Kissinger, Harvard And the FBI
Henry A. Kissinger '50 remembers all too well the New York Times' disclosures in 1967 of foundations that channelled Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) money into "patriotic causes" back in the 1950s. Starting in 1951, when he was still a graduate student at Harvard, Kissinger directed Harvard's Summer International Seminar--a program that brought to Harvard rising stars in foreign policy and political, cultural and literary life from Europe and Asia to school them in American foreign policy and, within certain bounds, to promote "freedom of exchange." Men on the order of Pierre Trudeau and Valerie Giscard D'Estaing--who were then on the verge of international prominence--attended the seminar, discussed world affairs with foreign ministers from India and Pakistan, and heard lectures from American intellectual heavyweights like David Riesman '31, Ford Professor of Social Sciences, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. '38 and McGeorge Bundy, then dean of the Faculty.
Kissinger financed the program completely through grants from private foundations, and in 1967 several of those foundations appeared on the Times' list of CIA conduits. One of them, the Friends of the Middle East, had funneled $243,000 to the Harvard International Seminar. Kissinger panicked. Abigail Collins Fichter, Kissinger's administrative assistant in the 1960s, recalls in Ralph Blumenfeld's Henry Kissinger: The Private and Public Story, that Kissinger "was running around saying, 'Oh, my God, this is terrible. People are going to say I'm working for the CIA.'"
Kissinger may not have fully comprehended his CIA connections because the agency often laundered its funds through a series of foundations to obscure their origins. But the disclosure last week of a 1953 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) document shows that Kissinger consciously sought and directly worked with the FBI while at Harvard.
His contacts with the FBI in 1953 imply a much earlier and more thorough understanding of FBI operations than Kissinger claimed in his defense against Morton Halperin's charges of illegal FBI wiretapping. Kissinger supported his case by arguing that he had taken then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's word that the taps were legal.
Kissinger's assistance to the FBI while at Harvard is also startling. Harvard faculty rarely volunteered information on their own to investigative officers; even at the height of the McCarthy era, contact with the bureau occurred only when FBI agents approached faculty members for routine security clearances.
But an internal memorandum from the Boston FBI division to Washington headquarters indicates such was not the case with Kissinger. Sigmund Diamond, a Columbia University professor found the document while researching the relationship between colleges and the FBI before and during the McCarthy era. The document states that Kissinger voluntarily provided information to the FBI, information he obtained by opening the mail of a seminar participant without his knowledge. (Technically, Kissinger could be charged with tampering with the U.S. mail, but he does not seem to be panicking about that.)
On Friday morning, July 10, 1953, a "HENRY ALFRED KISSINGER"--as the FBI recorded his name in its memo, identifying him simply as a "teacher at Harvard University"--called the FBI, reported he had information of interest to the bureau and asked that an agent call him back. That afternoon an "SAC"--the FBI code word for Special Agent in Charge--interviewed Kissinger, who explained that he directed the International Seminar, which included persons from foreign countries who "are highly placed economically and politically in their own nation." He added that through these people he hoped "to place American policy in a favorable light in these foreign nations." Kissinger told the agent that earlier in the day, 40 similar letters addressed to that summer's 40 seminar participants arrived at his office
Kissinger let only a few hours pass before breaking the seal on one of the unclaimed letters. According to the document, Kissinger told the FBI he "opened one such letter addressed to (name blacked out) who, as of July 10, 1953, had not appeared at the Seminar session."
Enclosed in an inner envelope was an eightpage flyer captioned, "A Few Grains of Truth." The FBI memo says that the flyer is "highly critical of the American atom bomb project" and that it purports "to represent the shame and anguish of the American population on American preparation for war." The flyer exhorted, "There is no other way but for each firmly to resolve that life must be dedicated to peaceful endeavor..."
Apparently Kissinger believed pleas for international peace might subvert the seminar's objectives, because he did not simply report the incident and leave it at that. According to the memo, he went on to suggest fourpossible sources who could have had information on the identities of the participants: newspapers that received news releases on the seminar; guest speakers who addressed the participants; former Massachusetts Governor Robert Bradford, who suggested the names of several guest speakers; and editors of The Harvard Crimson.
Kissinger not only cooperated voluntarily by implicating sources, he also told the FBI he "intends to show no alarm" if the flyer came up in discussion at the seminar meetings and would "play it down" if it did. In closing, he "promised to provide to the Boston Division any additional information at similar attempts to provide this type of literature to participants in the seminar," and then added he was "an individual who is strongly sympathetic to the FBI."
The author of the memo--who reveals himself only as R.U.C.--ominously ends the report with the words "steps will be taken...to make Kissinger a Confidential Source of this Division."
Diamond turned up no other records of the incident, and the rest of the story remains untold: Did Kissinger actually become a Confidential Source? How long did the relationship go on? Did Kissinger or the FBI ever discover who leaked the names of the seminar participants or who sent the flyers?
The FBI has released only some of the documents Diamond requested under the Freedom of Information Act. When Diamond asked the Harvard Archives for papers relating to the seminar, librarians thrust at him the Harvard "50-year-rule," a University regulation that prohibits public viewing of administrative records until 50 years after they were printed.
Not surprisingly, Kissinger has not been an exceptionally useful source for Diamond either. Before running an article on Diamond's findings in its November 10 issue. The Nation questioned Kissinger through his representative, William Hyland. Hyland reported that kissinger refused to confirm or deny the reports, saying. "The implication of these questions is ridiculous and contemptible."
A week later, Hyland began handing out a different story. Kissinger now claimed he "did not open anyone's mail," but had received a copy of the flyer from "a number of participants" who showed him their letters. Kissinger says now he "does not recollect" calling the FBI. How then does he explain the official evidence, which is stamped "Security Information" and printed on United States Government stationery? Hyland reports that Kissinger contends the FBI would never release such a memo about him to anyone else because the Freedom of Information Act only permits the release of records on a specific person to that individual alone. Diamond says he filed under a subject--Harvard University-- rather than a name, and so had every right to read the documents.
The other obvious source, the Boston Division of the FBI, is equally uncooperative. Joel Carlson, assistant agent at the Boston bureau, says the FBI never comments on documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the Boston bureau's files, their SAC man back then was J.J. Kelly, but Carlson says they have no record of his whereabouts and declared him "either retired or deceased."
The other man most likely to know the full story also died recently. William Yandell Elliott, director of the Summer School in Kissinger's time and legendary conservative king of the Government Department, tutored Kissinger as an undergraduate and later appointed him director of the seminar-a program they masterminded together but kissinger ran alone. Elliot wanted Kissinger to be the internationalist in Washington that he had always hoped to be and would probably have approved of Kissinger's decision to approach the FBI as the proper way to protect Harvard from potential communist encroachment. David Landau '72 writes in Kissinger: The Uses of Power, that even measured against the standard of the early McCarthy era, Elliot "was a violent Cold Warrior, one who would not tolerate the slightest deviation from the path of unrelenting struggle against the Stalinist Terror." Most Harvard faculty and administrators who knew him back then agree that if Kissinger consulted with anyone before notifying the FBI, Elliot would have been the man. Marguerite Hildebrand, who was executive secretary for the Summer School at the time and had an office just above Kissinger's, says that Kissinger had always kept Elliot informed of the seminar's progress and problems.
Elliot's wife, Louise Elliot, who now lives out on Hidden Valley Farm in Haywood, Virginia, does not remember her husband mentioning the incident. Her sons, William and David, who have sorted most of Elliot's papers, have found nothing relevant to the FBI encounter.
Why Kissinger felt moved to volunteer the letters to the FBI is a mystery to Louise Elliot. "It doesn't make sense to me unless he thought a crime was being committed," she says. Donald Price, professor of Government and a colleague of Kissinger's, also finds the incident "a very surprising story." Most Harvard Faculty members who were around in kissinger's time now say they would never volunteer information to the FBI--not then, not now. "I would be very astounded if anyone were to tell me it happened very much then," Price declares.
A few did seek out the FBI--but only when they considered an incident dangerous. Thomas Crooks, for instance, who became assistant director of the Summer School in 1957, once called the FBI after he received a letter that threatened an "important figure." But the letters to the seminar participants did not pose a threat--even a veiled one--to anyone.
Benjamin Brown, a close friend of Kissinger's who ran the International Seminar in Kissinger's absence in the early '60s, also cannot understand Kissinger's motives for placing himself at the FBI's disposal. "It seems a little overly zealous," he admits.
But it was political prescience rather than zealous patriotism that probably most impelled Kissinger to offer his services to the bureau. Kissinger knew he could eventually use the international network of contacts he made through friendships with seminar participants. To risk their disillusionment with the American way, provoked by anti-American tracts such as the flyer, would in the long run weaken his diplomatic muscle. Kissinger, his colleagues believe, thought in these lifetime terms. "I've often said myself that Kissinger either consciously or unconsciously had a sense of destiny." Price says. Steven R. Graubard, who worked closely with Kissinger on the seminar, writes in Kissinger: Portrait of a Mind of the invaluable service the seminar provided in Kissinger's dipolmatic coming-of-age:
After only a few years, Kissinger's network of foreign friends--persons in the prime of their political or professional lives--was unrivaled. No American could boast acquaintance with a more diverse group of European and Asian intellectuals...It is difficult to exaggerate the help that Kissinger received from his International Seminar friends.
Thomas Schelling, Littauer Professor of Political Economy and a colleague of Kissinger's, phrased it more succinctly in a 1974 interview with the New York Post: "Henry collected a repertory of people. I don't think it was altruism."
Beyond purely self-interested intentions, Kissinger's activity with the FBI exposes an insecurity which most Kissinger biographers inevitably claim lies beneath his arrogance. At Harvard, this anxiety displayed itself in his retreating behavior and his distaste for faculty polities. In over-reacting to a critical pamphlet. Kissinger once more allowed his suspicious temperament to take charge of his actions. Landau recognizes this tendency in his writing as well:
There is one strain in Kissinger's writing that appears again and again, no matter what the subject under discussion. It is a gruesome, intractable fear of revolution, a deep horror of internal upheavals which cause social order and international stability to collapse around them.
In his paranoia, Kissinger perceived a threat to international equilibrium in a flyer calling for world peace.