All the news that’s safe to print

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.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.