142. Letter From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

I am joining Messrs. Gardner and Katzenbach in signing the report of the committee on CIA relations with private organizations on the assumption that it has been decided as a matter of policy to accept what I believe are the probable consequences of a public release of this report. I am writing, however, to make sure that my views concerning these consequences have been made clear.

Insofar as the report recommends new measures of support for private organizations, I am of course in total agreement. To the extent, however, that the report constitutes public announcement of a policy which will hereafter prohibit covert support to any of “the nation’s educational or private voluntary organizations,” I believe that it seriously jeopardizes the existence of certain existing resources of the [Page 438] Government, such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and one or two other organizations, the value and effectiveness of which have been reaffirmed over a period of many years. In my opinion the proposed policy statement will also curtail the options available to the Government and its ability to react swiftly in situations which may develop abroad,2 comparable to the 1962 political crisis in British Guiana.

I recognize that the footnote3 in the report is intended to provide some leeway for future contingencies. It will be difficult and probably impossible, however, to continue covert funding for existing organizations such as RFE and Radio Liberty, particularly in view of the searching and critical scrutiny which these organizations are likely to receive as a result of publication of this report. Moreover, I am doubtful that alternative sources of funding can be found which will permit continued operation of these radios under circumstances which will ensure that they are neither official organs like the Voice of America nor vehicles for the uninhibited expression of emigre opinion.

I have suggested alternative language to the committee which, in my opinion, would achieve the objectives desired for the report without tying our hands or involving risks of future embarrassment. Although the other two members of the committee did not agree with my recommendation, it is still my view that the report should be so worded as to feature a policy of support for the foreign activities of genuinely private organizations and the need for a new quasi-official instrumentality through which such support can be channelled. The problem of clarifying the Government’s attitude towards CIA relationships with private institutions would be adequately covered by a brief factual statement. I believe that the report should simply confirm the fact that CIA is proceeding to disengage from all domestic educational or private voluntary organizations as rapidly as the national security permits under the direction of a substantially strengthened interagency control mechanism which involves the personal participation of the Secretaries of State and Defense as appropriate.

Such a statement has the advantage of being factually accurate. It provides reasonable assurance to critics of CIA programs that firm action has been taken to liquidate activities which they find objectionable. It contains no admissions or commitments which are not fully compatible with the dignity and prerogatives of the Government.

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I am attaching proposed rewording of the report along the lines suggested above.

If you decide to release the report substantially in its present form, we will immediately study the problem which the report poses for the continuation of RFE and Radio Liberty. I would like to be able to give a neat solution, but the complex of factors involved will require time to work out. Possible alternative sources of funding, the implications of the status and legal composition of the radios and the problem of arrangements adequate to ensure control of broadcasting policy will all have to be examined.

These are perplexing questions and, particularly if alternative sources of funds must be found, are unlikely to be resolved prior to December 31, 1967, the cut-off date established in the report for termination of CIA support for private organizations. Therefore, I believe that there should be at least some relaxation in the time which the report allows to CIA to accomplish liquidation of these relationships.


Richard Helms4


Paper Prepared by Director of Central Intelligence Helms5

Proposed Changes in the Wording of the Proposed Report on Covert Assistance to Voluntary Organizations

A. The two basic recommendations of the report (beginning on page 1) should be amended to read as follows:

1. To assure that private American voluntary organizations can play a proper and vital role abroad, it should be the policy of the United States Government to develop and the Congress should promptly establish a mechanism to provide public funds openly for overseas activities of such organizations which are adjudged deserving, in the national interest, of public support.

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2. Covert financial assistance or support, direct or indirect, to any of our society’s private organizations should be discontinued as rapidly as circumstances affecting the national security permit and responsibility for overseeing and assisting in the implementation of this policy should be entrusted to a strengthened interdepartmental review committee.

B. The words “A NEW POLICY” should be deleted from page 2.

C. Beginning with the last sentence of the 4th paragraph on page 3, the present material through the paragraph ending on page 5 and the footnote should be eliminated and the following language substituted:

These considerations have led us to the conclusion that CIA can and should terminate its support to domestic private associations, institutions and other organizations. It should be noted that, starting well before the recent wave of disclosures and assertions, CIA had initiated and pursued efforts to disengage from much of this activity. Total disengagement should proceed as rapidly as circumstances affecting the national security permit and responsibility for overseeing and assisting in the implementation of this policy should be entrusted to a strengthened interdepartmental review committee with personal participation by the Secretaries of State and Defense as appropriate.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential File, Oversized Attachments, Box 192 [2 of 2], C.F. Oversize Attachments: 12/2/68, Packet 2 [Cater 2/67–10/67 material re U.S. Government and Private Voluntary Organizations, Committee on Voluntary Overseas Activity (COVA), also the Rusk Committee]. Eyes Only. Copies were sent to Gardner and Katzenbach. Cater and McPherson sent the letter to Johnson under a March 25 covering memorandum, in which they stated that Helms had suggested a revision to the Katzenbach report, which Helms had already signed, adding that Katzenbach and Gardner opposed the revision. They explained the nature of Helm’s main reservation, adding that “the amendments suggested by Helms would cripple the report.” Cater and McPherson recommended that the President accept the report as submitted and signed by Katzenbach, Gardner and Helms. Johnson did not approve or disapprove the recommendation, but did initial the top left-hand corner of the memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Reference is to the political crisis in British Guiana during which the CIA began funding groups opposed to Premier Cheddi Jagan. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana, Document 370; and Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XII, American Republics, Documents 241299.
  3. Reference is to the footnote on page 5 of the report; see footnote 4, Document 141.
  4. Helms signed “Dick” above this typed signature.
  5. No classification marking.