Unearthing CREST: CIA's Declassified Archives
Image via CIA’s Flickr
The interagency CACTUS program served as the conduit between CIA’s Operation CHAOS and FBI’s COINTELPRO
A little known but extremely important part of the history of domestic surveillance by intelligence agencies is the CACTUS program. CACTUS was a highly classified channel used by agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to transmit information about “the New Left, Black Militants and related matters.” This channel was never disclosed in the Church Committee reports, even when the reports discuss information that was transmitted through CACTUS.
Nearly 50 years before President Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, a SECRET Central Intelligence Agency report had already declared the issue of the city’s ownership a “stumbling block” which could sink the entire peace process, and worse, one “without prospects” for a solution.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the country set out on a trajectory that would bring it to drop an atomic weapon, become the global superpower, and firmly embed itself in the domestic affairs of foreign countries, often through the use of a new organization: the Central Intelligence Agency.
Notes from a January 26th, 1990 remote viewing suggest that even the participants had grown to become a bit skeptical of the Central Intelligence Agency’s three decade long psychic research program - until one fateful session convinced one viewer that there may be something to this ESP thing after all.
Memos unearthed in the Central Intelligence Agency archives show that at the height of Reagan’s renewed Cold War, the CIA’s Deputy Director - future Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - suggested that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration counter Soviet ambitions of a manned mission to Mars by establishing a permanent base on the moon.
Shortly before he was set to testify before Congress, Soviet defector Sergei Kourdakov’s “accidentally” committed suicide with a gun the Central Intelligence Agency allegedly told him to illegally get - and the Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to investigate.
Sergei Kourdakov’s story is controversial, unusual, and utterly unforgettable. From when the Soviet defector swam from a Russian trawler to Canada until his supposed accidental suicide with a gun a Central Intelligence Agency officer allegedly told him to illegally get shortly before he would testify before Congress, his tale is straight out of a pulp fiction spy thriller - with an evangelical twist complete with bible smugglers who may have had CIA ties of their own.
From child sacrifice to Reptilian overlords, Bohemian Grove is the stuff of many a wide-eyed conspiracy theory. But as a speech uncovered in the Central Intelligence Archives shows, for one newly-minted CIA director it was simply a venue for a few jokey anecdotes and some redacted bragging.
In 1973, still coming down from the harshed mellow of Watergate, a Central Intelligence Agency officer came up with what they felt would be the perfect solution to lagging morale and lackluster operation security: a motivational poster contest. The results, apparently produced in-house, were exceedingly a product of a their time and environment - and are now available for you desktop wallpaper needs.
A year before U.S. imposed economic sanctions against North Korea, intelligence community concluded they wouldn’t work
1992 economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. against North Korea contributed to the collapse of an already fragile economy, and in two years the country was in the throes of a severe famine. Despite the mounting death toll, the sanctions were utterly ineffective in their goal of pressuring DPRK into ending their nuclear weapons program - exactly as a 1991 National Intelligence Council report predicted they would be.
In 1963, the Central Intelligence Agency sent an undercover photographer to the Moscow Fair in the heart of the then Soviet Union. While the fact that some of the photos are still redacted 50 years later hints at the secrecy of his assignment, one detail has been made public: at some point he got bored and took photos of a stray cat.
While some outlets did briefly describe the Asia Foundation as being an alleged Central Intelligence Agency conduit, the charges were typically vague and largely circumstantial. None of the archived reports specifically tied it to Agency funds until March 21, 1967 when TAF announced it in a limited hangout”, a technique used when the Agency “can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case.”
The Asia Foundation is, on the surface, a private non-profit that contributes to the development of Asia, including donating millions of books. In reality, since it was created by Central Intelligence Agency in 1951, TAF has engaged in a decades long campaign to misrepresent its origins, purpose and funding.
To accomplish its mission, the Central Intelligence Agency will undertake missions utilizing assets, agents, and officers under official and nonofficial covers. When these missions require the use of an organization, the Agency will resort to the use of proprietary companies and organizations as a means of maintaining cover or accomplishing goals that the U.S. Government isn’t able to openly support. Eventually, the Agency has to terminate these proprietaries. The story of how that happens is where things get interesting.
Back in January, when it was first announced that the Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified archives would finally be made accessible to the public, media outlets searched for strange and notable documents to pique said public’s interest. One document in particular that received considerable coverage was the seemingly inexplicable flyer for a wax museum. We did a little digging, however, and it turns out there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the flyer: time-traveling psychics.
The underwhelming nature of the so-called “final release” of records related to the JFK assassination provides an excellent opportunity to talk about our culture’s curious acceptance of “classified” history.
A formerly TOP SECRET bulletin from 1973 uncovered in the Central Intelligence Agency’s archives shows the CIA concerned that their long-backed political party in Italy, the Christian Democrats, had placed themselves in a precarious position amid a country-wide pasta shortage.
In the 2008 epilogue to his book Oswald and the CIA, John Newman begins with a relatively simple fact and ends with a conclusion that not only reaches far beyond the evidence - it contradicts it. While it’s reasonable to point out the Central Intelligence Agency’s determination to avoid being dragged into World War III by the suspicion Lee Harvey Oswald was working for the Russians, it’s quite unreasonable to use this as evidence of a massive cover-up premeditated weeks in advance by none other than CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton.
Allegations that the CIA was participating in the global drug trade spurred one addiction non-profit to write the Agency about blanketing their work in the “meaninglessness of a Sisyphean labor.”
Declassified documents in the Central Intelligence Agency’s archives show that while the CIA was looking to include the Freedom Of Information Act in its war on leaks, the National Security Agency was seriously considering using the Espionage Act to target Puzzle Palace author James Bamford for using FOIA.
Recently declassified records released to the National Security Archive confirm the U.S. government’s awareness of, and active participation in, the Indonesian mass killings that spanned late 1965 to early 1966. A search through the Central Intelligence Agency’s archives for that time period reveals over a thousand related records in various degrees of redaction, showing the Agency’s keen interest in the “Situation in Indonesia.”
James Angleton and the author of report that “debunked” his work agreed on one thing - the report was libel
The Hart Report, also known as the Monster Plot Report, sought to denounce the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterintelligence Staff in general and its chief, James Angleton, in particular, and is frequently cited as evidence of Angleton’s paranoia and incompetence. While Angleton and others strongly disagreed with John Hart’s findings, they agreed him on one important point - the report was libel.
In 1951, the newly-created Central Intelligence Agency produced a wilderness training guide, “Introduction to Survival.” It starts off scary and weirdly nihilistic, then gets down to the nitty-gritty of how to jump out of a plane, not drive everyone crazy, and more.
Soon after legendary spymaster and CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton’s intelligence career supposedly ended with his forced retirement in December 1974 due to the exposure of CIA wrongdoing, he returned to the Agency, where counterintelligence operations reportedly remained under his purview until late 1975.
Mexico’s “Dirty War,” nestled in the middle of what the Central Intelligence Agency called a period of “stability” for the country was carried out in part by their asset Miguel Nazar Haro and his secret police. Nazar would later be arrested for his role in the “disappearance” of 1,200 dissidents, and investigated for torture, murder, and even genocide, all while working with, and protected by, the CIA.
Materials kept by the Central Intelligence Agency about the Horn of Africa offer a look into U.S. interests in the area throughout the 20th century, and insight into the world today.
When Mexican spymaster Miguel Nazar Haro was implicated in a car theft ring operating in both the United States and Mexico, the Central Intelligence Agency moved to prevent prosecution of one of their most valuable assets. As the ensuing investigation revealed, however, the web of corruption surrounding Nazar connected to more than just grand theft auto, with ties to narcotics trafficking, the torture and disappearance of numerous dissidents, and at the murder of a DEA Agent.
In 1952, Allen Dulles, then Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, provided a copy of Winston Churchill’s recently-published World War II memo to establish some naming guiding conventions for his covert staff.
In the mid-’80s, stories started circulating around Washington about an investigation into an alleged Ku Klux Klan meeting at Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley. While the Agency insisted that the whole thing was a “tasteless joke” that had gotten out of hand, the public was left with no choice but to take their word for it - the report containing the investigation’s findings was classified.
A half a century after the death of longtime Central Intelligence Agency communist target Che Guevara, gaps in the Agency’s holdings remain restricted.
The Pentagon collected research that warned Soviets with “super-human abilities” could shoot lightning out of their hands
As late as 1990, reports collected by the Pentagon show the U.S. Government was willing to take seriously reports that the Soviets were able to manifest “ball lightning” by using the brain as a “superconductor.”
On October 9, 1967, 50 years ago today, Ernesto “Che” Guevara died in Bolivian captivity. However, a report located in the Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified archives by Emma Best shows that it wasn’t until four years later that the Pentagon finally got what was allegedly a first-hand account of what happened, and even then the details were sketchy.
We could still learn a few things from the Central Intelligence Agency’s unusually-sourced guide to semantics.
It’s clear that despite SIGNA Society’s charter reportedly asserting that it has “no relationship whatsoever with its former employer,” such a relationship was ongoing for many years. The Central Intelligence Agency could not only count on these retired security officers to be “on-call” and to aid with recruitment or participate in clandestine live drops, but to proselytize CIA’s word with corporations and the rest of the U.S. Government.
The SIGNA Society, whose name means “written seal” and whose motto translates as “To have Served is the Greatest Virtue,” is the Central Intelligence Agency’s barely acknowledged secret society of retired security officers. Also, its members are - according to CIA files - not entirely retired.
A 1972 report for the Defense Intelligence Agency spends about four pages describing and worrying about “suggestology,” and the name is the least ridiculous part about it.
A 1972 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Army explored the numerous ways the U.S. Government believed the Soviet Union could attack or influence small groups of people through unconventional means. Some of these included telepathy being used to infiltrate dreams, while other scenarios focused on slightly more realistic possibilities - like Soviet spy planes being used to blind or hypnotize Americans.
Playboy magazine was founded just a few years after Central Intelligence Agency, and together, those two institutions left their mark on the 20th century, for better and for much, much worse. To mark Hugh Hefner’s passing, we dug up those times those two overlapped in the Agency’s declassified archives.
In August of 1971, the White House directed the Central Intelligence Agency to conduct a “crash study of intelligence leaks” that had appeared in the press since the beginning of the Nixon Administration on January 20, 1969. That study resulted in a new proposal - an Agency created and maintained database of past and present leaks to help track their damage and identify the leakers. While ultimately successful, the creation of the database raised some unexpected questions for CIA, such as who should be responsible for it, what counted as a leak, and did the Agency care?
For years, accusations of KGB penetration of the Government Accountability Office helped further the Central Intelligence Agency’s ‘s efforts to pit the Congressional committees against GAO. In the early 1980s, an opportunity presented itself that would deepen these divides without any action from CIA - a conspiracy against President Reagan involving a Soviet diplomat with a penchant for ten gallon hats.
Building off of the diligent research done by others and incorporating the contents of the recently-released CREST database, MuckRock - with your help - is building a global map of Central Intelligence Agency activities, sourcing materials from CIA’s own records.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to dive into CIA’s CREST archive and start searching like a pro.
Since 1949, for 68 of Central Intelligence Agency’s 70 years, the Agency has waged a war against the Government Accountability Office and what CIA described as its “army of auditors.” Not until 2010 was Congress ready to grant GAO that authority, though the provision was dropped under threat of a veto from President Obama. The end result is a hard line that meant the Agency would almost certainly refuse to cooperate at all with any probe that they felt was oversight related. This interactive timeline offers a blow-by-blow of the last seven decades, explaining how and why things got to where they are today.
A document in Central Intelligence Agency’s archive points to the existence of an unofficial “Common Interest Network” of retired intelligence officers. The network, also known as CIN - “as in living-in-sin” according to one of its founders - exists to coordinate the efforts of different organizations. Described as “an unofficial Intelligence Community,” it doesn’t exist except as an abstract, with no chairman, no agenda, and “not even the formality of a rotating host list.” Yet it exists, meeting to discuss influencing Congress and the press, to successfully attack the Freedom of Information Act, and to coordinate the efforts of the organizations that make up the Common Interest Network.
When the Central Intelligence Agency released its CREST database online, it created a historical treasure trove of 13 million pages, more than any one researcher is likely to ever comb through. Fortunately, we’re able to have a computer do that for you, following various trends in what the Agency is paying attention to in a given year.
For 70 years, the Central Intelligence Agency has been working on learning about and challenging threats to the United States - both imagined and real. Keeping track of all of its masked maneuvers can be a bit tricky, which is why MuckRock has begun an ongoing chronology of the Agency’s life. Join us in compiling primary sources on the Agency’s long and winding ways, and help inform others about the breadth and depth of our lead intelligence organization’s part in world affairs.
Take it from the Central Intelligence Agency - if you want to get away with murder, just say you’re committing a “potentially involuntary redistribution of consciousness.” Here are five times the Agency used jargon to get away with the jarring.
We’ve begun putting the day-to-day diary entries of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Executive Committee in chronological order, starting with 1963: the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
A field manual in Central Intelligence Agency’s archives explained how to use bribery and blackmail to destroy enemies and influence people.
Earlier this year, our lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency resulted in the release of 13 million pages of historical documents online - the CREST archives. That’s a lot to go through, so to help kick off CIA Week we put together a bot that tweets out documents created on this day in history: @TodayInCIA.
As a result of the failure by the Senate Intelligence Committee to restore the GAO’s authority to audit or review the Central Intelligence Agency, by the next year that immunity had spread to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which had assumed some of the Agency’s responsibilities in coordinating the Intelligence Community. Like CIA, the ODNI cited a legally dubious position in a 1988 letter from the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel stating that the GAO had no authority to look at anything relating to “intelligence activities.” Also like CIA, the ODNI used a such a broad definition of intelligence activities so that “by definition” they were categorically exempt.
While the 25-year declassification review program hasn’t reached the new millennium yet, contemporary public records still provide some insight into the GAO’s efforts to audit the Intelligence Community in general and Central Intelligence Agency in particular. After its creation and taking on some of the duties that had previously laid with CIA, the ODNI would pay lip service to the GAO and seem to cooperate on some issues. At the same time, it manifested the same problems, ignoring its own guidance and, like the Agency, claim that almost anything was protected as an intelligence source or method.
A set of Central Intelligence Agency documents originally marked CONFIDENTIAL and labeled “Initiatives to Deal with Leaks” outlines the recommendations of the CIA Director’s Security Committee for responding to the Intelligence Community’s ongoing leak problems. These recommendations included several notes about limiting the Agency’s exposure to FOIA, arguing that FOIA’s “climate of transparency” encouraged leaks.
Former CIA Director compared prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act to “driving tacks with a sledge hammer”
Just months before the government’s first successful use of the Espionage Act against someone for leaking to the media, a declassified report written by then-Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey argued that just such an act would be irresponsible.
He’s Alive: The CIA’s less-than-enthusiastic investigation into whether Adolf Hitler survived World War II
In 1955, the Central Intelligence Agency’s chief of Western Hemisphere Division received a SECRET memo whose subject line no doubt caused them to sit up in their chair: “Operational: Adolf Hitler.”
A 1987 report from the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee offers insight into the drug threats that concerned the Reagan era.
The “hard line” that the CIA drew against GAO oversight in a 1994 would form the basis for their refusal to cooperate for years to come. When the House Committee on Government Reform held a hearing in 2001 regarding the Agency’s refusal to cooperate with Congressional inquiries, one Congressman criticized their approach as a “dated, distorted concept of oversight.” It was this concept, the Congressman argued, that led to the Agency’s refusal “to discuss its approaches to government-wide management reforms and fiscal accountability practices.”
On February 16, 1976, the Village Voice went to press with an emblazoned “The Report on the CIA That President Ford Doesn’t Want You to Read.” Inside was a leaked copy on the findings of the Pike Committee, a lesser-known (and arguably more damning) companion to the Church Committee - and thanks to the Agency’s obsessive scrapbooking, you can read the full issue scanned into their declassified archives.
Included in the release of the NSA’s psychic research program is a document labeled “Chart Depicting Interaction/Dependencies Acting on Parapsychology.” The hand-drawn chart is the only thing in the document, and it looks awfully familiar …
In 1994, CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs wrote a memo to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) seeking, and receiving, affirmation of the Agency’s policy for dealing with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The memo not only spelled out the Agency’s “hard line approach” to the GAO, it made explicit the Agency’s intention to not to answer inquiries from the GAO that involve “so called “oversight” information.”
At the same time that Robert Blum was helping shape National Security Council’s policies on covert psychological operations and paramilitary actions, Secretary of Defense Forrestal named Blum to the committee exploring the creation of the Armed Forces Security Agency - the direct predecessor to the NSA.
Even for students of the history of the Intelligence Community (IC), Robert Blum is all but forgotten except as a bureaucrat, a professor, and the head of a philanthropic foundation with ties to the Central Intelligence Agency. In reality, he was a counterintelligence chief who worked for several agencies, built large pieces of the United States’ foreign economic policies, had the Director of Central Intelligence fired, and redesigned a significant portion of the IC, including its mechanisms for covert action and propaganda.
In 1984, the Central Intelligence Agency sent a psychic back in time to talk to Martians. This is not code language. The CIA sent psychics back in time to talk to Martians because the CIA had time-traveling spacefaring psychics. Nothing else we could say would make more sense given what the CIA had and did.
CIA objected to the Federal Employee’s Bill of Rights on grounds it would interfere with Agency’s gay witch hunt
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Senator Sam Ervin was working determinedly to get a Federal Employee’s Bill of Rights passed through Congress. The Central Intelligence Agency identified several areas of the bill that they felt were problematic, including how it would interfere with the Agency’s use of the polygraph as a tool to identify and terminate any “homosexual employees.”
Fresh on the heels of Iran-Contra, the CIA refused to allow the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the Agency “with respect to funds authorized for the Nicaraguan Resistance,” insisting that since any such funds would break the law, there was nothing for GAO to audit, and therefore GAO’s request was being denied. Similarly, any other hypothetical assistance to the Nicaraguan Resistance would have been subject to Congressional oversight, and on which grounds the Agency would similarly deny the GAO access.
Like a live action Twitter feed, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, for years, had been tasked with the responsibility of collecting and disseminating news and information from countries around the world to the various agents of the U.S. government. But by the late 70s, Central Intelligence Agency was having trouble keeping these employees, more compelled by journalistic drive than cloak-and-dagger caper, interested and on top of their games.
During the ’80s, CIA’s efforts to shut down the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) access to the Agency not only went on unchecked, but reached a new level of success when the Agency convinced Congress to further consolidate Oversight within the intelligence committees. Not only did this nearly cut the GAO out entirely, but it allowed the CIA to spread its exemption to other agencies eager to avoid an audit.
As we’ve written about before, the Central Intelligence Agency’s obsessive scrapbooking led to the preservation of quite a few bizarre artifacts in its declassified archives - and perhaps none are stranger than this collection of terrible topical poems, which, through tortured rhyming couplets, offer the author’s takes on geopolitics, race relations, and the merits of “Captain Kangaroo.”
Memos found in the Central Intelligence Agency’s CREST database show the planning stages of the Agency’s annual Halloween party in 1980. If you were lucky enough to be guest list, then you were looking at an evening of cocktails, lively conversation, and of course, ferocious jelly-bean counting competition.
Former House Majority Leader worked with the CIA to use a Congressional investigation for propaganda - and it backfired
Declassified Central Intelligence Agency documents describe the Agency’s agreement to work with a Senator’s plan to use a 1952 Congressional investigation into Soviet war crimes for propaganda purposes. While it may have worked in the short run, documents indicate that both Agency and State Department personnel believe it may have backfired, and led to charges the U.S. was using biological weapons in Korea.
In a find from Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified archive, a late war communication includes an agreement to foot the bill for some cosmetic concerns.
A series of 1984 memos from the Central Intelligence Agency Inspector General’s office reveals some alarming views on the press and how to deal with them. Among other things, the memo shows that 33 years before the Agency declared WikiLeaks a hostile non-state intelligence service, they were viewing the general press in the same terms.
CIA’s Guide To Other Country’s Elections: Why Jamaican “National Hero” Michael Manley worried the Agency
Michael Manley, who served as Prime Minister of Jamaica for a total of 11 years, is considered by nearly half of Jamaicans as the best Prime Minister the country ever had. 68% say that he should considered a national hero. However, as a 1980 Agency memo in the middle of a tough re-election battle shows, the Central Intelligence Agency had a much more negative view of Manley, fearing he would resort to illegal means to stay in power.
Whether because of the restrictive guidelines or, as Central Intelligence Agency’s own historian suggests, because of the censorship of the Pike Report, the Government Accountability Office continued to be denied any meaningful ability to audit CIA or aid in Congressional oversight. Several years later, a CIA memo would refer to this as them successfully “holding the GAO and their armies of auditors at bay.”
The 1975 Pike Committee’s report was an immediate problem for the Agency, and inevitably resulting in recommendations that the Central Intelligence Agency was desperate to avoid. These concerns, it seemed, were well founded, as the Committee ultimately recommended that the Government Accountability Office be granted audit authority over CIA - recommendations that CIA was able to, once again, successfully prevent from being implemented.
A formerly TOP SECRET memo to the CIA Director written by the Agency’s Office of Political Analysis shows that as early as August 1980, the Agency had concluded Iranian hardliners such as Ayatollah Khomeini were “determined to exploit the hostage issue to bring about President Carter’s defeat in the November elections.” While the document doesn’t prove the Reagan campaign intended to collude with Iran, it does document Iran’s motives and matches the October Surprise narrative outlined by former CIA officers.
By the early ’90s, the multi-agency program investigating psychic phenomenon known as STARGATE was nearing its end. After decades of dubious “remote viewing” experiments, the Central Intelligence Agency had been tasked by Congress with consolidating and evaluating the program’s efficacy - and little did anyone know, but that evaluation was about to be heavily influenced by one subject’s lunch.
A pamphlet written by the FBI’s Intelligence Division in 1983 and signed by then-FBI Director William Webster addressed “the unseen conflict” of Soviet espionage operations against the United States. The pamphlet argued, quite reasonably, that the only way the Bureau could defend against threats like these was if people who were approached by Russian agents remembered that “the FBI is as close as your nearest telephone.”
As early as 1962, there were issues with Central Intelligence Agency employees marrying “aliens.” There was a set procedure for those looking to wed someone who was not born in the states, and as always, romance and government paperwork did not mix well.
A formerly SECRET memo sent to the Director of Central Intelligence in 1982 reveals that the Intelligence Community’s concern with Russian attempts to influence the U.S. Presidential election go back decades. While some have called the recent Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election “without precedent,” the Central Intelligence Agency memo shows that some of the first attempts by Russia to influence the outcome of the election were detected in the early 1980s.
As part of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Project SUN STREAK, in 1990 an agency psychic was tasked with using remote viewing to describe the Nazca lines. Provided with encrypted coordinates, the alleged psychic “had many accurate perceptions of the site and no discernible incorrect ones.” This statement is somewhat extraordinary - but probably not for the reasons you imagine. Rather, it’s somewhat extraordinary because it’s immediately followed by a list of things the remote viewer got wrong.
The Central Intelligence Agency, like all government agencies, produces a huge amount of paperwork. Faced with this quantity of paper, the CIA published a classified collection of essays that was aimed at improving the literary quality of the documents that the Agency was creating.
In an April 1975 letter for Central Intelligence Agency Director William Colby, the Agency’s Assistant Legislative Counsel laid out the arguments the Agency intended to make against a bill requiring they allow the Government Accountability Office access to CIA records. In an accompanying cover letter, the Agency lawyer drafting the letter noted they “really slung the B.S.,” and asked for Colby’s help in determining if they had overplayed the CIA’s position a bit.
In 1975, Senator William Proxmire, drawing from a General Accountability Office (GAO) report about their difficulties getting agencies to cooperate, introduced legislation which would effectively force CIA to allow itself to be audited by the GAO. In response, the Central Intelligence Agency began compiling materials to argue against it - an argument which was described by the Agency lawyer drafting it as “B.S.”
A once-confidential report of accidents at CIA headquarters in 1957 was among the materials released as part of Agency’s CREST database, and the two-page statistical summary shows that sitting at home during the chaotic Cold War years was no easy street either.
Driven by its never-ending desire to have greater control of what information about its activities are made public, CIA drafted a SECRET report listing 126 things that the Agency could use to argue something was subject to the sources and methods protections. While the list has been used to help justify a number of FOIA withholdings, the list itself has been withheld … to protect the Agency’s intelligence sources and methods.
Clair George, the CIA officer who was placed in charge of briefing Congress on CIA’s activities, withheld information about the beginnings of the Iran-Contra affair, and was later convicted of lying to Congress. After an eight-month tenure that led to a nearly complete communications breakdown between the Agency and Congress, George was promoted to the third most senior position within the CIA.
According to a recently uncovered memo in the CIA’s Kissinger archive, Jack Anderson let word of Bob Woodward’s investigation into the Nixon pardon slip to the National Security Council.
In 1951, as the Cold War was intensifying, the CIA decided to see how Voice of America radio broadcasts into Eastern Europe compared with Soviet efforts. In a remarkably candid document, the Agency critically assessed the similarities and differences between U.S. and Soviet propaganda, which they noted had a lot more in common than most Americans would think.
While the CIA had successfully thwarted the Government Accountability Office’s ability to audit the Agency by the early ’60s, the trouble brewing between the two were only beginning. These problems would only serve to further call into question the CIA’s good faith, as testimony and documents demonstrate that the Agency’s issue wasn’t with security concerns, but with the very concept of oversight.
Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a stack of paper you need to keep together temporarily, and a hole punch just won’t cut it. Where do you apply the staple and at what angle? What angle? Oh, look, while you were hesitating, a breeze just blew the whole thing to the floor. Time to brush up on your CIA guide to stapling, rookie.
For nearly sixty years, the CIA has resisted the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) efforts to perform a full audit of the Agency, even going so far as to not only render themselves exempt, but to spread this exemption throughout the rest of the Intelligence Community. When the GAO got fed up and quit, the CIA tried to have the letters detailing their frustrations classified.
A pair of CIA memos on the McCarthy Subcommittee make the startling allegation that the Subcommittee had managed to spy on the Agency. A formerly SECRET summary from the McCarthyism file states that an unnamed source had identified classified CIA materials that the Subcommittee had managed to get its hands on, as well as tape recordings of Agency officials speaking, apparently obtained through bugging.
A formerly TOP SECRET document from the NSA describes an incident which it called the “Astral Projection Caper,” which revolved around what seems to have been fabricated, or at least nonexistent, CIA evidence of confirmed psychic phenomenon.
In 1988, then-Deputy Director of the CIA Robert Gates gave a talk at the National War College that left enough of an impression that a line or two ended up in the college’s end of the year “Book of Proverbs, Jokes, and Other Comments.” The Agency, never one to let a mention go unarchived, then preserved said book for posterity in CREST. Let’s just say there’s more than a few folks who’d probably prefer that didn’t happen.
On September 17th in 1965, an odd memo was sent within the CIA praising nearly a decade’s worth of unofficial briefings with the press. Seemingly out of the blue, numerous contacts between Ray Cline, CIA’s Deputy Director for Intelligence, and the press were suddenly admitted and enumerated. When the memo was first discovered, it was unclear what prompted it, however another, recently unearthed memo implies that it came about because of a threat from a member of the Agency’s private press pool.
In the mid-1970s, the CIA had an extremely low number of Hispanic employees, which, given the agency’s extensive involvement in Latin and Caribbean nations might come as a surprise. As a solution to the Agency’s disproportionate representation of the nation’s second largest minority, the agency hired a Hispanic Program Coordinator (HPC). Less than four years later, the unnamed and unthanked program coordinator resigned, having increased the Agency’s Hispanic employee population to an entire one percent.
As previously discussed, senior CIA analyst Ray Cline covertly accumulated a number of press contacts whom he provided information to in order to ‘improve rapport, understanding and the Agency’s public image.’ While some of the people on the list were well credentialed and had pasts or futures associated with the U.S. Intelligence Community, documents reveal that at least one of the press contacts briefed by Ray Cline was a suspected foreign agent.
Task Group Six was an interagency working group for members of the National Security Council on the problem of intelligence compromises. As a result of its study, it made a number of recommendations to improve security and reduce the likelihood of insider threats - changing the way the intelligence agencies did business by putting a natural limit on the scope of their activities. If these policies had been pursued, it’s unlikely that Snowden would have had the justification or the ability to leak the materials he did. Instead, the recommendations that would have seen an actual shift in the status quo were ignored.
Included in the CIA’s declassified database is an October 1968 list of recommended responses to questions and “myths” regarding the Agency, which had all “been used successfully.” Many of the answers were dismissive, with recommended responses including changing the subject, questioning if an Agency failure was really a failure at all, and attempting to debunk accusations by calling them hearsay.
As you may be aware, part of the CIA’s CREST release included an extensive archive of files pertaining to UFOs, including photos of supposed sightings. As you might not be aware, the majority of those photos are hot garbage. And so, to round out our week of X-Files themed records, we’re going to take you on a tour of the most dubious examples of extraterrestrial evidence the Agency collected over the years.
Decades before Donald Trump infamously compared the CIA to Nazi Germany, the National Security Council made its own allusion to the Holocaust - the difference was that in the NSC’s version, it was CIA that was cast as the potential victim of a “Final Solution” that might be imposed by Congress in response to the exposure of the Agency’s illegal and improper activities.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced that it would cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar, leading a collection of the oil-rich peninsula country’s closest neighbors in a regional economic shutout. However, it wasn’t always this way - a quick trawl through the CIA’s CREST database reminds of us an arguably simpler time in Saudi Arabia-Qatar relations, when something as potentially serious as where one nation ended and the other begun was a relative non-issue.
In the journalistic FOIA community, “commercial requesters” have a bit of a bad reputation for hogging the majority of resources and doing so for profit, rather than to inform. However, there are some notable exceptions, such as the Testor Corporation, which makes model kits. Seeking to make their models as accurate as possible, they (adorably) filed a FOIA request for information on the SR-71 and several other models.
The Government Accountability Office investigations into Central Intelligence Agency-linked illegal activities are often stymied - a process well documented in files discussing the GAO’s attempt to investigate General Noriega’s ties to drug trafficking, and what the Intelligence Community knew, and when. Documents previously leaked to the Washington Post have now been declassified, confirming the Post’s reporting and providing new details about how CIA blocked all of GAO’s audits touching on any subject which required oversight.
Declassified CIA memo shows how long it took for the US Intelligence Community to take the Iranian Revolution seriously
A declassified CIA memo on the eve of the 1979 Iranian Revolution shows the Carter administration scrambling for a basic grasp of the details mere months before the Shah was overthrown.
Congresswoman Bella Abzug infamously had issues with trusting CIA when it came to their handling evidence of illegal and improper Agency activities. Internal memos shows those fears were well-founded - while the Congresswoman fought to prevent the destruction of records of CIA wrongdoing, the Agency rushed to begin destroying everything they could.
In 1985, citing concerns regarding “difficulty determining what has been publicly disclosed,” the CIA had a truly great idea that would serve both the Agency and the public’s interest in government transparency - a “proposal to establish a focal point to record CIA information released to the public.” The resulting Officially Released Information System, or ORIS, would take years to finally implement, and thanks to a recent FOIA, it might finally become the transparency tool it has the potential to be.
One of the dilemmas of reading declassified documents is that readers are constantly faced with the question of whether or not to take the exemptions at face value - after all, CIA redacts beer brands and cafeteria names while claiming to “protect sources and methods.” Doing so erodes faith in the Agency’s choices to redact certain pieces of information, creating a situation where one of two possibilities are likely: that the CIA chose to improperly redact information to protect itself from embarrassment regarding improper activities, or that some of those activities are still seen as at least potentially valid.
In 1982, former CIA Director Richard Helms was approached by Dragnet creator Jack Webb about a possible TV show regarding the Agency. Like Dragnet, which, it would focus on realism, and would be at least inspired by, if not based on, events that had happened.
The “friendly” rivalry between America’s East and West Coasts extends from hip-hop feuds to pizza bagels, and recently unearthed memos regarding California champagne from the CIA’s declassified archive shows that even the Agency isn’t immune.
A decade after Congresswoman Abzug had struggled with CIA Director George Bush over the destruction of evidence of CIA wrongdoing, the Agency’s Office of the Inspector General ignored the moratorium on destruction of relevant materials and destroyed several memos from the Iran-Contra investigation. When this was raised with the Agency’s Acting Director, it was played off as no big deal and the employees were praised for responding “remarkably well” to the investigation.
Police psychics have so saturated popular culture that the concept borders on the cliche. There was a time, however, when the Department of Justice took the matter very seriously - not only were instances reported of the police using psychics, there were studies on the matter, and even guidance issued by the DOJ.
A pair of declassified memos from January 4, 1975 reveal just how contentious things were in the lead-up to the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee, with recent exposés having rocked the American public’s faith in the government, already strained by the still-fresh memories of Watergate, and undermined CIA’s legitimacy.
A video produced by Stanford as part of its government funded research into psychic phenomena alleged to show Uri Geller performing various psychic and extrasensory feats. While some in the Agency were “humbled” by the film, others were quick to declare it ordinary trickery from a con artist using techniques from stage magic and mentalist.
A memo from the CIA’s declassified archive shows the Agency’s strong interest - and subsequent disillusionment - in investing in a device that purportedly warded off sharks with electric shocks.
Declassified CIA docs on Reagan’s “Star Wars” strategy show difficult balance between projecting power - and projecting too much power
Searching the CIA’s declassified document database for documents on the Cold War missile defense program nicknamed “Star Wars” shows that the Agency kept a close watch on public perception, but was wary of Soviets thinking that the program was too powerful - which might lead to an uptick in hostilities.
When J. Edgar Hoover forced William “Bill” Sullivan, the Bureau’s domestic intelligence chief, into retirement he set into motion a chain reaction which nearly forced him into retirement as well.
A formerly SECRET CIA memo found in the Kissinger archives shows the Agency’s lawyers arguing that they should consider dropping “the myth of presidential plausible deniability.”
In August 1970, J. Edgar Hoover discovered an apparent plan of the Soviet Union’s to buy an apartment building - and he knew they had to be stopped. The building, Highview Towers, was located next to the site of the future Soviet Embassy and was the only building in the area that would enable to the government to conduct surveillance operations. The result was a last-second rush by the Nixon Administration to purchase the building.
Soviet scientists joked that somebody had made a “political decision” to end UFO sightings in the USSR
Mostly redacted CIA records capture a rare Cold War commiseration between American and Soviet meteorologists over weather balloons being mistaken for aliens.
A formerly SECRET memo from the White House shows that not longer after Seymour Hersh published an expose in the New York Times about the domestic operations of CIA, President Ford met James Schlesinger, the Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director to discuss the allegations. When asked about the Agency’s role in Watergate, Schlesinger confessed “there is a layer in the Agency which you can never really find out what is going on.”
A unexpected fringe benefit of the CIA’s release of its declassified archive is the treasure trove of comic strips - mostly concerning the Agency’s activities - contained therein.
According to declassified meeting minutes from 1972 and an old article saved by CIA, the Agency’s Office of Medical Services had a drug abuse booth “originally created by CIA doctors for parents who work for the agency” - including a sniffable bag of “pseudo-marijuana.”
On April 20, 1995, just one day after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the received a tip from the unlikeliest source - Dr. Ed May, head of the CIA’s research into psychic phenomenon. May claimed one of his remote viewers had a lead on the people responsible: five Arab men and somebody named Carl.
During his Presidency, Jimmy Carter made a number of moves to nudge the federal government towards environmental friendly practices. One of these was a request that all executive agencies and departments begin recycling paper in accordance with EPA guidelines. For the CIA, and presumably other intelligence agencies, this posed some unexpected problems - as well as a valuable opportunity.
In the 1970s, various government agencies were asked to look into the feasibility of using recycled paper. When the request was received at the CIA, the Agency responded with a list of reasons why that wasn’t such a great idea.
We’ve written about the CIA’s frustrations with its cafeteria before, with grievances both petty and the stuff of nightmares. But as internal records unearthed in CREST reveal, at least once that frustration exploded into a full-on mealtime melee.
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is the least famous, least exciting, and most prevalent form of intelligence, covering any sources that are theoretically open to anyone, such as newspaper articles, published books, or social media posts. With the ubiquity of the internet, the use of such commercial databases is beyond routine for both the Intelligence Community and the government at large, but there was a time, however, where the mere interest was not only cutting edge, but problematic.
Memo shows Kissinger and Rumsfeld in damage control mode following revelation of CIA domestic activities
In late December 1974, the New York Times published an article reporting a massive set of CIA operations conducted domestically and targeting American citizens. A memo marked CONFIDENTIAL in the Kissinger archives shows that Henry Kissinger and White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld were planning a public response to the article’s allegations almost immediately.
In 1951, the federal government began paying increased attention to emergency planning, both for natural disasters, warfare or even invasion of the United States. This included a plan to provide for short-term emergency funds for critical agencies like the CIA.
In 1976 and again in 1977, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone for the CIA’s illegal surveillance and mail openings. The report issued in 1977 reveals the Justice Department’s highly flawed reasons, including claims that prosecution would not serve to prevent such questionable or outright illegal surveillance from happening again - ironically setting the stage for modern surveillance programs.
In 1983, cybermania would grip the nation: The movie WarGames is released over the summer, becoming a blockbuster hit for the time and intriguing President Ronald Reagan enough to summon his closest advisors to help study emerging cyberthreats and ultimately pass the first directive on cybersecurity. But according to declassified documents, made fully public thanks to MuckRock’s lawsuit, one intelligence agency made a hard pass on the computer craze.
Kissinger and the CIA discussed ways to limit Congressional access to information regarding the Agency’s activities
Leaks from the government and even Congress itself are nothing new. As shown by a declassified memo describing a meeting between Henry Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby, these concerns were among the very ones facing the White House, the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee in the mid-1970s. Topics included NSA spying on Americans, selectively leaking less damaging info, and how much blame could be shifted to the FBI.
In 1963, back when it was still known as the “Washington Post and Times-Herald,” DC’s paper of record profiled four teams in the local slow-pitch softball league. Unbeknownst to the author, one of those teams would go on to take home the trophy, and even more unbeknownst was that they’d be taking it home to Langley, as they were CIA’s official team.
While getting the cold shoulder from the FBI might had ended the CIA’s formal involvement in the Alaskan Stay-Behind plan, declassified documents show that several years later the Agency was looking at the Cold War contingency as a learning opportunity - particular in regards to burying weapons caches.
While the FBI’s Stay-Behind network in Alaska has been previously explored - including how it was partially driven to spite the CIA - the Agency’s role in the Cold War contingency has largely been kept secret. Previously classified records reveal that the military specifically sought to get the CIA involved in the earliest months of the program.
In early 1983, FBI agent Don Levy went to the CIA’s Polygraph Training School to deliver a speech on “Terrorism in the U.S.,” with a large focus on violent unrest in Puerto Rico. A copy of the speech, released through CREST, gives us new insight into the history of FBI’s counterterrorism views and approaches - recognizing the U.S.’ role in fostering terrorism, if not its responsibility.
In most professions, all it takes to form an after-work bowling league is an overly long email chain and some beer money. As a declassified memo unearthed in CREST shows, in the CIA, it’s a lot more complicated. Like, “cover story and security briefing” complicated.
An unclassified excerpt from the DIA parapsychological monograph on “Soviet Offensive Behavior” from 1972 outlines some of the Agency’s fears over reports of Soviet psychic abilities - specifically, “Telepathic Hypnosis.” The section claims that Soviets had managed to telepathically put people to sleep and wake them up from over a thousand miles away, with Kotkov, a star Soviet psychologist, able to “telepathically obliterate an experimental subject’s consciousness.”
A few years after the Nixon administration first re-opened communication with the People’s Republic of China, the CIA found itself having to field persistent requests from the Navy to enlist Kissinger’s help in substantiating rumors that the Soviets had deployed a laser weapon against the PRC.
In 1981, CIA’s Director of Public Affairs took exception with newspapers reporting that Frank Sturgis was a former CIA employee - such a problem, in fact, that he wrote to the editors of several newspapers to try to issue a correction. There was just one problem: recently declassified records show that it was the truth.
As CIA Director, George Bush waffled on promise to not destroy records of Agency’s illegal activities
Declassified records recently unearthed in CREST show the CIA waffled on a promise to obey the law in not destroying records of Agency’s illegal activities and wrongdoing
When Ronald Reagan signed the controversial Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 into law, he did so with panache, holding the ceremony at CIA HQ. Before an assembled crowd of friendly members of the Intelligence Community, Reagan felt comfortable enough to start with what he called “an ethnic joke:” the one about Murphy the spy.
The Senate’s final report on Iran-Contra showed extent to which the investigation had been stonewalled
While some of the inherent problems in the Tower Commission, such as Senator Tower’s conflict of interest and family ties to CIA, have been documented, the fact is that none of the government’s investigations into the matter were able to proceed without obstruction. The final report on Iran-Contra, which has rarely been seen but was found in the CREST archive, makes this explicitly clear.
In 1988, as part of the Agency’s ongoing research into weaponized ESP, CIA psychics were tasked with identifying a photo of a famous individual inside of an opaque folder. That individual was Albert Einstein. The individual they came up was a moody hippie pharmacist named Alfer Aferman.
In early December 1981, the CIA was preparing to go before a Senate Judiciary Committee with the goal of adding additional restrictions to FOIA. A memo released through CREST shows that there were concerns that in making its case, the CIA might overshare the nature of its work, which would lead to leaks, embarrassment, and even worse, a call for stronger transparency laws.
A memo in the CREST database shows that 30 years ago, an as-yet still redacted incident prompted the CIA and NSA to have a meeting about ways the agencies could prevent computer hackers from infiltrating the government’s data.
Back when it was still just Women’s History Week, the CIA decided to commemorate the occasion with a day-long symposium on “the role of women in intelligence,” including a brief history lesson on pivotal female spies. Harriet Tubman made top billing.
In late 1989, the Rockefeller family faced an unusual dilemma: they wanted to give a barn away. For most people with their money and resources, this would be a relatively minor headache, but for the Rockefellers, the problem was a bit more complicated - inside the barn was a vault, which contained locked file cabinets that were filled with classified information, some belonging to the CIA.
In 1980, it appeared to activists as if a small bit of progress was finally being made in the push for LGBT civil rights, with the Democratic Party becoming the first major political party to endorse a gay-rights platform. That same year, the CIA appears to have released a three-page memorandum on how to recognize and ferret out homosexuals during investigations, perhaps for the purposes of blackmail.
In October of 1982, the CIA’s crack team of psychics set their second sights on New Orleans, to catch the city in the height of bacchanalian revelry. What they got were squiggles. A lot of squiggles.
The annual Bilderberg Conference is shrouded in nearly as much mystery as CIA itself, with a number of conspiracy theories that seeing these meetings of the elite as where the strings of the world are pulled. Emma Best reviewed references to Bilderberg in the CREST archive, and while there weren’t many, they were enlightening.
CIA memos shows that nearly a decade after scandal forced the Counterintelligence Chief into early retirement, the Agency and the President’s advisors were still seeking the counsel of the legendary James Angleton.
A classified government document warns of the possibility of psychics nuking cities so that they became lost in time and space. If this sounds like a plot out of science fiction, it is - but it’s also an NSA memo from 1977.
While most people with an interest in the history of CIA will have heard of “Operation Mockingbird,” which weaponized the press for propaganda purposes through the “Office of Policy Coordination,” there is another side to program that’s much less well-known. A declassified memo from 1965 reveals a network of journalists that regularly received intelligence from Ray S. Cline, one of CIA’s senior analysts and at that time the Deputy Director of the Directorate of Intelligence.
In the early ’70s, in the wake of ongoing controversy in Vietnam and increased public scrutiny, the CIA found itself facing a morale crisis. And as records released through CREST reveal, the Agency turned to a solution that should be familiar to anybody who’s worked in an office environment - a mandatory corporate retreat.
Buried in the STARGATE section of the CREST release is a letter from Congressman Charlie Rose, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Evaluation, regarding the Intelligence Community’s psychic program. Although short, the letter highlights a concern that was to be repeated by many outside of government for decades - that the program was part of CIA “mind control” activities, where in some cases “the rights of individuals were violated.”
The sudden showdown between longtime President Marcos and Corazon Aquino, widow of an outspoken critic, had the Agency anxious for a result they couldn’t predict.
While a CIA’s CREST database entry enticingly entitled CLARIFYING STATEMENT TO FIDEL CASTRO CONCERNING ASSASSINATION turned out to be nothing more salacious than a Barbara Walters interview, included in the same file is something you’ll never believe, reader, but it’s true - a letter from Penthouse.
The now-infamous Remote Viewing program run by the U.S. Army during the Carter and Reagan years was one of the U.S. government’s most extreme examples of magical thinking. Under the impression that psychic powers might aid the American war effort, individuals were recruited to attempt long-distance exploration of enemy offices and operations. Art skills, apparently, were not a requirement.
Between 1975 and 1976, Senator Frank Church carried out a televised campaign to reign in the U.S. intelligence community. The “Church Committee,“ as it was later known, held hundreds of hearings, published hundreds of pages of reports, and revealed some of the CIA, NSA, and FBI’s most sinister and illegal plots. Now, internal documents released in the recent CREST deluge reveal that even after his 1984 death, Frank Church was still trolling the CIA.
A considerable chunk of the CIA’s declassified archives consists of newspaper and magazine clippings. Some are stories relevant to Agency interest, others - typically critical - concern the CIA directly, and then there’s the ones that don’t immediately make sense - like cookie recipes.
Documents released through the CIA’s CREST archive offer new insights into American psychic spy programs. These documents claim specific successes by both the American and Russian/Soviet programs, as well as outline fears of a widening “psychic gap.”
Planning materials for the CIA’s 40th anniversary celebration released as part of the CREST database include a list of potential party themes and slogans. And while most of them are fairly straightforward, a few - like “We Have Met The Enemy, And He Is Still There” - stand out as downright bizarre.
In a 1981 letter to an unidentified Ambassador, former CIA Director Willam Casey thanked him for the surprise gift of two cases of beer. If you’re wondering what kind of beer gets you on a spook’s good side, keep wondering - the brand is redacted on “confidential source” grounds.
One of the gems uncovered so far amid the 13 million pages of declassified CIA records released this week is a list of Soviet jokes prepared for the Agency’s Deputy Director. One joke in particular, poking fun at Ronald Reagan, stands out - and apparently, Reagan agreed, working it into his “stories from Russia” routine.
Kel McClanahan, the lawyer who represented MuckRock in our lawsuit against the CIA, outlines the three-year fight to get the agency to release its declassified database — and all the excuses the agency used for why it couldn’t be done.
Back in December, we wrote about how the CIA, in response to our lawsuit and Emma Best’s diligence, would be placing its previously-inaccessible CREST database online. Today, we’re happy to announce that all 25 years worth of declassified documents are now available - no trip to the National Archives required.
In June of 2014, we announced what was then our first lawsuit: We were suing the Central Intelligence Agency over access to the CREST database, as well as a variety of metadata regarding how that database is used. We’re pleased that after a little over two years, our suit will result in greater public access to an important historical resource.