1953 September 23

CIA Expands Secret and Illegal Mail Opening Program


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintained a secret and illegal mail “cover” program. On this day, the agency decided to expand what had begun as a small program earlier in the year. Over the course of the next 20 years — from 1953 to 1973 — the CIA reviewed 28,322,796 pieces of mail entering the U.S. The external covers of more than 2,000,000 were photographed (thereby recording information about the sender and the recipient), and 215,820 letters were opened and read.

The mail cover program was secret and unauthorized by anyone outside the CIA, but required the covert cooperation by Post Office officials. The program began in February 1953, and consisted of four separate components that operated in four cities: New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Honolulu for different periods of time in each site over the 20-year period.

Read the Senate Church Committee report on CIA and FBI mail cover programs (pp. 559–677): http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

Learn more: Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008)

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