Examining CIA's Release of 'The Family Jewels'

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr comments on the CIA's release of classified files known as "The Family Jewels."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Next week, the CIA will release a batch of documents known as the Family Jewels. Kept secret for decades, they detail assassination plots, spying activities and other illegal activities.

NPR senior new analyst Daniel Schorr covered the intelligence agencies back in the '70s when the documents were compiled and he has these thoughts on their coming release.

DANIEL SCHORR: To understand about the Family Jewels, you have to understand the climate in which the document came to be. President Nixon had tried to get the CIA to take the rap for Watergate. Former CIA agent Howard Hunt had gotten disguises from the agency. After Nixon's resignation, Director James Schlesinger ordered the CIA's inspector general to compile the report on past CIA improprieties.

Security Adviser Henry Kissinger brought the report to President Ford in Vail, Colorado. According to reliable sources, Ford was appalled at some of the things the agency had been up to dating back to the 1950s.

There had been illegal domestic surveillance and monitoring of mail of anti-Vietnam dissidents. There had been LSD experiments on unwilling subjects. There had been assassination conspiracies - in the first place, against Cuba's Fidel Castro, but also in various stages against the Congo's Patrice Lumumba, the Dominican Republic's Rafael Trujillo and Chile's Salvador Allende.

In delivering the documents to President Ford, Kissinger warned in a memo that the report could be more damaging to the country than Watergate. Family Jewels was meant to suggest the need to keep the document under lock and key.

But eventually, elements in the reports began to leak. William Colby, who succeeded Schlesinger as CIA director, admitted to me that the CIA had been involved in the assassination conspiracies but no longer, he assured me. Publication of the report is likely to reopen the controversy over the many attempts on Castro's life. Kissinger told President Ford that Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation to assassinate Castro.

It is fascinating that the CIA, after all these years, decides to go public with some of its abuses makes you wonder when today's veil of secrecy is pierced to admit light on current abuses.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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