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The Ramparts Affair: 1967

Ramparts magazine, a Catholic leftwing publication published a series of articles in February 1967 disclosing that the Agency since the early 1950s had been covertly funding certain international student groups, notably the US National Student Association (USNSA), in an effort to counter the spread and influence of communist youth groups and front organizations around the world.

American Students attending the August 1946 World Student Congress in Prague founda need for an American student voice in post-war international student forums; they returned determined to create one. Efforts to form national unions of students predated and postdated the NSA, but it is unlikely that any of the NSA's predecessorsor followers nurtured more diverse and influential leaders of American social and political institutions in such a short span of time.

The CIA program had been instituted, in fact, at the suggestion of a former USNSA activist who had gone to work at the Agency in 1949; it entailed the passage of funds through private US foundations principally to pay the travel expenses of USNSA members to international conferences, annual meetings of foreign student organizations, and the like, as well as to provide college scholarships to students from Third World countries to US educational institutions.

In the early 1950s in Eastern European countries the youth movements and the student body as a whole had very much more importance than was granted to them in the West. Mass youth rallies have come to form a normal part of the political life of "The Peoples' Democracies". A Western attendee at the the World Student Congress, held in Prague in the second half of August 1950 made the following observations: "The recent Student Congress in Prague was the result of very extensive preparations, and must have been heavily subsidized by the Czechoslovakian State. On arrival at Prague airport we were met by a small committee of welcome, and every student was presented with a bouquet of flowers; we were then whisked through the customs and taken by special bus direct to the Congress headquarters. En route we could not fail to notice the immense scale of the preparations; the streets were decorated and every shop displayed posters of welcome. Even the buses and trams carried slogans in honour of the Congress. Giant portraits of Stalin smiled down at us from many public buildings .... The facilities provided for delegates in Prague were excellent. We were accommodated in large student hostels, and extremely efficient arrangements were made for the provision of food, easy travel, and free entertainment. It is typical that a whole fleet of buses had been diverted from their normal duties in the city and placed at our disposal.

"During our stay we were to come to realize the privileged position of students in Czechoslovakia, all of them receiving a generous Government grant. In addition they are provided with accommodation in student hostels at extremely cheap rates. They are allowed to use workers' canteens and are able to travel on all forms of transport at greatly reduced fares.... It will be realized that these privileges are not attained without sacrifice. To gain admission to a university in Czechoslovakia a student requires recommendations regarding his " reliability." The very fact that all students receive a grant from the State makes it possible for the Government, by withdrawing this grant at any time, to dismiss individual students.

"The Congress was the largest student gathering ever to be held, and it is perhaps not surprising that with over 1,500 students assembled in one hall informal debate was impracticable. In point of fact, most speakers used the rostrum to deliver a political diatribe rather than to address the assembled students....

"A significant feature of the Congress was the number of demonstrations which were directed against the Western students. Most of the demonstrations followed the same general pattern, and to understand them it must be appreciated that for the Com munist students the atmosphere was one of almost religious fervour. The speaker would launch an attack on the "Anglo-American imperialists," usually followed by personal abuse of Mr. Jenkins, leader of the British delegation, and ending with either "Long Live Peace! ", " Down with Imperialism! ", or "Hands off Korea!" These exhortations were invariably followed by hysterical cheering and clapping, generally leading on to the newly developed technique of " rhythm-clapping," where words or syllables are accentuated by rhythmic hand-clapping. At this stage the cheering students would surge forward to the rostrum to embrace and to shower flowers upon the speaker, who would then be carried shoulder-high down the hall, usually together with the remainder of his delegation, and almost invariably paraded round and round the tables of the British delegation."

In his memoir, DCI Richard Helms said the Eisenhower White House had approved the program and that it was briefed to "appropriate senators" before its inception. It was subsequently approved by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Forewarned of the Ramparts articles, DCI Helms, in order to head off an adverse reaction in Congress, led Agency efforts to brief the CIA subcommittees before the articles were published. According to Agency records, Helms appeared before all four subcommittees to assure them that the program's sole purpose had been to counter the influence of international communist youth groups around the world. CIA, he said, had simply given money to the US groups involved; it had not told them how to spend it.

While this money might have been channeled through other government agencies, Helms noted, someone in the federal government needed to do it, and CIA, given its unique capabilities and authorities, was best positioned to carry it out. Although the CIA subcommittees had not previously been advised of the program (Helms said "appropriate senators" had been briefed when the program began in the early 1950s), they generally refrained from citicizing the Agency or attacking Helms publicly after the articles began appearing.

The reaction elsewhere was less benign. Ramparts itself portrayed the program as a "case study in the corruption of youthful idealism" and a threat to academic freedom. Eight Democratic congressmen wrote to President Johnson that the program "represents an unconscionable extension of power by an agency of government over institutions outside its jurisdiction."

President Johnson was sufficiently concerned that he announced two days after the first article appeared that he was appointing a three-person committee - Under Secretary of State Nicholas deB. Katzenbach (chair), HEW Secretary John W. Gardner and Helms himself - to look into the relation ship between the Agency and private American organizations operating abroad. In June 1967, the committee recommended, and Johnson approved, a prohibition on covert financial assistance to any US educational institution or private voluntary organization, saying that henceforth such financial assistance in support of overseas activities should be done openly by a "public-private mechanism" when considered essential to the national interest. All such funding activities by the CIA were to be terminated by the end of the year. Before that deadline, the CIA subcommittees of the SASC and HASC had Helms testify in December 1967 with respect to how the Agency planned to implement the recommendations approved by the president.



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