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A secret package arrived at CIA headquarters in January 1958. Inside were two rolls of film from British intelligence — pictures of the pages of a Russian-language novel titled “Doctor Zhivago.”
The book, by poet Boris Pasternak, had been banned from publication in the Soviet Union. The British were suggesting that the CIA get copies of the novel behind the Iron Curtain. The idea immediately gained traction in Washington.
“This book has great propaganda value,” a CIA memo to all branch chiefs of the agency’s Soviet Russia Division stated, “not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”
The memo is one of more than 130 newly declassified CIA documents that detail the agency’s secret involvement in the printing of “Doctor Zhivago” — an audacious plan that helped deliver the book into the hands of Soviet citizens who later passed it friend to friend, allowing it to circulate in Moscow and other cities in the Eastern Bloc.
The book’s publication and, later, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pasternak triggered one of the great cultural storms of the Cold War.
The hotel bar TVs were all flashing clips of Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein denouncing the CIA for spying on her staff, when I met an agency operative for drinks last week. He flashed a wan smile, gestured at the TV and volunteered that he’d narrowly escaped being assigned to interrogate Al-Qaida suspects at a secret site years ago.
"I guess I would’ve done it," he said, implying you either took orders or quit. But everybody in the counterterrorism program knew what was going on in those places, he said, and he was glad the agency found something else for him to do at the last minute. "Look what’s happened."
Four years after Feinstein launched her probe of that interrogation program, her committee and the CIA are locked in a death-struggle over what can be released from the panel’s 6,300-page, still-classified report. The impasse is bringing renewed attention to statements by former CIA and FBI agents that buttress the committee’s all-but-official conclusion that the agency exaggerated the interrogation program’s successes and minimized its abuses. Read more.
Photo: Charges of spying on the Senate isn’t the worst the intelligence agency faces. Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA
Jeff Stein of Newsweek has reported that “a well-placed intelligence source” has confirmed that Saudi Arabia purchased Chinese-made DF-21 ballistic missiles in 2007 — apparently with the approval of the George W. Bush administration.
It’s the first intelligence source to confirm, albeit anonymously, something that’s long been rumored. It is a good bit of reporting — and I say this not simply because Stein quotes me. If Saudi Arabia bought the missiles in 2007, it has taken a long time for a reporter to get a source to actually confirm the suspected sale. But the timing of the leak isn’t surprising. Saudi Arabia is growing increasingly concerned about Iran, and over the past few years it has started talking a lot about its Strategic Missile Force. In the course of doing so, Riyadh has hinted that it has bought at least two new types of ballistic missiles — one of which is possibly the medium-range DF-21, which, in China, comes in both conventional and nuclear flavors.
More from Foreign Policy: Why Did Saudi Arabia Buy Chinese Missiles?
Thanks so much for the follow up on Jeff Stein’s piece!
On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown from Germany via diplomatic pouch. The men put the boxes in a van and weaved through the Polish capital until coming to the headquarters of Polish intelligence. They were met by Col. Andrzej Derlatka, deputy chief of the intelligence service, and two of his associates.
An insightful quote from the former host of “Erotica Night” at a Baltimore bookstore, and the woman who will be the first-ever female number two official at the CIA. (Yup, Avril Haines is an Anne Rice fan.)
This being “Sunshine Week”—a nationwide effort by public-interest groups to promote greater access to government information—President Obama took the occasion to once again officially proclaim his commitment to an “unmatched level of transparency” throughout his administration.
But somehow they never got the memo at the CIA.
Responding today to a longstanding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by the ACLU, the CIA released a stack of internal documents about the treatment of terrorist detainees.
One of the documents is especially revealing, although perhaps not in the way the spymasters at Langley intended. It’s a copy of a letter that was sent by three members of Congress to President Bush and then was routed to the CIA for a response nearly three years ago.
The only problem?
The CIA, in replying to the FOIA request, blacked out one crucial paragraph as too sensitive to disclose—even though the whole letter was publicly released by the congressmen at the time and is still publicly accessible (in its entirety) on the Web site of one of the congressmen, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey.
In just the last few days, virtually unnoticed by most of the news media, Obama administration officials have:
*Rejected a new Freedom of Information request for White House visitor logs (despite their announced intention to start making such documents public).
*Appealed, yet again, to invoke “state secrets” to block a lawsuit that might shed light on the CIA’s extraordinary rendition of terror suspects to countries that practice torture.
*Gotten Congress to pass legislation that would prevent graphic photographs of detainee abuse by the U.S. government from ever becoming public.
And all of this is in spite of Obama’s vow—in a memo on the first full day of his presidency—to create “an unprecedented level of openness” in government.