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Hippie-era CIA skulduggery report unveiled

Warrantless spook wiretap shocker! Erm, hold on ...

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The so-called "family jewels" internal report into questionable doings by the CIA in the 1960s and early '70s is now available online - with only a moderate amount of blanking-out.

Having promised to do so last week, the CIA has now released the entire 700-page report dating from 1973. Parts of it were already known, but last night's release provides a wealth of detail and spook-history trivia. It can be downloaded here (pdf).

The report details a catalogue of swashbuckling intelligence operations which - as the covering note says - had significant "flap potential".

Examples include the recruitment of Vegas mobsters in an attempt to poison Fidel Castro, assistance to Watergate burglar Howard Hunt in hiring an ex-agency lockpicking expert, and the testing of "drugs rejected because of unfavourable side effects" on "volunteer members of the Armed Forces".

Agency men also imprisoned the defecting KGB officer Yuri Nosenko in a "specially constructed jail" in a remote forest for two years and subjected him to "hostile interrogation", convinced that he was a double agent. He was released after others at the CIA became concerned about the legality of what the agency was doing. Subsequently he was found to be "bona fide" and the "most valuable defector this agency has ever had", as of 1973.

Apparently Nosenko wasn't too upset by his lengthy and unpleasant illegal incarceration, saying he "understood how it could happen". But then he was a KGB man.

There is also evidence of the CIA wiretapping journalists in order to uncover their sources, and of the agency intercepting international phone calls between US citizens and people overseas - without any legal warrant to do so. Interestingly, even back in the bad old days, as soon as the CIA's in-house lawyers found out about it the operation was dropped.

According to the present CIA director, ex-airforce general Michael Hayden, the report is a "glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency".

Funnily enough, Hayden was head of the National Security Agency during the massive 2001-2007 secret, warrantless, phone-tapping campaign it conducted against American citizens talking to people overseas. President Bush still claims the power to order such measures without judicial approval at any point is appropriate, though that particular programme is now subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance star chamber secret spy court.

So Hayden is right; the 1970s were a different time indeed, in that the US intelligence community often accepted that there was more than one branch of government.

Slipping on one's tinfoil hat just for a moment, it's possible to wonder what the 16 known (and lord knows how many unknown) US intelligence agencies might be up to right now, no doubt with full executive approval, while we're all having fun poking through 30-year-old dirty laundry.®

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