15. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • John McCone, former Director of Central Intelligence
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[After initial pleasantries and small talk, the conversation turned to the problems of the intelligence community.]2

Mr. McCone: I wanted to talk about the CIA and the fact that its image is being tarnished, both here and in Europe. People talk to me in a way far different from the way they did a few years ago. I am deeply concerned that it may be more than Colby. Nothing I say should be construed as criticism of Colby and the Agency. I had my eye on him for years and he is very able.

But I fear two things: The loss of image lowers morale and people leave the Agency, and second, the Agency is no longer the most attractive to college graduates. There are some things which can be done. [He hands the President a paper.]3

The role and mission of the Agency and the intelligence community must be redefined and reaffirmed. This means:

—The authority of the Director over the intelligence community must be reaffirmed. President Kennedy did that for me.4

[Page 24]

—The question of Agency personnel abroad: There is an attitude of why should CIA have anybody abroad. They are there mostly to help the host country. [less than 1 line not declassified]

—The use of covert political activity: It is much less now than it used to be, as you know. There must be an understanding on the Hill that we must keep this in reserve as long as the KGB does it.

The President: Most of them on the Hill do, but you get these zealots, together with some of the press, who just don’t give a damn.

Mr. McCone: I met with Senator Church before the hearings and he understands, but then he shot barbed questions at me. I would hope you would meet with the Senate leadership and resolve the dispute between the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Armed Services. The House is much better organized. When Dick Russell5 was there I got him to invite Fulbright. He didn’t want to.

The Harrington matter arose because of the House rule.6 If you could bring about a situation where surveillance by these committees would constitute surveillance by the House . . .

The President: We had a leadership meeting recently where we went into this,7 and I think we have it pretty well taken care of.

Mr. McCone: I think at a breakfast you could also reaffirm the roles and missions. He [Colby] should also have access to you. I had access to President Kennedy. President Johnson was different. Allen Dulles had constant contact with Ike.8

The President: I meet daily with [name not declassified].9 I met with Colby three times before SALT, and we also had a meeting on the 40 Committee. I was surprised at how little we spend on covert activities.

Mr. McCone: I suspected it myself and I reduced it from the Dulles days.

[Page 25]

The President: What is your thought on whether DIA is a good organization. Has it been effective?

Mr. McCone: Yes. It is an instrument of the JCS, and to that extent it is parochial, but it does a good job. It has a lot of civilians, under Civil Service. It is a good idea, but I insisted that the Service intelligence chiefs still sit on the USIB.

Another subject is PFIAB. I would look at that—it needs revitalization, including the chairman and staff. It should be revitalized and it should have higher visibility. Then if it is shuffled, it could meet with the select committees.

The President: I met with them a couple of times when I was Vice President. There are some good people on the board.

Mr. McCone: Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr. is a good friend of mine but he is not an intelligence officer.

The President: Didn’t Johnson put General J.C. Meyer on it?10

Mr. McCone: There used to be a man by the name of Coyne who ran the staff.11 He knew the bureaucracy and he knew his way around. Giving this Board visibility and authority would help defuse some of the criticism that CIA is running wild. [Looking over a list of Board membership:] Land, Cherne, Baker, Gray are all good. Shultz is good. Teller is a fine guy but emotional.

The Board needs visibility.

The President: Brent, I want to meet with the PFIAB next time.12 Also I will meet with the leadership after the first of the year to discuss the handling of briefings and CIA oversight.13

Mr. McCone: There is legislation on the Hill for criminal penalties for people like Agee.14

[Page 26]

The President: Make a note of that, Brent.

Mr. McCone: What you need to show is that the Agency is not a free-wheeling unsupervised agency.

The President: Could I change the subject for just a minute? You have wide acquaintance around. Would you send me any names of people you think would fit in at the top or anywhere? That I would appreciate.

Mr. McCone: I will be glad to. I gave some to Bill Scranton.15 I will send you a list.

The President: I don’t anticipate any major changes. I don’t want any change on Kissinger’s or for the moment Schlesinger.

[There was a brief discussion of energy, reorganization, and the conversation ended.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 7, November 11, 1974, Ford, John McCone (Former DCI). Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. McCone served as DCI from 1961 to 1965.
  2. All brackets, except those accounting for still-classified material, are in the original.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XXV, Organization of Foreign Policy; Information Policy; United Nations; Scientific Matters, Document 99.
  5. Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr. (D–Georgia) was Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 1951–1952 and 1955–1966.
  6. On September 25, a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee began disciplinary proceedings against Representative Michael J. Harrington (D–Massachu-setts) after it was alleged that he violated House rules by releasing classified testimony given by Colby on CIA involvement in Chile. (Seymour M. Hersh, “House Unit Meets on Chilean Leaks,” New York Times, September 26, 1973, p. 13) On June 11, 1975, the Committee denied Harrington access to classified information and five days later officially rebuked him for the leak. (George Lardner, Jr., “Harrington Rebuked for Leaks on CIA,” Washington Post, June 17, 1975, p. A1) Formal charges were brought against Harrington by the House Ethics Committee on October 21, 1975, but these were dropped on November 3, 1975. (“Rep. Harrington Charges Dropped,” Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1975, p. 1)
  7. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford met with the Republican Congressional leadership from 8:37 to 10:07 a.m. on October 4. (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office) No record of this meeting has been found.
  8. Allen W. Dulles was DCI from 1953 to 1961 under President Eisenhower.
  9. Chief of the Office of Current Intelligence, White House Support Staff.
  10. General John C. Meyer, USAF, served successively as Deputy Director, Vice Director, and Director of Plans for the JCS Joint Staff, 1966–1969; USAF Vice Chief of Staff, 1969–1972; and Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command, 1972–1974.
  11. J. Patrick Coyne, PFIAB Executive Secretary until September 1970.
  12. Ford met with PFIAB at the White House on December 6 and suggested that it could give an “objective analysis” of the Intelligence Community’s standing with the public. The memorandum of conversation is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Box 7, Memoranda of Conversations, 12/6/74.
  13. Meeting not further identified.
  14. On July 8, Philip B.F. Agee, a former CIA agent, revealed that he had written an exposé of CIA activities in Latin America during the 1960s, alleging CIA assassination of some of its own employees. (Seymour M. Hersh, “Ex-Agent, in Book, Is Said to Assert that C.I.A. Aided in the Killing of Some Employees,” New York Times, July 9, 1973, p. 27) Agee’s account was subsequently published in the United Kingdom in 1975 under the title Inside the Company: CIA Diary. On July 7, a Washington Post article identified Agee as the central figure in the closure of a CIA cover operation in Mexico City run by the Washington-based public relations firm, Robert Mullen and Company, an event referred to as a “WH Flap” in the July 1 report released by Senator Howard Baker (R–Tennessee) on CIA involvement in Watergate. (Lawrence Stern, “Ex-Agent Identified in ‘Flap,’”Washington Post, July 7, 1973, p. A1)
  15. William W. Scranton, former Governor of Pennsylvania, 1963–1967, was a member of Ford’s transition team and Special Consultant.