1973 CIA memo touches on subjects of current debate

The Baltimore Sun

The "family jewels" documents contain echoes of the present-day debate over domestic surveillance.

A memo for the CIA's chief of operations describes a National Security Agency program that monitored "international commercial radio telephone conversations between several Latin American cities and New York." The goal was to track "drug related communications," the document says.

In September 1972, the NSA asked the CIA to take over the program, according to the memo, but the reason appears to be redacted. There was a question at the CIA about whether the monitoring was legal, and after the general counsel evaluated it, the program was ended, the memo says.

There were later discussions of whether it would be legal to intercept the conversations from outside the United States, but the general counsel concluded the CIA could not do that either, according to the document.

The May 7, 1973, memo acknowledges the CIA has one "activity" that is monitoring phone calls with one caller in the United States, but it says the general counsel concluded that was acceptable because "the primary purpose of the coverage is a foreign target."

The CIA documents also acknowledge that it was collecting records of phone calls between the U.S. and China. The memo says the general counsel approved the phone records program because it did not involve eavesdropping but rather the "normal record-keeping function of the telephone company."


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