By Madeline Bartos | Staff Writer
More than 12 million classified CIA documents — formerly available only by physically going to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland — are now available with a mere click of the mouse.
Every year, the CIA releases what it deems as “nonexempt historically valuable records” 25 years or older to the public. As of last Tuesday, the database is online, meaning you can seek the truth on anything from UFOs to the Cold War.
What happens when you try to dig up dirt about Duquesne University?
Perhaps the most interesting thing you’ll find is a string of letters from 1951 between the CIA and the Rev. John Schlicht. Schlicht, a former history professor at Duquesne, was interested in starting an anti-communist propaganda campaign. He wrote to the very first Director of Central Intelligence, Gen. Walter Smith, asking him to teach parts of the campaign. He also hoped that after Duquesne ran a trial program, it would go national.
“No matter what the particular aims of any one group in America may be, Communism is definitely not the answer,” Schlicht said in his letter.
If Smith was unavailable to teach parts of the program, Schlicht asked for a recommendation of someone who was “born, raised and educated in Russia, and [had] lived under the Communistic regime, and [had] then come to America and [had] been Americanized” and was also very anti-Communist.
However, the letters got lost and Smith left for a trip before getting the chance to write back. When he finally replied months later, he explained he didn’t have time to teach the program since he was a little tied up in his current position as director of the CIA. The Presidential policy also prevented him from “commenting or participating in projects of this nature.”
While the director of the CIA wasn’t visiting Duquesne anytime soon, a memo from Henry A. Kissinger himself reveals that the former president of Gabon, President El Hadj Omar Bongo, did visit the U.S. in 1973 to receive an honorary degree from Duquesne. You can’t be president without a good education, although now political experience is not required, and Bongo arguably couldn’t have led the west coast African country of Gabon for 42 years without his honorary degree from Duquesne.
Okay, so it’s not a real academic degree. But still, the primary reason for his second visit to America was to visit Duquesne. Kissinger scheduled a meeting to talk with the Gabonese president, because Bongo had been seeking the opportunity for a long time and claimed to be a “great admirer of the United States.”
Although he may have been a great admirer of the U.S., it’s possible that Bongo was just there to fund his “political showpiece” — the Trans-Gabon Railroad. At the time of his visit, he was developing a $200 million dollar project to extend the railroad to the iron ore deposits in the northeast. Gabon had been “blessed with abundant mineral resources,” so the White House invited him over to help fund the project.
Probably the most entertaining part of the file is that Bongo extended a “standing invitation” for someone, presumably President Richard Nixon, to visit Gabon, and the file suggested answers to give when Bongo asked again. They were round about answers in the same vein of “that sounds great we’ll definitely get back to you on that,” which probably meant they wouldn’t.
The last document of note is a newspaper clipping from The Washington Post, filed away by the CIA. It tells the story of Dr. Cyril Wecht, the coroner of Pittsburgh and a professor of law and forensic medicine at Duquesne.
In 1973 Wecht attended a conference sponsored by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, a congressional group that looked into political assassinations of the past. While the committee discussed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell, the main focus was on former President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Wecht believed that the single bullet, or magic bullet theory, was not possible. He claimed that the angle of the shot, combined with the “loss of substance” from the bullet passing through Kennedy and former Gov. John Connally destroyed the single bullet theory as well as the conclusion that Oswald was the lone assassin. It’s unclear why the CIA filed this article away, but their decision to do so made an interesting addition to the dump of declassified documents.