Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Caught In the Act: Spying on Americans and the rest of us

SECURITY and INTELLIGENCE services are often officially divided, if they are officially admitted to exist. The British state quaintly pretended for a long while that it didn't have agents overseas, 'cos spying was something that beastly foreigners did. Nowadays they're pretty well in your face with a headquarters building that's the opposite of inconspicuous, and their own website at:

In the UK, MI5 deals with domestic stuff, snooping on citizens assisted by Scotland Yard's Special Branch, while MI6, aka the Secret Intelligence Service(SIS), gets up to spying and skulduggery abroad. They had a turf war (no puns, thanks) in Ireland for a bit and have trod on each other's toes occasionally in London as well, as when MI6 assets were temporarily safehoused, or came to check their assets in city banks before purchasing more bombs.

Israel has Mossad for spying, dirty tricks, and wet jobs abroad, and Shin Bet (or Shabak, from Sherut Bitakhon Klalit, General Security Service) for tapping citizens' phones and torturing Arabs. The Hebrew University showed how well it understands international criticism this month by announcing the appointment of former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon as director of external relations.

In the United States, as is well-known, the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) deals with internal security and criminal matters, and has kept an eye on such dangerous subversives as Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, and Lucille Ball, not to mention Martin Luther-King (Just 'cos they are watching you does not mean they'll stop you being assassinated). It also ran a cute little project called COINTELPRO, placing agents into various left-wing and/or black groups where they could stir up hostility and internecine conflict between organisations.

And then there's the CIA, combining intelligence and clandestine operations abroad but prevented by its charter from getting up to anything in the United States itself. Well, so it was said. Long-secret documents released this week show its theatre of operations extended back to bugging a Las Vegas hotel room and finding a lock picker for the Watergate caper.

The files' release is covered in an article published in the New York Times today, June 27, 2007: Files on Illegal Spying Show C.I.A. Skeletons From Cold War By MARK MAZZETTI and TIM WEINER.

Known inside the agency as the “family jewels,” the 702 pages of documents reveal wiretapping operations, failed assassination plots, mind-control experiments and spying on journalists from the early years of the Agency.

In a note to agency employees, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that Tuesday’s release of documents was part of the agency’s “social contract” with the American public, “to give those we serve a window into the complexities of intelligence.”

Even so, much of the material remains heavily censored. Issues and operations uncovered by journalists and political campaigners years ago are still not detailed, and though General Hayden tries to contrast illegal activities of the past with current C.I.A. practices, which he insists are lawful, critics pointing to the secret prisons and interrogation techniques used in the "war on terror" don't buy the distinction.

Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, the research group that filed the Freedom of Information request in 1992 that led to the documents’ becoming public, said he was initially underwhelmed by them because they contained little about the agency’s foreign operations. But Blanton says what was striking was the scope of the C.I.A’s domestic spying efforts — what he called the “C.I.A. doing its Stasi imitation” — and the “confessional” nature of so many of the documents.

“Reading these memos is like sitting in a confessional booth and having a string of former top C.I.A. officials say ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.’ ”

Among the documents are humdrum letters concerning reimbursement for stamps and stationery, references to Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt's insurance benefits, and a document noting “the high degree of resentment” among C.I.A. officers who had to grow long hair to pose as hippie radicals when infiltrating the peace movement, in America and overseas.

Internal memorandums detail C.I.A. contacts with Mr. Hunt and James W. McCord Jr., a retired operative who was one of the Watergate burglars. One has the heading “Hunt Requests a Lockpicker” and reveals that in spring 1972, a C.I.A. official helped Hunt track someone “accomplished in picking locks.”

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson became convinced that the American anti-war movement was controlled and financed by Communist governments, and he ordered the C.I.A. to produce evidence. His director of central intelligence, Richard Helms, reminded him that the C.I.A. was barred from spying on Americans. In his posthumous memoir, Helms said Johnson told him: “I’m quite aware of that. What I want for you is to pursue this matter, and to do what is necessary to track down the foreign Communists who are behind this intolerable interference in our domestic affairs.” Though it was a violation of the C.I.A.’s charter, Helms obeyed the president’s orders.

The C.I.A. undertook a domestic surveillance operation code-named Chaos that went on for almost seven years under Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Helms created a Special Operations Group to conduct the spying. A squad of C.I.A. officers grew their hair long, learned the jargon of the New Left, and went off to infiltrate peace groups in the United States and Europe.

The agency compiled a computer index of 300,000 names of American people and organizations, and extensive files on 7,200 citizens. It began working in secret with police departments all over the United States.

The documents released on Tuesday provided details. One said the agency “recruited, tested and dispatched” as foreign agents overseas “Americans with existing extremist credentials.” It also used “new and old Agency assets” — in other words, people and sources of information — who had worked against China, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea.

One document, entitled “Foreign Support for Activities Planned to Disrupt or Harass the Republican National Convention” in 1972, lists the Beatles singer John Lennon, “a British subject,” as someone who had given money to a protest group.

A rare gem among the documents for C.I.A. buffs is a pair of detailed reports signed by James J. Angleton, the chief of the agency’s counterintelligence staff from 1954 to 1974, describing an American program to create and exploit foreign police forces, internal-security services and counter-terrorism squads overseas. The documents explain that the C.I.A. and other American agencies trained and equipped foreigners to serve their countries — and, in secret, the United States. Once the Americans had set up a foreign service, it could help carry out American foreign policy by suppressing communists and leftists, and gather intelligence on behalf of the C.I.A.

The documents evidently were included in the “family jewels” because one part of the program in April 1973 included training of the foreigners by the bomb squad of the Dade County Police in Florida. One officer was worried however that America's involvement with so many police services in other countries might bring allegations of supporting "Gestapo tactics".

James Angleton, who was dismissed from the C.I.A. the following year, after disclosures that he had overseen the opening of first-class mail in the United States since the early 1950s, was the C.I.A.’s man in charge of the overseas training program.

Some anecdotes reveal how far outside the law some C.I.A. agents strayed. One technician was arrested in 1960 after trying to bug a Las Vegas hotel room. The operation had been requested by Sam Giancana, the Chicago mobster, who was then helping the C.I.A. in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. Giancana had been concerned that his girlfriend, the singer Phyllis McGuire, was having an affair with the comedian Dan Rowan, and surveillance was ordered to “determine the extent of his intimacy” with her.

For some people, evidently, friends in the CIA could be very helpful. One document revealed that John McCone, director of central intelligence during Kennedy’s presidency, authorized an Air Force plane to fly the Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis and the soprano Maria Callas from Rome to Athens, a favor that led to media inquiries.

On the less benevolent side, the documents show Richard M.Bissell inquiring whether Colonel Sheffield Edwards could recommend assets for a "sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action. The mission target is Fidel Castro". They reveal that mobster John Rosselli was approached for this work at the Hilton Plaza, New York on 14 September 1960. There were problems with Rosselli, and information reached columnist Jack Anderson. The CIA set people watching Anderson and his staff.

Another person who came under surveillance was Victor L.Marchetti, author of "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence". The CIA also worked with police departments filming thousands of people who took part in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in Washington.

One lot of people who may be dissappointed as they pour over the released material for evidence are those who as servicemen were unwitting subjects of experiments the CIA sponsored with chemical war and "mind-altering" substances; or whose relatives may have died after being victims of such experiments. A note from CIA Science and Technology Directorate Chief Carl Duckett on Dr.Sydney Gottlieb's report of his drug experiments "thinks the Director would be ill-advised to say he is acquainted with this program".

Elsewhere it is noted that Richard Bissel who figured in the anti-Castro plots also engaged Gottlieb's help for plans to poison Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, who was subsequently kidnapped and murdered anyway.


For view of originals:"FAMILY+JEWELS"&abstract=&no_pages=0702&pub_date=5/16/1973&release_date=6/18/2007&keywords=FAMILY+JEWELS&case_no=F-1992-00353&copyright=0&release_dec=RIPPUB&classification=U&showPage=0001

For New York Times article see:

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