110. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Operations, Central Intelligence Agency (McMahon) to the Director of Central Intelligence Turner 1


  • Revised Memorandum of Notification


  • Presidential Finding on Ethiopia Dated 16 April 1980

1. Action Required. That you release the attached Memorandum of Notification (MON) to the Members of the Special Coordination Committee.

2. Background. The Ethiopian program was originally approved in April 1980. A Finding signed on 16 April 1980 authorized the Agency, among other things, to contact and assess the willingness of influential opponents of the regime to cooperate in an effort to reduce Soviet influence in Ethiopia.2 The first months of this effort have provided indications that with financial and other support, direction and encouragement, the disparate elements now comprising the opposition could be molded into an instrument to influence the regime toward a more moderate, nonaligned course. The program’s fundamental directive is to influence the regime, not to overthrow it, although we believe that some program assets may well become participants in a future government.

The attached MON is revised to reflect discussions which took place involving CIA, NSC, Department of Justice and Department of [Page 297] State representatives.3 The MON’s revision stemmed from the Department of State’s concern that an earlier version of the MON appeared to describe the aim of the program to be the destabilization of Mengistu’s regime, which was not our intent.

3. Authority. Our position is that this operation is covered by the language and consistent with the basic spirit and thrust of the 16 April 1980 Presidential Finding on Ethiopia, which in part authorizes “contacting and supporting appropriate elements in the Ethiopian Government, political opposition and other pertinent sectors in Ethiopia and abroad.”

4. Staff Position. This MON has been coordinated with OGC, OLC and Director, NFAC.

5. Recommendation. It is recommended that you approve the release of the attached Memorandum to Members of the SCC.4

All portions Secret.

John N. McMahon


Memorandum of Notification to the Members of the Special Coordination Committee 5


  • Expanded Support to Ethiopian Oppositionists


  • Presidential Finding on Ethiopia Dated 16 April 1980

1. Background: This Memorandum is a revision of the 24 October 1980 Memorandum of Notification to the SCC. The 16 April 1980 Presidential Finding authorizes CIA to use liaison and unilateral assets to “foster opposition to the pro-Soviet character of the present Ethiopian regime and encourage pro-Western attitudes in Ethiopia.” This ongoing [Page 298] covert program has had some tactical successes in recent months, and there is growing evidence that key Ethiopian officials are disenchanted with their dependence on the Soviet Union for aid and advice. The aim of CIA’s program is to heighten this disenchantment and to try to move Mengistu toward closer relations with the United States Government and other Western countries. The goals of this program do not include Mengistu’s overthrow, nor does the Agency seek to confront the current regime in any military sense.

Within this context, CIA proposes to expand its support to Ethiopian oppositionists to provide for dissident activities and sentiment. Several anti-regime and secessionist groups exist, but they are oriented toward maintaining military pressure on the regime to achieve their own narrow goals, e.g., independence for Tigre Province, for the Oromo tribe, for Eritrea Province. Opposition to the regime is severely fragmented. Some opposition leaders are too Marxist, others too ethnic, regional or royalist to attract a significant following. Moreover, since most of the regime’s active opponents are secessionists, the nationalist high ground has been yielded to the regime, which acquires some measure of legitimacy as the sole force working to prevent the fragmentation of the country. Ethiopians inside and outside the country who oppose the regime and secessionism have nowhere to turn and, as a result, the regime faces no unified, credible opposition.

2. Operational Plan: We plan to establish a loose grouping of exiled Ethiopians who are articulating selected moderate programs which they will encourage the present government to adopt. This is not intended as a mechanism to overthrow Mengistu, but instead is designed to encourage moderation of the regime’s policies and the inclusion of more moderate voices within the existing government. The collegium would be small (a dozen principals and about 15 staff assistants) and handpicked to include some prominent Ethiopians with proven competence and experience in their fields (former cabinet ministers, diplomats, jurists, professors, economists). The associates will meet infrequently in Europe, and most of their work will be done as individuals where they now reside in the U.K., U.S., Sweden and West Germany. All have been contacted and have agreed to work on this project full time or part time over the next two years. They are prepared to begin working immediately. Only a select few of them will be witting of CIA’s sponsorship of their activities which will be coordinated by an Ethiopian with whom CIA has been working closely for the past seven months.

Each member of the group will be responsible for:

—developing a plan to revamp Ethiopian Government policy in his field of specialization;

—spotting potential sympathizers in key positions working in his field inside Ethiopia.

[Page 299]

—finding ways to insinuate more moderate, pragmatic solutions to Ethiopians’ problems into the regime’s programs (using personal contacts, focused publicity and propaganda, etc.)

Members of the group will develop programs to redirect Ethiopia’s economic ties to communist countries, revamp its revolutionary justice system; mitigate the effects of six years of Marxist propaganda in its schools; redraft the constitution and social legislation; wean the armed forces and security services away from dependence on Soviet and Cuban advisors and equipment; reorganize the labor union along more democratic lines; relax restrictions on journalists and the clergy; and co-opt certain secessionist leaders into supporting the concept of limited regional autonomy within a unified Ethiopian state.

3. Goals:

—Stimulate opposition to Marxist policies and programs within Ethiopia;

—Encourage moderation of the regime’s policies and more moderate voices within the existing government;

—Work to disaffect key nationalists in positions of power within the regime by publicizing alternative programs developed by former colleagues with established professional credentials.

4. [8½ lines not declassified]

5. Policy Authority: CIA believes that this operation is covered by the language and consistent with the basic spirit and thrust of the 16 April 1980 Presidential Finding on Ethiopia, which in part authorizes “contacting and supporting appropriate elements in the Ethiopian Government, political opposition and other pertinent sectors in Ethiopia and abroad.” At the same time, it should be noted that the specific recommendation to create an association of exiled Ethiopian oppositionists was not included in any of the political action options CIA submitted for SCC review last March as part of our proposed CA program for Ethiopia at that time.6 Furthermore, the estimated costs of the particular operation over the next two years are more than double the combined cost of the rest of our Ethiopian CA program. Given these considerations, CIA is hereby notifying the SCC of this proposed activity prior to implementation.

6. Subsequent Reporting: Reporting on this operation will be submitted to SCC as results become available.

7. Implementation: Members were notified by memorandum on 24 October 1980 of CIA’s intention to move forward with the implementation of this proposal if no objections were perceived by close of business [Page 300] 31 October 1980. The Department of State requested that this memorandum be revised to include the clarification of objectives appearing in the first paragraph of the Background section above. On 7 November 1980, representatives of the Department of State, Department of Justice, NSC and CIA agreed in a meeting at the Department of State that the proposal for a grouping of Ethiopian oppositionists could be implemented on the understanding that the objective of the program would be later clarified in this revised Memorandum of Notification. The representatives agreed that the proposal was consistent with the existing finding and represented an expansion of the present program within the scope of the existing finding. This memorandum is provided for record purposes only and represents the agreement concerning the objectives of the program as described herein which the Agency has been authorized by the SCC to implement.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Congressional Affairs, Job 82B00035R: Committee Files, Box 2, Folder 14: Presidential Finding-Ethiopia 16 Apr 80. Secret. Sent via Deputy DCI Carlucci. An unknown hand wrote “Ethiopia” at the top of the page.
  2. See Document 104.
  3. The Office of Intelligence and Policy Review of the Department of Justice provided a legal assessment, dated October 24. It is attached to another copy of McMahon’s memorandum. (National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Box 31, Sept–Dec, 1980)
  4. According to stamped notations, Carlucci concurred and Turner approved the MON for release to the SCC on November 25.
  5. Secret.
  6. See Document 103.