Operation CHAOS: Spying on the Student Movement
Excerpt from Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States (The Rockefeller Commission), June 1975. Chapter 11, Section G (New York: Manor Books, 1975), pp. 142-44.

G. Collection, Indexing, and Filing of
Information by Operation CHAOS

The volume of information passing through the CHAOS group by mid-1969 was great. As Director Helms pointed out in his September 6, 1969, memorandum to the Directorates, the Operation's main problem was a backlog of undigested raw information which required analysis and indexing.

Not only was the Agency receiving FBI reports on antiwar activities, but with the rise of international conferences against the war, and student and radical travel abroad, information flowed in from the Agency's overseas stations as well.

The Operation had gathered all the information it could from the Agency's central registry. According to the Chief of the Operation, that information for the most part consisted of raw data gathered on individuals by the FBI which had not been analyzed by the Agency because the information contained nothing of foreign intelligence value.

CHAOS also availed itself of the information gained through the CIA's New York mail intercept. The Operation supplied a watch list of United States citizens to be monitored by the staff of the mail intercept. The number of mail items intercepted and sent to CHAOS during its operation were sufficient in number to have filled two drawers in a filing cabinet. All of these items were letters or similar material between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In addition, Operation CHAOS received materials from an international communications activity of another agency of the government [this was the National Security Agency -- website editor]. The Operation furnished a watch list of names to the other agency and received a total of approximately 1100 pages of materials overall. The program to furnish the Operation with these materials was not terminated until CHAOS went out of existence. All such materials were returned to the originating agency by the CIA in November 1974 because a review of the materials had apparently raised a question as to the legality of their being held by CIA. The materials concerned for the most part anti-war activities, travel to international peace conferences and movements of members of various dissident groups. The communications passed between the United States and foreign countries. None was purely domestic.

During one period, Operation CHAOS also appears to have received copies of booking slips for calls made between points in the United States and abroad. The slips did not record the substance of the calls, but rather showed the identities of the caller and the receiver, and the date and time of the call. The slips also indicated whether the call went through.

Most of the officers assigned to the Operation were analysts who read the materials received by it and extracted names and other information for indexing in the computer system used by the Operation and for inclusion in the Operation's many files. It appears that, because of the great volume of materials received by Operation CHAOS and the time pressures on the Operation, little judgment could be, or was, exercised in this process. The absence of such judgment led, in turn, to the inclusion of a substantial amount of data in the records of the Operation having little, if anything, bearing upon its foreign intelligence objective.

The names of all persons mentioned in intelligence source reports received by Operation CHAOS were computer-indexed. The computer printout on a person or organization or subject would contain references to all documents, files or communications traffic where the name appeared. Eventually, approximately 300,000 names of American citizens and organizations were thus stored in the CHAOS computer system.

The computerized information was streamed or categorized on a "need to know" basis, progressing from the least sensitive to the most sensitive. A special computer "password" was required in order to gain access to each stream. (This multistream characteristic of the computer index caused it to be dubbed the "Hydra" system.) The computer system was used much like a library card index to locate intelligence reports stored in the CHAOS library of files.

The files, like the computer index, were also divided into different levels of security. A "201," or personality, file would be opened on an individual when enough information had been collected to warrant a file or when the individual was of interest to another government agency that looked to the CIA for information. The regular 201 file generally contained information such as place of birth, family, occupation and organizational affiliation. In addition, a "sensitive" file might also be maintained on that same person. The sensitive file generally encompassed matters which were potentially embarrassing to the Agency or matters obtained from sources or by methods which the Agency sought to protect. Operation CHAOS also maintained nearly 1000 "subject" files on numerous organizations.3

Random samplings of the Operation's files show that in great part, the files consisted of undigested FBI reports or overt materials such as new clippings on the particular subject.

An extreme example of the extent to which collection could go once a file was opened is contained in the Grove Press, Inc., file. The file apparently was opened because the company had published a hook by Kim Philby, the British intelligence officer who turned out to be a Soviet agent. The name Grove Press was thus listed as having intelligence interest, and the CHAOS analysts collected all available information on the company. Grove Press, in its business endeavors, had also produced the sex-oriented motion picture, "I Am Curious Yellow" and so the Operation's analysts dutifully clipped and filmed cinema critics' commentaries upon the film.

From among the 300,000 names in the CHAOS computer index, a total of approximately 7,200 separate personality files were developed on citizens of the United States.

In addition, information of on-going intelligence value was digested in summary memoranda for the internal use of the Operation. Nearly 3,500 such memoranda were developed during the history of CHAOS.

Over 3,000 memoranda on digested information were disseminated, where appropriate, to the FBI. A total of 37 highly sensitive memoranda originated by Operation CHAOS were sent over the signature of the Director of Central Intelligence to the White House, to the Secretary of State, to the Director of the FBI or to the Secret Service.

3.   The organizations, to name a few, included:
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS);
Young Communist Workers Liberation League (YCWLL);
National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam;
Women's Strike for Peace;
Freedomways Magazine and Freedomways Associated, Inc.;
American Indian Movement (AIM);
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC);
Draft Resistance Groups (U.S.);
Cross World Books and Periodicals, Inc.;
U.S. Committee to Aid the National liberation Front of South Vietnam;
Grove Press, Inc.;
Nation of Islam;
Youth International party (YIP);
Women's Liberation Movement;
Black Panther Party (BPP);
Venceremos Brigade;
Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam.

[Website editor's note: The above footnote is reproduced as it appears in the Rockefeller Commission Report. The Commission included Nelson Rockefeller as chairman, and members John T. Connor, C.Douglas Dillon, Erwin N. Griswold, Lane Kirkland, Lyman L. Lemnitzer, Ronald Reagan, and Edgar F. Shannon, Jr. The executive director was David W. Belin. President Gerald Ford created the Commission on January 4, 1975 to determine whether any domestic CIA activities exceeded the Agency's statutory authority. This was largely in response to scoops by Seymour Hersh in December, 1974 regarding CIA domestic activities. Most observers expected a whitewash from the Commission, primarily because the members of the Commission had serious CIA connections themselves. When issued in June 1975, the Report's tone was apologetic and understated, but it did break new ground in several areas, usually with a throwaway line or two. But this was 1975, when the CIA felt intimidated by a Freedom of Information Act that had recently grown a new set of teeth. In that muckraking political climate, a line or two in the Rockefeller report would lead to FOIA requests by mainstream reporters, which in turn often produced stacks of documents within a year. That was then. Twenty-five years later the CIA just laughs at such requests, and throws them in the trash.]

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