28. Editorial Note

On January 15, 1975, Director of Central Intelligence William Colby testified before a joint session of the Intelligence subcommittees of the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees regarding the allegations about the Central Intelligence Agency’s domestic activities made in Seymour Hersh’s, December 22, 1974, New York Times article (see Document 17). His testimony, Colby recalled later, “essentially amounted to repeating my Vail report” ( Document 19). “But there was one crucial difference,” he noted. The Senators on the assembled Committees “perceived the intentions of the public clamor and the strong views of their fellow Senators, and they know a public answer was needed. So they requested my testimony be released and since I had testified in terms that in my mind were not classified, I consented. I was, of course, privately delighted. Ever since I had prepared the Vail report I had been hoping to get it out—believing it the most effective way to counter the misconceptions fostered by Hersh’s article. But on my way down from the Hill that afternoon, I realized that I had not told the White House what was coming in the press next day, so I stopped off to give Brent Scowcroft a copy of the statement the Committee had released; the substance was well known to them, but the fact of its public release was a new bombshell.” (Colby, Honorable Men, pages 401–402)

The following morning, January 16, Colby’s testimony received significant media coverage. Front-page articles in the New York Times and Washington Post reported that Colby had confirmed the allegations of CIA domestic operations against dissenters. (Seymour M. Hersh, “C.I.A. Admits Domestic Acts, Denies ‘Massive’ Illegality,” New York Times, January 16, 1975, page 1; William Grieder and Spencer Rich, “Colby Admits CIA Spying in U.S.,” Washington Post, January 16, page [Page 63]A1) Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recounted in his memoirs that the release of the DCI’s statement was “an incitement to riot, severely limiting whatever restraint the Rockefeller Commission might have provided.” “In normal circumstances,” Kissinger notes, “the CIA Director would have been expected to protect his sources and methods and, if pressed, to ask the White House to intercede with the committees. Colby not only refused to do this, he formally absolved his subordinates of the secrecy oaths they had sworn upon entering the service.” (Kissinger, Years of Renewal, page 322)