237. Presentation by the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (Helms)1

[Omitted here are Helms’ opening remarks.]

One of the principal charges made of the Central Intelligence Agency is that it tends to make policy, on the one side, and tends to freewheel in carrying out some of its operations, on the other. We do not make policy, and we do not freewheel. Those are two rather flat statements, but they are also truthful statements. Foreign policy is made by the State Department, defense policy is made in the Defense Department, and other policies are made elsewhere, but they aren’t made in this Agency.

When we are carrying out an operation overseas we carry it out with the full authority of the United States Government or we don’t carry it out at all. The Director reports to the National Security Council, which in effect means that he reports to the President. By law he’s not beholden to any other department of Government, and in the minds of the Congress this was the only sensible way to establish this Agency so that it was not obliged at any time or at any place to do anything which was other than either objective or at least the way it saw conditions in various parts of the world. In other words, departmental intelligence is not part of our job, nor are we interested in being influenced by the various competing demands for money or manpower that various departments have up with the Congress from time to time. But this also has to do with the policy making aspects of life, because the President, sitting as he does in our form of government and under our Constitution, has a variety of responsibilities, and these responsibilities in turn have nothing to do with individual departments, or at least the parochialism of individual departments and agencies.

Now as far as our overseas operations are concerned, there is a mechanism which has been devised, and has been in existence for some time, which is designed to provide the approval or the clearance or the authority-whatever word you choose to use-for each and every one of these operations. This little group that does this has been variously known as the Special Group, the 303 Committee-it has had various names and various incarnations, but through the months and years has sat [Page 520] essentially as it sits today. It is composed of McGeorge Bundy as the Chairman, who represents the President. Sitting for the State Department these days is Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, who represents the Secretary of State. Deputy Secretary Vance sits for the Defense Department and represents the Secretary of Defense. And Admiral Raborn sits representing the Agency. These four gentlemen meet approximately once a week with an Executive Secretary who keeps the minutes, and they are agreed minutes, and each and every operation which the Agency is going to conduct overseas in the political field, paramilitary field, economic warfare, any of a whole host of things, is presented to this group and secures the group’s approval, otherwise it does not go forward.

There are times when there are disagreements in the group, or there are varying points of view, and, depending on the circumstances, the decision may in the end be made by the President himself. But since in our form of government this type of thing should not be put on the President’s platter, the 303 Committee is there not only as a group to sit in judgment on the validity and wisdom of these projects but even, and equally important, to protect the President from criticism for something that goes wrong, even though he may have been privy to the fact that it was going on all the time-and he is normally kept very well informed on these matters.

In addition to this group, we appear before the standard number of Congressional committees-we appear before the same number of Congressional committees that everybody else in Washington appears before, and that’s four-two in the House and two in the Senate. We appear either every week or every couple of weeks before our principal subcommittees-and of course less frequently before the Appropriations Committees-but nevertheless, they are kept currently informed not only as to the state of the world as seen through the Director’s eyes but also as to the various operations and types and kinds of things we are doing around the world.

Lastly, there is an organization known as the President’ s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which is chaired by Mr. Clark Clifford and has a distinguished group of public citizens sitting on it-such individuals as General Maxwell Taylor, Admiral (Sides), Gordon Gray, Frank Pace, William Baker of Bell Labs, Edwin Land from Polaroid Camera Company, Robert Murphy of ambassadorial fame, William Langer, Professor of History at Harvard, and so on. And this group meets periodically with various members of the Agency, usually for two or three days at a time, goes over the various programs, organizational matters, operations, things that have gone right and things that have gone wrong, and on behalf of the President conducts a type of watchdog [Page 521] function, if you like, in addition to all the other watchdog functions which are performed. So when you take these three elements-or if you include the National Security Council, four elements-the Central Intelligence Agency and its work is really well supervised, and supervised to a degree that apparently has not conveyed itself to many people in the American public at large.

Tied into this, of course, is the role of the Ambassador overseas, who, as the principal representative of the President and the Chairman of the country team indeed has a good deal to do with operations that are being carried out in his area. The normal way to get an operation started is to have it recommended by our field station, concurred and approved-or recommended for approval by the Ambassador, brought back to the State Department where it is examined by the proper Bureau-if it has a military aspect or any other kind of an aspect it’s referred to the proper department or agency-and finally ends up, as I said a moment ago, in the 303 Committee. So that in effect an Ambassador has a veto over any of these things in his area which he thinks would be counter to the U.S. interest or which for any reason he feels should not go forward.

It is obvious, I think, to anyone that if an Ambassador is against something in his area it would be pretty hard to get it through. I know of only one instance in my years around here where there was a difference of opinion between the Ambassador and the Administration in Washington, so the matter was referred to the President, who decided what the final position should be. But as you can imagine, under those circumstances only the President can decide.

Thus, briefly, I have tried to outline the approval authority and the supervision under which we operate. I could go on at much greater length, of course, and in much greater detail, but I think that this should suffice to convey to you what I said at the outset-that we do not go off on our own, that we do not freewheel, and that we are well and carefully supervised.

[Omitted here is the remainder of Helms’ presentation.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry, Job 80–B01284A, DCI Speeches 1965–1967. Top Secret. The presentation was made in the CIA Auditorium to students of the National War College. Helms forwarded the transcript of his remarks to Enright on November 11, asking him to “please read my poor prose and decide whether it is worth cleaning up for use as basic doctrine for other speakers on other occasions.” (Ibid.)