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This eye-opening exposé, the result of fifteen years of investigative work, uncovers the CIA's systematic efforts to suppress and censor information over several decades. An award-winning journalist, Angus Mackenzie waged and won a lawsuit against the CIA under the Freedom of
Information Act and became a leading expert on questions concerning government censorship and domestic spying.
In Secrets, he reveals how federal agencies—including the Department of Defense, the executive branch, and the CIA—have monitored and controlled public access to information. Mackenzie lays bare the behind-the-scenes evolution of a policy of suppression, repression, spying, and harassment.
Secrecy operations originated during the Cold War as the CIA instituted programs of domestic surveillance and agent provocateur activities. As antiwar newspapers flourished, the CIA set up an "underground newspaper" desk devoted, as Mackenzie reports, to various counterintelligence activities—from infiltrating organizations to setting up CIA-front student groups. Mackenzie also tracks the policy of requiring secrecy contracts for all federal employees who have contact with sensitive information, insuring governmental review of all their writings after leaving government employ.
Drawing from government documents and scores of interviews, many of which required intense persistence and investigative guesswork to obtain, and amassing story after story of CIA malfeasance, Mackenzie gives us the best account we have of the government's present security apparatus. This is a must-read book for anyone interested in the inside secrets of government spying, censorship, and the abrogation of First Amendment rights.
Although it probably won't come as a surprise to most readers that the federal government is capable of spying on its citizens, Mackenzie professes a certain bewilderment at the lengths to which the CIA went to suppress dissent in the days of Vietnam. The veteran left-wing journalist, who died of brain cancer in 1994, began his career as the publisher of an antiwar rag called the People's Dreadnaught; harassed by campus police, he was forced to suspend publication, although he later won $2,500 in a lawsuit against Beloit College over the matter. At a national level, he writes, similar suppression was the order of the day. Although the CIA is constrained by law from conducting investigations "inside the continental limits of the United States and its possessions," in fact, Mackenzie charges, it concocted an elaborate counterintelligence program against various home-grown protest groups in the 1960s and early '70s, reasoning that it was taking antiterrorist measures and thus living up to the spirit, if not the letter, of its charter. Among the targets, Mackenzie writes, was Ramparts, a venerable leftist magazine that managed to earn the wrath of the Feds by reporting on that very internal spying. Other targets were the libertarian guru Karl Hess, renegade CIA whistleblowers Victor Marchetti and Philip Agee, and a host of lesser-known dissidents. The CIA emerges as the heavy, naturally, but the real villains in Mackenzie's account are various policymakers from the Johnson administration to the present. "Incrementally over the years they expanded a policy of censorship to the point that today it pervades every agency and every department of the federal government," he writes. And, he continues, that change was so gradual that few guardians of the First Amendment noticed.
Mackenzie is occasionally over the top, sometimes glib. But his charges ring true, and civil-liberties advocates will find much of interest in his pages.
|Prologue: The CIA and the Origins of the Freedom of Information Act||9|
|1||Conservatives Worry and the Cover-Up Begins||15|
|2||You Expose Us, We Spy on You||26|
|3||The CIA tries to Censor Books||42|
|4||Bush Perfects the Cover-Up||58|
|5||Censor Others as You Would Have Them Censor You||73|
|6||Did Congress Outlaw This Book?||82|
|7||Trying to Hush the Fuss||91|
|8||Overcoming the Opposition||103|
|10||The Pentagon Resists Censorship||134|
|11||Hiding Political Spying||147|
|12||One Man Says No||157|
|13||Control of Information||168|
|14||The CIA Openness Task Force||181|
|Epilogue: The Cold War Ends and Secrecy Spreads||189|
|App||Targets of Domestic Spying||203|
Conservatives Worry and the Cover-up Begins
Late at night in the watering holes of American intelligence agents, the mention of Stanley K. Sheinbaum's name can still arouse a muttering of anger. Sheinbaum was the first person to go public with his experience of CIA activity in the United States--a story about the Agency's infiltration of a legitimate civilian institution. Sheinbaum so embarrassed senior officials of the CIA that they set in motion an elaborate internal operation intended to prevent anyone else from ever doing what he had done.
Sheinbaum's connection with the CIA began in the 1950s, a period when security officers at the rapidly expanding Agency were sometimes overworked. On occasion they neglected to ask someone to sign a secrecy contract, which was normally a prerequisite of employment. Once signed, it committed a CIA agent to complete secrecy, beginning with the first day on the job and continuing until death. But Sheinbaum's association with the CIA was indirect, through a university that turned out to be working under contract with the Agency. He was never a CIA employee and, as far as he can remember, was never asked to sign a secrecy agreement. During his days as a doctoral student at Stanford University and as a Fulbright fellow in Paris, Sheinbaum developed a strong interest in helping the economies of underdeveloped nations expand. When his Fulbright ran out in the summer of 1955, he landed a position at Michigan State University, working on a $25 million government project to advise South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem. By 1957, Sheinbaum was coordinator of the project.
His new responsibilities included inspecting work in Vietnam. Before he went on a trip there in 1957, university officials told him about the general CIA connection; once there, Vietnamese officials informed him that his project staff included CIA officers. The revelation bothered him. He thought it inappropriate that he and other legitimate academic advisers were being used as cover for U.S. government manipulation. Sheinbaum left Vietnam feeling that his work and his program had been compromised. Upon his return to the United States, he was further entangled when he was called upon to meet with four top South Vietnamese officials in San Francisco. "Within an hour of their arrival," Sheinbaum later recalled, "the youngest, a nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, conspiratorially drew me aside and informed me that one of the others was going to kill the eldest of the group." While taking steps to thwart the plot, Sheinbaum realized that his original goal, the economic improvement of impoverished nations, was getting lost in his administrative work as coordinator. His growing dismay--at what he later called the "unhealthy" CIA component and "the general U.S. policy ... in Vietnam"--led him to resign from the project in 1959.
By this stage, however, Sheinbaum had information that was confidential. Following the buildup of U.S. troops in Vietnam and the assassination of Diem, Sheinbaum decided it was his patriotic duty to publicize information that he hoped might put the brakes on U.S. involvement. Writing about the connections between Michigan State University, the CIA, and the Saigon police (with the help of Robert Scheer, a young investigative reporter), the Sheinbaum story was to appear in the June 1966 issue of Ramparts magazine. The article disclosed that Michigan State University had been secretly used by the CIA to train Saigon police and to keep an inventory of ammunition for grenade launchers, Browning automatic rifles, and .50 caliber machine guns, as well as to write the South Vietnamese constitution. The problem, in Sheinbaum's view, was that such secret funding of academics to execute government programs undercut scholarly integrity. When scholars are forced into a conflict of interest, he wrote, "where is the source of serious intellectual criticism that would help us avoid future Vietnams?"
Word of Sheinbaum's forthcoming article caused consternation on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters. On April 18, 1966, Director of Central Intelligence William F. Raborn Jr. notified his director of security that he wanted a "run down" on Ramparts magazine on a "high priority basis." This strongly worded order would prove to be a turning point for the Agency. To "run down" a domestic news publication because it had exposed questionable practices of the CIA was clearly in violation of the 1947 National Security Act's prohibition on domestic operations and meant the CIA eventually would have to engage in a cover-up. The CIA director of security, Howard J. Osborn, was also told: "The Director [Reborn] is particularly interested in the authors of the article, namely, Stanley Sheinbaum and Robert Scheer. He is also interested in any other individuals who worked for the magazine."
Osborn's deputies had just two days to prepare a special briefing on Ramparts for the director. By searching existing CIA files they were able to assemble dossiers on approximately twenty-two of the fifty-five Ramparts writers and editors, which itself indicates the Agency's penchant for collecting information on American critics of government policies. Osborn was able to tell Raborn that Ramparts had grown from a Catholic lay journal into a publication with a staff of more than fifty people in New York, Paris, and Munich, including two active members of the U.S. Communist Party. The most outspoken of the CIA critics at the magazine was not a Communist but a former Green Beret veteran, Donald Duncan. Duncan had written, according to then CIA Deputy Director Richard Helms, "We will continue to be in danger as long as the CIA is deciding policy and manipulating nations." Of immediate concern to Raborn, however, was Osborn's finding that Sheinbaum was in the process of exposing more CIA domestic organizations. The investigation of Ramparts was to be intensified, Raborn told Osborn.
At the same time, Helms passed information to President Lyndon Johnson's aide, William D. Moyers, about the plans of two Ramparts editors to run for Congress on an antiwar platform. Within days, the CIA had progressed from investigating a news publication to sending domestic political intelligence to the White House, just as a few members of Congress had feared nineteen years earlier.
Upon publication, Sheinbaum's article triggered a storm of protests from academicians and legislators across the country who saw the CIA's infiltration of a college campus as a threat to academic freedom. The outcry grew so loud that President Johnson felt he had to make a reassuring public statement and establish a task force to review any government activities that might endanger the integrity of the educational community. The task force was a collection of political statesmen--such as Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John Gardner--but also included Richard Helms, the CIA official who himself had been dealing in political espionage. The purpose of the task force, it soon became clear, was to forestall further embarrassment and preclude any congressional investigation of CIA operations. Helms, furthermore, organized an internal task force of directorate chiefs to examine all CIA relationships with academic institutions--but that review, from all appearances, was designed only to ensure that these operations remained secret.
Meanwhile, CIA officers spent April and May of 1966 identifying the source of Ramparts's money. Their target was executive editor Warren Hinckle, the magazine's chief fund-raiser and a man easy to track. He wore a black patch over one eye and made no secret of the difficult state of the magazine's finances as he continually begged a network of rich donors for operating funds. The agents also reported that Hinckle had launched a $2.5 million lawsuit against Alabama Governor George Wallace for calling the magazine pro-Communist (information that Osborn dutifully passed on to Raborn). The real point of the CIA investigation, however, was to place Ramparts reporters under such close surveillance that any CIA officials involved in domestic operations would have time to rehearse cover stories before the reporters arrived to question them.
Next, Raborn broadened the scope of his investigation of Ramparts's staff by recruiting help from other agencies. On June 16, 1966, he ordered Osborn to "urge" the FBI to "investigate these people as a subversive unit." Osborn forwarded this request to the FBI, expressing the CIA's interest in anything the FBI might develop "of a derogatory nature." One CIA officer, who later inspected the CIA file of the Ramparts investigation, said that the Agency was trying to find a way of shutting down the magazine that would stand up in court, notwithstanding the constraints of the First Amendment.
In January 1967, in the dining room of the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, Hinckle met Michael Wood, a former CIA contract agent like Sheinbaum. Wood, twenty-four years old, was nervous. A Pomona College dropout, he had been a fund-raiser for the National Student Association, whose representatives attended a variety of international meetings on behalf of three million American college students. In the course of his work, Wood learned that money for the student association was coming from the CIA Covert Action Division No. Five. The CIA was funding the association in order to counter the Moscow-dominated student groups around the world and to assist with recruiting foreign students. Having financed a large segment of the association's budget, the CIA had effectively made agents out of many of the association's senior officers. Wood told Hinckle that the CIA had required most officers of the student association to sign secrecy oaths, leading the students to believe they would be imprisoned if they violated the oath. Wood was one of the very few students who both knew about the CIA connection and had not signed a secrecy contract. He had in his possession copies of the association's financial records, which he turned over to Hinckle.
Hinckle was wary. "Wood's story was not one calculated to instill faith in the skeptic," he wrote later. Hinckle told his reporters to check Wood's story. They found that several years earlier, Texas Congressman Wright Patman had openly identified eight philanthropic foundations serving as undercover financial conduits for the CIA. Obtaining publicly available IRS records on the tax-exempt foundations, Hinckle's reporters cross-referenced them with the financial records that Wood had provided. To their astonishment, they discovered that the foundations named by Congressman Patman had funded the National Student Association. Wood was telling the truth. Hinckle could scarcely believe the CIA's poor spycraft: even after the CIA conduits had been exposed, the Agency had continued to use them. The Ramparts reporters soon ran into obstacles, however. "The CIA knew we were onto their game before we had time to discover what it really was. Doors slammed in the faces of our inquiring reporters.... The blank walls were impressive," Hinckle recalled.
Meanwhile, President Johnson had replaced Raborn as CIA director with Helms, who immediately made a crucial decision. He transferred responsibility for the Ramparts operation away from Osborn to a key CIA operative whose identity would not be known for years. Richard Ober's name is curiously absent from indexes of books about political spying of his era. Ober managed to keep in the shadows--a force behind the scenes, a man careful to say nothing that would reveal his true role. Few of his associates would even admit to knowing him. It was a breach of the code when one associate gave me a rough description of Ober as a big man with reddish skin and hair.
Ober was a counterintelligence specialist in the Directorate of Plans, sometimes known as the dirty tricks department. He had joined the Agency in 1948 and had a background that CIA directors trusted--Harvard class of 1943, army experience, graduate study in international affairs at Columbia University. At the CIA, Ober had completed two tours of duty abroad, returning to run clandestine operations from a desk and to study at the National War College before becoming the elite of the elite: a counterintelligence officer. Ober and his fellow counterintelligence agents worked in isolation from the rest of the Agency, in the most secret of the Agency's secret compartments. Counterintelligence involves destroying the effectiveness of foreign intelligence services and protecting one's own spies from exposure and subversion. During the 1950s and early 1960s counterintelligence had been widely expanded to all manner of internal police jobs, which now included stopping American publications from printing articles about questionable CIA operations.
As Ober studied the legal options for getting the courts to prevent Ramparts from printing a story about the National Student Association, he found that none existed. There simply was no legal precedent for stopping publication. Instead a decision was reached to try to achieve "damage control." A press conference was planned before Ramparts was due to break the story. Leaders of the National Student Association were to admit to their CIA relationship and were to say it had been ended at their insistence. The plan was to steal the thunder from the Ramparts story, limiting its impact by making it old news.
However, Hinckle discovered the plan before the press conference could be held. "I was damned if I was going to let the CIA scoop me," recalled Hinckle. "I bought full-page advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post to scoop myself, which seemed the preferable alternative." Hinckle's ad read, "In its March issue, Ramparts magazine will document how the CIA has infiltrated and subverted the world of American student leaders over the past fifteen years." On February 13, 1967, the day before Hinckle's advertisements appeared, the news that they were forthcoming panicked the CIA, the State Department, and the White House. The acting secretary of state drafted a secret memorandum for President Johnson suggesting a Plan B for handling this fiasco. The State Department, making a "bare bones" admission, would claim that the student operation was "tapering off" and would soon come to a complete halt.
Even as the fallback plan was being developed, a new surprise was in the works. Although CIA officers had already told the students not to talk, one of the student leaders confirmed to reporters the accuracy of the Ramparts allegations. Hinckle was astounded yet again: "It is a rare thing in this business when you say bang and somebody says I'm dead."
In short order, eight influential congressmen--California Democrats George E. Brown Jr., Phillip Burton, and Don Edwards, plus Democrats John G. Dow, Benjamin S. Rosenthal, and William F. Ryan of New York, Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin, and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan--signed a letter of protest to President Johnson. It arrived at the White House the same evening the Ramparts advertisements were printed. "We were appalled to learn today that the Central Intelligence Agency has been subsidizing the National Student Association for more than a decade," the letter said. "It represents an unconscionable extension of power by an agency of government over institutions outside its jurisdiction. This disclosure leads us and many others here and abroad to believe that the CIA can be as much a threat to American as to foreign democratic institutions."
The day after the ads appeared, the IRS acted on a request from the CIA by providing copies of Ramparts's tax returns to Ober. It turned out that the IRS had audited the magazine's corporate returns, as well as the personal returns of publisher Edward Keating, for the tax years 1960-64. Keating, a philanthropist in the 70 percent tax bracket, had been deducting the magazine's annual deficit from his personal taxes. A CIA officer analyzed the tax data and noticed an apparent discrepancy overlooked by the IRS. While Keating was claiming all of the losses, which were in the range of $450,000 a year, five others, including Hinckle, also owned stock in the magazine. The IRS advised the CIA it intended to check out this discrepancy. Ober by now had a fairly clear picture of the financial situation at Ramparts. One of Ober's men had filed the following report: "Keating's wife, the former Helen English, had a substantial personal estate (derived from family interests in U.S. Gypsum) from which came the capital funds which provided the wherewithal for the operations of RAMPARTS. They have been liquidating this estate steadily over the years and by 1965, it was completely gone. Examination of bank statements and capital transactions confirmed this source of funds."
The bad news for Ober was that none of his men could turn up any foreign funding of Ramparts. Without any evidence of foreign influence over the magazine, Ober was legally barred by the 1947 National Security Act from further pursuit of the Ramparts staff. Instead of halting the operation against Ramparts, however, Ober went on the offensive. On the same day he got the IRS tax data on Ramparts, Ober circulated a memo discussing "certain operational recommendations." While the CIA continues to withhold the full story of what Ober had in mind, this much has been discovered: news stories meant to discredit Ramparts were to be planted. CIA officer Louis Dube would later admit, somewhat cryptically, that Ober's operational recommendations involved "articles that would appear in other media." In fact, Ober planned a propaganda campaign against Ramparts.
Ten days later, the campaign began. A story presumably planted by the CIA was widely syndicated in newspapers such as the Washington Star. The story was written by Carl Rowan, former director of the United States Information Agency. Now a national columnist, Rowan implied that Ramparts's exposes were Communist-inspired:
A few days ago a brief, cryptic report out of Prague, Czechoslovakia, was passes among a handful of top officials in Washington. It said that an editor of Ramparts magazine had come to Prague and held a long, secret session with officers of the Communist-controlled International Union of Students.
Ramparts is the magazine that exposed the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency has been financing the National Student Association, which in turn has worked for several years to prevent the International Union of Students from dominating the youth of the world.
The Prague report aroused deep suspicions here among officials who are privately shocked and dismayed at the damage to the CIA and to U.S. foreign policy interests caused by the needless series of busted intelligence "covers" that has resulted from the Ramparts expose.
What, if any, relationship does Ramparts have to the IUS?
At Langley, a CIA officer summarized Rowan's article in a memo. That memo is still secret. To release it, the CIA contends, would reveal a CIA "method." Rowan refused to discuss the matter at the time.
On March 4, 1967, Richard Ober got a report from a person who attended a Ramparts staff meeting at which magazine reporters had discussed their interviews of high executive branch government officials and their attempts to meet with White House staff members. Now Ober knew who was saying what to whom. Three days later, Ober's task force found out that a Ramparts reporter was going to interview a CIA "asset": that is, someone under CIA control. In preparation, CIA officers told the asset how to handle the reporter, and after the interview the asset reported back to the CIA.
On March 16, two of Ober's men drove from CIA headquarters to a nearby airport to pick up a CIA agent who was a good friend of a Ramparts reporter. They went to a hotel, where the CIA agent was debriefed. Then the agent and his case officers reviewed his cover story, which he went on to tell his Ramparts contact as a means of obtaining more information. During the same period Ober was trying to recruit five former Ramparts employees as informants. "Maybe they were unhappy," a CIA agent would later explain. On April 4, Ober completed a status report on his Ramparts task force. His men had identified and investigated 127 Ramparts writers and researchers, as well as nearly 200 other American civilians with some link to the magazine.
Three more CIA officers joined Ober's team, bringing to twelve the number of full-time or part-time officers coordinating intelligence and operations on Ramparts at the headquarters level. On April 5, 1967, the task force completed its tentative assessment and recommendations, setting forth future actions--which, the CIA was still insisting in 1994, cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act. CIA officer Louis Dube described the recommendations as "heady shit" but refused to be more specific.
It is known that Ober became fascinated with Ramparts advertisers. "One of our officers was in contact with a source who provided us with information about Ramparts's advertising," Dube admitted. On April 28, a CIA analyst working for Ober tried to learn if the CIA had any friends who might have influence with Ramparts advertisers, apparently with the intention of getting them to drop their accounts.
Richard Ober, acutely aware that the scandals exposed by Ramparts were symptoms of a leaky secrecy system, took pains to protect his own operation from similar leaks. Indeed, Ober knew that any publicity about his work would generate a much bigger scandal. The twelve men working with him on the operation were his primary concern. Even though he expected them to maintain their silence, he reinforced this expectation by relying heavily on secrecy contracts. In secret testimony Ober would later explain, "Those [secrecy] agreements were signed by everybody exposed to my project at headquarters."
Eventually, the failure to have Michael Wood sign a secrecy agreement meant the CIA had to sever its ties to the National Student Association. The instrument of this divorce was a settlement drafted by the CIA chief counsel. On August 11, 1967, the CIA signed over to the student association the title to a building at 2115 and 2117 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., which the CIA had owned. However, the building was heavily mortgaged, and after the CIA stopped paying the debt, the payments bled the student treasury for many years. The National Student Association changed its name to the United States Student Association but never fully recovered its reputation. American students, unlike their European counterparts, are for the most part still without an effective organization to lobby their national legislature, the Congress.