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The Schorr Case: The Real Dangers

I

One of the first steps in solving a crime is to determine who benefited by it. The chief beneficiaries in the leak of the Pike committee report on intelligence were the intelligence agencies themselves. The report turned up on the CBS evening news Sunday, January 25, and in the first editions that same evening of The New York Times for Monday, January 26. When the House of Representatives met in Washington at noon next day the minority on the Pike committee launched the attack which led three days later to the vote against release of the report.

Logic, probabilities, and the circumstantial are not proof. Folly can never be excluded. But an examination of the strange circumstances in which the report was suppressed may put newspapermen on their guard and show the public what we are all up against in dealing with secret agencies. The Pike committee voted nine to four on the afternoon of Friday, January 23, to release its report. Everything was ready for publication after months of hard work and agonizing hassles with the intelligence agencies and the executive branch. The majority of the committee and the staff were triumphant. The last hurdles to publication seemed to have been safely cleared.

Yet that very weekend someone leaked a copy of the report to The New York Times and to Daniel Schorr of CBS, giving the intelligence agencies their chance to discredit the committee and block release of the report.

This leak was not, repeat not, a leak to thwart censorship. Under the rules of the House and the resolution establishing its Select Committee on Intelligence (the Pike committee), that nine to four vote on Friday afternoon, January 23, was all that was needed to release the report. The committee did not have to go to the Rules Committee for permission, nor did it need a vote of the House to make the report public. The report would have been released automatically as soon as copies came back from the printer. It was the leak that did the committee in.

At the time of the leak, The New York Times and CBS were not giving the public information that would otherwise have been suppressed. They were merely getting the report in advance of their competitors. At that point, their news stories were a beat, not a public service. Indeed, as soon became clear, it was a public disservice to jump the gun by a few days on official release of the report at the cost of giving its enemies—and the enemies of the press—just the opportunity they were looking for.

The leak fit beautifully with a well-synchronized attack by the enemies of the report. On Monday morning, January 26, Daniel Schorr showed his copy of the Pike report on CBS morning news and The New York Times arrived in Washington with extensive stories on what the report contained. This coincided—whether by accident or design—with plans which seem to have been already made for an onslaught that very day on the floor of the House.

When the Pike committee met at 10 AM that morning, Congressman McClory of Illinois, the ranking Republican on the Pike committee, sprang a surprise on his colleagues. He revealed that he had asked for and been granted special permission to address the House that day and charge security violations in the report. That gave the committee majority very little time to prepare a reply. The committee adjourned after 11 AM and when McClory took the floor in the House soon after it met at noon, it became clear that he and his supporters were well prepared.

When the majority spokesman of the committee asked for a delay to await the arrival of Chairman Pike, who had been held up in New York by stormy flying weather, McClory said he could not wait because other congressmen were alerted to speak in his support. McClory said he would be “very happy” to have Pike present but he could not wait for him because “I have made these plans and there are a number of others who want to participate.” But he assured his colleagues of the Pike committee, “I am not intending to attack anybody or anything like that.” He added, “Now really, this doesn’t have anything to do with the question of leaks.” But the leaks to The New York Times and CBS were brought up over and over again by McClory’s supporters on the House floor. The leaks provided an ideal backdrop for the one-sided “debate” which followed.1

McClory’s speech charged that the report violated an agreement to give the White House final power to veto any committee revelations, subject only to a later appeal to the courts. But the main emphasis of the debate was on the leaks. The final speaker, the Republican minority leader, Rhodes of Arizona, summed it all up by saying that the executive branch “charged with our national security” could not be expected “to confide in a Congress that is a direct conduit to the public press and rushes to the media to divulge every particle of information it receives.” In a phrase worthy of the best on Madison Avenue, Rhodes said the public’s right to know did not give Congress “the Right to Blab.” Even soap has never been sold more skillfully.

This is the theme song of the counterattack orchestrated by the intelligence agencies—the newspeak of the CIA and FBI. Congressional control is to be stigmatized as a “blabbermouth” operation. Attention is to be focused not on the abuses of secret government but on those who criticize and expose them. And if there isn’t enough “blabbing” from Congress we may expect the intelligence agencies to do the blabbing themselves and blame it on Congress and the press.

The government itself has always been the foremost leaker. The chief value of the classification system is the wide leeway it gives the government for manipulating the public mind by selective declassification. But this is only one of its many uses.

One way to undercut a congressional investigation is to beat it to the punch by leaking part of the story in advance. It makes the later official revelation sound like old hat news. It leaves the congressional report, when and if it comes, to be greeted by “ho hum, so what’s new?” If you leak a report and then block the official report, as has been done with the Pike report, then the revelations never have official status. If the full text or part of it appears in peripheral offbeat publications like The Village Voice, the damage is limited by its limited circulation. It is hard to get outside New York, and other publications do not give the text the study and review it would otherwise get as a public document. Congress doesn’t see the considered reasoning and recommendations of one of its own committees; it only gets the “headline stuff” creamed off by a few favored papers.

A lot of the “leaks,” as many newspapermen know, have come from the executive branch and the intelligence agencies themselves. One of the biggest “leaks,” which hurt the Pike committee last November, was the leak to Schorr at CBS and to The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor of the tragic story of how the CIA sold the poor Kurds down the river, first giving them secret support against Iraq and then cutting it off when that suited the Shah of Iran’s power politics. Pike committee sources claim that there were hitherto unknown details in the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor reports of the Kurd story which were new even to its own investigators, details which led them to suspect that the leaks must have come from an intelligence agency.

Schorr broke the Kurdish story on CBS news on the Saturday night before it appeared in The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. Mitchell Rogovin, special counsel to the CIA, phoned a Pike committee staff official that Saturday morning and asked him to stop Schorr from telling the story on TV that night. The Pike committee official, who had not been aware that the Kurdish story had leaked, asked himself whether that telephone call was a cute way to divert suspicion from the CIA as the source. That is the kind of question naturally bred by the CIA’s capacity for murky and labyrinthine manipulations. The CIA was aware that nothing had so angered the Pike committee as the Kurdish tragedy—this was a subject on which there was no minority—and some Pike committee members believe that the intelligence agencies leaked it in advance to defuse the coming committee report.

The Kurdish story leaked the very weekend in November that Colby was fired by Ford. The New York Times in publishing it gave “a senior intelligence official” as its source. While the leak was later used to smear the Pike committee, the target of the intelligence official in leaking it was Kissinger, who was Nixon’s willing accomplice in this tragic bit of “realpolitik.”

II

The executive branch and the intelligence agencies had a motive, and the intelligence agencies had ample means, to leak the Pike report in advance. There were several versions of the Pike committee report as it went through repeated and prolonged revision in hassles with the various executive and intelligence agencies involved. There were close to two thousand copies of various versions circulating in the White House and the federal agencies for the purpose of pinpointing security matters and arguing for various kinds of deletions. Copies were even sent to many embassies abroad. Chairman Pike told the House bitterly on January 27 that the mistake he made was in supplying a copy of the final version of his report to the CIA as soon as his committee voted approval on the 23rd. So the CIA got the final version the day before the leak.

Those committee members who sided with the intelligence agencies kept in close touch with them in the prolonged negotiations over security deletions. In the battle over deletions copies had to be furnished to intelligence officials far down on the totem pole to deal with highly technical security problems. A leak could easily have been arranged in those quarters and been far harder to trace than a leak inside the Pike committee, where there were only enough copies for each of the thirteen members and perhaps a half-dozen copies for staff use. Yet a staff leak cannot be excluded.

This brings us to a new problem, of which the public has not been aware, and that is the problem of “detailees.” The word “detailee” is a new word I don’t believe anybody ever heard used publicly until the Pike committee report. The word seems to have been added to the lexicon by the CIA. It is a bureaucratic euphemism for a certain kind of infiltrator, an intelligence agent who is slipped into other branches of the government, sometimes openly, sometimes covertly. Sometimes he is semicovert—his identity being disclosed only to the head of the department or office to which he has been “detailed.”

  1. 1

    McClory’s speech was billed in the Congressional Record as “A Serious Question Relating to the Authority and Reputation of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and to this House of Representatives as an Institution.” The discussion begins at page H289 of the Record for January 26 and runs through page H302.

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