The CIA released hundreds of pages of internal reports yesterday on agency misconduct that triggered a scandal in the mid-1970s over domestic spying.
The documents detail assassination plots against foreign leaders, such as Fidel Castro, the testing of mind- and behavior-altering drugs including LSD on unwitting citizens, wiretapping of American journalists, spying on civil rights and Vietnam war protesters, opening mail between the United States and the Soviet Union and China, break-ins at the homes of ex-CIA employees and others.
The 693 pages, mostly drawn from the memories of active CIA officers in 1973, were turned over at that time to three different investigative panels — President Ford's Rockefeller Commission, the Senate's Church Committee and the House's Pike Committee.
The panels spent years investigating and amplifying on the documents. And their public reports in the mid-1970s filled tens of thousands of pages. The scandal sullied the reputation of the intelligence community and led to new rules for the CIA, FBI and other spy agencies and new permanent committees in Congress to oversee them.
The documents also were one of the products of the Watergate scandal. Then-CIA Director James Schlesinger was angered to read in the newspapers that the CIA had provided support to ex-CIA agents E. Howard Hunt and James McCord, who were convicted in the Watergate break-in. Mr. Hunt had worked for a secret "plumbers unit" in Richard M. Nixon's White House. The unit originally was tasked to investigate and end leaks of classified information but ultimately engaged in a wide range of misconduct.
In May 1973, Mr. Schlesinger ordered "all senior operating officials of this agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency." The law establishing the CIA barred it from conducting spying inside the United States.
The result was 693 pages of memos that arrived after Mr. Schlesinger had moved to the Pentagon and had been replaced as CIA chief by William Colby. Mr. Colby ultimately reported the contents to the Justice Department.
"These are the top CIA officers all going into the confessional and saying, 'Forgive me, father, for I have sinned,' " said Thomas Blanton, director of the private National Security Archive, which had requested release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
Inside the CIA, Mr. Colby referred to the documents as the "skeletons." But another name quickly caught on and stuck: "family jewels."
They first spilled into public view on Dec. 22, 1974, with a story by Seymour Hersh in the New York Times on the CIA's spying against antiwar and other dissidents inside this country. The agency assembled files on some 10,000 people.