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occasions, 1970, 1969-70, perhaps 1971; I don't have the dates before me, but relatively insignificant in comparison. This was Chinese mail, the same type of thing. They put in a request to me. When I became Chief Inspector, I immediately designated my deputy, James Conway, to handle the liaison with CIA. They got in touch with me when they wanted to do something and I said, "Write a top-secret letter or something to my deputy, James V. P. Conway," which they did. He authorized them to do it; that is, a mail cover, and admonished them, "Don't touch the mail, don't take the mail off the premises," and so forth. But according to Mr. Colby they still did the same thing on
the west coast.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. The procedure was, presumably, when they, the agents of the Central Intelligence came across letters in the sacks that would appear to have higher than normal interest, they would remove them and photograph them?
Mr. COTTER. Apparently they had watch lists.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. Oh. In terms of such activity, presumably they could have pursued a court order, or warrant, and, of course, they preferred not to, naturally. But theoretically they might have attempted to obtain a warrant. Of course they obtained this through other means. It is doubtful whether they could have shown proper cause, or anything.
Mr. COTTER. Of course, here you are getting into the intelligence business, and they probably had very, very valid reasons; in other words, perhaps they were trying to develop communications links with agents they have in the Soviet Union. That is getting into sensitive, classified reasons, and they had a long list of them. And also, as to the value, they assured me and also the FBI-I didn't speak directly to the FBI on the subject-that it was invaluable information; but I can't personally attest to that.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. On that point. Now, the program has been terminated for a period of almost precisely 2 years. To your knowledge,. has the Central Intelligence Agency since that time made strenuous efforts to resume that program because it had been invaluable?
Mr. COTTER. I have seen no indication whatsoever. There is a very, very cool, and very, very quiet relationship with CIA. With the FBI it's a normal relationship. The FBI wasn't directly involved in the operation of the project. Whatever they got was through the CIA operation.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. Your own personal sensitivity to this suggests that you prefer some other procedure to be followed if ever, say, the Intelligence Agency were to have such access to mail.
Mr. COTTER. Oh, indeed. I'm not clear in my own mind yet precisely what their legal people's interpretation is as to their mandate. And again, I mentioned here, who knew about it? Presumably, Postmaster General Blount? Attorney General Mitchell? They say, "Presumably fully." "How much higher?" I ask. "Any Presidents?" There is nothing on the record, and there again it would be Mr. Helms to respond to that. I personally feel Presidents were aware of this; I personally feel the National Security Council was involved in this type of thing,. but that's just a feeling. The files that were made available to me by CIA didn't go above the Postmaster General-Attorney General level.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. In the 20 years of that program-and obviously Mr. Colby and Mr. Helms, and other people can testify to that and presumably will, in due course, if not before this subcommittee, before another forum-presumably all Postmasters General did know it occurred.
Mr. COTTER. I don't know. The three that are mentioned: Summerfield, Day, Blount. Gronouski is not mentioned. Klassen didn't know anything I didn't mention anything to Klassen. I didn't mention it to Ted Klassen because I was still pushing my efforts to discontinue the project. Maybe I should have given them a deadline earlier, but I was pushing them to stop the project. You know, time goes by. You start in 1 month, and before you know it's 6 months later. So, I know he didn't know about it; and, of course, Ben Bailar didn't know about it until after the fact.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. I have pursued this long enough. I would like to yield to the gentleman from California.
Mr. DANIELSON. I have no questions.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Bob.
Mr. DRINAN. Mr. Cotter, do you know any of the circumstances why Mr. Silberman came to the chairman of this committee, Mr. Rodino, and asked that this be off the record?
Mr. COTTER. None other than this. When I was invited to testify before this subcommittee, I was wondering about the Rockefeller Čommission, whether or not their "nose might be out of joint" because I'd been invited here; and the Rockefeller Commission, I presume, would want to talk to me with regard to this subject. I asked a member of my staff, "Who is the counsel of the Rockefeller Commission, call and get the name of the counsel of the Rockefeller Commission." And before he knew it, he was talking to the counsel on the phone and mentioned the fact that I was coming over here. And the next thing I heard, they said they would like to have somebody come and see me, which they did on Friday. The next thing I did, I had a call— Mr. DRINAN. Who did you see on Friday?
Mr. COTTER. Mr. Baker.
Mr. DRINAN. Who is he?
Mr. COTTER. Harold Baker, a senior member of the staff of the Rockefeller Commission from Champaign, Ill.
Mr. DRINAN. OK.
Mr. COTTER. Next, I had a call from the Director of Security of CIA. He made reference to the fact that I was coming before the Kastenmeier subcommittee. I didn't tell him, so I presume he might have heard it from the Rockefeller people.
Mr. DRINAN. What's his name?
Mr. COTTER. Charles W. Kane.
Mr. COTTER. He said, "You are going before the subcommittee," and I said, "Yes." And I mentioned to Mr. Baker of the Rockefeller Commission, I said, "I'm going before the Kastenmeier subcommittee next week, do you have any observations?"
"No. Tell them the truth; we don't have any control over Congress; whatever Congress says, and that's it."
So, the fellow from CIA called and he said, "I understand you are going before the Kastenmeier subcommittee" and I said, "That's cor
rect, I'm just going to answer their questions"; and that was the end of that.
Mr. DRINAN. How did this get to Mr. Silberman? Why is he trying to
Mr. COTTER. I don't have the slightest idea. There was nothing generated from the Postal Service to my knowledge.
Mr. DRINAN. All right.
Mr. COTTER. If there is anything generated, it's presumably CIA. Mr. DRINAN. Well, Mr. Silberman indicated to the chairman there was pending a possible criminal investigation. Do you know anything about that?
Mr. COTTER. No; but I wouldn't be surprised if the Justice Department is aware. For example, we kept the Justice Department aware of what I know. I sent them a letter at the end of January, telling them everything I know, to Jack Keeney, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division at Justice. And they asked us, "Well, what about the fellow who was moving the mail sacks up there, and so on, in New York City. Let's have him interviewed." We had him interviewed and kept Justice apprised as to what was going on.
MF. DRINAN. I take it, Mr. Cotter, that you have no difficulty yourself in just having this as a public hearing.
Mr. COTTER. As far as I'm concerned, I said, "I'm just going to tell the truth." The sensitive aspects are the CIA. Whatever the purpose of this, the whole program, what they got out of it, who knows. I don't know what they got. If, for example, they ever got a piece of information that could have saved the life of President Kennedy, something like that. Who knows.
Mr. DRINAN. Mr. Chairman, I just want to say for the record that I abstained from the vote going into executive session, and I'm very apprehensive about it. Frankly, I don't know what Mr. Silberman said except insofar as you reported it, what his motivation is, or whether he was reached by Charles Kane.
I feel very uneasy that somehow, inadvertently, I'm a part of the coverup by the CIA.
I vield back the balance of my time.
Mr. KASTENMEIER, Mr. Wiggins?
The program which you described commencing operationally in 1953, or thereafter, involved an interception of mail from foreign sectors, particularly the Soviet Union. Are you aware of any program involving the segregation of mail from U.S. senders, destined to foreign addresses?
Mr. COTTER. Well, I think the same thing applies there. I do believe that included mail going to the Soviet Union, as well as coming from there, presumably.
Mr. WIGGINS. I see. And with respect to the operation on the west coast, which was instituted during the period you were Chief Postal Inspector, was that also involved with mail from foreign senders, as well as to foreign senders?
Mr. COTTER. My feeling is that was just incoming mail from Red China. But I understand that they were interested, they told my
people they were interested in censorship possibilities, and so forth; all incoming, I'm quite sure.
Mr. WIGGINS. Did you understand that the operation on the west coast was to involve mail openings as well as mail cover?
Mr. COTTER. No, no; the only approval was for a cover. And I kept away from anything the CIA had to do with our organization; and our people gave specific instruction against moving of mail off our premises, and they also had instructions for supervising.
Mr. WIGGINS. Well, now, if you believed this to be a mail cover operation, why were not your existing regulations adequate to deal with that almost administratively without the necessity of exchanging top-secret correspondence?
Mr. COTTER. Because the CIA was involved, and because the CIA was talking about the fact that they were interested in, when they spoke to me, about the point of development of atomic energy in China.
Mr. WIGGINS. Well, now, in the normal mail cover situation which is authorized under certain circumstances, do you require that kind of indepth justification from other sensitive agencies?
Mr. COTTER. In the national security, one would require a justification. And if it were necessary to classify it, yes, it is classified, in many cases we do. The FBI, many of their requests are classified, where they go into detail on the nature of the thing; and also other agencies will classify the letter requesting a mail cover.
Mr. WIGGINS. Now, with respect to this entire operation on the east coast and on the west coast, and during the full 20-year period of its life, were you dealing with foreign addressees and foreign senders?
Mr. COTTER. I don't have the slightest idea. Here again, in the case of the clerk, the clerk in New York City, for example, he would bring the mail sack of incoming foreign mail. Then the employees of the CIA who are reviewing this mail and recording it, with a camera, or something like that; those are all the people who saw that.
Mr. WIGGINS. Well, now, I can't believe you have not the slightest idea. Certainly CIA personnel should not have access to all mail flowing from Kennedy, that there was some segregation of mail. To your knowledge, was that segregation only of mail addressed to foreign destinations, or emanating from foreign sources?
Mr. COTTER. Yes; it was either originating in the United States, going abroad; or originating abroad, coming here. There was no domestic mail involved in that, no Sheboygan mail to Louisiana mail at all; it was strictly foreign.
Mr. WIGGINS. And this entire operation had a foreign address, or a foreign
Mr. COTTER. That is my complete understanding.
Mr. DANIELSON. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. WIGGINS. Yes.
Mr. DANIELSON. I'm trying to be helpful here. Mail outgoing to the Soviet Union is contained within a bag, or bags, separate from something that is going to Spain.
Mr. COTTER. Yes, sir.
Mr. DANIELSON. Likewise, incoming from the Soviet Union is contained separately in a bag, or bags of mail that came from the Soviet Union.
Mr. COTTER. That is correct.
Mr. DANIELSON. So, it was simply those bags that went through this procedure.
Mr. COTTER. That is correct. As Mr. Wiggins was interested here, there was no looking at bags with strictly domestic mail. I am very, very sure that is the case. And, of course, you can confirm it by talking to the fellow who was segregating the bags in New York City.
Mr. WIGGINS. Now, in arriving at your decision in 1972, or perhaps earlier, that you wished to discontinue that operation, did you have the opinion of any counsel, counsel's advice from your legal staff? Mr. COTTER. No, sir.
Mr. WIGGINS. Back to the legal propriety of the operation.
Mr. COTTER. No, sir. I didn't speak to anybody in the Postal Service about this thing at all. I still felt constraint, and perhaps erroneously so because of all sorts of secrecy admonitions I had in my former position. This was considered a most sensitive project. For example, I didn't just run up to Red Blount and tell Red Blount there is a very sensitive project there; what I did was try to push those people to come back and brief Red Blount.
Mr. WIGGINS. Well, now, since this matter has been somewhat in public domain, have you sought the opinion of your counsel with respect to the legal propriety? And I don't want you to answer with respect to moral, or any other policy considerations. only the law.
Mr. COTTER. I did have a chat as soon as this matter came into the public domain. I briefed Ben Bailar, the new Postmaster General; and indeed, I also at the same time briefed Lou Cox.
Mr. WIGGINS. Who is he?
Mr. COTTER. General Counsel.
Mr. WIGGINS. I see.
Mr. COTTER. We didn't ask Lou Cox about the legal propriety of this because it is apparent opening mail is a violation of section 1702 of title 18, United States Code.
Mr. WIGGINS. It's not that apparent to me, but somebody can perhaps explain.
Mr. COTTER. Well, Lou's view was-on the other hand, the people at CIA had some other, and I hadn't had the benefit of what their legal interpretations are, how they handle this type of operation, emphasizing it's foreign intelligence and counterintelligence there, directed abroad.
But that's it. I did discuss it with Lou Cox, and I keep Lou Cox apprised of what's going on.
Mr. WIGGINS. Your answer is, you do not have, at least at this moment, the benefit of a department memorandum discussing the legal issues.
Mr. COTTER. No, sir.
Mr. WIGGINS. Let me see, do you know as a result of your briefing from your predecessor what his state of knowledge was, concerning this operation?
Mr. COTTER. I spoke to Henry-when I came aboard; Henry Montague was my predecessor as Chief Postal Inspector. When I came aboard, I don't recall his mentioning this project to me at all. I would see him fairly often; he is still in this neighborhood. He didn't know anything about it. He thought it was an exterior type-mail cover.