HISTORY Behind the Scenes: On the Record With the CIA

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The Sept. 30, 1974, cover of TIME TIME (Photo: Ed Streeky)

Spilling secrets of TIME’s 1974 cover story about the CIA

A couple of people in the room were rather embarrassed because they were career government … people who had been leaking to me over the years, Talbott says

For the Central Intelligence Agency, 1974 was rough. It had, in recent years, been party to the Watergate scandal (five of the seven burglars worked for the CIA); it backed a military coup to oust Salvador Allende, a democratically elected president, who was replaced by the monstrous Augusto Pinochet; and it been the subject of a critical, unflattering book called The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, which the federal government went to great lengths to censor, going so far as to take the author to court. And soon enough, Operation CHAOS, an illegal domestic intelligence program begun under President Johnson, was exposed in the New York Times by Seymour Hersh. (This wasn’t the last time the agency would spy on Americans.)

So it should be no surprise that that the agency, which was founded on this day in 1947, soon found itself on the cover of TIME. The Sept. 30 story, The CIA: Time to Come In From the Cold, was written by associate editor Frank Merrick and reported by TIME’s State Department Correspondent, Strobe Talbott, and, to a lesser extent, reporter-researcher Sally Bedell. Talbott had been at TIME since 1968, as an intern in the London Bureau. “There was a Get the CIA attitude then,” Talbott, who has been the president of the Brookings Institution for the last 12 years, tells TIME.com.