Angus Mackenzie

Angus Mackenzie

Angus Mackenzie was born in 1950. He worked as an investigative journalist and had articles published in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Washington Post, San Francisco Examiner and the Columbia Journalism Review. During his career he won or shared over two dozen journalism awards, including the National Magazine Award.

Mackenzie also taught at the School of Journalism at the University of California. Along with David Weir he was a co-founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting, where he managed contracts with 60 Minutes, 20/20, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, and many other outlets.

Mackenzie was particularly interested in the covert activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. Over many years he accumulated evidence of the CIA's systematic efforts to suppress and censor information. Mackenzie discovered that this covert operations originated during the Cold War as the CIA instituted programs of domestic surveillance and agent provocateur activities. This included infiltrating organizations to setting up CIA-front student groups.

Angus Mackenzie died on 13th May, 1994, of brain cancer. The manuscript he had been working on for fifteen years was completed and edited by his friends. Secrets: The CIA's War at Home, was published in 1998.

Primary Sources

(1) Angus Mackenzie, Secrets: The CIA's War at Home (1998)

Congressman Clare E. Hoffman's first reaction to the National Security Act of I947 was exceedingly positive. Indeed, Hoffman, a conservative Michigan Republican who chaired the House Committee on Government Operations, agreed to introduce the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The surprise Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 had profoundly shaken American intelligence officials, and it was generally agreed that the absence of a centralized intelligence authority was at least partly to blame. Once the war was over, Army Major General Lauris Norstad and Navy Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman laid out a plan for the consolidation of command and intelligence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would oversee military planning at the Pentagon; a National Security Council would coordinate the conduct of foreign affairs and national security matters at the White House; and, most important, a Central Intelligence Agency, independent of both the Pentagon and the White House, would function as a neutral repository of military intelligence.

Norstad and Sherman's plan was incorporated in the National Security Act, and with Hoffman's support it was expected to sail smoothly through Congress. The more Hoffman studied the legislation, however, the more it troubled him. The proposed CIA was to advise the National Security Council in matters concerning intelligence, to make recommendations for the coordination of spying, to disseminate intelligence, and to perform "other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." Hoffman feared this open-ended authority.

Hoffman's concerns were shared by a fellow Midwestern conservative Republican, Clarence J. Brown of Ohio, who also worried about the seemingly unlimited power of the proposed director of Central Intelligence. In open hearings, Brown confronted Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, a key advocate of the plan. "I am not sure that I want to trust, unless it is just absolutely necessary, any one individual or any one group with all-out power over citizens of the United States," Brown remarked. "How far does this central intelligence agency go in its authority and scope?" He posed a hypothetical question: "Should [the CIA director] decide he wants to go into my income tax reports, I presume he could do so, could he not?"

"No, I do not assume he could," Forrestal replied.

Brown pressed on. "I am not interested in setting up here, in the United States, any particular central policy agency under any president, and I do not care what his name may be, and just allowing him to have a Gestapo of his own if he wants to have it." Forrestal argued that the CIA's authority would be "limited definitely to purposes outside this country." But when asked a key question - "Is that stated in the law?" - Forrestal was stymied: "It is not; no sir."

Without protections for domestic liberties written into the law, it was easy to imagine any number of situations in which the power of the proposed CIA or its director could go unchecked: the president could use the CIA to spy on Congress, could secretly manipulate elections, or could undermine political opponents. The greatest danger was that, once created, the CIA would be hard to contain. Should Congress try in the future to legislate a change, the president could veto such legislation and attack members of Congress for being weak on national security. Hoffman said, "If we are going to fix anything we had better do it now before we turn over any blanket authority to anyone because we can never get it back."

Admiral Sherman suggested a compromise. The CIA would not have "police, law enforcement, or internal security functions," and it would be prohibited from "investigations inside the continental limits of the United States and its possessions." Once this bargain was struck, most opposition to the CIA faded away. Little attention was given to a seemingly innocuous sentence buried in the proposal: "The Director of Central Intelligence shall be responsible for protecting sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure."

Almost no one foresaw the sweeping secrecy powers that would emanate from those few words. Almost no one had a hint that these words would be taken by courts, twenty-five years later, as congressional authorization for peacetime censorship in a nation that had been free of such censorship for nearly two hundred years. Almost no one, that is, except Hoffman, who had become convinced that the new CIA was anathema to a democracy. Although he had introduced the bill in the House, Hoffman at the end was speaking sharply but unsuccessfully against it-virtually a solitary voice in the wilderness.

In the decades that followed the passage of the 1947 National Security Act, the CIA would become increasingly involved in domestic politics, abridging the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and press; it would spy on law-abiding American dissidents, tell the Internal Revenue Service to investigate political "enemies" of the Agency, and attempt to silence news reporters and news publications in order to keep the American public from learning that the I947 law was being systematically violated. Moreover, more than four million employees and contractors of the United States government would be prevented from disclosing matters of wrongdoing, large or small, because the I947 act would be interpreted as an endorsement of widespread censorship.

(2) Angus Mackenzie, Secrets: The CIA's War at Home (1998)

In March 1972, a typescript of an article and a related book proposal were purloined by a CIA agent from a New York publisher and forwarded to Langley. For Richard Ober, the manuscript was right out of a bad dream. A former senior CIA official, Victor Marchetti, was planning to write a book exposing CIA deceptions. Marchetti had been the executive assistant to the deputy director of Central Intelligence and had attended regular planning and intelligence meetings attended by Richard Helms. He had also been a courier for the Agency group that approves covert operations. The most carefully guarded CIA information was called Sensitive Compartmented Information, or SCI, and was distributed to officials strictly on a need-to-know basis. But his position had allowed Marchetti an overview of the Agency purposely denied to most CIA officers.

Over time, Marchetti had become troubled by the Agency's role in the overthrow of democracies on behalf of dictators and by CIA manipulation of other nations' internal policies. He saw evidence of corruption in overseas operations. Marchetti's intellectual honesty was also offended by intrigue inside CIA headquarters that disrupted the accuracy of intelligence estimates. Furthermore, the Vietnam War had disillusioned Marchetti, whose sons would soon reach draft age. And when Eagle Scouts from a troop he served as scoutmaster began dodging the draft, Marchetti began to feel his CIA job was isolating him.

Upon quitting the Agency at age thirty-nine, after a highly successful fourteen-year career, Marchetti wrote a novel called The Rope Dancer. Prior to its publication by Grosset and Dunlap in 1971, a CIA officer read a version of the manuscript at Marchetti's home, in keeping with the rules set out in the CIA secrecy contract Marchetti had signed. The CIA officer found no security breaches, and publication went forward.

What troubled Ober and Ober's immediate supervisor, Thomas Karamessines, was one particular line in the novel. Marchetti's central character is speaking with jaundiced anger about the fictional CIA: "Somebody should publicize the Agency's mistakes." Suppose Marchetti got it in his head to write about MHCHAOS? Concerned, Helms himself ordered Marchetti placed under surveillance beginning on March 23, I972.

Within days, an article written by Marchetti appeared in the April 3 Nation under the headline "CIA: The President's Loyal Tool." Marchetti wrote that the CIA was using the news media to create myths about the Agency and was fooling such influential publications as the New York Times and Newsweek. Additionally, he claimed, the CIA had continued to control youth, labor, and cultural organizations in the United States, notwithstanding the scandals triggered by the report in Ramparts. Marchetti also castigated Helms for spending too little time engaged with the intricacies of intelligence analysis, satirically calling him a "master spy" who conducted his most important weekly meetings in less than twenty minutes. Marchetti concluded: "Secrecy, like power, tends to corrupt, and it will not be easy to persuade those who rule in the United States to change their ways."

Even while MHCHAOS was surviving the Marchetti scare, the CIA inspector general, an internal cop, was the focal point of a second emergency. Worried that the inspector general might discover MHCHAOS and expose it, Helms called in Colby, Ober, and Karamessines for a meeting on December 5, I972. Helms emphasized the importance of running a cleaner, less dubious-looking operation. There was a need to proceed cautiously, he said, to avoid a showdown with "some CIA personnel." Nonetheless, Helms was adamant that MHCHAOS not be abandoned. It will not be "stopped simply because some members of the organization do not like this activity," he insisted.

Helms cautioned Ober against attending meetings of the Justice Department Intelligence Evaluation Committee, because security was lax and its role in domestic politics might lead investigative reporters to MHCHAOS. Helms had come up with a solution to the problem of CIA officers who doubted the legality of MHCHAOS. Henceforth, it would be described within the Agency as an operation against international terrorism. "To a [sic] maximum extent possible, Ober should become identified with the subject of terrorism inside the Agency as well as in the Intelligence Community," Helms ordered. Afterward, Colby sent Karamessines a summary of the meeting: "A clear priority is to be given in this general field to the subject of terrorism. This should bring about a reduction in the intensity of attention to political dissidents in the United States not apt to be involved in terrorism." The change in label was evidently intended to improve the Agency's image and cover, on the assumption that "terrorists" were more believable as a genuine threat than "dissidents."

But there was in fact to be little change in targets. MHCHAOS continued to hold radicals in its sights, specifically radical youths, Blacks, women, and antiwar militants. The label "international terrorist" was designed to replace "political dissident" as the ongoing justification for illegal domestic operations. And in the final move to clean up Ober's act, in December Helms put an end to the operation of the five-year-old MHCHAOS by formally transforming it into the International Terrorism Group-with Ober still in charge.

Only seventeen days later, Helms and Karamessines announced their resignations from the CIA. Nixon named James Schlesinger to replace Helms as director, and Schlesinger in turn replaced Karamessines with Colby as deputy director for plans. In a euphemistic change, Schlesinger and Colby renamed the Directorate for Plans as the Directorate for Operations, which was the CIA's way of saying, "Let's call domestic spying a response to terrorism."

(3) Angus Mackenzie, Secrets: The CIA's War at Home (1998)

The underground press was the spinal column of the antiwar movement. In California, Max Scheer had founded the Berkeley Barb on Friday, August I3, I965. The front page of the Barb's first issue had a report on antiwar demonstrators attempting to stop a troop train carrying soldiers to a deployment point for Vietnam. Subsequent issues contained regular reports from the front lines of the movement. Barb's staffers left their offices on Friday afternoons to hawk papers on street corners. Circulation grew to 85,000 copies a week. In Washington, D.C., the Washington Free Press distributed antiwar polemics on the streets outside the White House and the State Department. One of the Free Press editors was Frank Speltz, a white student at predominantly black Howard University. He had started the paper as a newsletter meant to carry civil rights news to nearby white campuses, but he then broadened its focus to include reporting on antiwar demonstrations. In Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York, similar papers sold for twenty-five cents a copy. By I967, there were hundreds of antiwar, counterculture newspapers-some of them in towns as small as Grinnell, Iowa, and Lubbock, Texas. They had their own news service, the equivalent of an underground Associated Press. Their combined circulation would peak at seven million a month. In conjunction with the campus press, the underground press was a mighty antiwar propaganda machine.

The CIA was not alone in its mission. Ober coordinated efforts with agents of the army, the local police, and the FBI. At the US Army Intelligence Command, Ralph Stein was assigned to a similar underground newspaper desk. Stein soon figured out that antiwar publications were being financed by change collected on the street, not by the KGB or the Chinese secret service. When Stein was called from his office to brief Ober's team at CIA headquarters, he was shocked to find that the CIA officers had knowledge about the lives of underground editors so intimate that it could only have come from infiltrators. Concerned that Ober's task force was operating in violation of the I947 National Security Act, Stein returned to his office and registered an official objection with his commanders. The next thing he knew, he had been relieved of his liaison duties with the CIA.

In some respects Ober was a fugitive within his own agency, but the very illegality of MHCHAOS gave him power. Because he had been ordered to carry out an illegal mission, he had certain leverage over his bosses, as long as he kept his operation secret. Indeed, he had leverage over not only Karamessines but also CIA Director Helms, as well as anyone at the White House and the National Security Council who received his domestic intelligence reports. In time these would include Henry Kissinger and Nixon's counsel, John Dean. Ober was a man walking on the edge of a razor. As long as everything remained secret, he was not only safe but powerful: he had the ear of presidents.

With Richard Nixon in the White House, the demands on Ober for more political espionage became louder and clearer. Ober's sixty agents became the Nixon administration's primary source of intelligence about the antiwar leadership.

(4) Stuart H. Loory, Intelligence Testing, Columbia Journalism Review (March/April 1998)

During the cold war, the US government adopted a potpourri of regulations designed to keep its secrets as critics tried to use the First Amendment to expose government wrongdoing. The rationale was that the critics were giving aid and comfort to the communist-inspired enemies and had to be stopped. The real reason was that these critics were exposing information embarrassing to the government.

But now a compelling case can be made that all the damaging secrets were given away by the people paid to keep them. These were the years when the government tried to block publication of the Pentagon Papers, a study ordered by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on how the nation went wrong in Vietnam, and an article in The Progressive magazine that, the government charged, violated the 1954 Atomic Energy Act by giving away secrets on how to build the H-bomb. Those two incidents, in 1971 and 1979 respectively, marked the only times the US government went to court to use prior restraint to block publication. During this period the CIA tried to stop publication of books critical of the agency by former employees and the government prosecuted a Pentagon official, who also moonlighted for Jane's Defense Weekly, for giving away a photo classified secret of a Soviet aircraft carrier under construction in the U.S.S.R. An American spy satellite had taken the photo. As embarrassing as those publications might have been, they did not do one bit of damage to the nation's security.

At the same time, Aldrich Ames, a high ranking mole in the CIA, earned $2.5 million from the Soviet Union and Russia, selling secrets that resulted in the roundup and execution of several CIA agents in Moscow, and G-man Earl Edwin Pitts earned more than $200,000 selling FBI secrets to the Russians. Ames was sentenced to life in prison, Pitts to twenty-seven years. Edward Lee Howard was hired by the CIA to work in the Moscow station and instead he defected to Russia. Ronald Pelton, a National Security Agency employee, was convicted of giving away material gathered by the NSA, the nation's top secret spy satellite and electronic monitoring system. John Walker, a Navy non-commissioned officer, and his son Michael, traded away Navy secrets for cash. Jerry Whitworth, a Navy man, swapped his country's secrets for a Rolls Royce.

But all of the government's attention on security violations during the period was lavished on the Vietnam war protesters, the civil rights advocates, the whistle-blowers in the government who tried to expose waste, inefficiency, and corruption.

Angus Mackenzie, a freelance investigative reporter, has told an important part of the story in Secrets. Unfortunately he did not live to hold the magnificent volume in his hands. Mackenzie died on Friday, May 13, 1994, of brain cancer. He was 43. The manuscript was completed and edited by his friends.

Mackenzie had the fire burning in his gut that goads a reporter into challenging conventional wisdom, exposing dishonesty, and highlighting moral corruption. In years of work, he pieced together the story of how the US government created a vast apparatus of thought-control police, infiltrators, agents provocateur, technicians, and bureaucrats whose mission was to block the dissemination of government information to the American people.

His story starts with the domestic activities of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and '60s, when the CIA covertly financed and led the National Student Association. Those activities were illegal, since the legislation that established the agency in 1947 forbade it from carrying out operations at home. The student organization aimed to counter the international communist movement in its Moscow-dominated drive to turn students throughout the world against so-called Western imperialism. Most of that episode was exposed first in 1967 by Ramparts, the leading alternative magazine of the day. The story was picked up by the establishment press and became a sensation.

Coupled with an earlier disclosure of how the CIA was using Michigan State University to help train anti-communist police forces overseas, the disclosures were too much for the CIA to tolerate. Its leaders formed a special unit to show that Ramparts was financed by money from overseas communists. Instead the agency discovered that the money to publish Ramparts came from its publisher, Edward Keating, a wealthy philanthropist, who was deducting his magazine's losses from his income taxes. Undeterred, the agency started a propaganda campaign against Ramparts.

Mackenzie details how the CIA's little anti-Ramparts unit metastasized into a larger organization that investigated virtually all of the alternative papers at the time. It even planted at least one agent provocateur, Salvatore John Ferrera, on the staff of the Quicksilver Times to spy on it.

Before long the unit became known for running a program called MHCHAOS, authorized by the legendary CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, to carry out domestic political espionage at a priority level ranking with the agency's Soviet and Chinese operations. By the time the program was exposed, by Seymour Hersh in The New York Times in December 1974, MHCHAOS had in its files dossiers on 10,000 Americans.

The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966, allowing Americans to compel the government to release information. Government agencies fought the act relentlessly and, as in too many cases even today, they refused to comply. But that wasn't all. The MHCHAOS group began an intergovernmental drive to sign all government employees to a contract prohibiting first the disclosure of classified information and later "classifiable" information as well.

The secrecy contracts spread out of the executive branch into the congressional branch. The contracts, which started in the Johnson administration and have continued through the Clinton administration, made it impossible to produce evidence in courts if the government said release would harm the national security.

At its height in 1983-84, Mackenzie writes, four million government employees could have been forced to sign the contracts. A few, like former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and the famous whistle-blower A. Ernest Fitzgerald, refused to sign, and that helped to publicize the restrictions of the secrecy contracts. Presidents and other high-ranking former officials such as Henry Kissinger have generally ignored the restrictions in writing their memoirs. No action has been taken against them.

Mackenzie tells of the metamorphosis of officials like Sen. Daniel Moynihan, who at first approved of the need for strict secret-keeping measures but changed his view as he studied security classification. He became a champion of restrictions on classification (a view he still strongly holds today).

Mackenzie's book contains some surprises. For example, he criticizes the American Civil Liberties Union and its one-time Washington office head Morton Halperin. Halperin was a Johnson administration Defense Department official who helped write the Pentagon Papers and a Nixon administration aide to Kissinger on the National Security

Council whom Kissinger hounded out of government in the belief that Halperin leaked information about the bombing of Cambodia. Halperin helped organize the defense of Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Mackenzie faults Halperin for negotiating compromises in the 1980s that brought the CIA under control of the Freedom of Information Act but contained loopholes that would permit the agency to withhold information about its illegal domestic activities.

This book does not end with a whimper. Instead, Mackenzie went out with a clarion call:

"The United States is no longer the nation its citizens once thought: a place, unlike most others in the world, free from censorship and thought police, where people can say what they want, when they want to, about their government. Almost a decade after the end of the cold war, espionage is not really the issue, if it ever really was. The issue is freedom... The issue is principle... Until the citizens of this land aggressively defend their First Amendment rights of free speech, there is little hope that the march to censorship will be reversed. The survival of the cornerstone of the Bill of Rights is at stake."

Listen up everyone. Help to ensure that Angus Mackenzie may rest in peace.