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Washington, D.C.

The executive session convened at 11:50 a.m., in room 2237, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Robert W. Kastenmeier [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.

Present: Representatives Kastenmeier, Danielson, Drinan, Badillo, Pattison, Railsback, and Wiggins.

Also present: Bruce A. Lehman, counsel; Timothy A. Boggs, professional staff member; and Thomas E. Mooney, associate counsel. Mr. KASTEN MEIER. I think we will convene, the other two members should be here shortly.

Gentlemen, the main purpose in this particular area of inquiry, with respect to Mr. Cotter being off the record, of course, is at the request of the Justice Department; and it concerns the pursuit of a 20-year program by the Central Intelligence Agency, which was revealed by Mr. Colby, both in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Intelligence on January 15, and before the Bella Abzug Government Operations Subcommittee on March 5. That, in fact, there had been a program of opening of mail from 1953 to 1973, and what would presumptively be in violation of law; however, that it not a matter for this subcommittee to determine.

The basic question, Mr. Cotter, is: How was the Central Intelligence Agency able to conduct such a program without the cooperation of the Postal Service? I assume it did have the cooperation of the Postal Service, and if you could explain that to this committee, so eventually others will be able to cope with the implications.


Mr. COTTER. I am at a slight disadvantage because there is a wealth of information pertaining to this entire matter, naturally, in the CIA's hands. In fact, after the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency made the announcement in the paper, a month or so ago, that they had been opening mail for 20 years, I was a little taken aback because I wasn't apprised that they were going to make that announce

ment. Subsequently, however, I did go over to the Office of Security, and they made their files available to me; so, I have refreshed my recollections of the project.

Here is the way the project started. Back in 1952, the FBI, Alan Dulles, got in touch with the Chief Postal Inspector, at that time Cliff Garner.

Mr. DANIELSON. The gentleman said with the FBI.

Mr. COTTER. I beg your pardon, that's incorrect; it should have been CIA.

Mr. KASTENMEIER. At that time you yourself were a member of the FBI, before you joined the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. COTTER. No, sir, I was in the CIA. I was in the CIA since 1951. I was in the FBI from 1947 to 1951.

Back in 1952, the CIA, Alan Dulles, I understand-perhaps not Alan Dulles himself-but anyway, the CIA people got in touch with Cliff Garner and indicated they would like to survey Soviet mail; they did not precisely say whether it was incoming or outgoing mail. It was agreed to by the Inspection Service. However, it was not put into effect until 1953.

And I do believe there is some record to show that Mr. Dulles briefed Mr. Summerfield, the Postmaster General. Perhaps in 1953, or a little bit later, Mr. Summerfield perhaps said, "Fine," it should be very well contained and shouldn't be discussed as it was a national security matter.

Now, it's not clear exactly as to what the CIA briefed Mr. Summerfield, or the Chief Postal Inspector. In other words, I'm quite sure, in my opinion, that the postal people thought this was in effect a mail cover operation, covering the exterior-to watch somebody's mail going to the Soviet Union and perhaps coming back.

This project started in 1953. A couple years later, however, there was an indication, perhaps after 1955, they went one step further— the CIA people-and without the concurrence of the postal people surreptitiously appropriated some letters and opened the letters.

Mr. WIGGINS. Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, but it is still very unclear to me how the CIA surreptitiously could do anything with the mail unless it were physically delivered to them, and withdrawn from postal channels.

Mr. COTTER. Right, Mr. Wiggins. Generally speaking, with a mail cover, for example, the customer, the FBI, or anybody else, does not have access: the postal employee does the recording of the information on the exterior of the envelope.

In this case, however, it was different. There was a significant volume of mail coming from the Soviet Union, sacks of mail. So, they made space available, the postal people did, in New York City, and initially a postal inspector was with the CIA employee, or employees. But the employees of the CIA were authorized to actually shuffle mail, and sort mail, and get it in the categories they wanted to get it, and what have you. So, indeed, they did have access to it. And then later on, as I say, a postal clerk was responsible for getting the mail off the floor and maintaining observation of those fellows while they were working this mail. But obviously they did surreptitiously slip

some of these letters in their pockets, or something like that, removed it from the premises, opened it, took pictures of it, and got it back into the mail stream the next day.

Now, we had a postal employee working with this group in New York City for 16 years until he retired.

So, this was going on, and Postmaster General Summerfield was apprised of something, and he thought it was a good idea. Postmaster General Day was apprised-again, I don't know of what he was apprised, perhaps that they were recording the outside and taking photographs. They were taking photographs to speed it up, rather than to record all the material by hand. So, presumably he was apprised of the fact that this was going on; and it was going along like that until 1969, when a new administration comes in and William J. Cotter was appointed Chief Postal Inspector.

It just so happened that 20 years ago the Chief Postal Inspector was aware of that project in New York City, in 1952 to 1955. So, I came into the Post Office Department with that knowledge.

I left that area in December of 1955; I had been away in Europe and here and there, and hither and yon. But still, I knew it back in my mind, I presumed it was still going on. When I came into the Postal Service, nobody briefed me on this subject, and there wasn't any record of the project. But early in the game I was concerned, and I wanted to do something about it. I started to persuade the people back in the other organization to discontinue the project; and I think their files do show my constant expression of concern. Finally, as a consequence

Mr. WIGGINS. If the gentleman would yield. I'm not sure I knew of the state of your knowledge. Did you know of the mail openings, or did you just know of the mail cover?

Mr. COTTER. I knew of the mail openings. It was a small-time operation, mail-opening type of thing; and this was up in New York in 1955.

Mr. WIGGINS. In what capacity did you learn the information?

Mr. COTTER. I was assistant agent-in-charge of their field office at that time.

Mr. WIGGINS. Whose field office?

Mr. COTTER. The CIA's.

Mr. WIGGINS. You learned that as a CIA representative

Mr. COTTER. That is correct.

Mr. WIGGINS [continuing]. Not postal, or FBI.

Mr. COTTER. No, sir. I knew it because I was in the CIA, and it was going on. And I knew it officially at that time, and in December of 1955 I moved out of it; thereafter, I had no official awareness of it; I went on to various other assignments. But still, when the appointment came for me to be Chief Postal Inspector, I knew of the project.

Mr. WIGGINS. All right.

Mr. COTTER. But then, anyway, I was pushing to get rid of the project. And finally the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Helms said, "All right, let's get together," and I told him I was not interested in getting into the details of their sensitive project, but I wish they would either get exceedingly high approval for this project or discontinue the project.

I received the impression they thought it was still of significant value, and this is 1971, not only to them, but to the FBI. He said, "All right, I'll take care of it."

Three days later, I was called by Postmaster General Blount who said, "I had a meeting with your former boss and carry on with the project." I understood at that time also the Attorney General was briefed and thought-I understand-the project was fine. But again, I can't say what he was told, and I can't say what Red Blount was told. But I presume that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency told them what was going on. This is 1971.

Moving a little later in 1971, the Postmaster General left, at which time I moved again to discontinue the project. In 1971-72, and particularly in 1972 when Watergate came along, I accelerated my efforts to get rid of the project; and several people in the CIA were agreeable to discontinue the project: the Director of Security, Howard Osborne; Tom Karamessines, the DDP; but not the CI people. The CI people wanted to continue; they said it was exceedingly valuable for foreign intelligence, and also the FBI allegedly said it was exceedingly valuable. But I finally gave them a deadline of February 15, 1973, either get superior approval for this project or discontinue it. They came back on the 13th of February 1973 for an extension while they worked something else out, and I said, "Suspend the project." They suspended it, and that's the end of the project. And that's the story.

Mr. KASTEN MEIER. Apparently, as far as the time sequence, Mr. Colby's testimony, sparse as it is, concurs with that; it was a 1953 to 1973 project.

I take it then, that the Postal Service during this period of time was in a position of access, and giving access to the Central Intelligence Agency in opening mail, but as far as you are able to determine, the Postal Service itself did not provide personnel for the purpose of opening mail.

Mr. COTTER. That is correct. The only individual we provided, just one clerk in New York City to work with this group of CIA employees for some 16 years, one clerk, then he retired.

Now, we spoke to him and said, "Weren't you ever suspicious of what they were doing" and, yes, maybe he was. He noticed one letter that he saw 1 day come back in the mailstream the next day. "Well, did you ever invite it to the attention of your superiors?"

"No, I didn't."

In other words, he was too closely associated with these people over a long period of time. But nobody in the Postal Service, nobody, ever told me about it.

Mr. KASTENMEIER. Well, I take it a number of Postal Service people would have known this, the postmaster of the Post Office in New York?

Mr. COTTER. Negative. That was way out in Kennedy, just a little operation; they would drag a mailbag off—and I'm amazed, 20 years it goes on, that it didn't "hit the fan" somehow.

Mr. KASTENMEIER. It did not take place in San Francisco, and other

Mr. COTTER. That's a different one. There was one other one in San Francisco. It was a smaller one and occurred on maybe four different

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