Transcript

CIA Documents Detail Past Transgressions

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Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Associate Editor
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; 11:30 AM

Washington Post associate editor Karen DeYoung was online Wednesday, June 27 at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss hundreds of pages of CIA documents released Tuesday that detail the agency's domestic spying, assassinations and other improper behavior in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

CIA Releases Files On Past Misdeeds (Post, June 27)

The transcript follows.

DeYoung, author of "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell, is senior diplomatic correspondent and an associate editor of The Washington Post.

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Buffalo, N.Y.: The release of these documents is very timely. We are at the nexus of whether we should just trust the good intentions of the omnipotent executive to do the right thing and protect us all without oversight. It is interesting to know what the executive is capable of when left to its own devices. What is your take on this?

Karen DeYoung: Good morning. There's an interesting line in one of the memos that I quoted in this morning's stories: As William Colby was preparing testimony for congressional investigators in '73, a colleague reminded him that all they really wanted to know was whether the CIA cooperated "wittingly" in illegal activities launched by the White House, or responded "supinely to higher authority" and was just following orders. I think you could ask that question about any similar activities since then -- especially with an agency like the CIA, which has pretty fixed rules about what it can and cannot do.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina: The material being released by the CIA contains what apparently is mostly old information on the drug and mind-control experiments conducted (in some cases on unwitting subjects) by the TSS office at CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. Is there any evidence that the agency is conducting similar experiments today (for possible use during interrogation)? Do you know if there is a contemporary equivalent of the TSS today at the Agency? Thanks.

Karen DeYoung: I assume there's still a branch doing science and technology at the agency, perhaps under a different name. While one would hope it would be more difficult to conduct such experiments secretly these days, I just don't know the answer to your question.

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Kearneysville, W.Va.: Did the CIA release documents that include their role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Lee Harvey Oswald's wife told the world the day after the president's assassination that her husband Lee was CIA. George de Mohrenschildt, a CIA control officer and Oswald's handler before the assassination, told friends and family in 1978 that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have shot president Kennedy, as he and Oswald were standing on the sidewalk in front of the Book Depository Building watching Kennedy in his motorcade when shots rang out and Kennedy was killed. Oswald turned and walked back inside the depository where he went up to the second floor and bought a Coca Cola from a vending machine.

Karen DeYoung: Nothing in the "family jewels" documents about the Kennedy assassination.

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Detroit: Isn't this more of the work of the blame-America-first crowd?

Karen DeYoung: Who would that be in this context? CIA director Hayden, who authorized the release? Those of us who wrote about it? Beyond the confines of this conspiratorial question, I've been amazed at the level of interest in this stuff, reminding me that most of the reading population wasn't even born when most of it happened, or when it initially was exposed.

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New York: Is there a place where we can see the full disclosures online? And what is the nature of what they released versus what you think wasn't released? It seems they've released mainly unsuccessful CIA operations. Perhaps they want their misdeeds to seem innocuous, even at the expense of appearing inept?

Karen DeYoung: You can find the complete documents (or complete, except for the parts that the CIA blacked out and the numerous pages that are blank) on washingtonpost.com, the CIA site and the National Security Archives (which filed the 1992 Freedom of Information Act request that led to the release). It's not "unsuccessful" operations, although some of those discussed were unsuccessful. These are documents that specifically were requested in 1973 by the then-new leadership of the CIA as the Watergate scandal was unraveling. There had been media reports about CIA involvement, and director James Schlesinger sent out a directive to the entire agency asking specifically for information on Watergate and any other operations that had been conducted "outside the agency's charter" ... that might have been illegal or improper operations. He wanted to make sure that he knew what might be coming in congressional investigations or the press.

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Miami: What is the oversight of this agency today, and is it sufficient to avoid a like history being accumulated as we celebrate the openness about the past disgraces?

Karen DeYoung: There were a number of reforms instituted after Watergate, including the establishment of the select committees on intelligence in the Senate and the House to provide oversight. The extent to which the CIA and the president report to those committees, however, has depended on who the president has been and the extent to which the political party in power (and in control of Congress) decides to exercise their oversight responsibilities. The current administration has had a broad interpretation of its own powers and a very narrow interpretation of congressional powers.

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Tucson, Ariz.: I was very surprised and pleased to see the CIA move forward by honoring the missteps in its history. What prompted this at this time?

Karen DeYoung: When Michael Hayden took over as director last summer, the CIA still was suffering the aftereffects of the various Iraq scandals (weapons of mass destruction, etc.). At the same time, the agency had one of the worst records in government for responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, with a huge backlog. While Hayden is no more a believer in sharing current information than his predecessors were, he's interested in repairing agency morale and improving the CIA's image. All of those things combined to make it opportune to release this information -- virtually all of which has been known for decades -- at this time.

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West Coast: In your opinion, does the timing of this release create a situation whereby the abuses of Bush/Cheney are mitigated by comparison with a highlight of the worst CIA abuses? Can we know, say, that Bush/Cheney are simply following U.S. traditional behavior -- namely that the U.S. is above all rule of law when it comes to its inner circle and their quest for world dominion, expressed candidly by the "neo-cons" in their public manifestos?

Karen DeYoung: It's important to remember that all of these CIA misdeeds eventually were exposed in ways that did change the way the agency operated in many respects. Certainly the Bush administration has a somewhat unique idea of executive power and has been aided in exercising it by a compliant Congress. Did that lead to renewed CIA excesses? I'm sure that we'll eventually get a much clearer picture.

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Long Beach, Calif.: How many of the people involved in these illegal activities were reprimanded, and how many were promoted? Isn't Colin Powell a great example of being promoted for the wrong reason? I've read that Nixon fast-tracked the then-Major Powell to general after witnessing him defend the My Lai massacres as antiwar propaganda. How many times have CIA rogues been promoted for denying abuses by the CIA, and promoting illegal dirty tricks?

Karen DeYoung: Don't know where you read that but I can guarantee you that Nixon had absolutely nothing to do with Powell's promotion. Powell's "involvement" in My Lai was very peripheral and long after the fact. I researched it pretty thoroughly for my book, "Soldier," and there's a long treatment there. In terms of promotions and firings at the CIA, most of the people involved in the "family jewels" events were long gone when the operations were revealed. I don't know of anyone who was promoted.

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New York: Why are you surprised by all the interest in this story. Events don't have to take place during our lifetime to be of interest to us. This cloak-and-dagger CIA stuff is what we've all imagined -- just look at the multitude of spy novels and films. Now we finally get to see how they really did act, and we can see we weren't far off in our imagination.

Karen DeYoung: My point was not that it wasn't interesting, just that the facts of these events have been out in the public domain and readily available for years. There were some new details here -- and the advantage of seeing what was going on in the inside as they scrambled in response to the Watergate investigations -- but not many. I guess I would say that these widely-known events don't add to our suspicion of the intel community, but are the reason for the current suspicion in the first place.

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St. Mary's City, Md.: The Nixon Administration used the CIA as part of its agenda to stifle dissent. Did previous predecessors use the agency the same way? Was the agency formed with that kind of unspoken goal?

Karen DeYoung: The CIA certainly was spying on Americans before the Nixon administration and before Vietnam. In the '50s and early '60s, they were looking for communists.

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Oxford, Miss.: Boy, the nut jobs sure come out of the woodwork for CIA discussions.

Karen DeYoung: A comment.

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Reston, Va.: Were all the Jewels released? And how would we know if they were not? I can't help but think that there is a lot more they are not only not telling us, but maybe didn't include in the self-evaluation. I keep thinking Kennedy.

Karen DeYoung: These 702 pages are supposedly everything that was in the "family jewels" file. But if you look at them you'll see that a lot of it is blacked out, and numerous pages are completely blank.

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Philadelphia: How easy or hard is it to search through these documents? For instance, if I was curious to learn about any CIA involvement at the University of Pennsylvania, how would I go about searching for that?

Karen DeYoung: I'm technologically-challenged, so I don't know if you can do a word-search on them. But it actually doesn't take that long to scan through them. Most of the substantive memos have titles and a lot of it is routing slips and blank pages.

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Kennesaw, Ga.: Thank you for the fine work Karen. How important is this material, and what will it mean to the current political discussions in Washington?

Karen DeYoung: Thank you. Hayden obviously made a lot of historians, authors and think tanks happy, but I don't think it impacts too much on more current events -- most of this subject matter has been publicly chewed up and spit out many times over the years. Lots of people on all sides obviously are looking for more information to support what they already think about the CIA -- good and bad -- so this gives them more grist.

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Springfield, Va.: Hello. Is there any interesting information concerning the Middle East? I wouldn't be surprised if there was some involvement revealed in the documents, considering our history in the region, but wanted to know if there was any new information. Thanks.

Karen DeYoung: Almost all of it concerns domestic operations. I was looking, for example, for information concerning foreign leaders on the CIA payroll -- we already know there were a number of them, including in the Middle East. But I didn't find anything.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the purpose of blacking things out, yet leaving them there so it can be seen that something has been omitted? Why have blank pages to show there was something there? Why not just remove them completely? Every time classified docs are released they include blacked out sections, and they always elicit comment, though conclusions are impossible.

Karen DeYoung: I agree conclusions are impossible. The intelligence community says it's to protect "sources and methods" but it's completely unclear why it's okay to reveal some and not others. The pages are numbered, so they leave the blank ones in so that we don't ask why they skipped some. But clearly it raises questions.

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Annapolis, Md.: Most Americans who have read about the CIA's covert history in the Americas and elsewhere are not learning anything new. When will the Agency come clean about Operation 40, JM-WAVE, No Name Key and the extracurricular activities of David Morales, David Atlee Phillips, Gordon Campbell, Tracy Barnes, George Joannides and E. Howard Hunt in Dallas, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Their current disclosures are hardly the "family jewels." The American people deserve to see the real files.

Karen DeYoung: True, there is a lot that remains unrevealed. Again, these documents were self-generated in response to a question posed by the then-director ... "tell me what you were involved in or know about that might rise up and embarrass us if it became public."

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Washington, D.C.: What are the international PR repercussions of this disclosure?

Karen DeYoung: I'm sure they'll get a lot of play in foreign media. Again, don't see any real repercussions except to reconfirm previously held views.

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Anonymous: Thanks for the discussion! I will defer to your expertise on the My Lai story of Colin Powell, but didn't he -- as the S-4 Intelligence Officer for the 4th Division -- receive a letter from a soldier who detailed the killings of civilians, which Powell dismissed as a disgruntled antiwar draftee making things up? That puts Powell in the My Lai story before the fact, no?

Karen DeYoung: My Lai was in March 1968. Powell arrived in Vietnam for his second tour in July of that year. In late 1968, a letter arrived at Saigon headquarters recounting unspecified general abuses by unspecified troops in unspecified places (not the Ridenhour letter that later led to investigations), Powell was acting G3 of the American Division. He was among a number of officers Saigon asked to provide some information about relationships between U.S. troops and civilians, and he provided a few pro-forma paragraphs -- saying relations were great -- that were the same as everybody else wrote. Nothing about the person making the allegations.

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Rockville, Md.: Why are they termed "the family jewels"?

Karen DeYoung: That's what some of the CIA officials called them as the documents were gathered. The name stuck.

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Anonymous: To what extent were most of these CIA abuses the result of financial considerations? Were most of the planned assassinations in areas where American corporate businesses asked for help in protecting their overseas operations? We know that America has a conflicted view of organized labor; it seems to have an unadulterated contempt for foreign labor movements, don't you think? Some of the labor leaders in South America have lifespans in the weeks rather than months, and are killed by elements aligned with our CIA. Correct?

Karen DeYoung: The only ones mentioned in the documents -- Castro and Lumumba -- were anti-communist targets.

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you found anything particularly entertaining or unusual among the enclosed documents?

Karen DeYoung: For intelligence nuts and even general readers, there are lots of little tidbits that will shock or amuse.

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New York: Did Director Hayden have the sole authority to release these documents, or did the White House have to agree? Thanks so much for your insightful work in intelligence.

Karen DeYoung: Each federal department and agency has their own FOIA office, and once documents are declassified they decide what to release in response to requests. These documents have been requested many, many times, although yesterday's release was in specific response to a request filed in 1992 by the National Security Archives, a Washington-based group that collects and publishes such things.

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New York: What's your reaction to the fact that these documents contain nothing about the CIA's overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, perhaps the most immoral act of U.S. foreign policy since World War II (other than Vietnam and the current occupation of Iraq)?

Karen DeYoung: There's a lot of stuff that isn't in these documents. See answers above as to how/why they were assembled.

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Burke, Va.: I would take the opposite viewpoint from the first post. That is, this stuff is being released now as if to say: "See how bad things were back then? Given this, how can you get upset about us torturing a few alleged terrorists here and there?"

Karen DeYoung: Good point.

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New York: Why did it take 15 years to act on the FOIA request?

Karen DeYoung: Because intelligence people like to keep things secret, even when the rest of us think there isn't any reason.

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Boston: Karen, Tom Ricks suggested asking this question again to you (when he filled in for you yesterday): If you were someone he trusted, what would Colin Powell say about Cheney over a few beers (including the recent revelations)? How much damage, if any, would he think Cheney has done to U.S. national interests (Iraq, torture, habeas corpus, etc.)? How concerned would he be about the "last throes" of this administration with issues/conflicts like Iran out there and time winding down for Cheney to do something about it? How would he explain getting played by Cheney on such important foreign policy issues, when he has been involved in foreign policy decisions going back to his days as a National Security Council staffer?

Karen DeYoung: I want to get to all these good CIA questions ... not to flog my book, but there's a lot of this in there. Paperback out in November.

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Dulles, Va.: What was the hardest, most professionally or emotionally challenging story for you to cover?

Karen DeYoung: Working overseas as a foreign correspondent, covering wars and poverty.

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Long Beach, Calif.: In one of her discussions, Dana Priest mentioned that there is a sizable element within the CIA that thinks the blowback from a proactive CIA is worse than whatever gains are made by involving ourselves in dark activities. Should we return to adherence to the original CIA charter? Isn't that the debate that should be started? Thanks.

Karen DeYoung: They say they're only working within the charter now. But I would go back to the question about doing whatever the administration in power tells them to do, and the problems caused by weak oversight.

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Rockville, Md.: People who worked at CIA have told me that all of the documents that related to President Kennedy were turned over to the Commission. If there is any other CIA connection, you can be sure it was never documented in official records.

Karen DeYoung: Not in this document collection, at least.

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Alexandria, Va.: Can you recommend a good book about the CIA rogue activities in the "family jewels" papers? Reports about these papers say much of what was in them already was known, but the news stories have ignited my interest in finding out more.

Karen DeYoung: It can be pretty dry, and it's awfully long, but I still think the best thing is the report of the Church committee published in 1977 (or was it '76?).

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Karen DeYoung: Seems my time is up. Great questions and an ongoing issue. Thanks.

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