The Rest of CREST
To celebrate the release of the CIA’s CREST database, we’ll be doing a daily deep dive into the weirdest corners of the Agency’s history.
Image via CIA’s Flickr
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. Mike 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.
Back in December, we wrote about how the CIA, in response to our lawsuit and Mike 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.