Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
This dissertation re-conceptualizes the scandals that engulfed the intelligence community in the mid-1970s. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) confronted an unprecedented crisis during these years: the Pike hearings in the House of Representatives, the Church Committee in the Senate, and an executive branch commission led by then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Historians and political scientists have studied these events before, but I present a nuanced interpretation of the intelligence investigations by placing them in a broader political and cultural context. to fully understand the impact of the so-called "Year of Intelligence," I argue that scholars need to focus on what was happening outside of Congress. The CIA encountered a backlash from both ends of the political spectrum. I provide the first history of Counter-Spy, a left wing magazine founded in 1973 that called for the abolition of covert action. The magazine's editors directly challenged the "culture of secrecy" at the CIA by publishing the names of Agency operatives. at the same time, conservatives embarked on a very different confrontation with the Agency. Like Counter-Spy, they charged that the CIA was keeping secrets from the American people, but their concern was with Agency analysis of the Soviet Union, not covert action. I also examine Hollywood portrayals of the CIA in this tumultuous era; rather than simply responding to the Congressional investigations and the Rockefeller Commission, filmmakers actually anticipated the widespread concerns about the complex relationship between espionage and democracy. The events of the mid-1970s badly tarnished the CIA's image. In response to this rapid decline in popular support, the Agency developed an aggressive public relations campaign designed to restore confidence in government secrecy and covert operations. This dissertation contains the first systematic history of CIA public relations. The public relations staff has consistently portrayed the CIA as the most open intelligence agency in the world, heroically protecting national security while accepting the necessity of Congressional oversight. But despite these public statements, Agency officials worked to revitalize the "culture of secrecy." They have dramatically restricted the ability of former employees to write critically about CIA activities; they have successfully lobbied Congress for exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); and they have repeatedly broken promises to de-classify historical records. Agency officials have been obsessed with protecting their image, and this obsession has frequently undermined historical research. Robert M. Gates launched an openness initiative in February 1992, but the culture at the Agency was not fundamentally changed. In fact, George Tenet shut down the voluntary de-classification program at the CIA in 1998. A key conclusion of this study is that the "culture of secrecy" at the Agency remains firmly entrenched. Since the CIA cannot be reformed from within, I argue that outside intervention is required.
© The Author
McCarthy, David Shamus, "The CIA & the cult of secrecy" (2008). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. William & Mary. Paper 1539623335.