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He thought it was a very sensitive thing, and he perhaps didn't want to know anything about it; that was the attitude at the time.
It was a cooperative effort. He knew that Postmaster General Day had been briefed; and Postmaster General Day reportedly thought it was a fine program. Again, there is no indication that Henry Montague informed Mr. Day, or apprised him of the depth of the damned thing; in other words, the opening aspect, since Mr. Montague himself was only aware of the mail cover aspect.
Mr. WIGGINS. But do I correctly understand your testimony, your predecessor had awareness of an operation.
Mr. COTTER. Oh, yes, sir, indeed.
Mr. WIGGINS. And he believed it to have been a cover operation, mail cover operation.
Mr. COTTER. That is correct. In fact, Mr. Montague was the inspector in charge of New York City in 1953, when the whole thing started. He was the first individual contacted by a representative of the CIA in New York City with regard to setting up this project. Later on he was appoined Chief Postal Inspector.
Mr. WIGGINS. That's all the questions I have.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. Mr. Badillo?
Mr. BADILLO. Was there ever any mail cover, or mail opening investigation, in Miami?
Mr. COTTER. Not to my knowledge.
Mr. BADILLO. Is it possible there could have been one without your knowing about it?
Mr. COTTER. It is possible. However, when I was talking to the CIA people the other day, they appeared to be very, very candid. They appeared to tell me, these are the things that happened, there was one here, and one on the west coast, and some other places. And the only ones the Postal Service was involved in was the New York City one and the San Francisco one.
Mr. BADILLO. What do you mean, one here, one on the west coast, and some other places?
Mr. COTTER. I didn't question them on the other places, but I gathered there may have been some other places.
Mr. BADILLO. There could have been one in Miami.
Mr. COTTER. That is correct.
Mr. BADILLO. There could have been one in Chicago.
Mr. COTTER. Indeed.
Mr. BADILLO. Is it possible there could have been such mail places outside of the United States?
Mr. COTTER. Oh, I wouldn't be surprised at all. I would think that would be a standard CIA-type operation abroad.
Mr. BADILLO. Are you satisfied, or have you inquired as to whether all of these activities have now ceased everywhere within this country? Mr. COTTER. Postmaster General Ben Bailar directed a letter to CIA Director Colby the other day, precisely on this point, telling him he has responsibility for the sanctity of the mail, and it would not recur under his domain.
Although it has been reported that these programs ceased in February. 1973, I want your personal assurance that there are no more of these types of operations presently going on, planned, or ever to be undertaken.
This communication went from Postmaster General Bailar to the Director of the CIA a week-and-a-half ago.
Mr. BADILLO. You mean there is still no answer?
Mr. BADILLO. It might still be going on, then.
Mr. BADILLO. That is not a question of opinion. There is still no confirmation from the CIA; it could be going on in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, in 50 cities. Correct?
Mr. COTTER. That is correct, Mr. Badillo, unless the Postmaster General has received a response and I have not gotten the drop copy. Mr. BADILLO. Did you know that Bella Abzug's mail was being opened?
Mr. COTTER. No.
Mr. BADILLO. Was the mail that was opened only with respect to Russia, in New York City, Kennedy Airport?
Mr. COTTER. I understand that was the large bulk of it. But there was a period of time when they had access to some Cuban mail.
Mr. BADILLO. Wasn't there some testimony about mail involving Paris, and the Viet-Cong delegation in Paris?
Mr. COTTER. I didn't see that, but as I recall, now that you mention it, that's correct. I do not know. I do not really know the magnitude of the area they were covering. It is my understanding, I know, in the early days, the Soviet Union. I heard later, Cuba.
Mr. BADILLO. It could have been Spain, right?
Mr. COTTER. Indeed.
Mr. BADILLO. Germany, Berlin.
After the Kennedy operation ceased officially, was there any application to continue pursuant to a court order?
Mr. COTTER. No, sir.
Mr. BADILLO. Has there ever been any application to continue a similar operation in San Francisco, Miami, or wherever else, pursuant to a court order?
Mr. COTTER. No, sir.
Mr. BADILLO. Now, when I asked you the question in public testimony as to when you have mail openings, you were very precise and specific about the fact, only when it's authorized by court order, or dead mail.
So, you knew then, did you not, that this was illegal, that kind of activity.
Mr. COTTER. Oh, indeed.
Mr. WIGGINS. That is a legal conclusion I can't make at this point. Mr. BADILLO. He is a lawyer, he can make the conclusion, he can say it was not authorized.
Mr. COTTER. That's what I mean, it wasn't authorized.
Mr. WIGGINS. I don't want to debate what the law is, and I am seriously concerned as a member of this committee that we straighten up a very big hole in the law with respect to the fourth amendment application with respect to foreign-and I underline that word— intelligence operations. But I think it's an unresolved question.
Mr. BADILLO. That may be, but I am talking about the public testimony. The witness testified to the fact that the mail openings are
only authorized in two different instances. And I am asking him, since that was his public testimony-we are in executive session-whether he knew that was not authorized, he can certainly answer that.
Mr. WIGGINS. Go ahead, I stated my point. When we talk about illegality, that is a very gray area.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Gentlemen, we are in the middle of a second quorum. It would have been my hope that we could have concluded this matter without reconvening at a later point. May I get a senseMr. RAILSBACK. No questions.
Mr. DANIELSON. No questions.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Not questions, but whether you want to make this quorum. Is there anyone intent on making this quorum, otherwise we will continue straight through.
Mr. DRINAN. That's fine.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Mr. Pattison?
Mr. PATTISON. I am not sure whether to address this question to the witness, or to the whole panel here. I am a little bit concerned, we voted to close the session-Mr. Chairman, I am considering making a motion to reopen this session. I have learned nothing new in this executive session. In fact, I had breakfast with Mr. Colby this morning with 20 other people, and he told us precisely these very things. It seems to me to be a matter of record, it has been published in the newspapers. So, I think we may have given the press the impression that something very secret is going on here and there isn't.
I am seriously considering the advisability of continuing with this executive session because we are going to create the impression in the mind of the puble that something new is going on here and it hasn't, at least up to this point it hasn't.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. May I say to the gentleman, I hope he won't make that motion because I think we have virtually concluded today's testi
I will seek to have the transcript of this released forthwith. But I do think I need to notify Mr. Silberman first.
Mr. PATTISON. I understand that part, that is why I was hesitant to make the motion. As long as I have your assurance, Mr. Chairman, that you will be going to the chairman of the full committee, and whoever he chose to go to, and advise him of the fact that nothing has transpired here that is anything new, or novel, and very quickly make an attempt to make this public knowledge.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. I was persuaded that the best course of action would be to go off the record to protect the rights of others, principally in any ongoing investigation; and I am talking of an investigation that obviously Mr. Cotter is aware of because he made reference to it.
I rather agree that nothing has been said, that I am aware of, that could compromise the rights of the witnesses, or others.
Mr. DANIELSON. I would like to make a
Mr. BADILLO. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. DANIELSON. Yes.
Mr. BADILLO. I would like to say. Mr. Chairman, that I hope that you would take up the question of releasing the transcript.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. Of course.
Mr. BADILLO. And I reserve the right to subsequently make a motion. The impression that something is here that goes beyond the areas that have been discussed in public, and into the field of national security. One of the problems is that so many subjects are always covered over with the cloak of national security. We are getting to the point where we are participating precisely in what we are supposed to be investigating.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. Mr. Railsback?
Mr. RAILSBACK. Sometimes, I think, we are well advised to perhaps close up something that may be extremely sensitive, to protect somebody's rights. When we have done that, and when we learned that is not the case, I certainly agree with you that we should open it up.
Mr. DANIELSON. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. KASTENMEIER. The gentleman from California.
Mr. DANIELSON. I would like to state that Mr. Railsback has very clearly stated what's on my mind. I think it was the proper thing for us to do, to go into closed session to receive primarily this information.
I agree with Mr. Pattison, I am not aware of anything that has come out here which has not already become public knowledge one way or the other; but that doesn't in any degree diminish the fact that we acted in a responsible manner to hear sensitive information, just as a court oftentimes examines something in chambers before presenting it before a jury.
Now, my belief is this transcript can safely be released, but I think we should conclude our responsibility by at least looking at it firstI'm not aware of anything damaging-but just to conclude our job we ought to look, and then release it.
I have one question only that I would like to ask the gentleman, if I may.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Sure.
Mr. DANIELSON. Do you know, of your knowledge, whether now, at least as of March 18, 1975, there remains in existence a mail-opening operation which is not sanctioned by a court order?
Mr. COTTER. No, sir.
Mr. DANIELSON. You do not know; or do you know that there is not?
Mr. COTTER. Well, I am aware of no such operation. I would be amazed if there is any such operation in existence.
Mr. DANIELSON. And if you knew of any, would you stop it?
Mr. COTTER. And if I knew of any, I would stop it.
Mr. DANIELSON. I have no other questions.
Mr. WIGGINS. Mr. Chairman ?
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Mr. Wiggins.
Mr. WIGGINS. If the gentleman is intending to make a motion here, let me at least express my concern.
There is nothing this witness has said, as I interpret it, that in any way jeopardizes national security interests, that would be prejudiced by disclosure.
But frankly, I question my ability to make that judgment alone, or the ability of five or six Members of Congress that disposed of the subject in 30 minutes, make an intelligent judgment on that issue.
For example, I do not know the exact extent to which the witness testified before the Abzug committee, or the Senate with regard to details of the operation. I do not know, for example, that the Russian Embassy knows that its mail has been opened; it may suspect it, but I don't know that it knows it. And if it does not know it, even though it suspects it, that may well affect the character of their operations in the future and may ultimately affect the national security interests.
What I am suggesting, Mr. Chairman, before we simply in a heavyhanded way say to the public, "Here it is," that we have the benefit of at least the observation of somebody who has more sophisticated knowledge of the "security interests," and be permitted to comment on the testimony. Then I would be in the position, and the subcommittee would be in the position of making an informed judgment, which I think it is ill-equipped to make at this time.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. May I address myself to this? What I would propose to do and I hope the subcommittee will agree-is to have the transcript of this portion printed at the earliest moment and in addition to each of us having access to it, I would make it available to the full committee chairman, Mr. Rodino, and to Mr. Silberman, of the Justice Department, because of some fears that he expressed. There is nothing in here that would prejudice national security, in my belief, or the rights of individuals, or otherwise violative of the House rules.
And I would ask Mr. Rodino and Mr. Silberman to approve the release of the material forthwith, or for Mr. Silberman to indicate precisely why it should not be made so available, in clear terms. I would convene the subcommittee
Mr. DRINAN. I'm afraid that I don't find that acceptable, that we have to make the judgment, not Mr. Silberman; and he gave no shred of evidence as to why we should hold this. We acted in good faith, and it seems to me that now everyone here concluded there is nothing derogatory to any individual, and that it's not contrary to the House Rules to release this testimony. I don't want Mr. Silberman to have censorship, and I really think we should open it up. We acted in good faith, and I think that his request was respected, his request was improvidently granted. We now discover that nothing is here. And I think that we should make our own judgment and tell Mr. Silberman there is nothing here at all.
We should not give him a manuscript, and this is going to take days, it reflects badly on the committee that we are subservient to the Department of Justice. Then he may delay or postpone, say, "cut out page 7." or "page 8," and that would multiply our difficulties. The neatest, the cleanest thing to do is to say, "Mr. Silberman, we opened it, there was nothing there that warranted your closing it, or our closing it, and here is what the record states."
And that is what Mr. Cotter said that he has no request-and he is the witness he has no suggestion that we should make this closed. Why should we act by some third party who is a has-been in the Department of Justice?
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Mr. Badillo?