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In current jargon, this simply blew my mind, especially when the briefing officer allowed as how it was all unconstitutional and illegal, adding only that it was necessary to fulfill our mission, it was in the national interest and besides, weren't we in a cold war?
My efforts to stop this activity were to no avail. Nelson Brickham, my branch chief at the time, disagreed with my attitude and told me, "It's you against the organization." Brickham reminded me of this earlier conversation during a phone call in January of this year, the first time I had talked to Brickham in 16 years.
Nevertheless, I approached Richard Bissel, the D/DP and ultimate boss of the Clandestine Services, who professed both ignorance and of deep concern over the propriety of this activity, and assured me personally that he would put a stop to it forthwith.
Former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, whom I also turned to for advice and help in this matter, displayed little, if any, concern despite my briefing copies of the open letters to him. I concluded that for the time being mine was a lost cause, what with the cold war mentality, the McCarthy anticommunist hysteria, et cetera.
I might add parenthetically here, too, Richard Bissell has reported to the press that he has not been certain about recalling our conversation. He did say if he had some vague recollection of mail opening, in any case he wouldn't tell me that because he thought it was appropriate. This is reported in the Hartford Times and in the New York Times, I believe.
I have no direct knowledge how long this mail surveillance had been going on, nor how long after my resignation from the agency it continued.
I think I share a common concern with the members of this committee, indeed with Americans generally, over the undeniable complicity of the Post Office with intelligence agencies in the invasion of privacy and the violation of constitutional rights of untold thousands of Americans.
It must not continue and it must not recur. The mail must go through all right, but unopened by spooks.
Now, to the best of my ability, I will gladly elaborate on any of the foregoing or attempt to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to make this presentation.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. Thank you, Dr. Crain.
We will pursue the 5-minute limitation on questions asked of the witness. I would make the general observation that while this committee this morning is interested primarily in mail covers, and mail opening conducted by the executive branch, we are also interested in the invasion of privacy by other means such as wiretapping and electronic surveillance, and other forms of civilian and military surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Our sister committee, the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and Civil Rights, is interested in oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, interested in the program of dossier keeping and data keeping, arrest records and various other activities which tend to run parallel with this subcommittee.
The legislation we have before us is cosponsored by well over 100 Members of the House of Representatives and covers many forms of surveillance or intrusion, including what you referred to in coining the word, as mailtapping.
Dr. Crain, this certainly is a generally philosophical question, and I don't mean to be necessarily contentious, but to explore your views. That a person having served in a number of capacities must have given all these matters some thought over the years, is obvious.
It must be obvious to every American citizen that in the process of intelligence gathering many activities were engaged in, which I suppose today, would be called reprehensible.
As to mailtapping, you probably share the common view of members of the committee that it is reprehensible, but do you distinguish between this activity on behalf of intelligence gathering which is permissible, necessary and allowable, in terms of protecting other civil liberties of citizens, and that which are not? How would you personally define the area of permissible actions, say, by an intelligence gathering agency?
Dr. CRAIN. Well, I think that the original charter-quotation marks of the CIA which is contained in the 1947 National Defense Act, says that the agency shall engage in the collection and analysis of intelligence and evaluation of intelligence information. I think that is a proper and necessary function of the U.S. Government and of any modern, large government such as we are, at least so long as we have the division of nation states and anarchy states and the possibility of war threatens. We need to know the intentions and capabilities of potential enemies, and need to know potential friends, too. It is another thing to say we should engage in covert-what we used to call black— operations of all kinds to get some of this information.
My own experience tells me, and subsequent to my tenure with the agency I have been reinforced in this conclusion, that the vast majority of intelligence-and intelligence, incidentally, is just another name for information-that we needed in those days in the 1950's and even more so today, in my judgment, is available from open sources.
The agency is remarkably well set up to get this from open sources in a passive way. I say passive collection of intelligence, that is, they subscribe to publications all over the world; books, journals, monographs, reports, things you find in the libraries everywhere.
The agency has developed-and indeed health agencies up to national security agencies-have developed technological means of intelligence collection. All of these together, and I have only touched on them, I think, make it quite possible for this Government to collect the necessary intelligence information without resorting to covert
I think it is no more true today than in those days. Really, we had denied areas in the 1950's, like China. China is no longer a denied area. Mr. KASTENMEIER. Denied areas are countries to which we don't have, for example, missions or diplomatic posts?
Dr. CRAIN. That is right. We even had posts in the U.S.S.R. during the 1950's, but our diplomatic personnel was extremely limited although we lived and circulated within certain areas. The number of visitors from the West to the U.S.S.R. in the 1950's could be counted
on your fingers of two hands. Even if you can make a case for covert activities in those areas, even then, very little take was of any value from those operations.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. One last question, then I must yield my time. You mentioned in your statement counterespionage operations within the United States or against any of its residents. It is your view that mail-opening operations conducted overseas might be permissible but not within the United States, do you make that distinction?
Dr. CRAIN. Personally, I don't think there is a need for it but morally I find it reprehensible, too. I am not sure it isn't counterproductive in the long run. You don't get enough take and you alienate other people. You can't hide it; sooner or later it comes out. That is one of the problems this country is beginning to face; its moral image is tarnished by things like this.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. The gentleman from Illinois.
Mr. RAILSBACK. Thank you for your testimony.
Where did the orders come from that the briefing officer gave you to begin this operation, if you know?
Dr. CRAIN. Well, that is the problem, that has always puzzled me. I don't know. All I know is in an informal way I was told to go down to the briefing, and I knew from past experience that I was about to have a new clearance bestowed upon me. I was to be part of a new "need to know" area.
Mr. RAILSBACK. Who was the briefing officer?
Dr. CRAIN. I don't remember, and I don't remember that I saw him again. He was presumably from staff D, a metamorphosis that I think nobody could really pin down, out floating around in the agency there. Mr. RAILSBACK. Did you have the idea this had been going on before? Dr. CRAIN. Yes; it had been going on before. Members of my own. staff were cleared and were using this source; that is why I was finally cleared. I was asking them embarrassing questions. The researchers were making their studies and coming up with information they couldn't attribute adequately and I was raising serious questions about it because I was a stickler for proper documentation. After all, people's lives are at stake in this planning and implementation.
They couldn't satisfy me. Finally they said, "Well, we had to clear you because you were about to blow it." That demonstrates the "need to know" principle pretty well. People could be administratively subordinate to a chief, have an investigation or project and the chief would not be aware of it. As far as I know my own division chief was not cleared.
Mr. RAILSBACK. Was all the mail to the U.S.S.R. channelled either through New Orleans, or I believe it was New York that you mentioned?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes. To my knowledge, only the outgoing mail was tapped. If they were doing the same thing with incoming mail I wasn't aware of it because we didn't receive those copies.
Mr. RAILSBACK. That was your assignment, anyway?
Dr. CRAIN. I would think we would have gotten those letters if they were doing that, but I don't know. All I know is we only got copies of the outgoing mail.
Mr. RAILSBACK. The briefing officer didn't tell you where the orders came from?
Dr. CRAIN. Well, he said-and this is all I have to go on although we talked about it with other people subsequently-this was a neat arrangement between the CIA, FBI, and the Post Office. This was a sophisticated intercept. They could open the mail by this means and reseal it without anyone knowing it.
It took place in two post offices. The presumption is that the FBI also got the take. The fact is, why else would they be involved. They would look at the copies from the point of counterintelligence. We were not looking from that point of view as we were looking for operational leads.
Mr. RAILSBACK. In addition to the Soviet Union, what other countries were involved?
Dr. CRAIN. Well, what we call the Iron Curtain countries, Eastern Europe. Frankly, we didn't see too much of that. Most of what I recall was to the U.S.S.R.
Mr. KASTENMEIER. The gentleman from California, Mr. Danielson. Mr. DANIELSON. Thank you for your information which does corroborate an important part of the testimony that we received from Postal Inspector Cotter the other day. My questions will be directed only at trying to put things into perspective because I find that the words we use have meanings which are subjective to those of you who use them, and I want the ultimate record here to try to mean something objectively.
We have the use of the word mailtapping. That is not a defined term in Webster's. Will you tell us what you mean when you use mailtapping?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes. It is based on a singular interpretation, that is, the interception of mail-in this case it was first-class-but, interception without the permission of the sender or receiver by unauthorized people or agencies opening it, reproducing it, resealing it and putting it in a nice way-in a covert way.
Mr. DANIELSON. Using it in that way distinguishes it from mail cover?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes; as I understand a mail cover.
Mr. DANIELSON. Mail cover is simply examining all of the information that appears on the outside of a piece of mail?
Dr. CRAIN. It is a relatively common practice; yes.
Mr. DANIELSON. That is the sense in which you use that term?
Mr. DANIELSON. Another term which you used today, covert, means literally secret; does it not?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes.
Mr. DANIELSON. Does it have any special meaning in the sense you have used that word, those two or three words in your testimony?
Dr. CRAIN. I suppose this is part of my occupational or professional jargon from the past. The terms clandestine, covert, and so on, instead of secret, instead of spy missions, I referred to them as clandestine operations, et cetera. Covert is a very common word with me.
Mr. DANIELSON. The way you used covert you don't mean secret; everything you were doing was supposed to be secret; was it not?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes; certainly during the working day.
Mr. DANIELSON. I am only talking about your professional activities. Was it not all supposed to be secret? In fact, weren't you under some kind of Boy Scouts oath to keep it secret?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes; when we were assigned to the agency and when we
Mr. DANIELSON. I am interested in the word "covert” in the sense you used it. Correct me if I am wrong, but not only was it secret, everything you did was supposed to be secret; when it was something that was peppered or tinged with the feeling of something illegal, isn't that what you mean by covert?
Dr. CRAIN. Well, I suppose, yes, except that it didn't have that particular connotation to me in those days. But, looking at it in the perspective of opening of American citizen's mail, it would have that tinge, I think.
Mr. DANIELSON. You made a statement you didn't believe we needed covert activities; everything in the CIA is covert, as far as I know. Do you mean to say we don't need a CIA?
Dr. CRAIN. In lots of things the CIA is not really covert and those are in line with the original charter.
Mr. DANIELSON. Aren't those that type of covert operation?
Dr. CRAIN. It is called covert but I tend to think there are many things the CIA does, in my judgment, that should not be covert; they are not classified and should not be secret.
Mr. DANIELSON. Did you ever serve outside the United States or was all of your time within the United States?
Dr. CRAIN. Temporarily. I was abroad in other countries on several occasions for a few weeks.
Mr. DANIELSON. Not for any extended period of time?
Dr. CRAIN. No.
Mr. DANIELSON. I see my 5 minutes is up.
Mr. KASTEN MEIER. The gentleman from California, Mr. Wiggins. Mr. WIGGINS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Professor, for sharing your testimony with us.
You mentioned in your prepared statement that you have a copy of a letter. Is this one of those letters that you received?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes.
Mr. WIGGINS. And you received it in your capacity as a member of the CIA?
Dr. CRAIN. Yes.
Mr. WIGGINS. Did you make that copy with the consent and knowledge of the CIA?
Dr. CRAIN. No; I did not. Well, it was the CIA's own copy.
Mr. WIGGINS. Do they know you have a copy?
Dr. CRAIN. They may know now.
Mr. WIGGINS. Did you advise them you took the copy?
Dr. CRAIN. No; I didn't.
Mr. WIGGINS. This is an example of a very much related problem of the surveillance which you conducted. As you say in your statement, your possession of the letter is undeniable proof that surveillance was carried on in the United States, in this case, by you, apparently in a clandestine way and apparently of a letter.
I might characterize that as filetapping. It raises some moral questions. Do you have any moral twinge about this?