370. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford1
- Covert Action In Italy
National elections will be held in Italy in less than one month. You asked that the Operations Advisory Group (OAG) review the $4.87 million covert action program which you had previously approved, but subsequently suspended because of adverse publicity, to determine if there was anything that we could do to try to block the Communists from gaining control of the Italian Government.
The OAG reviewed the situation at a meeting on 20 May. It focused upon a CIA proposal (TAB A) to attack the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) through deception, propaganda and media operations. CIA is not able to predict the outcome of the elections or to measure with any certainty the impact of its proposed program. It is aimed at influencing a small percentage of the voters to decrease the total PCI vote by 1% to 3%.
One of the major elements of the proposed program—financing an [less than 1 line not declassified], highly-regarded daily newspaper [less than 1 line not declassified]—has already been accomplished through the efforts of Ambassador Volpe working with Italian businessmen. Some other aspects of the proposal cannot be implemented effectively because of the limited time available. This is what remains:
—A deception operation, [less than 1 line not declassified] fabricating a story to reveal close contacts between the PCI leadership and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to give the lie to the PCI’s claim of being an independent party.
—Publication of non-attributable pamphlets showing the bad effect of a Communist government on Italian life—private property, religion, labor, women, etc.
—Exploitation of PCI financing by the USSR and East Europeans.[Typeset Page 1128]
—Placement of propaganda themes with [less than 1 line not declassified] media assets.
—Deception activities to raise questions among hard-line pro-Soviet supporters about the PCI’s commitment to International Communism.
These activities would be implemented [less than 1 line not declassified], without reference to any Italian officials or political leaders in order to minimize risk of exposure. [2 lines not declassified]
It was the understanding at the OAG meeting that the Christian Democrats can expect to receive financial support from the major business group—the equivalent of our National Association of Manufacturers—and from labor groups as well. It is believed that they have access to sufficient funding. There was no support within the OAG for an attempt to implement any program to provide financial support to the Christian Democrats or selected political leaders.
Opinion on the proposed TAB A program was mixed. A major factor in OAG deliberations was the requirement that the oversight committees of the Congress must be briefed if we undertake any covert action. DCI Bush has told them that we are doing nothing. In fact, his most recent briefing on this subject was leaked to the press that same day. It is the opinion of the OAG that any briefing on our covert action efforts in Italy is likely to be leaked, especially since there has already been considerable publicity and interest in what we might be doing in Italy. Ironically, we will probably be blamed for engaging in covert action in Italy even if we do nothing.
Positions taken on the TAB A proposal at the OAG meeting may be summarized as follows:
—State. Supported but is concerned about Congressional reaction and hoped that Congress could be briefed in general terms with a minimum of details.
—Defense. Strongly negative. Felt that probability of exposure is so high that we and the Italian democratic parties would pay a price out of all proportion to the anticipated return.
—JCS. The risks are greater than the gains (although feel less strongly about this than Defense and OMB.)
—CIA. Favors going ahead.
—Attorney General. While he did not register on the policy aspects of the issue, he quite obviously felt the risk was great compared to gain.
—OMB. Felt strongly that the potential gain was not worth the risk of disclosure.
Quite obviously the major factor in considering this proposal is the report to the Congress, which all felt has a high likelihood of being leaked. The result would probably be publicity which would damage our relations abroad as well as have domestic impact. However, some felt that the fact that the proposed program centers on efforts to show [Typeset Page 1129] a close connection between the PCI and the Soviet Union and to combat Communism might produce a generally favorable reception on the Hill and might even stimulate support.
The other major aspect to be considered is how much impact this program could be expected to have in so short a time. There was some feeling that expected results were so marginal as to not be worth the possible risks. The alternative, however, is to do nothing, [2 lines not declassified] PCI domination of or participation in the Government of Italy would create sufficiently serious problems for us that we should not lightly discard any action which might reduce that possibility.
On balance, I believe that we can emphasize to the Congressional committee chairmen the dangers of exposure and the specifically anti-Communist nature of the operation. While we would still run the risk of exposure and publicity, I believe that the impact will be softened by substantial approval of our aims. Finally, I believe that the consequences of a PCI electoral victory are so severe that this small-scale media and propaganda effort is warranted, despite the risks. In fact, should we do nothing and the PCI emerge victorious, we could be severely criticized for total inaction in the face of such a threat.
That you approve the proposed covert action program at Tab A to cost not more than [dollar amount not declassified]
Summary: Scowcroft sought Ford’s approval of a scaled-down covert action program in Italy.
Source: National Security Council Files, Ford Intelligence Files, Italy—GRF 1974–1977. Secret; Eyes Only. Outside System. Sent for action. Tab A, [text not declassified], is attached but not published. Ford initialed his approval of Scowcroft’s recommendation on May 22. On May 27, Ford signed a new Presidential Finding covering the revised covert action program. (Ibid.) The OAG discussed the proposal for a scaled-down covert action program on May 20. (Memorandum for the record, May 21; ibid., 40 Committee/OAG Meetings, Minutes/Approvals, 1976 GRF)↩