This Week in Amherst History- February 6, 1975

According to The Student, Dr. Melvin Crain, former CIA deputy director of operational research, admitted that government officials had opened and examined mail sent by The Student to the Soviet Union. A letter arranging a shipment of 1,000 copies of a January 1959 special issue to Moscow University was one of thousands of letters sent to communist nations that were opened by the U.S. Post Office.

Paul M. Dodyk ’59, chairman of The Student, had written the letter in hopes of creating dialogue between college students in the two world powers. The special issue was dedicated to differences in the educational methods on the two sides of the Iron Curtain. Dodyk told The Student that he was considering a lawsuit against the CIA.

Crain acknowledged that the mail surveillance was unconstitutional, but the CIA justified it as necessary for national security. “My staff was aware of the operation before I was,” said Crain. “I first learned of it in November, 1958.” When Crain’s complaints to CIA superiors went unanswered, Crain reported the abuses to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, but Crain felt that little had come of his complaint. “I doubt that he did anything about it,” said Crain. “He probably thought that I was a joker.”

Crain planned to use the Dodyk letter as evidence of the CIA’s mail-opening operations if he was called to testify before congressional hearings. It was the only letter which he could directly cite as having been opened by the CIA.

-J. Robinson Mead