31. Memorandum From Samuel Hoskinson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB)

This memorandum reviews the performance of and makes recommendations on the future disposition of PFIAB and IOB. I have reviewed a special PFIAB study on itself, talked at length with both Leo Cherne (Chairman) and Wheaton Byers (retiring Executive Secretary), and exchanged views with a number of senior intelligence officials. My personal experience with the Board is fairly extensive, both as a member of the NSC Staff and as a senior intelligence official. I have talked at length with IOB’s principal staff member (Joe Dennin) and have observed the working of the Board close up for about eight months.


At Tab B2 is “A Commentary on the Background and Activities” of PFIAB prepared by the Board’s Executive Secretary and approved [Page 118] by Leo Cherne. It was drafted, of course, by advocates but provides a useful summary history and statement of what the Board perceives as its role.

The Board perceives its role as follows:

—Providing the President with an “independent source of advice” on the effectiveness of the Intelligence Community in meeting his intelligence needs and “the vigor and insight with which the Community plans for the future.”

—“Appraisal” rather than “investigation” of the “objectivity and excellence” of intelligence.

—Not normally “prepared or suited” to discuss major intelligence activities in “programmatic detail.”

A review of PFIAB recommendations over the past 21 years (Tab C)3 indicates that it has focused on the most important national intelligence production and organizational problems. It is hard to judge with any precision, however, just how important its actual contributions have been.

In some areas—like covert action—the Board has played virtually no appraisal or advisory role at all and—so far as I can determine—it had no knowledge of any of the “abuses” that were revealed by Congressional investigations.

Most of the Board’s activities have been concerned with intelligence collection and analytical production. In the early years the Board spent much of its time appraising intelligence collection efforts and reportedly played an influential role in the decisions which led to the establishment of the present overhead reconnaissance program. In recent years, however, its focus of primary attention has shifted to intelligence analysis. This had included an examination of economic intelligence reporting and a review of the estimating process that led to the recent “A Team-B Team” experiment concerning Soviet strategic forces.4 The Board has recently also been active in such areas as the vulnerability of U.S. communication systems to Soviet intercept, quasi-legal procedural issues arising out of E.O. 11905 and promotion of improved relationships between different elements of the Intelligence Community and, at times, the White House. Attempts have been made to facilitate intelligence producer-consumer relationships.

[Page 119]

PFIAB may well be a classic case of an institution whose original purpose was valid but which has outlived most of its usefulness because of the creation of newer institutions more qualified to perform its functions in a changed environment. Thus, whereas PFIAB was for many years virtually the sole functioning oversight body—albeit with some significant blind spots—we now have several more-or-less healthy specialized oversight mechanisms within both the executive and legislative branches that do the overall job better.

On the legislative side we now have the new Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) which has carved out for itself a strong oversight role in virtually every aspect of foreign intelligence activities and taken on the sizable and experienced staff to do the job.5 In the House, the Appropriations Committee has demonstrated an especially vigorous oversight role in some areas.

In the Executive Branch, the PRC (as the successor to the CFI) is concerned with setting overall management policy for the Intelligence Community and the development of specific programs responsive to intelligence requirements. The SCC (as the successor to the OAG) is concerned with the oversight of all sensitive special activities. Finally a 200-man Intelligence Community Staff has been created to work on Community-wide programs and budget development, policy, planning and production performance, evaluation and improvement. The overall performance of these new institutions will be one of the prime subjects of PRM/NSC–11, but it is clear that in terms of oversight they accomplish much more than PFIAB ever can.

Despite the fact that PFIAB’s original functions have been supplanted by newer, more effective institutions, it still serves some useful purposes. PFIAB provides a small measure of reassurance to the American people about our country’s foreign intelligence activities. It is also a vehicle for the President to involve trusted friends outside the USG in oversight of the Intelligence Community and put them in a position to advise him in an educated way on foreign intelligence matters. Finally, the Board provides a temporary home for prominent people deserving of special Presidential recognition at least in part for domestic political reasons.6

In sum, at best only a marginal case can be made on strictly intelligence oversight grounds for retaining PFIAB as an institution. This is [Page 120] clearly one board that can be eliminated without serious loss in the drive to reduce the extended White House family and advisory groups.

Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB)

The theoretical case for the IOB is much stronger than for PFIAB and, in any event, the President’s public endorsement makes the issue of IOB continuance academic.7 On the other hand, several actions should be taken to strengthen the Board’s performance in the future.

The basic IOB concept of a small independent board focused exclusively on identification of possible illegal or other improper activities within the Intelligence Community was one of the most important reforms of E.O. 11905. While not technically an investigatory body, the IOB system of requiring strengthened and semi-independent (at least for IOB reporting purposes) Inspectors General and General Counsels to report possible infractions on periodic basis appears sound. One measure of success is the large volume of trivia which has been reported to the Board over the last year and, the minor issues it has then passed on to the President. (See Tab D8 recent analysis prepared for the President.)

The IOB nonetheless has a very serious problem in the form of a superannuated chairman and a weak staff. While Robert Murphy is a man of unquestioned integrity and high reputation, the hard fact is that he is no longer able to perform well on a sustained basis. He has, therefore, virtually abdicated much of the chairman’s role to Joseph Dennin, the IOB’s present sole staff member. Dennin is a fairly able lawyer with Church Committee experience but even after about eight months on the job, remains naive about many aspects of the foreign intelligence world and is given to slightly moralistic judgments. He was, for example, the author of the IOB report to President Ford questioning the propriety of CIA’s relationship with King Hussein. Moreover, the leading candidate for the Hussein leak appears to have been an assistant Dennin hired who among other things flaunted his ties with Bob Woodward9 and was as much interested in ingratiating himself with the press as serving the President.

The other members of the IOB—Leo Cherne and Stephen Ailes—are much more active and alert than Murphy. Cherne in fact has been the real moving force in many instances and Ailes is a prominent lawyer. Both men, however, have failed—at least as reflected in IOB [Page 121] reports—to discriminate between minor, and in some cases, inadvertent infractions and serious problems worthy of the President’s attention. In part this may stem from the fact that the Board was new and had no established operational pattern, but in part it must reflect a certain lack of perspective.

My strong feeling is that it is important to the President (so that he can be personally assured about the activities of the Intelligence Community) and to Intelligence Community (in helping to regain the confidence of the American people) to have a strong and effective IOB. Oversight is simply too important to leave in the hands of a fading intellect as chairman and a young staffer.


That you send the memorandum at Tab A10 to the President recommending (a) abolishing of PFIAB and (b) reconstituting and strengthening the IOB.

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Intelligence Oversight Board, 7 March 1977–12 May 1977. Secret. Outside the System. Sent for action.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. The Team A/Team B exercise, conducted in late 1976, was an experiment in competitive analysis of Soviet military capabilities. Team A was comprised of intelligence community analysts; Team B was a group of reviewers with expert knowledge chosen by the DCI from both within and outside government. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXV, National Security Policy, 1973–1976, Documents 165, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, and 174.
  5. SSCI was established in May 1976 as a successor to the Senate Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Government Operations, formed in April 1975 and known as the Church Committee after its Chairman, Senator Frank Church (see footnote 3, Document 32).
  6. An unknown hand wrote “the real key” in the margin adjacent to the last sentence.
  7. Carter discussed intelligence community oversight, mentioning the Intelligence Oversight Board, during his February 24 session at the Department of State. See Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, p. 243.
  8. Not found attached.
  9. Bob Woodward was an investigative journalist with the Washington Post.
  10. Printed as Document 32.