What’s the missing jewel?
Today, the CIA released its infamous "Family Jewels" file. This is a set of internal memos compiled in the mid-1970s after press reports revealed numerous CIA dirty tricks. In 1973, CIA director James Schlessinger, having learned that Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and James McCord (each a CIA veteran) had been in contact with the Agency while carrying out illegal activities for President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, ordered divisions within the CIA to report any activities they had engaged in since 1959 that might be outside the CIA’s authority. Deputy Director William Colby then assembled a loose-leaf notebook of the memos that poured in. The whole package totaled 700 pages. And though its existence has been known for years–congressional investigators of the 1970s had access to these documents–this secret file has never before been made public. It was considered to hold the agency’s darkest secrets.
Many of these secrets did emerge during the congressional investigations of the 1970s: the joint CIA-Mafia attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro; CIA surveillance of American reporters and political dissidents; the CIA’s secret jailing for three years of a suspected Soviet agent (who was not a Soviet agent). The newly-released documents are full of fresh details about some of these notorious episodes. But at least one of the "Family Jewels" seems to be missing.
The first document in the packet is a 1973 memo from Howard Osborn, then the CIA’s director of security, to the CIA top management, and it summarizes the "jewels" compiled by his office. It lists eight problems–including the recruitment of mobster Johnny Roselli for the Castro hit. But blacked out from this document is the first item on Osborn’s list. And a two-and-a-half page description of this operation is also redacted from the "Family Jewels" file.
In a recent speech, General Michael Hayden, the CIA’s director, hailed the declassification of the "Family Jewels." He remarked, "The documents provide a glimpse of a very different time and very different Agency." Yet the very first secret in these papers has been deleted.
"The No. 1 jewel of the CIA’s Office of Security is probably a pretty good one–especially since the second jewel in this list is the Roselli/Castro assassination program," says Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a public interest outfit that filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the "Family Jewels" fifteen years ago. There are many other deletions in the "Family Jewels" file, and in most instances there’s no telling exactly what has been excised. But much of the censored material seems to be related to how the CIA has created cover and fake documents. "This is probably justifiable," says Blanton, because such operational secrets may still be relevant today. But the missing jewel? Assassination? Domestic spying? Something unimaginable? "We just don’t know," says Blanton.