210. Memorandum From the General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (Houston) to Director of Central Intelligence McCone 1


  • Position of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Executive Branch
This memorandum is for information.
I was most interested in your comments on your talk with Mr. Clifford 2 about the role of the Agency and the Director. A historical note on this might be of interest.
The two functions have gone in almost opposite directions. Starting in 1947 there was a determined effort, particularly by the military services, to establish the concept that the Director was merely one among equals. It was not until the rewrite of NSCID No. 1 in 19583 that this struggle was finally abandoned and the pre-eminence of the DCI accepted by the other intelligence components of the Government. I believe his role as the intelligence adviser to the President has now been well established by you.
The Agency in 1947 started with the concept that it had the sole responsibility for the production of National Estimates. Thus, the old Office of Reports and Evaluations proceeded with the theory that it should have the competence to take the raw intelligence, and intelligence data in all fields of interest, analyze it, correlate it, and evaluate it for the production of National Estimates. This was bitterly opposed, particularly by the military intelligence services. As an example, they asserted that the Agency had neither the competence nor the responsibility to produce finished intelligence relating to weapons. Towards the end of Admiral Hillenkoetter’s regime the dispute broke down the estimative process to where literally a National Estimate could not be produced. I participated in the negotiations between Admiral Hillenkoetter and General John McGruder, trying to resolve this impasse, but no solution was in sight. Before General Smith arrived he asked me what I saw as the primary problems with which he would be faced, and I told him I thought this was No. 1. He assigned this problem to his first Deputy, [Page 466]William H. Jackson, who proposed a concept that the National Estimates were the common responsibility of all the intelligence community. I objected strongly, and General Smith modified this to say, in effect, that the responsibility was in the Agency under the DCI and required the combined effort of the intelligence community. This led to the establishment of the present system of contributions by other intelligence components in their assigned fields with the correlation and evaluation done through ONE and USIB structure.
There is no question of the statutory responsibility. This is the only specific function assigned to the Agency by the National Security Act of 1947,4 and the legislative history makes it quite clear that the Congress intended to look to one place and one place only for intelligence success or failure and would hold the Agency responsible. The Director, as head of the Agency, is of course the focal point for this responsibility, to which is added his over-all responsibilities as Director of Central Intelligence.
The present concept tends to downgrade the intelligence function of the Agency to the position of one among equals and to widen the split between the Agency’s intelligence functions and the DCI, which cannot, of course, be completely separated. Present organization with the Office of National Estimates in rather an anomalous position under the DD/I but processing its material through USIB, contributes to the problem, and the emergence of DIA tends to underline the situation. Some move to upgrade ONE and tie it in more closely organizationally with the Director might be one move that could be considered in the near future.
Lawrence R. Houston 5
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry, Job 80–B01676R, Office of General Counsel, 1964–65. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 209.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 221, and footnote 4, Document 271.
  4. For text, see Michael Warner, ed., The CIA Under Harry Truman, pp. 131–135.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Houston signed the original.