27 June 2007
WASHINGTON — Sordid details of the Central Intelligence Agency's long, secret and illegal efforts to kill foreign leaders, tap reporters' phones and dose unsuspecting civilians with illegal hallucinogens were revealed yesterday when hundreds of typewritten documents dating back to the Cold War were released.
None of the plots are new, most were known decades ago, but the details contained in the long-secret pages offer a glimpse of the agency from an era when co-opting mobsters to kill Communists such as Cuba's Fidel Castro was part of its trade.
But the release - called "unflattering" by the CIA's current chief, Michael Hayden - also comes at a time when the Bush administration stands accused of bending the rules on domestic spying, including a massive and little-understood effort to intercept telephone calls as part of its war on terrorism.
The so-called Family Jewels, a litany of illegal and sometimes bone-headed operations, was originally pulled together in 1973, detailing the agency's most egregious excesses over the previous quarter-century.
In one plot to kill the Cuban leader, a CIA memo helpfully reminded operatives trying to persuade organized-crime figures to help "that the United States government was not, and should not, become aware of this operation."
At times, much in the 693 pages seems almost absurd.
For instance, the plot to assassinate Mr. Castro by hiring mob bosses to send hit men armed with poison pills to put in the Cuban leader's dinner, gets derailed multiple times. At one point, one of the Mafia bosses complains to the CIA that his girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire, "was getting too much attention" from stand-up comedian Dan Rowan when both were playing in Las Vegas.
The CIA helpfully offered to bug Mr. Rowan's room so the mobster could discover the extent of his girlfriend's intimacies with the comedian, but the plan goes awry when the technician is discovered and dragged off to the sheriff's office.
Even without the sideshow of Las Vegas indiscretions, the plot failed when the mob bosses got cold feet. The CIA recovered their box of killer pills.
Although the plot was first revealed in 1971, some of the details and names remained secret until yesterday's documents were released. The two organized-crime bosses, both on the FBI's most-wanted list while they were working for the CIA, were Momo Giancana, Al Capone's successor in Chicago, and Santos Trafficante.
Despite the failure of that assassination effort and the embarrassing debacle of the abortive 1960 Bay of Pigs effort to invade Cuba, the CIA kept trying to kill Mr. Castro for years.
The Family Jewels was prepared by the CIA at the order of then-director James Schlesinger, because he had read that the CIA has provided support to the Watergate break-in by political campaign operatives working for former president Richard Nixon.
Mr. Schlesinger ordered the compiling of detailed accounts of that and all other illegal or suspect CIA operations. "All senior operating officials of this agency are to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency," Mr. Schlesinger ordered.
Although the reports were turned over to congressional investigative panels and the Justice Department, they became public only through a series of embarrassing leaks that exposed the CIA's widespread spying on Americans, even though it was prohibited by law from doing so.
Anti-war activists, union organizers and civil-rights campaigners were all targeted illegally by the CIA.
The CIA also had it sights set on Ottawa, and it is listed as a place of "operational interest" in the agency's efforts to follow draft dodgers or anti-war protesters who could foment further dissent, or what the CIA called extremism, in the U.S.
The documents also offer detail on the Watergate scandal — listing CIA meetings and contacts leading up to the burglary and the disgrace that brought down former U.S. president Richard Nixon.
At one point, the CIA was also testing left-overs from drug companies — drugs that produced what they called "unfavourable side effects" — on army volunteers
The agency wanted to study how people reacted to the drug just in case it was ever used as a weapon on Americans.
James Bamford, who has written several books on intelligence agencies, said it's unusual for an agency to release documents that are this embarrassing.
"It was one compilation of all the bad deeds of the agency from the time it was born in the late [1940s] to basically the mid-70s," he said.
Most of the information has already come out over the years, through the media or through congressional hearings.
James Blanton, director of the National Security Archives, said it would have been silly for the CIA to keep sitting on them.
"You remember what the American astronaut said as he stepped onto the moon — ''A small step for man and giant leap for mankind' — this is a small step for man and a giant leap for the CIA."
In addition to the Family Jewels, the CIA also released yesterday nearly 11,000 pages of analysis of the Soviet and Chinese Communist regimes from 1953 to 1973.
Compiled from The Globe and Mail, Associated Press, and CBC news.
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