CIA Censors Books
Bush Perfects the Cover-up
excerpted from the book
The CIA's War at Home
by Angus Mackenzie
University of California Press, 1997, paper
In March 1972, a typescript of an article and a related book proposal
were purloined by a CIA agent from a New York publisher and forwarded
to Langley. For Richard Ober, the manuscript was right out of
a bad dream. A former senior CIA official, Victor Marchetti, was
planning to write a book exposing CIA deceptions. Marchetti had
been the executive assistant to the deputy director of Central
Intelligence and had attended regular planning and intelligence
meetings attended by Richard Helms. He had also been a courier
for the Agency group that approves covert operations. The most
carefully guarded CIA information was called Sensitive Compartmented
Information, or SCI, and was distributed to officials strictly
on a need-to-know basis. But his position had allowed Marchetti
an overview of the Agency purposely denied to most CIA officers.
Over time, Marchetti had become troubled by the Agency's role
in the overthrow of democracies on behalf of dictators and by
CIA manipulation of other nations' internal policies. He saw evidence
of corruption in overseas operations. Marchetti's intellectual
honesty was also offended by intrigue inside CIA headquarters
that disrupted the accuracy of intelligence estimates. Furthermore,
the Vietnam War had disillusioned Marchetti, whose sons would
soon reach draft age. And when Eagle Scouts from a troop he served
as scoutmaster began dodging the draft, Marchetti began to feel
his CIA job was isolating him.
Upon quitting the Agency at age thirty-nine, after a highly
successful fourteen-year career, Marchetti wrote a novel called
The Rope Dancer. Prior to its publication by Grosset and Dunlap
in I97I, a CIA officer read a version of the manuscript at Marchetti's
home, in keeping with the rules set out in the CIA secrecy contract
Marchetti had signed. The CIA officer found no security breaches,
and publication went forward.
What troubled Ober and Ober's immediate supervisor, Thomas
Karamessines, was one particular line in the novel. Marchetti's
central character is speaking with jaundiced anger about the fictional
CIA: "Somebody should publicize the Agency's mistakes."
Suppose Marchetti got it in his head to write about MHCHAOS? Concerned,
Helms himself ordered Marchetti placed under surveillance beginning
on March 23, I972.
Within days, an article written by Marchetti appeared in the
April 3 Nation under the headline "CIA: The President's Loyal
Tool." Marchetti wrote that the CIA was using the news media
to create myths about the Agency and was fooling such influential
publications as the New York Times and Newsweek. Additionally,
he claimed, the CIA had continued to control youth, labor, and
cultural organizations in the United States, notwithstanding the
scandals triggered by the report in Ramparts. Marchetti also castigated
Helms for spending too little time engaged with the intricacies
of intelligence analysis, satirically calling him a "master
spy" who conducted his most important weekly meetings in
less than twenty minutes. Marchetti concluded: "Secrecy,
like power, tends to corrupt, and it will not be easy to persuade
those who rule in the United States to change their ways."
Even while MHCHAOS was surviving the Marchetti scare, the CIA
inspector general, an internal cop, was the focal point of a second
emergency. Worried that the inspector general might discover MHCHAOS
and expose it, Helms called in Colby, Ober, and Karamessines for
a meeting on December 5, I972. Helms emphasized the importance
of running a cleaner, less dubious-looking operation. There was
a need to proceed cautiously, he said, to avoid a showdown with
"some CIA personnel." Nonetheless, Helms was adamant
that MHCHAOS not be abandoned. It will not be "stopped simply
because some members of the organization do not like this activity,"
Helms cautioned Ober against attending meetings of the Justice
Department Intelligence Evaluation Committee, because security
was lax and its role in domestic politics might lead investigative
reporters to MHCHAOS. Helms had come up with a solution to the
problem of CIA officers who doubted the legality of MHCHAOS. Henceforth,
it would be described within the Agency as an operation against
international terrorism. "To a [sic] maximum extent possible,
Ober should become identified with the subject of terrorism inside
the Agency as well as in the Intelligence Community," Helms
ordered. Afterward, Colby sent Karamessines a summary of the meeting:
"A clear priority is to be given in this general field to
the subject of terrorism. This should bring about a reduction
in the intensity of attention to political dissidents in the United
States not apt to be involved in terrorism." The change in
label was evidently intended to improve the Agency's image and
cover, on the assumption that "terrorists" were more
believable as a genuine threat than "dissidents."
But there was in fact to be little change in targets. MHCHAOS
continued to hold radicals in its sights, specifically radical
youths, Blacks, women, and antiwar militants. The label "international
terrorist" was designed to replace "political dissident"
as the ongoing justification for illegal domestic operations.
And in the final move to clean up Ober's act, in December Helms
put an end to the operation of the five-year-old MHCHAOS by formally
transforming it into the International Terrorism Group-with Ober
still in charge.
Only seventeen days later, Helms and Karamessines announced
their resignations from the CIA. Nixon named James Schlesinger
to replace Helms as director, and Schlesinger in turn replaced
Karamessines with Colby as deputy director for plans. In a euphemistic
change, Schlesinger and Colby renamed the Directorate for Plans
as the Directorate for Operations, which was the CIA's way of
saying, "Let's call domestic spying a response to terrorism."
One of the most productive agents, Sal Ferrera, was at this stage
operating overseas, where his targets were Americans. Upon first
landing in Europe in the summer of I97I, Ferrera had moved fast.
He was in Zurich on July 7 and in Rome on July I,. In September
he was in Copenhagen, spying on peace activists who were involved
in an underground railroad for U.S. GIs who had deserted because
of qualms over Vietnam. Ferrera then based himself in Paris, site
of the Vietnamese embassies, where unofficial and official peaceseekers
from the United States and Vietnam were trying to negotiate an
end to the war. In his nice guy role, Ferrera sought out and befriended
Americans sympathetic to the peace effort. He introduced himself
to the five-member youth contingent attending the Versailles Peace
Assembly, an international conference of antiwar activists.
Ferrera's cover was the same as it had been in the United
States, that of a leftist journalist. College Press Service distributed
his writings to its U.S. campus subscribers. In one article, Ferrera
wrote about German radical political groups and the divisions
between them. Another article, syndicated by the Alternative Features
Service to underground newspapers in the United States, was headlined
"Just Another Day in Derry" and analyzed the ideological
conflicts within the Irish Republican Army.
Ferrera had proved adept at penetrating the CIA's political
opponents in the United States. He was well established as a MHCHAOS
star. But his new assignment was his most sensitive yet. He was
to befriend former CIA officer Philip Agee, who was writing a
book filled with one CIA secret after another-revealing far more
than those divulged by Sheinbaum, Wood, Marchetti, and McCoy put
together. Because Agee had served as a CIA case officer on the
streets in South America, he had been privy to more intelligence
work than the office-bound Marchetti. But, like Marchetti, Agee
had grown disenchanted, responding to a general cultural wave
of doubts about the U.S. imperial role in Vietnam. Agee had moved
to Paris, out of the reach of U.S. courts. In France, the CIA
could not enforce the secrecy contract Agee had signed.
Living in the same expatriate community, however, was Ferrera,
who began to frequent the Paris cafe Le Yams, where Agee often
sipped coffee and socialized. Ferrera introduced himself as a
reporter for College Press Service. Once he had become a familiar
fixture at the cafe, Ferrera introduced Agee to a young woman
he invitingly described as an "heiress." Agee had spent
all his savings while at work on his book and was desperately
poor. When the woman expressed an interest in financing him while
he finished the book, Agee allowed her to read the unfinished
manuscript over a weekend. She responded with enthusiastic support,
giving Agee enough money to see him through several months of
Of course, Ferrera now had the perfect rationalization to
see Agee's manuscript at any point. As Agee grew more and more
dependent on Ferrera, he began using Ferrera's address as his
own. One of the letters that came to Ferrera's apartment was from
Agee's father, and it described CIA Counsel John Greaney's visit
to the Agee family home in the United States. Greaney had given
Agee's father a copy of his son's secrecy contract, along with
a copy of the recent Marchetti court decision.
Ferrera also apparently arranged a typewriter swap, allowing
him to introduce into Agee's apartment a portable Royal typewriter
and a case crammed with microphones and transmitters. Agee soon
discovered the surveillance device and had it photographed; eventually
the photo of the bugged typewriter would appear on the cover of
his book. In the meantime, though, Ferrera had learned that Agee
was about to identify CIA operatives in South America. This advance
notice enabled the Agency to move the operatives, as well as to
take preventive measures to reduce the embarrassment from a host
of other stories in Agee's book.
The book itself, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, was published
in I975 without prior censorship. In a twenty-two-page appendix,
Agee named scores of individuals and organizations controlled,
supported, or used by the CIA. Agee had by this time realized
that Ferrera was an undercover operative, and Ferrera's name was
included in the appendix, linked to the impressively wired typewriter
case pictured on the cover. The book jacket excerpted a Washington
Post reference to Marchetti's blank-filled book and boasted, "There
are no blanks in Philip Agee's." Seizing on the Agee case,
CIA officials in Washington began to agitate for a law to imprison
anyone who publicly identified intelligence agents.
Bush Perfects the Cover-up
Amid the numerous scandals of the Nixon administration and
under particular pressure from partisans of Ralph Nader, Congress
was moving toward a new openness. Amendments to strengthen the
I966 Freedom of Information Act were drafted. The FOIA had been
reduced to near uselessness by bureaucratic intransigence and
judicial refusals to restrain executive secrecy. The U.S. Supreme
Court, in deciding the I973 FOIA case Environmental Protection
Agency v Mink, had said the courts should not be allowed to inspect
classified national security records unless Congress directed
otherwise. By rejecting judicial review, the Supreme Court had
in the Mink case adopted basically the same line of reasoning
as had Chief Judge Haynsworth in the Marchetti case.
In the fall of I974, however, Congress amended the FOIA to
reverse the Mink decision. The main proponents of the amendment
were Edward Kennedy in the Senate and John E. Moss in the House.
The amendment explicitly authorized federal judges to inspect
classified records in chambers in order to determine whether the
government was warranted in withholding them from public release.
In addition, Congress added teeth to the FOIA in several other
ways. In the future, the government would have to prove why secrecy
was necessary for each specific case. Government agencies would
have to publish indexes identifying information that had been
made public, as a means of assisting citizens in locating government
documents. And the fees charged to citizens for copies of government
records, which sometimes were prohibitively high, could be waived
under a new range of circumstances, thus ensuring that fees could
not be used as barriers to disclosures. Bureaucratic delays in
the release of data also were sharply curtailed. A new deadline
of ten working days was imposed on the government for all FOIA
requests. In a case in which the government denied a request,
a twenty-day appeal period was established, after which the case
could be taken to court.
The CIA would spend the next two decades fighting the release
of documents to citizens who requested them under the FOIA. For
CIA officials, whose lives were dedicated to secrecy, the logic
behind the checks and balances of the three-branch system of government
may have been incomprehensible. The idea that federal judges not
trained in espionage could inspect CIA files and even order their
release was enough to curdle the blood of secret operatives like
Richard Ober. CIA officers felt that neither Congress nor the
courts could comprehend the perils that faced secret agents. Their
instinctive reaction, therefore, was to find any avenue by which
they could avoid judicial or journalistic scrutiny.
A month after Congress enacted the new FOIA amendments, someone
at the CIA leaked the news of MHCHAOS to Seymour Hersh at the
New York Times. Hersh's article appeared on the front page of
the December 22, I974, issue under the headline "Huge C.I.A.
Operation Reported in U.S. against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents
in Nixon Years." Although sparse in detail, the article revealed
that the CIA had spied on U.S. citizens in a massive domestic
operation, keeping 10,000 dossiers on individuals and groups and
violating the I947 National Security Act. Hersh reported that
intelligence officials were claiming the domestic operations began
as legitimate spying to investigate overseas connections to dissenters.
Gerald Ford, who only four and a half months earlier had assumed
the presidency in the wake of Nixon's resignation, took the public
position that the CIA would be ordered to cease and desist. William
Colby, who had replaced James Schlesinger as CIA director, was
told to issue a report on MHCHAOS to Henry Kissinger. Apparently
Ford was not informed that Kissinger was well aware of the operation.
A few days later, after Helms categorically denied that the CIA
had conducted "illegal" spying, Ford named Vice President
Nelson Rockefeller to head a commission that would be charged
with making a more comprehensive report. Ford's choice of Rockefeller
to head the probe was most fortunate for Ober. Rockefeller was
closely allied with Kissinger, who had been a central figure in
the former New York governor's I968 presidential primary campaign.
Although Rockefeller was well regarded in media and political
circles for his streak of independence, it was all but certain
from the beginning that his report would amount to a cover-up.
A continuing series of scandals had eroded the CIA's public credibility.
In November I975, Frank Church's Senate committee reported that
the CIA had tried to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro and
had engineered the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister
of the new Republic of the Congo. The Church Committee also contradicted
the sworn testimony of Richard Helms by revealing that the CIA
had helped engineer the I973 coup in Chile. Moreover, several
former CIA operatives-Victor Marchetti, Philip Agee, and Stanley
Sheinbaum-had joined the CounterSpy advisory board to help consolidate
the outside pressure against the CIA.'
The CIA was not without resources, of course. In I975, former
CIA officers, including David Atlee Phillips, organized the Association
of Retired Intelligence Officers to undertake a public relations
campaign to enhance the Agency's image. Phillips also operated
behind the scenes. He told Marchetti, whose name was on the CounterSpy
masthead, "Get your name off. We're going to land on them."
Marchetti respected the CIA's power and took the warning to heart.
He withdrew from the magazine and talked others into leaving with
Just before Christmas I975, a tragedy had provided an opportunity
to shift the scrutiny away from the CIA scandals. In Athens, Greece,
the CIA chief of station Richard Skeffington Welch was assassinated
on December 23, gunned down as he returned to his house from a
party at the U.S. ambassador's residence. His death focused attention
on the danger inherent in publishing the names of CIA agents.
Welch had been identified as a CIA officer in a letter to the
editor published by the Athens News a month earlier on November
25. The letter, signed by the "Committee of Greeks and Greek
Americans to Prevent Their Country, Their Fatherland, from Being
Perverted to the Uses of the CIA," denounced the CIA for
its role in the installation of a reactionary Greek government.
While Welch's assassins most likely learned about his CIA affiliation
from this letter (or from his decision to live in an Athens house
well known as a CIA residence), most of the blame for his death
was aimed at CounterSpy, which also had printed Welch's name.
In the midst of the Senate vote to confirm George Bush in
January I976, intelligence officials were making no secret of
their outrage over Welch's death and their fury at CounterSpy.
A well-known reporter told editor Tim Butz that his own life had
been threatened by angry former intelligence officers, and Butz
began to carry a gun. Members of the New York intelligentsia,
who had been drawn to CounterSpy by Norman Mailer, began to keep
their distance. It was unseemly to be contributing money to a
magazine accused of having blood on its hands.
Even though CIA critics were put on the defensive by the Welch
assassination, it did not take Bush long to appreciate that he
had his work cut out for him when it came to casting the Agency
in a positive light. Less than a month after taking over, he had
to answer questions about a report by the House Select Committee
on Intelligence. Although the House had voted to suppress the
report at President Ford's request, someone leaked it. The whole
report, known as the Pike Report after U.S. Representative Otis
Pike, Democrat of New York, was reprinted in the Village Voice
issues of February I6 and z3, I976.
The Pike Report was shocking because it provided the first
official overview of CIA excesses: the Agency ran large propaganda
operations, bankrolled armies of its own, and incurred billions
in unsupervised expenses. The report revealed that top CIA officials
had tolerated cost overruns nearly 400 percent beyond the Agency
budget for foreign operations and 500 percent beyond the budget
for domestic operations, for years concealing their profligacy
from Congress. The CIA also was said to have secretly built up
a military capacity larger than most foreign armies; the CIA and
FBI between them had spent $I0 billion with little independent
supervision. Further, the CIA's single biggest category of overseas
covert projects involved the news media: it supported friendly
news publications, planted articles in newspapers, and distributed
ClA-sponsored books and leaflets. The phony CIA dispatches had
often found their way into domestic news stories, thus polluting
with inaccuracies the news received by Americans.
- The CIA's War at Home