be relevant today. But the missing jewel? Assassination? Domestic spying? Something unimaginable? "We just don't know," says Blanton.
All in all, Blanton notes, the file is not as explosive as CIA-watchers might have anticipated. Much of the information came out years ago. There are, however, intriguing tidbits scattered throughout these hundreds of pages. Here are a few:
In a June 1, 1973 memo written to Colby, Walter Elder, who had been executive assistant for John McCone, the CIA director in the early 1960s, outlined "activities which to hostile observers or to someone without complete knowledge. . . could be interpreted as examples of activities exceeding CIA's charters." One such activity, he noted, "involved chemical warfare operations against. . " The target is redacted. This operation, according to Elder, never went beyond the planning stage.
In the same memo, Elder reports that discussions within the CIA chief's offices were recorded and transcribed: "I know that anyone who has worked in the Director's office has worried about the fact that conversations within the offices and over the telephones were transcribed. During McCone's tenure, there were microphones in his regular office, his inner office, his dining room, his office in East Building, and his study at his residence on White Haven Street. I do not know who would be willing to raise such an issue, but knowledge of such operations tends to spread, and certainly the Agency is vulnerable on this score."
Secret transcripts of conversations involving CIA directors? According to Blanton, there's never been any public indication that McCone or other CIA directors bugged themselves. Transcripts of such discussions could contain plenty of jewels. The National Security Archive is already filing a Freedom of Information Act request.
One memo notes that CIA had a Project OFTEN that collected "data on dangerous drugs from U.S. firms" until the program was terminated in the fall of 1972. Another memo reports that commercial drug manufacturers "passed on" to the CIA drugs "rejected because of unfavorable side effects." These drugs were then tested using volunteers from the U.S. military.
During the internal review that led to the creation of the "Family Jewels" file, a top CIA official suggested that the CIA director keep himself in the dark about MKULTRA - the Agency's mind control program run by Sidney Gottlieb, a psychiatrist and chemist. As part of this program, the CIA slipped LSD and other psychoactive drugs to unwitting subjects. (Gottlieb, according to another document in the file, was supposed to have provided poison for an assassination attempt against Patrice Lumumba, the anti-colonial prime minister of the Republic of Congo. After being deposed in a 1960 coup, Lumumba was shot and killed by Kantangan forces.)
CIA employees assigned to MHCHAOS - the operation that conducted surveillance against American opponents of the Vietnam war and other political dissidents - expressed a "high degree of resentment" about being given such a mission.
The CIA "performed image enhancement techniques" on video footage of the television show of columnist Jack Anderson, who had received leaks of top-secret CIA documents. "The purpose was to try to identify serial numbers of CIA documents in Anderson's possession" - presumably documents he held up or that were on his desk. The memo on this operation does not say if the effort succeeded.
General Michael Hayden, the CIA chief, deserves some credit for releasing the "Family Jewels," and he wants the public to believe that his CIA is not your father's CIA, which plotted assassinations, illegally opened mail and spied on American political dissidents. But the CIA in recent days has run secret prisons and used interrogation methods that either involve torture or border on torture. And the National Security Agency has used warrantless wiretaps to eavesdrop on American citizens and residents.
Moreover, as the release of the "Family Jewels" demonstrates, there still are secrets from the past the CIA will not disclose. Are these legitimate secrets that ought to be kept from the public to protect national security, or are they embarrassments the Agency is not willing to face?
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation. This article was distributed by Agence Global.
What I find unusual about these newest revelations, which are not really revealing, since they were known for at least the last few decades (it just took that long for the federal government to release them), is that this is the same agency and its adherents in the media who claim these types of occurrences are a thing of a past, and that the CIA would never commit such offenses today. I should remind that this is the same organization which, under the orders of the President, kidnapped and held foreign nationals in secret prisons just in the last few years. In fact, in all of these cases, the assassination plots (against Castro and other “rogue” leaders), domestic spying operations, and coups-d'état, all were actions taken at the behest of the President, and these actions implicate basically every President since Eisenhower. Thus, these are not just violations of the law and abuses committed by the CIA. They are violations of the law being committed by the President of the US. If President Kennedy had decided to spare Patrice Lumumba’s life, he would not have been killed. If Eisenhower decided it best to keep Prime Minister Mosaddeq in power, he would have stayed. That is the lesson of agencies like the CIA, and yet it is one that is rarely reported on.
Enclosed is a more thorough chronicling of the CIA’s operations during the period in question, as collected by George Washington University.