Friday, June 22, 2007

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Strange

Y'all might know that I'm no big fan of government secrecy and the intelligence community, especially during the Cold War. I like sunshine; I thoroughly dislike crypto-fascism on the part of the government or any parts of the government, especially the creepier OGAs—'Other Government Agencies' whose names and existence are classified. Here's some of the reasons why.... article first, rant second.

CIA to Air Decades of Its Dirty Laundry

Assassination Attempts Among Abuses Detailed

By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus

Washington Post Staff Writers

Friday, June 22, 2007; A01

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 V. Hayden said yesterday.

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 yesterday published a separate set of documents from January 1975 detailing internal government discussions of the abuses. Those documents portray a rising sense of panic within the administration of President Gerald R. Ford that what then-CIA Director William E. Colby called "skeletons" in the CIA's closet had begun to be revealed in news accounts.

A New York Times article by reporter Seymour Hersh about the CIA's infiltration of antiwar groups, published in December 1974, was "just the tip of the iceberg," then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger warned Ford, according to a Jan. 3 memorandum of their conversation.

Kissinger warned that if other operations were divulged, "blood will flow," saying, "For example, Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of [Cuban President Fidel] Castro." Kennedy was the attorney general from 1961 to 1964.

Worried that the disclosures could lead to criminal prosecutions, Kissinger added that "when the FBI has a hunting license into the CIA, this could end up worse for the country than Watergate," the scandal that led to the fall of the Nixon administration the previous year.

In a meeting at which Colby detailed the worst abuses -- after telling the president "we have a 25-year old institution which has done some things it shouldn't have" -- Ford said he would appoint a presidential commission to look into the matter. "We don't want to destroy but to preserve the CIA. But we want to make sure that illegal operations and those outside the [CIA] charter don't happen," Ford said.

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 treasure-trove of CIA documents, generated as the Vietnam War wound down and agency involvement in 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 R. 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 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 article that Colby took the file to the White House. The National Security Archive release included a six-page summary of a conversation on Jan. 3, 1975, 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.

Colby told Ford that the program had collected four letters to actress and antiwar activist Jane Fonda and said the entire effort was "illegal, and we stopped it in 1973."

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, which Colby told Silberman were retained "as a result of the tendency of bureaucrats to retain paper whether they needed it or acted on it or not," according to the summary memo.

CIA surveillance of Michael Getler, then The Washington Post's national security reporter, was conducted between October 1971 and April 1972 under direct authorization by then-Director Richard Helms, the memo said. Getler had written a story published on Oct. 18, 1971, sparked by what Colby called "an obvious intelligence leak," headlined "Soviet Subs Are Reported Cuba-Bound."

Getler, who is now the ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting Service, said yesterday that he learned of the surveillance in 1975, when The Post published an article based on a secret report by congressional investigators. The story said that the CIA used physical surveillance against "five Americans" and listed Getler, the late columnist Jack Anderson and Victor Marchetti, a former CIA employee who had just written a book critical of the agency.

"I never knew about it at the time, although it was a full 24 hours a day with teams of people following me, looking for my sources," Getler said. He said he went to see Colby afterward, with Washington lawyer Joseph Califano. Getler recalled, "Colby said it happened under Helms and apologized and said it wouldn't happen again."

Personal surveillance was conducted on Anderson and three of his staff members, including Brit Hume, now with Fox News, for two months in 1972 after Anderson wrote of the administration's "tilt toward Pakistan." The 1972 surveillance of Marchetti was carried out "to determine contacts with CIA employees," the summary said.

CIA monitoring and infiltration of antiwar dissident groups took place between 1967 and 1971 at a time when the public was turning against the Vietnam War. Agency officials "covertly monitored" groups in the Washington area "who were considered to pose a threat to CIA installations." Some of the information "might have been distributed to the FBI," the summary said. [Lurker's Note-- c.f. the FBI's COINTELPRO program] Other "skeletons" listed in the summary included:

  • The confinement by the CIA of a Russian defector, suspected by the CIA as a possible "fake," in Maryland and Virginia safe houses for two years, beginning in 1964. Colby speculated that this might be "a violation of the kidnapping laws."
  • The "very productive" 1963 wiretapping of two columnists -- Robert Allen and Paul Scott -- whose conversations included talks with 12 senators and six congressmen.
  • Break-ins by the CIA's office of security at the homes of one current and one former CIA official suspected of retaining classified documents.
  • CIA-funded testing of American citizens, "including reactions to certain drugs."

The CIA documents scheduled for release next week, Hayden said yesterday, "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 questions that followed evoked more recent criticism of the intelligence community, which has been accused of illegal wiretapping, infiltration of antiwar groups, and 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 S. 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."

Now don't get me wrong-- I'm not going to take after Hoover's Secretary of State Henry Stimson and demand we shut down intel because 'gentlemen do not read each others' mail,' like Stimson did when he shut down the Black Chamber in the 20s. We can't do that-- it'd be nice to be able to do it because nobody's threatening us, but the world just doesn't work that way.

The idea that some operations run by the CIA were so secret and compartmentalized that the President, the Congress, and the Director of the CIA didn't know about them is a pretty scary thought indeed. None of this stuff was known except to a select few in the intelligence community until Seymour Hersh published an article about it in the New York Times, as mentioned above. Hersh's article may well have been the first time the President himself heard of what the CIA was doing on the public dime. This doesn't even really address the bigger, less-secret operations like the overthrow of Mossadegh, the School of the Americas, support for Latin American dictators like Pinochet, etc, and the initially secret incursions into Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Hooray for national security and reasons of state, might makes right and laws do not bind us. It's no wonder most of the world doesn't like us very much. Blowback happens.

The crushing irony is…. All the time we were tying ourselves in knots and pissing on the Constitution and Bill of Rights with all this black-bag stuff, the KGB was running rings around us without breaking a sweat.

After word of some of the CIA's shenanigans got out in the 70s and created an enormous scandal, thanks to Hersh and others, a Congressional panel known as the Church Committee was established (the name comes from the panel's chair, Sen. Frank Church). There was also another investigation run in parallel by the House, the Pike Committee, but the Church Committee is better-known. President Ford's advisors, including Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger, immediately tried to stonewall the Committee's investigation by claiming executive privilege and state secrecy. The result was a real watershed in public knowledge about what was going on, and what had been going on in secret for the previous thirty years, and some new constraints on what the intelligence community could do, based on the Committees' conclusion that the CIA and OGAs had been allowed entirely too much latitude and freedom from accountability; Senator Church himself complained that the country's spies had been acting like 'rogue elephants.' If you're interested in reading the Commission's reports in the original, they're linked at the bottom of this page. They're also here.

The gist of it is this:

The legislative branch has been remiss in exercising its control over the intelligence agencies. For twenty-five years Congress has appropriated funds for intelligence activities. The closeted and fragmentary accounting which the intelligence community has given to a designated small group of legislators was accepted by the Congress as adequate and in the best interest of national security. There were occasions when the executive intentionally withheld information relating to intelligence programs from the Congress, but there were also occasions when the principal role of the Congress was to call for more intelligence activity, including activity which infringed the rights of citizens. In general, as with the executive, it is clear that Congress did not carry out effective oversight.

(Church Committee Report, Book I, Chapter I, Section E.)

Anyone remember Ollie North and the Reagan-era Continuity of Government plans, or REX84? COG plans in and of themselves are normal—every administration has them. The basic one is, if the president dies, the VP takes, over, etc. That's in the constitution, but as time went on, and especially during the Cold War, when the primary objective was for the government to remain operational after the Soviets nuked us, they tended to get very elaborate. COG plans are one thing, but COG plans that propose the dissolution of Congress, the imposition of martial law over the whole country, and creation of a shadow government composed of a handpicked group of men from the Executive Office of the President, an alphabet soup of OGAs, and the military, which would then run the country indefinitely? Small wonder Bush is trying to bury the Reagan-era records indefinitely.

Continuity of Government (starring Rumsfeld and Cheney)

July 5, 1987 Miami Herald article by Alfonse Chardy, reproduced here (scroll down—see especially the bits about how they stole classified info from the Carter campaign when Dear Old Ronnie was running for election for a bit of black comedy. This was the first publication regarding the COG plan)

The existence of REX84 (Readiness Exercise, 1984) first came up during the Iran-Contra hearings—the basic idea was that in the event of a crisis (for which the defining criteria are vague), the federal government, acting through the military and FEMA, would impose martial law and arrest anyone on a long list of suspected dissidents, and throw them in newly-built, FEMA-run prison camps without due process. (n.b. – the nuclei of FEMA were established as parts of the Housing and Urban Development and Defense Department, initially charged with maintaining civil defense systems, and was only given the natural disaster responsibility in 1978; it kept a very low profile until the Reagan years, and didn't receive much publicity until their botched response to Hurricane Andrew).

This is not tin-foil-hat stuff. This was your tax dollars at work.

Between the pre-Church Commission stuff, Watergate, and Iran Contra, I'm very glad that we have laws like FISA; I just wish Congress and the Supreme Court would force the White House to obey the laws these days..

I'm not in the least bit surprised that we're having pretty much the same situation today, with a runamok intelligence community running secret prisons in other countries, private armies of on-the-books-but-off-the-record mercenaries like Blackwater, indefinite imprisonment of suspected enemy agents, and abducting people in ALLIED foreign countries. Hell, look at the bunch of CIA goons now on trial in Italy. "The US has said the Americans accused of the kidnapping would not be sent to Italy even if the government made an extradition request." I must admire the chutzpah; this is a perfect to treat one of the few countries to actually like us, George. Small wonder the current administration wants to circumvent FISA and junk the security clearances of most of Congress—they want to be able to work in the dark again, in a return to the bad old days.

Remember that bit I quoted from the Church report, that mentioned the executive intentionally withholding information from the Congress and violating the rights of citizens? Does that sound familiar? It should, or have you not been watching the news?

We're even sliding back into the dark ages with the CIA and OGAs running around inside the US—look at all the allegations that government agencies have been infiltrating, spying on, harassing, and sabotaging antiwar groups (on top of the usual Republican dirty tricks like hiring robo-call companies to jam Democratic organizations' phone lines during elections). It really makes me wonder if the old claim by some black leaders (c.f the San Jose Mercury News article reproduced here) that the CIA had intentionally created the crack epidemic to weaken the black population wasn't actually valid after all.

I mean, we know (and have the documents and an official apology for) government testing of radioactive or toxic materials on civilians without their knowledge or consent back in the 50s and 60s, plus nightmares like the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Word of these experiments started to leak out in the early 1980s, as individuals or groups began talking publicly about experiments to which they were subjected. Most of this was basically weapons testing, or attempts to study the effects of radiation on people; the Department of Defense, Atomic Energy Commission, and CIA were easily the worst offenders when it came to experimenting on humans. Do the names Castle Bravo, Project Green Run, MK-Ultra, Project Chariot, Project 48A, or Operation Buster/Jangle ring any bells? Just check out this list…. Green Run involved opening the vents at the Hanford plant in Washington and burping out large quantities of radioactive iodine in order to track fallout patterns and the range at which radioactivity could be detected. The wind blew the stuff right over a city. ="">Buster/Jangle? Yeah, American troops sitting around watching a bomb go off six miles away so the Pentagon and Atomic Energy Commission can use them as lab rats. Men flying aircraft through mushroom clouds. Great ideas. We know bullets kill people; do we need to shoot 3,000 conscripts in the head to see if 5.56mm rifle ammunition is lethal? No. Then why do we need to have a couple of battalions standing around when a nuke goes pop? Giving hundreds of men cancer—which we knew radiation caused, among other side effects—just to see whether an atomic bomb works well enough seems very stupid to me. Same with spraying biological weapons around in the NYC subway or on the coast of California just to see what would happen, or dosing people with LSD. At least 23,000 citizens were subjected to 1,400 similar experiments, including soldiers, prison inmates, retarded or orphaned children, or anyone who happened to check into a hospital while the experiment was running, most without their knowledge or consent. Children at the Fernald School in Massachusetts were fed radioactive material in their oatmeal, in a study partly sponsored by Quaker Oats and MIT. The number of people affected by downrange nuclear fallout or other side effects will probably never be known, but in one incident after the Simon A-bomb test in the '50s, a fallout hotspot was discovered in Troy NY, thanks to prevailing winds.

Things like this infuriate me. These are human beings here; they are not lab rats, and should not be treated as disposable things to be used in tests. Allow me some hyperbole. My fellow Americans, you are cannon fodder in the war for defense of capitalism; truth, justice, and the American way need not apply. The generals are the guys in the white coats, thousand-dollar suits, or gold-braided jackets, who do the thinking for us peons; we're not here to reason why, we're just here to do and die.

Oh, and incidentally, military personnel who were experimented on were banned from suing the government, on the grounds that their injuries were 'incidental to service.' (Feres v. United States, 1950, United States v. Stanley, 1987) even though the circumstances in the latter case involved a soldier who, as part of a government experiment, was given LSD without being informed or asked for consent. Apparently soldiers can be expected to double as lab rats. Thank you very much, Mr. Justice Brennan.

Peter Libassi, Chairman of the Interagency Task Force on the Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation, summed it up in 1979 by noting "[There was] a general atmosphere and attitude that the American people could not be trusted with the uncertainties, and therefore the information was withheld from them. I think there was concern that the American people, given the facts, would not make the right risk-benefit judgments." Even after the experiments tapered off in the late '60s and early '70s, six consecutive administrations fought tooth and nail to keep things as thoroughly under wraps as they could.

Oh, and we're still getting taken to war under false pretenses—Gulf of Tonkin incident, Iraqi WMDs and ties to 9/11….what's the difference? We've still got a nasty old clique of people in the federal government who have decided that they know what's best for the country, and that the rest of us aren't worth listening to. The kicker is…. It's the same bunch of people, then as now, some in government and some floating around the fringes: Cheney. Rumsfeld. Baker. Perle. Wolfowitz. Feith. Kissinger. Gates. Clinton was an interruption, and an unpleasant surprise—no wonder the Republican establishment hated him so much.

You know, when I was a little kid reading comic books, the plot devices that always used to bug me was stuff about top-secret government super soldier experiments (Captain America, Weapon X, etc.; behold my childhood memories as they slowly rust away), alien technology, or experiments with bombs and stuff (i.e. gamma bombs and the resulting Incredible Hulk), and I still get a kick out of reading about huge underground bunkers or secret facilities like the Notch in South Hadley. I can only imagine what Groom Lake or the Nevada Test Site are like. It always perplexed and concerned me out that a republic like this would go to such lengths to hide what it's doing from the public for whom the government ostensibly works... as I got older and started devouring history, even the extremely sanitized stuff, it started putting things in perspective, and I realized that a lot of this comic book stuff was, in hindsight, a pretty scathing commentary on actual government behavior. Some of the stuff I had ignored as conspiracy theories or fiction was real, and while there might not be a Weapon X or some Men In Black or even the Impossible Missions Force running around, we did have those ΓΌber-secret little OGAs which always seemed to have the cool James Bond toys and who were so classified that they could do whatever they wanted. Small wonder the Roswell crash and the Philadelphia Experiment seem so plausible to many people, and no wonder at all how the X-files became so popular. We've become so used to the government hiding stuff from us that we've come to expect it.

The world wars created the modern framework of an intelligence structure, as run by professionals and with a heavy capital investment in monitoring communications and technology, emphasis on cryptography, as well as a severe case of institutional paranoia, especially given the post-1945 stakes of nuclear war. Prior to 1914, intelligence was a smaller-scale, less institutionalized field that tended to attract a lot of amateurs and dilettantes, who ran operations out of the back rooms of embassies in their spare time, or through espionage rings composed of individuals in the right places, and the concept of secrecy hadn't yet developed into its current form as an all-consuming virtue, something which at times seems to exist strictly for its own sake. There was no Bletchley Park until World War Two. The experiences of the war changed things a great deal. In the Cold War era, to be blunt, the federal government, and particularly the intelligence and military communities, simply didn't trust the American public, either because they worried that the public wouldn't accept the means necessary to reach the ends, or because they feared for a loss of any advantages over the Soviet bloc. IBM also made an unbelievable amount of money out of developing and running cryptographic equipment; during the Second World War entire divisions of IBM were co-opted directly into the military for the duration of the war, and became the major technical infrastructure for the intelligence community. Alan Turing, the mathematics genius and computer innovator, spent most of his wartime years working for Bletchley Park.

Janus' doorway stayed open for a long time after 1939; Korea followed on the coattails of World War Two and involvement in Vietnam came hard on the heels of Korea, creating the looming prospect of one war after another, and over everything loomed the prospect of a third world war. The priorities of government, the intelligence community, and the military-industrial complex changed—you might say it became as much an effort to save us from ourselves as to save us from the Russians. Everything revolved around the Cold War, to the point where the hippies, Black Panthers, Cesar Chavez, social reformers, civil rights movements, antiwar movements during Vietnam, were all monitored and vetted to see if they were potential avenues for Communist infiltration into American life and our precious bodily fluids, or simply because the government wanted to evaluate whether or not they were termites in the timbers, potential liabilities to a country that might need to fight a very large war in the near future. This was particularly the case when opposition to military institutions like the draft or nuclear weapons became part of the opposition's agendas.

Personally, I always thought the whole point of the Cold War was to defend our way of life from the threat of a militarized dictatorship—at least, that's how it was taught in schools. Snort… yeah, whatever, spare me the fire-breathing better-dead-than-red patriotism. So what's the point of it all if, in order to win the war, we have to be willing to throw away the way of life we're defending and resort to setting up another authoritarian regime just to hold off the first one? I know it sounds a bit Howard Zinn—two elites bashing away at each other, with the rest of humanity as cannon fodder and grunt labor, but wouldn't we be just trading one bunch of rich and well-connected nabobs for another-- rich industrialists/bankers vs. the Communist Party clique? Who can tell me the difference? Why not just save a lot of effort, skip the war, and surrender to Brezhnev or Andropov, if the end result either way is authoritarianism? I guess this is the sort of logic one's mind willingly follows if you're the sort of man who can start out small with the idea of burning a village in order to save the village, and then just apply the same metaphor for ends justifying means to your own country on a national, institutionalized scale. I don't mind fighting to defend my country if it's a republic I believe in, but I have some real objections to laying down my life for the benefit of General Electric, Chrysler, and DuPont.

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