17. Memorandum From Paul Henze of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Stepped-up Covert/Overt Activities Targeted at Eastern Europe and the USSR

Last February, when State expressed reservations about continuation of CIA’s meager covert operations directed at the USSR and Eastern [Page 58] Europe, you suggested State study overt possibilities while, meanwhile, CIA consider modest expansion of selected activities.2

State did nothing. CIA, suffering from internal confusion, was slow to move but during the course of the summer came up with a number of proposals for expansion. Five CIA papers were reviewed by the SCC/SAWG on 5 October 1977.3 CIA was asked to do further work on three but two proposals dealing with expansion of existing programs for publishing and distributing books and periodicals for Eastern Europe and the USSR were put in final form and submitted to the SCC on 26 October, when they were approved.4 CIA is going ahead with this expansion. State continues to be unenthusiastic about it.

The recently appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for East European Affairs, Bill Luers, was present at the 5 October SCC/SAWG meeting and took it upon himself to promise a serious State investigation of possibilities for overt activity targeted against Eastern Europe and the USSR. This was the first he had heard of your request to State last winter, by the way, which confirms our impression that State’s persistent arguing against covert programs on the basis that these things could be done overtly is, in practical terms, nothing more than a tactic for bringing everything to a halt. Luers, however, is not of this view. He is an admirer of what CIA has done over the past 25 years, an enthusiastic supporter of RFE/RL and deeply knowledgeable of Eastern Europe. He would seriously like to see State energize the government to broaden activity. He also shares our view, which few others in State do, that the covert programs should be continued and expanded—not curtailed or abandoned in expectation that something might eventually be done overtly.

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You will recall I told you I planned to work closely with Luers to encourage him. I spent an hour with him yesterday (17 November) reviewing what he has managed to do so far. He is less gung-ho than he was when he took on this responsibility in early October, because he has found roadblocks in his path at every turn—but he intends to persist, and I believe we should continue to help him.

One of the principal roadblocks is INR, which is making an enormous production of the simple things Luers wants to do, as exemplified by the attached paper (TAB A)5 addressed to the SCC/SAWG which INR sent to me this week. It asks for SCC Working Group review and authorization for what Luers is trying to do—simple exploratory actions. It is also filled with a whole series of negative statements about existing CIA programs and appears, at several points, to be, in effect, a protest against the fact that the SCC has already authorized expansion of publishing and distribution activity. State’s profound lack of enthusiasm for all activity in this field comes through almost every line of this paper. (I have marked certain striking passages in red.) As a foretaste of future State negatism, we are told that State has doubts about any use of emigre organizations and is doing a review of what policy toward nationalities should be. (I hear that State—perhaps even Luers—feels that nothing should be done in respect to non-Russian nationalities at all. But it remains to be seen whether they will take this negative a position formally.)

I told Luers yesterday that I saw no need to have an SCC/SAWG review of the actions he wishes to take—these are not covert activities. I said your request last winter that these “overt options” be explored constituted all the clearance needed at the NSC level. I added that the kinds of things he wants to look into have been open to exploration for nearly 30 years. The fact that no one outside of CIA has ever taken much initiative does not prove that it cannot be done—but it naturally leaves one doubtful that much will be accomplished. Nevertheless, I reiterated, you were very eager to see this effort made and I was ready to support it. Luers will try and may even succeed in getting something going—but I doubt very much that he will be able to develop anything that could be regarded as a substitute for much that CIA is doing covertly.

Some specific thoughts on his proposed initiatives (pp. 3–4 of TAB A):

  • a. USIA: I see no legal barriers to some increased USIA activity, though it obviously can go no farther than “gray” areas and cannot engage in covert funding or covert distribution.
  • b. I do not think the BIB should be involved at all; it has enough to do keeping the radios going. Perhaps in years ahead, it might take on publications tasks . . . but these were all segmented out of the radios when they went under the BIB. Putting them back would invite congressional problems.
  • c. State, especially under its external research authorization, could undertake some activity legally, I believe—but without some imaginative person to push it continually, I doubt that it could add up to much.
  • d. It may be possible for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities to engage in marginal activity directed toward Eastern Europe and the USSR (I have a very constructive relationship with the Arts Endowment, as you know) but they have legal restrictions and the problem that they are basically domestically oriented, not foreign affairs operating agencies.
  • e. American publishers might do something . . . but talk is not likely to be matched by much money.
  • f. Other private funding sources need to be explored—something can be turned up, I am sure, but it will take a lot of consistent work.

The most hopeful thing Luers had to say was that he thought he had a good chance of getting Abe Brumberg detailed to him for a period of several months (perhaps longer) to work on this problem. Having a dynamic and motivated man such as Abe working on these tasks is about the only hope there is that anything could be done.

I propose that we not have an SCC/SAWG discussion of this subject6 and that I send INR a short memorandum stating that we consider review of State’s (i.e. Luers’) proposed initiatives unnecessary since they already have all the authority they need to do so.

Do you AGREE


  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special, Box 1, Chron File: 10–11/77. Secret; Outside System. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 2. At the May 10 SAWG meeting, Aaron stressed that Brzezinski wanted “to see movement on this program, not necessarily expansion of only covert things, but also new overt initiatives.” Representing the Department, INR Director Harold Saunders said that the Department “found themselves really not in favor of expansion, either covert or overt.” Aaron directed the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department to prepare papers on the subject dealing with the covert and overt areas and coordinate them with the NSC Staff, highlighting the policy issues. (National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box I–020, Minutes—SCC Special Activities Working Group, 1977)
  3. On October 25, Aaron approved the summary of the October 5 SAWG meeting, which recommended that “proposals on expansion of book publication and distribution to Eastern Europe and the USSR will be recommended, with some refinements, for approval by the SCC.” The SAWG also recommended that CIA proposals for covert action on certain human rights initiatives and Soviet nationalities be rewritten and that the Department of State clarify U.S. policy affecting these proposals. (Ibid.)
  4. On October 25, Henze informed Brzezinski of the agenda for the upcoming SCC meeting, dealing with items on which a decision was not taken at the October 6 SCC meeting, including approval of the expansion of book publishing and distribution programs for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. (Ibid.)
  5. Not attached.
  6. In the December 15 SAWG meeting, Aaron again stressed to the Department of State representatives that the White House “expected initiative from the State Department in exploring overt and private possibilities for support of activities directed at the USSR and Eastern Europe.” He reminded the Department that it had agreed to produce proposals as early as May, and “questioned whether State was allocating enough energy to this effort,” asking that they focus on generating new activity. He continued: “If new activities proved viable, then they might eventually replace or take over some of the CIA operations.” (National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box I–020, Minutes—SCC Special Activities Working Group, 1977)
  7. Brzezinski did not mark either option. However, on December 6, Henze sent a memorandum to INR Director William Bowdler stating that Brzezinski “has reviewed your paper and has concluded that the subject does not require new action by the SCC/SAWG at the present time.” Stressing that CIA operations were undergoing separate review, Henze wrote that “the exploration of possibilities for new or increased overt activity can be conducted by the State Department without any necessity for new policy authorization.” Henze also noted that the White House, through Aaron, had reiterated that point in the October 5 SAWG: “At this stage at least, the explorations which the State Department is undertaking should not be directed toward finding alternate sources of support or funding for existing CIA activities, but should concentrate on new or parallel activities which could be overtly supported by the U.S. Government, if reliable funding arrangements can be made, or financed through private sources.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special, Box 1, Chron File: 12/77)