The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has declassified hundreds of once-secret documents, detailing some of the agency's activities from the 1950s through the early 1970s. They include a plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. VOA's Robert Raffaele has the story.

The CIA released the documents on its website, in response to a 1992 Freedom of Information Act request.

CIA Director Michael Hayden called the documents a "glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency."

Besides the plot against Mr. Castro, the documents describe domestic spying, opening of private mail and the investigation of journalists.

Agents watched former Washington Post reporter Michael Getler for three months in 1971. "They were watching who I was talking to. They took pictures of who I was having lunch with. They actually took pictures through the picture window of our home," he said.

CIA employees have nicknamed the documents "the family jewels."  They were compiled in 1973 by then-CIA director James Schlesinger as he sought details about whether and when the CIA might have overstepped its authority.

Many details became known in testimony before two Congressional committees and one presidential commission investigating alleged intelligence abuses.

Gary Thomas, Voice of America's National Security Correspondent, says, "I think what it came down to was, a lot of this came down from the White House, it came down from the federal agents that they wanted this stuff done. [U.S. Attorney General] Bobby Kennedy wanted Fidel Castro assassinated."

Thomas says although the official release offers no stunning revelations, it may spark more debate about frustrations within the intelligence community. "These investigations of the time led to putting up barriers between the CIA and other agencies, on domestic law enforcement or intelligence cooperation. They [intelligence community] were afraid they would get caught on domestic surveillance.  And this issue has now come back to the fore because now they're saying, 'Well, those committees actually hurt our domestic surveillance efforts, which might have prevented the 9/11 attacks, had we had a more robust domestic surveillance.'  And I think if there is one thing these documents will do, is it might reignite that debate."

Revelations in the 1970s about covert CIA activities directly resulted in the creation of two congressional committees that oversee U.S. intelligence matters.