|by Verne Lyon|
The unleashing of the CIA and my concerns about the escalating war in Southeast Asia crossed paths on the Iowa State University campus in the fall of 1965. I do not know why I was chosen for recruitment, or by whom; only the CIA's old boy network on campus knows what criteria were used, what psychological profile was followed, and what future need of the CIA went into the initial selection process.
There were no posters, no ads in local or campus newspapers, nor any notice in the college placement office. The CIA came purporting to be representatives of legitimate business concerns that would normally conduct job interviews on campus. The only advance notice of the "interview" was a letter on what appeared to be real company letterhead saying that such-and-such company was interested in offering you a job. Only after accepting the interview and signing several documents stating you would never reveal anything about the exclusive job offer being made would the interviewers tell you whom they really represented. By then you were trapped into eternal secrecy even if you declined their offer. You could not even approach the university's administration or placement office to complain about the deception.
For the student or faculty member who accepted the CIA's offer to spy, the payments offered were tailored to the individual. In some cases it was only money, in others it may have been a guaranteed draft deferment, research assistance grants, a future career with the CIA, patriotism, duty, or any combination. Short on money, plus wanting to serve my country without being sent to stop a bullet in a rice paddy halfway around the world, I listened intently to their pitch. I was hooked with an offer of an undeclared $300 cash in an envelope each month plus a guaranteed draft deferment and an offer of a bright future with the Company.
In exchange, I was asked to do several things while admonished to maintain absolute secrecy about my intelligence gathering activities, the CIA, and any working relationship between us. I was persuaded to believe that the nation was facing a major crisis because of the student unrest and ensuing protests and that even though such activities were permitted in our "free" country, we should not allow foreigners and/or communists to pull the strings if they were involved.
My campus missions included:
- monitoring selected students
- obtaining printed materials from student protest groups, including membership and donor lists and programs of planned actions and protests
- gathering information on the private sexual activities of selected students or faculty, and on the student visa status of selected foreign students and
- learning the identities of visiting "traveling agitators" from other colleges and universities.
Ethnic and racial groups were watched as well as student radical movements. No guidelines were given that differentiated between what was legitimate protest and what constituted a perceived threat to national security. This allowed the CIA to expand its domestic surveillance to cover draft resistance organizations, military deserters, non-mainstream newspapers and publications, most Black militant groups, and U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Most domestic political activity was also covered if it showed any sign of differing from the "American tradition."
My entire senior year found me caught up in this illegal domestic covert operation. It changed my personality, my political point of view, and my way of thinking about the structure and role of the different branches of our federal government, and it taught me to what lengths the government would go to hide illegal wrongdoings under the cloak of national security.
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