22. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • William E. Colby, Director, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Philip W. Buchen, Counsel to the President
  • John O. Marsh, Jr., Counsellor to the President
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs


  • Allegations of CIA Domestic Activities

President: I asked Phil and Jack to analyze the [Colby] report for me, but first, why don’t you tell me where we are.

[Page 50]

Colby: We have a couple of problems—one within the Agency and one with Congress. Already the two Armed Services committees, the two Appropriations committees, and Muskie want me to testify.

I think we have a 25-year old institution which has done some things it shouldn’t have. On the dissidents, the major effort was to check if there were any foreign connections. But we held it so close there was unease within the Agency—was it really done for the foreign connections or was it anti-dissident? We infiltrated some people so they could go overseas. That was okay, but in the course of training within the groups they wrote on the dissidents. We passed the information to the FBI and they passed information to us. But what happened is we would file the reports the FBI gave us. That, together with our reports from overseas, amounts to about 10,000. So we can’t deny that, but I will have to try to clarify it.

President: When were the names gathered?

Colby: Beginning in ’67. It was formally terminated in March ’74.

President: When was the Schlesinger directive?

Colby: In May 1973. Schlesinger was concerned when things popped up—the psychological profiles, and letters from McCord about CIA and Watergate. So, to find everything, he put out this directive. My report has some of it; I will cover the others now. I briefed Nedzi in July 1973; I gave Stennis a general briefing and Symington a detailed one. [He showed the President a looseleaf book.]2

President: What did the three say?

Colby: I said “Here it is; we are not going to do it again.” I then gave specific instructions to the Department. In March 1974, we stopped the program and I put it together with the dissident program and treated them as one. He mentions mail opening. We did have a New York and Los Angeles program in the 50’s of opening first-class airmail from the USSR. For example, we have four to Jane Fonda. That is illegal, and we stopped it in 1973. In San Francisco we had one with respect to China, to find out who the contacts were. Some letters were opened. We did break in to some premises to see whether there were classified documents.

President: Were these former employees, or people on the payroll?

Colby: Former employees.

President: Had they been fired?

Colby: One had just left—he wasn’t fired.

President: Who would approve such operations?

[Page 51]

Colby: I would think only the Director, but possibly at these times the Director of the Office of Security.

The third area is the fact that we surveilled some people to find out why they had classified information. Some of the names are pretty hot. [He mentioned a couple of reporters.] In 1971 we surveilled Mike Getler. He had run a story which was an obvious intelligence leak.

President: Who would have approved that?

Colby: I’m pretty sure it was Helms, but whether it was directed from higher up I don’t know.

In 1972 at the time of the India–Pakistan war, we put a tap on Jack Anderson and three of his associates.

President: Who ordered it?

Colby: Helms. Whether on his own or not, I don’t know. This was not illegal, but (perhaps) outside our jurisdiction. We also followed some of our employees or former employees. Unfortunately, one was Marchetti. Again, it was not illegal, but it’s a highly emotional area.

President: Was this outside the Agency’s charter?

Colby: Helms says this is a gray area. We have the responsibility to protect our sources and information.

President: What would you have done?

Colby: I said at my confirmation that I have the duty but not the authority. I would go to the FBI or somewhere like that.

We have also run some wiretaps. Most of them are on our employees, but not all. Edgar Snow, for example. Generally, from 1965, they were approved by the Attorney General. One other was a defector, but most of them were employees. I doubt that before 1963 we had Attorney-General approval.

These were from 1951 through 1965. The last tap recorded was in 1971.

None of these have anything to do with the Hersh story, but he lists all these activities as being part of the anti-dissident effort.

Marsh: But Hersh will say that out of the dissidents program came the IEC and this is where the Getler and Anderson taps are very worrisome. He will say we turned to the IEC for operations when we couldn’t get action from the regular agencies.

Buchen: The directive was 9 May; the report was May 21.3 Isn’t that a bit short?

Colby: Most of these skeletons were around, but just in memory rather than on paper. It didn’t take much to get them on paper.

[Page 52]

President: Who would have known of the dissident operation?

Colby: The Director, Karamessines, the Deputy Director, Ober—30 to 40 people were in the group.

President: Who assigned Ober over here?

Colby: When we terminated the program, I nominated him.

[General Scowcroft described how the NSC got him and what his normal NSC duties were.]

Colby: That’s about it. We did collect the names of some Congressmen—who weren’t in Congress when we got the names. [He gave the President a paper on this.]4 An “X” by the names means we ran a clearance for the purpose of collaboration with them; “Y” means the name came up in connection with a foreign country.

[The President leaves.]

Buchen: The last directives are undated. Why?

Colby: They were all issued at the same time.

Marsh: They will try to get this all linked with Watergate. Do you think there is a connection?

Colby: Watergate is a code word. Only that concern about dissidents and leaks may have been hypoed [sic] by political concerns.

[Buchen and Marsh asked a series of questions. The President then returned.]

President: Is counterintelligence work suffering because of a lack of coordination with the FBI?

Colby: No. We are cooperating very well. I think NSCID 95 will formally regularize the arrangement we’ve had with the FBI since 1966.

Colby: We obviously have a problem since we lost four of our top people.

[Page 53]

President: Tell me about them.

Colby: It has to be a highly compartmented activity.

Angleton is an unusual type and totally dedicated to his mission. He is very intense. I thought of asking him to retire when I took over. I didn’t because of the human factors. He also handled the Israeli account. On Friday before the Hersh article appeared, I told him he could move or retire.

Of the other three, one had already decided to retire. His deputy we told that he wouldn’t be the chief and he retired. The third was younger, but he thought apparently he might get the job and he retired when he didn’t.

Helms helped Hunt to get a job with Mullens6 when he retired.

President: We plan to do three things: One, early next week, all the Intelligence chiefs will come in and I will say “You know what the law is and I expect you to obey.” Two, I’m going to appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee to look into all of this. Three, I am going to suggest to the Hill that a joint committee is the best way for them to go to investigate.

We don’t want to destroy but to preserve the CIA. But we want to make sure that illegal operations and those outside the charter don’t happen.

Colby: We have run operations to assassinate foreign leaders. We have never succeeded. [He cited Castro, Trujillo, General Schneider of Chile,7 et al.]

There’s another skeleton: A defector we suspected of being a double agent we kept confined for three years.

There is one other very messy problem: After the ITT–Chile Congressional investigation,8 there was an allegation that our testimony [Page 54]was not all kosher. I don’t think there was any criminal action, but there was some skating on thin ice. There is an old rule that to protect sources and information you could stretch things.

But the White House hasn’t been told about my book of skeletons.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 8, January 3, 1975, Ford, Colby, Buchen, Marsh. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. All brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.
  2. Not found.
  3. The report has not been found. The May 9, 1973, directive is Document 6.
  4. Not found.
  5. An approved and promulgated version of a revised NSCID No. 9 has not been found. In a May 12 memorandum to Kissinger, Colby forwarded a draft of the proposed NSCID No. 9, “Central Intelligence Agency Foreign Intelligence Operations Within the United States and Clandestine Operations Affecting U.S. Citizens Abroad.” (National Security Council, Ford Administration Intelligence Files, Box I–033, Action 3577X: NSCID No. 9 (6/10/75) The draft, summarized in a June 5 letter from Colby to Levi, stipulates that the CIA would conduct “no electronic surveillance within the United States” or “electronic surveillance directed specifically at American citizens abroad” without the “personal approval” of the Attorney General. (Ibid.) A June 10 action memorandum from Ober to Scowcroft indicates that the draft was forwarded to the NSC for consideration. (Ibid.) Revised versions of NSCID No. 9 were prepared by the CIA in conjunction with the Attorney General’s office on November 13, and forwarded to Scowcroft on November 26 (ibid., Proposed NSCID No. IX) and again by Ober to Buchen on January 22, 1976. (Ibid.) A May 17, 1976, memorandum from Special Assistant to the DDCI/IC Major General Jack E. Thomas to Lehman, Ober, and Clifford Opper of the DIA, states that action on drafts of proposed NSCIDs was deferred pending completion of revisions to existing NSCIDs in compliance with E.O. 11905. (Ibid.)
  6. Robert Mullen and Company, a Washington-based public relations firm where Hunt was employed following his retirement from the CIA in 1970.
  7. General Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, was assassinated in Santiago in 1970.
  8. Following March 1972 press reports of efforts undertaken by the CIA and the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) to undermine the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende, and specifically to prevent his 1970 election, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations held hearings in early 1973 to determine the reports’ veracity. Testimony revealed that ITT had twice offered to participate in any U.S. Government plan to block Allende’s election, prompting the Senate to pass S. 2239 (S. Rept. 93–343) on July 26, 1973, barring corporations from making contributions to the U.S. Government with the intention of influencing elections in foreign countries. The House did not act on the bill, but the hearings prompted the subcommittee to launch a second investigation into OPIC involvement in foreign policymaking. Concluding that OPIC had “unnecessarily involved the U.S. government in the internal political affairs of less developed countries without sufficiently aiding in their development,” Congress passed S. 2957, (P.L. 93–390) on August 13, 1974, phasing out OPIC’s direct insurance and financial operations by 1979. (Congress and the Nation, Vol. IV, 1973–1976, pp. 856, 862)