SR POINTER / HT LINGUAL
HTLINGUAL is the crypt for CIA's mail opening and mail cover program for 1952 to 1973. The CIA reported to the Review Board that it destroyed most of its formal HTLINGUAL records in 1990 at the direction of CIA's Office of General Counsel. The CIA sequestered collection, however, does contain several "soft" or working files on Lee Harvey Oswald and the HTLINGUAL project, including the "soft" file held by the Special Investigations Group of the Counterintelligence Staff (CI/SIG). In response to the Review Board's request for additional information, the CIA located additional references to HTLINGUAL records in archival files of the CIA's Deputy Director of Plans (now the Deputy Director of Operations). CIA processed the relevant records for release to NARA.
The Office of Security had a unit at the JFK International Airport that photographed mail going to Soviet Bloc countries. This work was done by Agency staff employees. The mail was placed in bags by the regular Post Office employees and stacked. After their departure for the night, the Agency employees would open the mail and photograph it. Both incoming and outgoing mail, including postcards, were photographed. A watch list was maintained and priority was given to the names listed, but generally all mail was processed.
In 1952, Angleton, with the support of the Office of Security, started operation HTLINGUAL. It conducted international mail openings from the main postal facility in Jamaica, New York. Mail opening is a very important counterintelligence technique, particularly if it can be done as CIA did it, under conditions of secrecy. Whether it should have continued as long as it did is debatable, but it was useful at the outset. The Korean War was just winding down and then American soldiers were being killed in Viet Nam. CIA was looking for evidence of the involvement of Americans with the Soviets and so forth. After all, the Soviets were backing the North Vietnamese, just as they had backed the North Koreans.
In proposing the operation, Angleton argued that the mail opening operation was a necessary alternate to the CIA's foreign operations. In 1958 the FBI was informed of the mail openings after it requested permission from the postmaster general to mount a similar operation. The postmaster general informed the Bureau that the CIA had been opening mail for five years.
CIA's Office of Security actually opened the letters, and the Counterintelligence Staff processed the information. The results of the operation were sent to Washington Headquarters where they were handled staff who would receive a teletype advising of the registry number and the number of items. They would check to see if the number of items received was correct and route the material to the appropriate offices. Generally about 1/4 of the material was separated into bundles bound with rubber bands. This portion was sent to TSD for technical processing. The remaining material was sent to the CI Staff. About twice a month the CI Staff would add names to or delete names from the list. Staff wou1d send the changes in the list to the field office. The watch 11st was made up primarily people who were in the United States. Because of HT-Lingual's extreme sensitivity, all materials generated as a result of mail intercepts were stored in a separate project file that was maintained by the counterintelligence staff. Consequently, such items were not placed in 201 files.
The operation ran smoothly until Deputy Director of Operations, William Colby, recommended to DCI William Schlesinger that HTLINGUAL be terminated. Angleton made a strong appeal for its continuation, saying the mail information was valuable. To legalize the operation, he urged Schlesinger to obtain the President's personal approval. Not wanting to take sides, Schlesinger suspended the operation, and it eventually died from neglect. The Counterintelligence Staff's mail opening operation (HTLINGUAL) long predated its surveillance of antiwar activists (MHCHAOS) and was never directed primarily at them. The HT-Lingual program was no longer in effect in 1978. Prior to that time, it had been found to be illegal. The Rockefeller Commission said that was unlawful.
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