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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): CIA Covert Operations: From Carter to Obama, 1977-2010

About this Collection

This National Security Archive document set represents the initial release of what will be an even broader collection focused on covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency throughout its history. This set of records covers management and control of covert operations, as well as activities carried out during the Carter, Reagan, Bush (I), Clinton, Bush (II) and Obama presidencies. (Upcoming installments will encompass earlier periods of the agency’s operations – specifically taking advantage of pending Freedom of Information Act requests that will be fulfilled in the near future.)

Containing 2,337 documents, this publication brings together declassified documents and other materials, including key congressional records (necessary for understanding the scope and context of CIA activities) to offer unprecedented detail on a vital but poorly represented aspect of United States foreign activity. Materials in this collection include the most recently declassified documents from presidential libraries and the National Archives, numerous items released under the Freedom of Information Act, and official reports and hearings.

Among the subjects addressed are CIA covert operations in Africa, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Bosnia, Guatemala, Peru, radio broadcasting, and the war on terror, and official views on these activities as well as the management of U.S. intelligence. Among the key documents that shed new light on these activities are memoranda of conversation of presidential national security meetings, NSC staff papers, memoranda to the president from the director of central intelligence, CIA intelligence reports and studies, investigative reports of the CIA inspector general, and much more. For example, the collection contains the records of the meeting with President Ronald Reagan at which officials first discussed a blockade of Nicaragua. This collection will provide researchers with the most highly curated document-based resource available for the study of CIA covert operations.

Research Value of the Collection

CIA Covert Operations: From Carter to Obama, 1977-2010 provides a detailed account of the operational and diplomatic history of U.S. covert operations, encompassing the time period beginning with the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter in 1977, and concluding with the George W. Bush administration, although a few Obama-era documents are also included. Containing 2,337 declassified documents from a wide range of sources, namely the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of State, the White House, the National Security Council, as well as a variety of others, the set provides a wide-ranging look into the intricacies of CIA covert action. The primary source material contained within this collection is dynamic in its ability to illuminate not only the specific aspects of individual covert operations, but also the CIA’s role in U.S. policy more broadly.

Overall, the set concentrates on two distinct, but occasionally overlapping, thematic areas: the oversight and management of covert operations and the details of particular covert activities. Documents associated with the control and management of covert operations often showcase the tension between the CIA and the legislative branch. The collection, for instance, features the director of central intelligence nomination hearings for figures such as Stansfield Turner, James Woolsey, George Tenet, and Michael Hayden, among others, and notably includes the expansive Robert Gates hearings of 1991. It also highlights the Carter administration’s attempts to overhaul the intelligence community through documents such as the National Intelligence Reorganization and Reform Act of 1978, as well as containing an assortment of various Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings. The set includes extensive documentation on the effort between 1977 and 1981 to develop a legislative charter for the intelligence community, showing the Carter administration’s internal deliberations, as well as Reagan administration efforts to revisit some of these issues.

Documents dealing with the details of particular covert activities cover well-known operations, such as the United States’ support of the Mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from late 1979 and throughout much of the 1980s, to lesser known propaganda operations involving Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcasting to Soviet Muslims. The set touches on the efforts of the U.S. to halt Cuban activities in Africa, in countries such as Angola, as well as programs to arm the Contras in Nicaragua, and the actions the Reagan administration took against Libya. It also contains more recent documents which provide a unique insight into the CIA’s rendition programs and use of enhanced interrogation techniques during the “War on Terror,” and into activities and programs such as the Airbridge Denial Program, which aided in the shoot down of a missionary plane over Peru in 2001.