[Page 56]

24. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Ford
  • Richard Helms, Ambassador to Iran, former CIA Director
  • John O. Marsh, Counsellor to the President
  • Philip W.Buchen, Counsel to the President
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

SUBJECT

  • Allegations of CIA Domestic Activities

President: Dick, you and I have known each other a long time. I have only the most admiration for you and for your work. Frankly, we are in a mess. I want you to tell me whatever you want. I believe the CIA is essential to the country. It has to exist and perform its functions. We will have a Blue Ribbon Panel look into these charges. It will investigate the domestic activities of the CIA.

Helms: Why not add the FBI? They overlap, and you may as well get to the bottom of it.

President: I will consider it. Secondly, though, the commission will look at the Colby report and, thirdly, make recommendations to me. It is a good commission. I hope they will stay within their charter, but in this climate, we can’t guarantee it. It would be tragic if it went beyond it, because the CIA needs to remain a strong and viable agency. It would be a shame if the public uproar forced us to go beyond and to damage the integrity of the CIA.

I automatically assume what you did was right, unless it’s proved otherwise.

Helms: I have been in the service 32 years. At the end all one has is a small pension and a reputation—if any. I testified in Watergate; I didn’t dump on President Nixon and I stuck to the truth. I intend to fight this matter. I welcome a Blue Ribbon Panel.

At the base is Congressional oversight. No Congress wants to join hands with the Bay of Pigs, et cetera; it’s bad politics. The CIA is the President’s creature.

If allegations have been made to Justice, a lot of dead cats will come out. I intend to defend myself. I don’t know everything which

[Page 57]

went on in the Agency; maybe no one really does. But I know enough to say that if the dead cats come out, I will participate. I think the mood of the country is ghastly. I feel deeply for you, Mr. President. I am a member of your team and I don’t intend to foul the nest if I can avoid it.

The basic allegation—that we spied on dissidents—stemmed from the charge to me to discover if there was any foreign connection to the dissidents. I never permitted any spying on any Congressmen. The business of the files is ridiculous; if you get a name, of course you make a record and open a file in case it is relevant thereafter.

President: I have no doubt about your total integrity, and, in fact you did a good job running the Agency. What we are trying to do is look into the charges and protect the functions of the Agency with a Blue Ribbon group which will operate responsibly. I hope you understand my position. You have my pledge that everything I do will be straightforward. I plan no witch hunt, but in this environment I don’t know if I can control it.

Helms: I will help you, Mr. President. I believe in the Agency and its mission.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 8, January 4, 1975, Ford, Former CIA Director Richard Helms. Secret. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.