16. Letter From Director of Central Intelligence Colby to President Ford 1

Dear Mr. President:

You will recall that on 17 September 1974 in the wake of revelations concerning Agency activities in Chile, I wrote you a letter describing the history and status of Congressional oversight of CIA and the Intelligence Community.2 In that letter’s attachment I listed a number of options that might be pursued with the Congressional leadership in the interest of protecting against future erosion of our capability to protect intelligence sources and methods. Since that time, a number of developments have occurred which lead me now to recommend that you discuss with the Congressional leadership the establishment of a Joint Committee on Intelligence.

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In response to a request from Chairman Morgan of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman Hebert of the Armed Services Committee,3 Secretary Kissinger and I agreed on 25 September 1974 that arrangements could be made for reporting our covert action activities relating to foreign policy to a restricted group in the Foreign Affairs Committee. Following that agreement, on 8 October 1974, the House of Representatives adopted as part of the Bolling/Hansen recommendations an addition to the House Rules to provide the Foreign Affairs Committee oversight with respect to “intelligence activities relating to foreign policy.” It was agreed in the supporting colloquy that this restated the agreement reached between Secretary Kissinger, myself and the leadership of the Foreign Affairs and the Armed Services Committees. Implementing details of this arrangement have not as yet been worked out by Chairman Morgan.

In the Senate, Chairman Stennis arranged for the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader to be briefed on the Agency’s covert activities and on 22 November 1974 I briefed Senators Mansfield and Scott on all current covert actions.

In addition, Chairman Stennis requested that I confirm to him in writing that I would comply with certain procedures with respect to his responsibility for oversight of our activities. On 25 September 1974 I wrote Chairman Stennis that I will abide by the restrictions of the bill that he has submitted (S. 2597) with respect to the Agency’s proper role under the National Security Act and that I would contact him on a weekly basis and raise with him any matters of which he should be informed (copies attached).4 He requested these assurances in view of the delay which would be involved in securing the enactment of his legislation.

More recently, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 (S. 3394) was enacted with a provision requiring that six committees of Congress (the four Agency oversight committees of Armed Services and Appropriations of each house and the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees) receive information on covert actions to be conducted by this Agency, after a finding by the President that these are important to national security. In the course of consideration of this bill, I wrote Chairman Stennis a letter expressing my strong recommendation that oversight of this Agency be handled in a manner reflecting the sensitivity and difficulty of keeping secret some of the delicate matters involved.

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The expansion of responsibility for oversight of this Agency within the Congress, as evidenced by this enactment, appears likely to bring greater pressure for widening the audience for receipt of sensitive Agency operational information beyond those who, up to now, have been kept fully informed and who have exercised great restraint and wisdom in dealing with such information. Moreover, the exposure of my testimony on covert activities in Chile before the Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee5 is traceable to House Rule XI, Clause 27(a) which entitles all Members of the House to have access to all committee records.

As you know, both Secretary Kissinger and I (and my predecessors) have consistently taken the position that it is up to the Congress to determine its procedures for oversight and appropriation to this Agency. We have rested upon the sense of responsibility of the leadership of the Congress to exercise this duty and at the same time maintain the secrecy necessary to many of our efforts. The Congress’ record on this matter has been good over the years, but I know you share my concern over the recent exposure of my Chile testimony and the possibility of further exposures from widening the group of knowledgeable Senators, Congressmen and staff in the future.

In addition to the initiatives from the foreign affairs committees, it is also clear, for example, that the Committees on Government Operations in both the House and the Senate have certain views with respect to their rights to investigate our activities. Several proposals are also pending before the Senate which would change the existing arrangements for legislative oversight of CIA, and Senator Muskie’s Subcommittee of the Senate Government Operations Committee has held hearings on this question.

We will shortly be the subject of further exposures in Latin America through the writings of a former CIA employee, Mr. Philip Agee,6 who will expose a number of our agents and activities in that area, probably leading to further public debate and concern about CIA. We can anticipate, thus; intensified pressure from an even larger Congressional audience.

I believe we have been responsive over the years and provided to the appropriate Congressional committees all information requested or expected in the circumstances of the time. However, the time of the Members on these Committees is limited and the infrequency of formal meetings has been used to criticize the effectiveness of the existing oversight arrangements. In the present situation, I believe that public and Congressional pressures for an expansion of the circles to be informed pose a substantial danger to the ultimate security of our activities and functions. I thus believe it appropriate to recommend to you that the Executive Branch encourage the Congress to establish a Joint Committee on Intelligence. Such a [Page 29]committee, comparable to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, would in my opinion be a vehicle for the full Senate and House to establish firm procedures with respect to access to sensitive intelligence matters, appoint appropriate Congressional membership and staff support necessary to the oversight of our activities by the Congress, and clearly identify the individual Senators and Congressmen who would have both the authority and the position from which to assure the Congress and our public of their conclusions with respect to the value and propriety of our activities. It would also provide full Congressional recognition of the limits beyond which revelations of these sensitive subjects cannot go if our intelligence activities are to be effective. To assist in this process, I have attached a draft of a possible resolution. 7

Initiation of such a proposal would clearly require careful preparation and discussion with the leadership of the Congress and with the committees currently seized of this subject. You would have the best view of whether and how to initiate such an exploration. I will thus keep this recommendation to you completely private, and continue to maintain the established position that Congressional procedures must be established by the Congress, unless and until you direct to the contrary. I do urge, however, that you consider how best to initiate the process, perhaps by indicating to leading members of the Congress that you will take no public position but would view with approval an appropriate Congressional initiative in this direction.

Respectfully,

W.E. Colby 8
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Outside the System Chronological File, Box 1, 12/31/74. No classification marking.
  2. The letter was also sent by Colby to Kissinger under a September 17 covering memorandum. (National Security Council, Nixon Administration Intelligence Files, The 40 Committee and Predecessors, General Information, Jul 1961–Nov 1975)
  3. The letter from Chairman of the House International Affairs Committee Representative Thomas E. Morgan (D–Pennsylvania) and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Representative Felix E. Hebert (D–Louisiana) has not been found.
  4. Copies of Colby’s exchange with Senator John C. Stennis (D–Mississippi), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, were not found attached.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 15.
  6. See footnote 14, Document 15.
  7. The draft resolution was not found attached.
  8. Colby signed “Bill” above this typed signature.