The CIA’s Family Jewels

The CIA’s Family Jewels

The CIA has declassified the “Family Jewels.” (Press release here.) Also known as the “Book of Skeletons,” this document was compiled in 1973 under Director of Central Intelligence James Schlesinger, in the aftermath of the revelations from the Watergate investigation and other reports of CIA bad acts. Wanting to get a handle of the situation, of the skeletons in the CIA’s closet, he asked CIA employees to report activities they thought might be inconsistent with the Agency’s charter. The result is this nearly 700 page document that has been officially kept secret these last thirty-four years.

I say “officially” been kept secret because parts of it have become public, as former CIA case officer and author Robert Baer noted in an essay in Time Magazine. So why release the whole thing now? Baer writes:

…while I wouldn’t count on any major revelations, CIA Director Michael Hayden’s declassifying this stuff is news, and good news at that. Hayden’s plan is not only to draw a line under the past but make a point to this and future White Houses: Politicize intelligence and you’ll find your name on the front page of the newspaper.

However, anyone expecting something like a transcript of “The Good Shepherd” will be disappointed. At the moment, I cannot find a full downloadable version of the document, but rather a browser where you can page flip through it (linked from here). There are lots of redactions, some going for pages, and much of this document is the underlying nitty-gritty of operations, such as funding requests, memos on providing fake ID’s and the like. And, while the organization of the material is opaque, this nonetheless provides a window into the work of the intelligence community.

This compilation will be of particular interest to national security and intelligence historians, but it will also likely prove useful to those of us who teach national security law and related fields. In particular, the “Book of Skeletons” will show what the CIA officers themselves viewed as being probably illegal (although they did these acts anyway). This will take a while for people to read through and digest; curious readers may want to start with the overview memo on page 8 and the Memorandum for the Record on page 402.

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You can find the documents here in pdf.