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The CIA and FBI get their wrists slapped by the paper of record.


A tongue-in-cheek promotional cover of Mother JonesMay/June 1994 issue predicted that the New York Times would pick up our expose of the CIA’s economic espionage sometime in January 1995. It seems we overestimated the Gray Lady–the New York Times waited until October 1995 to run its own article.

David E. Sanger and Tim Weiner’s story for the Times, “Emerging Role for the CIA: Economic Spy,” explained the CIA’s new role in gathering foreign trade secrets for federal employees, especially for U.S. trade representative to Japan, Mickey Kantor. But the Times missed the crux of reporter Robert Dreyfuss’ ongoing investigative stories for Mother Jones into the role CIA espionage plays in the private sector.

In “Company Spies” (May/June 1994), Dreyfuss reported how the CIA targets foreign companies, then shares proprietary trade secrets and technology with private U.S. companies. Not only is the CIA spying for U.S. agencies, as the Times reported, but for RJR Nabisco, Ford, Procter & Gamble, and IBM.

The Times portrayed Kantor as the chief beneficiary of the agency’s economic spying, though he recently admitted privately that the CIA’s information provides little more than a rehash of conventional economic analysis. Once again, Mother Jones‘ readers were a step ahead. Dreyfuss had detailed the CIA’s shabby research in a story on “nonofficial cover” operatives in “The CIA Crosses Over” (Jan./Feb. 1995).

The Times, it appears, is afraid of being too hard on our intelligence agencies. That includes the FBI. Mother Jones‘ antennae tuned into the FBI’s increased reliance on wiretapping in our July/August 1995 story, “FBI’s New Party Line.” About three months later, on Nov. 2, 1995, the New York Times again produced page-one copy on the same issue. Times reporter John Markoff explained how a dramatic increase in the FBI’s wiretapping capacities could threaten civil liberties.

But Mother Jones reporter Mark Barroso had also shown how wiretaps can be extremely inefficient. Case in point: The 1992 Fat Cats BBQ case in Tampa, Fla., where G-men squandered $106,000 and one month’s time gathering information on a small-time marijuana ring. Ultimately, the evidence was inadmissible in court.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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