26. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford 1


  • Congressional Oversight of CIA

For years the practice of the Director of CIA in reporting in executive session to the subcommittees of the Appropriations and Armed Services Committees of the Congress has satisfied Congressional interest in overseeing the CIA while protecting the secrecy so vital to the conduct of covert operations.

You know from your personal experience how the oversight system worked—CIA withheld nothing from the subcommittees and volunteered information of possible interest. The record of the Congress has been good in maintaining the secrecy of the information supplied through this system. CIA Director Colby reported on the history of Congressional oversight in September when we examined alternatives to meet demands for increased Congressional access in the wake of publicity on CIA operations in Chile.2 It was subsequently agreed with Congressional leaders to provide information on CIA covert ac[Page 60]tion activities to a restricted group of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and to the Senate leaders.

Mr. Colby reports on these developments, and on the continuing proliferation of Congressional access to the Agency’s most highly classified operations in a memorandum at Tab A.3 The Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 adds the foreign affairs committees of both houses to the four oversight subcommittees which receive information on CIA covert actions.4 In addition, the Committee on Government Operations in each house wants to assert its right to investigate CIA. Public demands for closer Congressional oversight and investigations are also increasing. Mr. Colby wrote his memorandum before the public charges of CIA involvement in domestic operations, but he anticipates similar public reactions to revelations of CIA Latin American operations which will appear in a book by former employee Philip Agee.5

Mr. Colby and his predecessors have continually held that it is up to the Congress to determine its procedures for oversight and appropriation. Faced with the proliferation of access, the House rules which permit any member to examine the records of any committee (which led to the exposure of Colby’s testimony on Chile), and Congressional and public demands for closer oversight, we are confronted with the problem of maintaining the security of covert operations. Colby believes that the pressures to widen the circle of those knowledgeable of CIA’s sensitive information pose “a substantial danger to the ultimate security of our activities and functions.” Erosion of CIA’s ability to maintain the secrecy of its operations adversely affects the protection of intelligence sources, methods and personnel, the recruitment and utili[Page 61]zation of foreign agents, the cooperation of foreign officials and intelligence organizations, and the collection of information.

In his memorandum at Tab A, Director Colby recommends that you discuss with the Congressional leadership the establishment of a Joint Committee on Intelligence. He attaches a draft resolution for consideration. This concept has surfaced periodically but has been defeated whenever it came to a vote in the Congress. Patterned after the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, a Joint Committee on Intelligence would focus authority and responsibility for oversight of intelligence operations. It could be reassuring to the Congress and the public while providing machinery to protect sensitive information.

Mr. Colby urges that you initiate the process of advancing the Joint Committee on Intelligence concept—perhaps by indicating to leading members of the Congress that you would view with approval appropriate Congressional initiative.

I support Colby’s views. Faced with mounting pressures, which are likely to be accentuated by further revelations and the advent of the new Congress, I believe that support for the Joint Committee on Intelligence concept could provide an orderly method of conducting Congressional oversight, while affording protection for the security of CIA operations, and meeting Congressional and public demands for closer oversight.


That you approve Executive Branch support for the concept of establishing a Joint Committee on Intelligence and authorize me to confer with Mr. Colby and other appropriate officials to advance this concept.6

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon Administration Intelligence Files, The 40 Committee and Predecessors, General Information, Jul 1961–Nov 1975. No classification marking; Outside System. Sent for action. Ford initialed the memorandum.
  2. In early September, Colby’s testimony before Representative Edwin Nedzi’s subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee about CIA efforts to prevent the election of Salvador Allende was leaked to the press. (Lawrence Stern, “CIA Role in Chile Revealed: Anti-Allende Funding Put At $11 Million,” Washington Post, September 8, 1974, p. A1)
  3. Attached but not printed. The report, prepared by the CIA and sent by Colby to Ford on September 17, 1974, recapitulated the growth of Congressional oversight of CIA activities since the late 1940s and offered suggestions for addressing the issue in the future without compromising the secrecy of intelligence sources and methods.
  4. Passed by Congress on December 18, 1974, and signed into law on December 30, the FY 1975 Foreign Assistance Act (S. 3394, P.L. 93–559) expanded Congressional oversight of CIA operations and restricted funding for covert actions. It included the Hughes–Ryan amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (Section 32 of the FY 1975 Act). Named for its sponsors, Senator Harold Hughes (D–Iowa) and Representative Leo Ryan (D–California), the amendment stipulated that no funds “appropriated under the authority of this or any other Act may be expended by or on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency, other than activities intended solely for obtaining necessary intelligence, unless and until the President finds that each such operation is important to the national security of the U.S. and reports, in a timely fashion, a description and scope of such operation to the appropriate committees of the Congress, including the Committee on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives.” In a memorandum to the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Operations, January 9, Colby stated that the CIA “intended to comply with the provisions of this section.” (Central Intelligence Agency, OPI 10, Executive Registry, Job 80M01066A, Box 7, Executive Registry Subject Files—1975 Congressional Oversight (1 Jan 75–31 Dec 75))
  5. See footnote 13, Document 15.
  6. Ford initialed the Approve option on or about January 14, according to a note written in an unknown hand. However, a Joint Committee on Intelligence was not ultimately created. Between January 1975 and June 1976, 19 different pieces of legislation proposing the committee’s creation were introduced in the House and Senate, but none advanced beyond committee referral.