101. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Meeting with President on Intelligence Charter January 30, 1980


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Senator Walter Huddleston
  • Senator Birch Bayh
  • Senator Charles McC. Mathias
  • Senator Edwin Garn
  • Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • William Miller, Staff Chief, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
  • Denis Clift, Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs
  • Madeleine Albright, NSC Staff Member, Congressional
  • Donald Gregg, NSC Staff Member, Intelligence
  • The Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner

The President opened the meeting by thanking the Senate Committee for its good work on charters. He said he had noted that foreign governments were now less reserved about sharing information as [Page 439] they have seen intelligence oversight procedures worked out. The President said that he wants a charter passed, and that he also wants the Hughes-Ryan act2 modified, some relief from the FOIA act, and a protection of identities provision. (S)

Senator Bayh replied by saying that his committee wants to move rapidly to pass the charter. He said there is a strong feeling in the Senate to remove “unneeded bureaucratic entanglements” from the charter. He praised the DCI for working well with the Committee. Bayh said that if the three provisions mentioned by the President were removed from charters, reporting procedures would have to be institutionalized. He wants a charter that will endure, and will keep future administrations from repeating some of the mistakes of the past. The President said that he was pleased that mutual trust had developed. He said “I think that the basic integrity of CIA and the oversight process has been restored.” (S)

The President then moved to discuss areas where there still are differences between the Administration and the Committee. He said he opposed a flat prohibition against use of clerics, academics and press reporters. He feels that the intelligence community needs to be able to use individuals from these groups in special cases when either he or the DCI decides. (S)

The President then said that prior notification of anticipated significant actions was overly restrictive. He said there are times where actions must be carried out where very few know. He cited the very recent case of the six US hostages who had been smuggled out of Iran with the aid of the Canadian Embassy. He said that many plans had been developed and assessed, and many changes made. The President added that if he had been forced by a charter to share such information with a larger group, he would have been reluctant to “jeopardize lives,” and the viability of the Canadian Government in the Arab World.3 Of the two issues, the President said, the second is far more significant. He said that he would not want to be required by law to have to inform even his five closest advisors of all he plans to do. (S)

Senator Huddleston said that the Committee was trying to “temper theory with reality.” He said much progress had been made on the charter, but that (speaking to the first issue) there would be heavy criticism if it were seen that paid, sustained and covert use of clerics, academics and pressmen was to be permitted. Huddleston said that restrictive guidelines, limiting such use, might be all right. (S)

[Page 440]

The President reiterated that he did not want a prohibition. He noted that we have growing problems in the Moslem world, and that covert use of [less than 1 line not declassified] is becoming much more necessary if we are to deal with the problems we face. (S)

Senator Garn spoke up as a Mormon, and said that the 30,000 missionaries sent overseas by his church have been damaged by charges of use by CIA. Garn also suggested that guidelines be written to limit use of these groups. The DCI spoke and said that he had no objection to guidelines, adding that the general policy was that such people would not be used, but that there would be exceptions. (S)

Bayh noted that the press will be looking at this provision in the charter very hard, and that there would be an outcry if it were perceived that general use of the press was to be permitted. (S)

The President hoped that the question might be finessed, or left as it is. He noted that it is often very hard to rewrite something without calling additional attention to it. (C)

Huddleston said that the issue of prior reporting was more crucial to the oversight process. Huddleston felt that prior reporting of anticipated significant events was a needed balance to the narrowing of the reporting requirements in Hughes Ryan. The President interjected that it was that specific provision that gave him problems. (C)

Huddleston said that the Senate was not asking for any approval provision, nor did they wish to infringe on the President’s Constitutional rights. Huddleston said that Frank Church, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants prior reporting if his Committee is no longer to be reported to under the Hughes-Ryan amendment. Huddleston supported this contention. (C)

The President said that he has tried to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. He said that in the case of a long term covert action, he would see no problem in informing the Congress prior to its implementation. (He cited the example of trying to develop a more stable government in an unspecified country.) The President said, however, that there have to be exceptions. Referring again to the recent Iran case (six hostages) the President said that the Senate charter, as written would have forced him to “risk lives, break the law or drop the option.” He said that he did not think that Prime Minister Clark of Canada would have cooperated as fully as he did had he known that Congress was being told of what was going on. (S)

Senator Garn supported the President on this point, and hoped that a joint intelligence committee could be formed. (C)

Huddleston said that some exceptions from prior reporting should be permitted, such as a plan to mount a military strike designed to free the remaining hostages in Iran. (C)

[Page 441]

The President said that both sides seemed close to agreement. As another reason not to be required to give prior reporting to the Congress, the President cited several long letters he has received from the House intelligence committee on very sensitive covert actions.4 Such letters give the President pause, as he does not know who typed them, or who saw them. (C)

David Aaron suggested that language in the charter be kept as it is in Executive Order 12036, with the DCI making clear in testimony that this normally means prior reporting. Aaron commented that the SSCI has strong control over the intelligence community as a whole via the oversight process, and any misuse of such a system would quickly be noted and rectified. (C)

Senator Mathias said that the intelligence community has been “put through a wringer” over the past five years, and a good charter will ensure that the process will not have to be repeated. (C)

The President again referred to the recent case in Iran as the clearest example he could think of to demonstrate why he should not be required to give prior notification in all cases. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski noted that there appeared to be a clear cut distinction between long-range and short-range covert actions, and that the exceptions should apply to short-range operations of high sensitivity, designed to save lives. Senator Bayh said he thought that this distinction was a useful one around which to construct a waiver. (S)

The President reiterated his interest in getting a charter bill submitted quickly. He said that once the Senate and the Administration had reached agreement, he would try to “arouse some enthusiasm” for the charter in the House of Representatives. The President left the meeting at that point. (C)

Bill Miller said that he favored a “tight waiver” to allow the President the needed flexibility in reporting to the intelligence committees. (C)

The Attorney General said that the purpose of prior notification is “to chill bad acts, and to deter or change others.” He said that the President should have flexibility, and that he ought not to be limited by others trying to define specifically the kinds of exceptions he should not have to report in advance. He said that a “broad” or “simple” phrase would be best. (C)

Although the President had not mentioned it, both David Aaron and the DCI indicated that the current language of the charter, which set no limits on the nature and amount of detail which would have to [Page 442] be reported to the SSCI was not acceptable. Some limitation, clearly indicating the DCI’s responsibility, and that of the President, to protect sources and methods, needs to be in the charter. (C)

The meeting ended at that point.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1981, Box 11, PD 17 [3]. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 80.
  3. See Bernard Gwertzman, “Six U.S. Diplomats, Hidden By Canada, Leave Iran Safely,” New York Times, January 30, 1980, p. A1.
  4. Not further identified.