The America public rarely learns the real core secrets of how its government works, the frequent efforts of journalists notwithstanding. Even the much vaunted Freedom of Information Act, which requires government agencies to release their files, excludes all material that may damage national security, violates privacy, or reveals the sources and methods of American intelligence services.
To make sure secrets don't get released, there is an even a cottage industry at the F.B.I., C.I.A. and other agencies in Washington, dedicated to screening and expurgating secrets from the data requested under Freedom of Information. To be sure, the pubic learns something about government secrets from congressional committee "leaks."
But these revelations mainly concern politically embarrassing moments, malfeasance or corruption, rather than state secrets. The Senate and House Intelligence Committees have in fact demonstrated a remarkably good record in protecting intelligence secrets. On rare occasions, such as the publication of the Pentagon Papers, state secrets do leak out: but even in these incidents, the information is presented in a carefully edited evaluation of source documents, as opposed to the documents themselves.
This dearth existed up until November, 1979 - when Iranian students seized an entire archive of the State Department, C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A) at the American embassy in Tehran. Many of the documents, which had lain in intelligence vaults for 20 years, were not shredded: many papers that were shredded were stitched back together by Iranian women skilled at weaving Persian carpets, because the embassy, for budget reasons, had used inferior shredders.
These secrets concerned far more than Iran. The Tehran embassy, which served as a regional base for the C.I.A., contained records involving secret operations in many countries, notably Israel, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Without a doubt, these captured records represent the most extensive loss of secret data that any superpower has suffered since the end of the Second World War.
Beginning in 1982 and continuing through this past summer, the Iranians published some 60 volumes of these C.I.A. reports and other U.S. government documents from the Tehran archive, collectively entitled "Documents From The U.S. Espionage Den". The C.I.A., predictably, would "neither confirm nor deny the validity of the seized material." For the most part, these are simply photostat copies of the American originals with Persian translation in the back of the volumes.
While the Iranians evidently have been selective about which captured documents they have reproduced, their authenticity has not been challenged by either the State Department or the C.I.A. If they had been forgeries or disinformation documents, it could have easily been detected and demonstrated by comparing them to other copies in State Department and C.I.A. archives. On the contrary, senior officials have acknowledged on an off-the-record basis that these are indeed copies of the captured embassy files.
By this time the material, which included cryptograms and routing instructions from various agencies of the United States government, can no longer be considered secret, despite the warning labels. Presumably the files have been thoroughly analyzed by the K.G.B. and other hostile intelligence services with an interest in discovering sources and methods used by the C.I.A. But curiously enough, real secrets proved to be of little interest to the American press. Despite its availability (the full set can be purchased in England or the United States for about $346), this archive of top-secret material has been almost totally neglected by American newspapers and magazines.
What this mine of unexpurgated secrets reveals is that American foreign policy, conducted overtly by the State Department and covertly by the C.I.A., is a very different picture from that presented in press briefings and the journalistic accounts and academic histories drawn from them. Consider for example, the following ten revelations from the Tehran archives, each of which could have been investigative scoops under other circumstances:
1. The C.I.A. engaged in espionage against Israel.
The C.I.A. left intact in the embassy archive in Tehran an extremely damaging 47-page report on Israeli intelligence. Called: "Israel: Foreign Intelligence and Security Services," the March 1979 was not only classified SECRET, but carried the labels NONFORN (not releasable to foreign nationals), NONCONTRACT, (not releasable to contract employees or consultants), and ORCON (meaning the originator of the report, the C.I.A.'s counterintelligence staff, controlled who in the American government saw it).
The report spells out in detail the sources and methods of Israel's most secret intelligence services - including the Mossad, Israel's equivalent of the C.I.A.; Shin Beth, Israel's F.B.I.; and its other intelligence schools and services.
The report closely defines Israel's foreign targets. It reveals tactics used, such as "false-flag" recruitments (where Israeli agents pose as NATO officers), surveillance and "surreptitious entry operations" (where Israeli agents break into embassies). It even reprints an organization table - including the names of top personnel, their photographs and their salaries. And it describes Israel's most sensitive liaisons with foreign intelligence services in nations such as China and Kenya, with which it does not have diplomatic relations.
These incredible facts, which were secret up until the seizure of the Tehran archive, came in large part from secret Israeli government documents and investigations. Since they were not part of any public record, how did the C.I.A. get them?
The C.I.A. answers this question by explaining that "most of the information in this publication has been derived from a variety of sources, including covert assets of the Central Intelligence Agency." Since "covert assets" is the term of art for spies, it becomes evident how the C.I.A. obtained at least a portion of Israel's secret documents: it used its moles and other covert assets in Israel to furnish these documents.
It appears from the data they provided that the spies were Israel government employees with access to the most closely held intelligence secrets. The C.I.A. was therefore engaged in espionage operations against Israel - at least this was clearly the case from 1976 to 1979, when the report was prepared.
This C.I.A. report also raises questions about the Jonathan Pollard case. When Pollard was arrested in 1985 for stealing U.S. Navy documents about Arab terrorists and passing them to Israel, the U.S. government denounced Israel for organizing an espionage operation in America. The judgment that allies don't spy on allies turns out, in light of these documents, to be somewhat hypocritical.
Pollard's activities were, like all espionage activities, clearly illegal; but they were not unique to Israel. The situation is anything but one-sided when it is revealed that American intelligence also routinely engaged in espionage against Israeli intelligence. This hardly justifies Israeli espionage, but it explains why it did not feel constrained in "collecting" the data it needed, just as the C.I.A. does.
Nor was the Pollard case as surprising as it appeared at first blush. The C.I.A. knew about Israel's collection activities in the U.S. The report acknowledges matter-of-factly that Mossad routinely "collects" intelligence in the United States throughout its eighth department, noting without any indignation that Mossad's "collection efforts are especially concentrated in the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as at the U.N..."
Whereas the damage that Pollard did to American intelligence remains questionable (as far as is known, the intelligence data he provided Israel did not fall into hostile hands), the damage the C.I.A. did to Israel through its espionage is evident, since it not only compromised all of Israel's intelligence services with its report, but it left the report unprotected and unshredded in the Tehran embassy. That the report was unnecessarily captured and circulated among Israel's enemies says something about C.I.A. security. ...