In response to public pressure, the Central Intelligence Agency has finally posted more than 12 million pages of documents online, which, though declassified years ago, have up until now only been accessible at the National Archives in Maryland.
While many of the programs described in the documents have long been known, the ability to easily browse through them allows readers and researchers to gain greater insight into a wide range of secretive CIA activities. It will likely be some time still before the full significance of this release is appreciated. Nevertheless, the historical importance of numerous documents among the newly available set is obvious.
For example, the CIA’s investment in parapsychology research — the study of supernatural phenomena and abilities such as extra-sensory perception and telekinesis — remains one of the agency’s more bizarre efforts. Many today would dismiss these programs as a waste of resources, but while they have been known about in general terms for years, one recently digitized document describes explicitly the Cold War rationale behind such campaigns.
“The Soviet Union is conducting highly creditable and sophisticated research in the behavioral sciences and has been doing so for the past 10 to 15 years. The main areas of emphasis are in the fields of psychopharmacology, psychobiology, parapsychology and human factors,” the 1978 document notes. It goes on to assert that “potential uses of telepathic communication and psychokinesis are clear in highly sensitive military and political areas.”
Indeed, the CIA and military intelligence agencies (such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, which actually prepared the aforementioned document) clearly once thought parapsychology to be a valid field of study, given their approval of not just one but several “remote viewing,” or psychic spying, programs. These included projects with codenames like GRILL FLAME, SUN STREAK and STAR GATE, all of which feature in the recently digitized CIA documents.
Other notorious CIA activities referenced in the newly accessible documents include the controversial Phoenix Program — technically a counterinsurgency program but what critics say amounted to a campaign of terror and assassination in Vietnam — which officially began in December 1967.
There are many other gems in the newly dumped documents. While spokesmen refused to comment on the case at the time, newly accessible documents show that the agency filed away numerous news clippings regarding the 1984 criminal case against Harold Rosenthal, a cocaine trafficker who claimed he was actually working for the CIA. Other documents explicitly reference “black operations.”
The documents shed light not only on operational details of the CIA’s activities, but on the elite social circles from which it has in the past drawn its leadership and cemented support for its agenda. In newly released correspondence with other officials, Allen Dulles, one of the most infamous CIA directors, expresses his regret that his busy schedule will prevent him from attending the elite gathering at the Bohemian Grove in California and the exclusive Bilderberg Conference. “One of these days I should like very much to attend one of these Conferences,” Dulles laments.
Obviously it takes time to comb through millions of pages of documents, follow up on leads, and connect the dots between them and other previously known sources of information. It could potentially be years before the full significance of this latest document release is appreciated, but the simple fact that these files are now accessible online is a huge step forward, improving our understanding of the CIA — one of the most secretive and powerful agencies in the history of the US government.