2. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Nixon: You know, I think Helms is going to do a very good job there.2

Kissinger: Very good.

[Page 4]

Nixon: He’s a—it’s a good place to have him.

Kissinger: And Schlesinger will do a good job at CIA.

Nixon: Well, we need a shake-up there, and he’s shaking it up.

Kissinger: Well, he’s getting rid of a thousand people. I don’t know whether Bob [Haldeman] told you that.3

Nixon: Good. He told me.

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: You know, you can’t just keep people [unclear]. It’s sad, and, yet, I don’t like for anybody to have to leave his position, when he’s got his home and his kids are in school, and all the rest. But that’s sort of the law of life, isn’t it?

Kissinger: No, you had to—

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: You had to clean this thing up.

Nixon: He’s getting rid of a thousand, is he?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I was just wondering. They can get jobs, people that have been with the CIA [unclear].

Kissinger: It’s getting a little harder, but, still, they can get jobs.

Nixon: Oh, in business, they can get them. Business people would love to have CIA—What kind of—Now, these are not just stenographers, though? He’s getting—he’s—

Kissinger: No. No, operators, mostly in the clandestine division, which he feels is over-staffed and . . .

Nixon: And?

Kissinger: . . . over-aged.

Nixon: Well, it’s over-staffed, it’s over-aged, and unproductive.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: What the hell is it producing? What does it—

[Page 5]

Kissinger: Very little.

Nixon: —produce?

Kissinger: Very little.

Nixon: You see, Helms could never do that, could he?

Kissinger: No, because that was his own service. These were all his boys.

Nixon: Some of these guys, Henry, go back to the OSS days. Anybody from the OSS is just too damn old. Don’t you think so?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. Oh, God yes. And most—and those who don’t go back to OSS, go back to the late ‘50s, at the earliest—

Nixon: Even that’s a long stretch.

Kissinger: —which is also 14 years ago—15.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 864–7. Secret. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. The transcription is part of a larger conversation, 4:37–5:19 p.m., among Nixon, Kissinger, and Richard Helms.
  2. Former DCI Richard Helms was appointed Ambassador to Iran on February 8. Following his confirmation, he presented his credentials in Tehran on April 5. Helms’ replacement, James R. Schlesinger, was sworn in as DCI on February 2.
  3. On February 24, Seymour M. Hersh reported in the New York Times that four senior officials would retire from the CIA “within weeks” in “the first round in a major shake-up of the agency under its new director.” The officials were Deputy to the DCI for the Intelligence Community Bronson Tweedy, Tweedy’s deputy Thomas Parrott, Deputy Director for Plans Thomas H. Karamessines, and CIA General Counsel Laurence Houston. Their retirement was attributed by Hersh to “the White House’s growing disenchantment with Mr. Helms’s failure to effectively monitor and supervise spending and policy throughout the intelligence field.” “Mr. Schlesinger,” Hersh reported, “has been given the authority of the White House to wield more power in his role as director” with which “he could have a major impact on intelligence spending among the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the tactical intelligence units operated by the three armed services.” (Seymour M. Hersh, “4 High-Level C.I.A. Men Reportedly Being Ousted.” New York Times, February 24, 1973, p. 9)
  4. In his memoirs, William Colby, Schlesinger’s successor as DCI, estimated that under Schlesinger’s “purge” about 7 percent of the CIA’s staff, estimated by the Washington Post to number 15,000 employees as of March 1973, were “fired or were forced to resign or retired. And the largest portion of these, in keeping with Schlesinger’s belief that most of the ‘dead wood’ was in the clandestine services, came from my Directorate of Operations (nee Plans).” (Colby, Honorable Men, p. 333; Thomas O’Toole, “CIA’s Schlesinger Begins Streamlining Operations,” Washington Post, March 4, 1973, p. A1)