Cryptome has just published some interesting material on how senior officials in the Gerald R. Ford administration confronted demands by the Church Committee to investigate the world of secret intelligence during the mid-1970s. The documents show how both presidents as well as senior administration officials, such as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (winner of a Nobel Peace Prize), plotted to hold back every possible detail of their frequently illegal activities. The Church Committee was formed in response to leaks of blatantly illegal and even criminal activities by the CIA, as well as in the wake of the Watergate scandal which brought down Nixon. There are some disturbing parallels to the current response to the WikiLeaks affair.
On February 20, Kissinger met with defense secretary James Schlesinger, CIA director William Colby, and assorted underlings to consider the problems confronting the administration. Interestingly, Kissinger invoked McCarthyism, as though red-baiting and the public’s right to know are pretty much the same thing:
The fact of these investigations could be as damaging to the intelligence community as McCarthy was to the Foreign Service. The nature of covert operations will have a curious aspect to the average mind… The result could be the drying up of the imaginations of the people on which we depend. If people think they will be indicted ten years later for what they do. That is my overwhelming concern… The committees and staff don’t inspire confidence. Harrington and Miller are professional leakers. Miller is also violently anti-Vietnam and he believes the way to get the government is to leak it to death.
What was not Kissinger’s concern was that the officials might be committing indictable criminal offences in the first place. Colby rather naively suggested that the members of the Committee be made to sign “secrecy agreements” to keep them from giving out the worst of it to the public; Kissinger correctly pointed out that this would prevent them from announcing anything, but not from leaking it straight to the press. Kissinger was particularly worried that “CIA business” would come to light, but others were concerned about the FBI, whose systematic secret surveillance of American activists, politicians, and celebrities “won’t stand scrutiny.”
One of Ford’s ideas was to create a separate inquiry, a White House-rigged “Blue Ribbon Panel” which would “get to the bottom of this.” Ford discussed the idea with Richard Helms, a former CIA director who had moved on to become Ambassador to Iran. Even this posed some dangers, Helms pointed out:
If allegations have been made to Justice, a lot of dead cats will come out… I don’t know everything which went on in the Agency; maybe no one really does. But I know enough to say that if the dead cats come out, I will participate. I think the mood of the country is ghastly… The basic allegation — that we spied on dissidents — stemmed from the charge to me to discover if there was any foreign connection to the dissidents.
Note the way Helms slips into that an admission that the CIA really did (illegally) spy on Americans, justified on the grounds that they had to know whether said Americans had “any foreign connection. Ford still seemed to think that an administration-controlled panel could “operate responsibly” — as opposed to the professional leakers in Congress who might actually follow through on their promise to tell the public all of what had been going on.
Later in the year, the group met again to discuss the Church Committee’s recently completed report on CIA assassination plots. Just like today with WikiLeaks, the main focus of the discussion seemed to be resentment of the messenger (the Church Committee), with senior officials seemingly disturbingly unaware that their illegal, deceitful activities were the focus of the inquiry. Watch them line up on this:
Brent Scowcroft: If they publish a report at all, it is irresponsible.
Kissinger: If those things get out, senior officials will stop speaking frankly and foreign governments will wonder about their ability to work with us confidentially.
Colby: Any document which officially shows American involvement in an assassination is a foreign policy disaster… The second problem is that of names. They have asked for all the records of our relations with PanAm, [redacted] ITT and others. If we acknowledge a relationship, we will kill these companies and our ability to place agents and get cooperation.
Once again, note that these officials fear the disclosure of the way they’ve been sneaking around the world assassinating foreign politicians, without questioning the rightness of the murders themselves. It’s hard for a democracy to function when the first goal of the people’s representatives is preventing the people from knowing what the government is doing in their name.
Document 1. Nixon, McCone, Scowcroft. Memorandum of Conversation. November 11, 1974. Via Cryptome.
Document 2. Ford and Helm. Memorandum of Conversation. January 4, 1975. Via Cryptome.
Document 3. Kissinger, Schlesinger, Colby. Memorandum of Conversation. February 20, 1975. Secret/Nodis/XGDS. Via Cryptome.
Document 4. Ford, Kissinger, Schlesinger, Rumsfeld. Memorandum of Conversation. October 13, 1975. Secret/Nodis/XGDS. Via Cryptome.Tweet