103. Memorandum for the Record1
- Meeting with Admiral Turner, February 28, 1980
On February 28, 1980, from 3:30 until 4:10 pm, Thomas Farmer and Senator Gore met with Admiral Turner at the DCI’s office to discuss his annual report to the IOB, dated January 31, 1980.2 Governor Scranton was unable to attend because of illness. Staff was not present at the meeting. The following summary is based on a debriefing by Mr. Farmer and Senator Gore shortly afterwards.
The main purpose of the meeting was to determine whether or not any intelligence activities had been withheld from the IOB under Admiral Turner’s expressed interpretation of his reporting obligation, i.e., that he need not report any activity about which he is “persuaded” the President has knowledge and has “manifested a desire” not to disseminate further. Admiral Turner cited two instances in which information had been withheld from the Board.
The first instance involved an operation, apparently on-going, which was proposed to the President at a meeting about two years ago. Turner, Brzezinski, and Vice President Mondale were present when the proposal was discussed with the President. The President asked who knew of the proposal, to which the participants responded that only they had knowledge. The President then said not to tell anyone else. A question was raised whether a certain other Cabinet officer should be informed. (Turner did not specify who this Cabinet officer was, but from the context of his statement it was probably Secretary Vance or Judge Bell). The President stated that this Cabinet officer should not be informed. No reference was made to the IOB in the course of this meeting.
Attorney General Bell was subsequently asked for a legal opinion on this proposed operation, but it was presented to him in hypothetical form only. The proposal was implemented. It was never described to Congress, although the Intelligence Committees were apparently informed that an operation existed about which they could not be given any details.[Page 450]
The second instance which Turner cited involved a more recent proposal for a very sensitive activity which was felt to require a finding before it could be implemented. The proposed activity was so sensitive, however, that neither Turner nor Brzezinski wanted to go through the SCC to obtain a finding because too many people would have become aware of it if that procedure had been followed. Brzezinski informed Turner that he would ask the President if the President would authorize this activity under his “war powers” authority, thus by-passing the SCC. Turner subsequently received a letter from Brzezinski stating that the President had in fact approved this proposed activity under his “war powers” authority. It is unclear whether or not the Attorney General was consulted about this proposal but it appeared that he was not.
Although the President apparently approved the proposal for this sensitive operation, it was never implemented under the “war powers” authority. The SCC subsequently approved a finding that covered this particular activity, as well as others, but it was couched in language sufficiently broad that this activity could not be identified from the finding itself.
Admiral Turner said that he feels the questions of legality and propriety surrounding the second activity are raised not by the nature of the activity itself but by the initial approval procedure.
Senator Gore told Admiral Turner that his interpretation of the reporting obligation, as expressed in the annual report, suggested that he would withhold an activity even on the basis of an instruction from someone other than the President. Turner at first expressed surprise that his language was susceptible to that interpretation, but then confirmed that there could be situations where he might not report an activity on the basis of an intermediary’s instruction.
Admiral Turner also stated during the course of the meeting that the President has become much more concerned about security than he was in the early years of his Administration. Turner personally believes that the President is overly concerned because the security precautions are making it difficult for the CIA to coordinate effectively with the State Department.
Admiral Turner apologized about the tone of his annual report letter. With respect to the reporting standard he set forth in the letter, he stated that he was not at all committed to that formulation. Mr. Farmer suggested that the CIA General Counsel and the IOB Counsel could come to a common understanding about the appropriate standard. Adm. Turner also agreed that the IOB should be advised of all legal opinions by the CIA General Counsel’s office if the opinions involve “close questions.”
With respect to his failure to specify the subordinate officials with whom he consulted in preparing his annual report, he was more ada[Page 451]mant. He believes that the IOB’s insistence that he specify these officials infringes on his prerogative as a manager. He noted that the Executive Order contains no explicit requirement for annual reports by senior officials in any event. He is willing to accede to the IOB’s request for a report on an annual basis but does not intend to detail in his report the manner in which he conducts his review of CIA intelligence activities.