To Kill a MOCKINGBIRD: Recently released records dispel old myths surrounding CIA program targeting journalists
A review of a file released to MuckRock on Project MOCKINGBIRD sheds new light on a Central Intelligence Agency program of domestic surveillance that targeted a pair of journalists. In the process, it dispels old myths, highlights and clarifies an error in CIA’s Family Jewels and an omission in the Rockefeller Commission’s Report. The file also reveals that the CIA’s surveillance of the journalists resulted in recording phone conversations with members of Congress - possibly including the Speaker of the House.
Forty years ago - in the aftermath of a very public American reckoning with the nation’s Intelligence Community that featured the Watergate scandal, the Church and Pike Committees, and the Rockefeller Commission - President Jimmy Carter signed Executive Order 12036 on January 24th, 1978, placing additional restrictions on the Central Intelligence Agency’s ability to operate in the United States.
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.
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.
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.