In 1973, the Director of Central Intelligence ordered CIA officials to prepare a descriptive account of all CIA activities that were “outside the legislative charter of this Agency,” which is to say unauthorized or illegal. The purpose of the exercise was to identify operations that had “flap potential,” meaning that they could embarrass the Agency or embroil it in controversy.
The resulting 700-page CIA compendium of unlawful domestic surveillance, wiretapping, mail opening and detention actions became known as “the family jewels.” It helped to inform and to substantiate the investigations of intelligence in the 1970s. The document was finally declassified (with some redactions) in 2007 and was released to the National Security Archive, which has posted it here.
In a new book entitled The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power (University of Texas Press, 2013), historian John Prados reviews the origins and consequences of the family jewels document and the operations described in it.
The thrust of Prados’ book is that the CIA family jewels are not simply relics of a discrete historical period, but rather that they are exemplars of a recurring pattern of intelligence misconduct. Many of the specific abuses of the 1970s, he argues, can be understood as archetypes that have been manifested repeatedly, up to the present day.
As DNI James Clapper said at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee last week, “there are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback…. the conduct of intelligence is premised on the notion that we can do it secretly and we don’t count on it being revealed in the newspaper.”
“The intelligence community must acknowledge how difficult it is to keep secrets today,” said ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt in a speech last week.
The notion of creating and incrementally expanding “no spy” zones has some history. In a 1996 op-ed, for example, former U.S. Ambassador Robert E. White proposed that the U.S. explore the possibility on a trial basis:
“One reform might be to select a specific region of the world — for example, Central America — as a testing place. Withdraw all CIA staff from these countries. Let the National Security Council charge our career diplomats with fulfilling Washington’s intelligence requirements. Should Foreign Service officers prove capable of meeting all intelligence needs, then gradually extend this beneficial practice to other countries through pacts of reciprocal restraint by which signatories agree not to spy on or engage in covert action against the other. In order to be eligible to sign such a pact with the United States, the other nation would have to meet minimal standards of openness.” (“Call Off The Spies,” Washington Post, February 7, 1996).
Phi Beta Iota: Since 1969 CIA’s own have been calling for an Open Source Agency, and since 1994 a global campaign has been underway to restore intelligence with integrity to the U.S. Government, other governments benefiting in passing. CIA is a tiny part of the larger problem of reckless, expensive, ineffective intelligence collection that is not processed and has no purpose other than to “keep the money moving.” CIA is however the soul of the US Intelligence Community, and what a black soul that is. Instead of actually creating decision-support, CIA has been a dumpster for sociopaths using drones to kill thousands, while everyone else goes through the motions. There are fifteen slices of Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a subset of HUMINT — it is not a technical collection discipline. One could reasonably conclude that there is no one now serving at the highest levels of CIA — or the rest of the IC — that actually cares about (or is capable of leading) the production of ethical evidence-based decision support for the President and everyone else in Whole of Government that is responsible for strategy, policy, acquisiton, and operations “in the public interest.”