The CIA reveals its family jewels

But the agency is still up to its old tricks -- including spreading lies about the Kennedys.

Published June 25, 2007 12:02AM (EDT)

The CIA is coming clean. That's the message the agency is trying to send with the release of its "family jewels" this week. The jewels are contained in a 693-page file that documents many of the clandestine service's darkest deeds, from its post-World War II origins to the Watergate period. Among the past criminal activities to which the CIA is finally confessing are: assassination plots against foreign leaders, surveillance and wiretapping of American journalists, kidnapping of foreign citizens, opening domestic mail, and spying on U.S.dissidents. None of this is really news, since Seymour Hersh first broke the family jewels story back in 1974. But the CIA is now trying to market its new candor by declassifying these past sins.

CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden underlined the point, saying the file offers "a glimpse of a very different time and very different Agency." But has the CIA really changed its ways? As Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive commented, the agency still dips into its "black bag" these days, pulling out some of the very same "dirty tricks" to prosecute George W. Bush's war on terror. Kidnapping and detention of foreign citizens? Check. Illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens? Check. Assassination plots against foreign leaders? Who knows? Hugo Chavez certainly has his suspicions.

The CIA's new honesty is also far from complete. There is nothing in the family jewels about agency officials long suspected by congressional investigators and researchers of ties to the Kennedy assassination, including deceased agents such as William Harvey, David Phillips, David Morales and George Joannides. The agency continues to keep these records under wraps, in brazen defiance of the law.

In fact, the agency could not help taking another whack at the Kennedys with the release of its family jewels. Press reports about the declassified CIA secrets laid the blame for the assassination efforts against Fidel Castro directly on then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy. What's the original source for this anti-Kennedy smear? None other than Richard Helms, the No. 2 man at the CIA during the Kennedy presidency and a bitter enemy of the two brothers.

Helms, desperately trying to head off congressional investigations into CIA abuses in the post-Watergate period, warned that he would drag RFK -- by then conveniently dead -- into the Castro controversy. By doing this, the wily Helms was clearly trying to intimidate the Democratic-controlled Congress. At a lunch meeting in January 1975, Helms told his friend Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that "Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of Castro" -- confident that Kissinger would spread this around Washington, as he quickly did. Helms knew his accusation against RFK was a lie, and when later pressed by the Church Committee to provide proof, he could not, admitting that the CIA had misled Bobby about its plots. In truth, RFK was appalled when he learned that the agency was collaborating with the Mafia to kill Castro -- and Kennedy believed that he shut down this sinister operation. But he did not succeed -- the CIA continued to conspire against Castro for years after the Kennedys were removed from power.

Spreading poisonous disinformation about the Kennedys has long been one of the CIA's oldest family jewels. Helms' loyal aide Sam Halpern was a master at disseminating these lies to the press for years. But don't expect the agency to come clean about this any time soon.

By David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of New York Times bestsellers like "Brothers," "The Devil's Chessboard," and "Season of the Witch." His most recent book is "Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of My Stroke."

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