LIANE HANSEN, host:
Tomorrow, here in Washington, the Central Intelligence Agency will lift the lid on the agency's own illegal activities from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. A summary of the 693-page report was released last week. It told of assassinations, kidnappings and domestic surveillance.
James Bamford has spent nearly three decades investigating the activities of America's spy agencies. He's the author of the best seller "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency," and he's in the studio. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JAMES BAMFORD (Author, "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency"): Thanks, Liane.
HANSEN: There have been efforts over the years, many in fact, to get this information. The CIA ignored those efforts. Why are they releasing the information now?
Mr. BAMFORD: There have been numerous Freedom of Information Act requests for this information. I think the time has come to just get it off their back and move on to something else.
HANSEN: Is this information new? Is any of the material surprising to you?
Mr. BAMFORD: No, none of it is new. None of it is surprising because this was extensively investigated by the Church Committee in 1975. And if you read the nine volumes of their hearings, most - everything that's discussed in those -these pages that are about to be released were discussed there. They had the witnesses who actually did these things before the committee, giving testimony - a lot of it in open sessions.
So, it's a mystery to me that the CIA would actually sit on it for these many years.
HANSEN: Why all the fuss now then?
Mr. BAMFORD: Well I think because this is very unusual for an agency to actually release documents where 100 percent of the documents are very embarrassing for the agency. Because it was one compilation of all the bad deeds of the agency from the time it was born in the late '40s until basically the mid-70s.
HANSEN: Does the information as it's from more than 30 years ago - 32 years ago actually - does it say very much about what might be going on at the CIA now? Does it tell you anything about that?
Mr. BAMFORD: Well, it's ironic. You know, these are the horror stories back in the '70s - everybody was aghast of what was happening. This was the whole creation of congressional committees, joint committees to look into all this stuff. And now looking back, it seems so minor compared to what the CIA is doing today. They have a whole section here on how the CIA held up a Russian defector in a jail that was created by the CIA - a mini-prison for this person on CIA property for two or three years.
Now you have the CIA keeping people in prisons all over the world in secret prisons. It talks about the mail opening that was done by the CIA - reading letters going from the United States to and from Russia - and also China - and that was an outrage at the time. But today, the intelligence community is reading hundreds of thousands if not millions of e-mails of Americans.
HANSEN: Do you see anything new in this information that reveals more about the relationship between the CIA and the White House, or the CIA and other agencies for that matter?
Mr. BAMFORD: Good and bad aspects, one is that Richard Helms rejected a lot of the overtures from the White House to get involved in Watergate, for example. Helms did not want his agency to have any taint of Watergate and that in the end, really sort of cost him his job because he defied the Nixon White House on that issue. So I think that was a very high point. The low points, of course, were the fact that the CIA didn't do these things.
HANSEN: Does the release though show anything about today's relationship between the White House and the CIA?
Mr. BAMFORD: Back then, if you want to compare those two, it's very interesting that the CIA resisted a lot of the White House overtures. And today they had -George Tenet seemed to go along with most of what the White House was proposing despite the fact that most of or a lot of his employees below him were saying the opposite thing that there weren't weapons of mass destruction.
HANSEN: James Bamford is the author of several books on national intelligence, including "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency." Thanks for coming in.
Mr. BAMFORD: My pleasure, Liane.
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