77. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Saunders) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Two Major Problems in State-CIA Relations

Two serious recent developments raise basic issues about State-CIA relations here and in the field which we recommend form the centerpiece of your next meeting with Stan Turner on February 14.2 You may even wish to find an opportunity to discuss this privately with the President beforehand.

In short, the two issues are these:

—For some months, statements have come from the White House that they want “more political intelligence.” This has been discussed in several PRC and SCC meetings, and on January 14 Zbig sent Stan [Page 361] a memo3 which has the effect of asking for an increase in clandestine collection and intimating that CIA rather than the Foreign Service is the most likely source of better political intelligence. This has already given rise to increased CIA activism abroad which several of our ambassadors have reported on.

—We have now brought to light three CIA messages, previously kept from us, interpreting the joint message which you and Stan sent on relations between ambassadors and station chiefs.4 While we will not know the full implications of what information CIA instructed the station chiefs to withhold from the ambassadors until we can have detailed conversations with CIA, the spirit of the messages was clearly at odds with the spirit of the joint instruction. This raises fundamental questions about the Agency’s good faith in their relations with us.

Both of these developments raise fundamental issues about the authority of the Secretary of State and of the ambassadors in assuring that intelligence activities are consistent with foreign policy.

We have asked to meet with you to discuss these problems. Each is laid out in more detail below.

The Thrust For More Political Intelligence

A number of discussions on this subject are brought together in the Brzezinski memo at Tab 1.5 (This is a bootleg copy of the memo, so we need to protect our sources.) This memo on top of previous comments by the President to Stan give him every reason to feel that he has a strong mandate for increasing clandestine collection against other governments even at the cost of reducing collection efforts against the “hard target countries.” The memo says that the problem of political intelligence has three elements:

—a lack of priority attention to opportunities for overt collection which Zbig says he intends to discuss with you;

—insufficient collection by clandestine means of basic political and economic information; and

—inadequate exploitation of information already in hand.

In discussing the need for increased clandestine collection on the thoughts and plans of key leaders in important advanced and secondary countries, the belief is expressed that more often than not clandestine collection is likely to be the better source of the information. Zbig goes on to state his impression that “chiefs of station often have more understanding of the political dynamics of the countries that they serve [Page 362] than any other American officials” and urges that they be encouraged to submit more frequent field assessments.

While no one disagrees with the desire for better political intelligence and analysis, the approach of pressing for increased clandestine collection apart from careful policy control raises serious potential problems. A new burst of CIA activism has already begun as a result at the same time that CIA has attempted to circumscribe the increased authority to ambassadors to review clandestine collection. We have had complaints from several ambassadors about CIA activities which were not appropriately cleared with them.

Apart from the question of maintaining control over these clandestine operations and assessing the risks against the gains, this thrust raises a further danger—that of lulling ourselves into the false assurance that we can totally rely on the answers produced by increased clandestine collection. The effort to collect “the ultimate five percent” of the information necessary to be sure of the intentions and reactions of foreign leaders is inherently doomed to fail. We simply cannot expect to get all the information we would like to have on which to base our decisions. Even where we do have apparently ample political intelligence, we still risk being misled when our sources—as is almost inevitable—are not fully aware of all the factors involved in the thinking and intentions of the foreign decision-makers. Thus, purloined plans are useful grist for an analyst’s mill but in themselves (especially in raw or quasi-documentary form) they can lead us astray.

Therefore, we feel that it is essential for you to assert control over this exercise. One way of doing this is to keep the ambassadors in a central position to review all collection efforts, and this is discussed below. In addition, we believe there is need for definition of what is required to improve our political intelligence and for a sophisticated review of a proper division of labor between overt and clandestine collection. Two approaches are possible:

—Most immediate would be an instruction to the field on the subject of improving reporting and on the proper uses of clandestine collection. This could be cleared with CIA and the White House, but the process could reassert your and the ambassadors’ central roles.

—A longer term approach would be to ask a high level group to review all source reporting from a number of important posts and to help us understand the limits and opportunities from overt and covert collection before we rush into an across-the-board increase in covert collection.

Ambassador/Station Chief Relations

There are six relevant formulations on ambassadors’ access to CIA material: You are familiar with PL 93–475 (Tab 2),6 the President’s letter [Page 363] (Tab 3),7 the Joint State-CIA Instruction which you and Stan worked out on relations between ambassadors and CIA station chiefs (Tab 4).8 You are aware of but probably have not seen a supplemental DCI message sent October 4 (Tab 5)9 and two more CIA messages sent October 11 (Tabs 6 and 7).10 A juxtaposition of the relevant language from these documents is at Tab 8.11

These various formulations, particularly the unilateral CIA instructions, raise several questions:

1. whether the Joint State-CIA Instruction is consistent with PL 93–475 and the President’s letter;

2. whether the three CIA messages are consistent with the Joint Instruction;

3. whether CIA should unilaterally determine the classes of information a chief of station will show to the ambassador.

The President’s letter (Tab 3), dated October 25, 1977, is on the public record. It says the Ambassador has “the authority to review message traffic to and from all personnel under your jurisdiction.”

The Joint Instruction (Tab 4), approved by the President, was sent by State to the field on November 10, 1977, and was also sent separately by CIA to all its stations and bases. It provides that chiefs of station “are to review with the Chiefs of Mission all non-administrative communications to and from the Station, except for those messages or parts of messages which would reveal sources and methods.” It further provides that the Chief of Mission can request any information withheld and that, if the Chief of Station believes he should not provide it, the matter should be resolved in Washington.

This seeming limitation on the sweeping language of the President’s letter originally led us to suggest including in that letter a statement that special circumstances limiting the ambassador’s access to certain communications were included in a separate instruction. It was decided, however, that this phrase would raise more questions than it answered. The judgment was also made that the ambassador’s authority to request whatever additional information he felt he needed brought the instruction into conformity with the President’s letter. Finally, the President cleared both the letter and the Joint Instruction.

The Joint Instruction also provides, in paragraph 6, that the President or the Secretary of State can exempt the CIA from any responsibility [Page 364] to inform a chief of mission about CIA programs and activities in his country. This may be even more troublesome, since it raises the specter of Chile-Track II,12 presumably what P.L. 93–475 was designed to foreclose. When the Joint Instruction was being drafted, we argued that the “or” should be “and”, but lost. The issue seems larger today in light of the subsequent CIA messages.

There are three CIA messages at issue:

Admiral Turner’s October 4 message (Tab 5) was checked in draft in the Department (four of our five suggested changes were included in the message as sent). While its tone was troublesome, we felt we could live with it.

Two CIA messages were sent to the field on October 11 (Tabs 6 and 7). They were not cleared with the Department, and station chiefs were instructed not to show them to ambassadors. We only learned of their existence after the Binder article appeared last Friday.13 One (Tab 6) is a general comment. It states that the Joint Instruction “basically codifies procedures currently in existence.” It says that the legislative history showed that PL 93–475 does not remove “the flexibility that exists under presidential directives regarding ambassadorial responsibilities” and that the law has not nullified the DCI’s authority for protection of sources and methods. It also asserts that the ambassador’s authority under the Joint Instruction to request information on sources and methods “does not constitute authority for chiefs of station to provide such information.”

Finally, it states that the Joint Instruction “constitutes exemption to presidential letter to ambassadors.”

In sum, the message seems to interpret the Joint Instruction as an authorization to conduct business as usual.

The other October 11 message (Tab 7) gives more detailed instructions as to what will and what will not be shown to ambassadors, using cryptonym indicators ([less than 1 line not declassified] for material to be shown to ambassadors, [less than 1 line not declassified] for other material).

This instruction lists materials such as intelligence reports, assessments and sitreps as suitable for review with the ambassador, while data identifying sources, operational plans, administrative matters, and certain coded categories of material is not. A precise understanding of the significance of the message will depend on more detailed knowl [Page 365] edge as to just what would fall into these excluded categories, but they seem at least to be broader than what was intended by the distinction between administrative and non-administrative communications in the Joint Instruction.

CIA and NSC argue that the CIA’s messages were non-controversial efforts by Agency staff to give their chiefs detailed guidance on handling material under the new instruction. This would have been unobjectionable in theory. What we find troubling are (a) the tone of the messages and instruction not to discuss them with the ambassadors, (b) the fact that there was no discussion of the last two with us, and (c) the scope of the messages excluded from review. Essentially what the CIA did was to send the positions it took in negotiations with us to the field as the interpretation of the instruction. At the very least, that was less than straightforward.

Now it seems to me we have two choices:

1. We could ask the Agency to rescind their unilateral messages and negotiate detailed guidance on what will and will not be shown to ambassadors to be sent out with our clearance and to be shown to ambassadors.

2. We could re-open the issue of ambassadors’ access to all communications, say that this recent experience shows that limited access will not assure his being “fully and currently informed”, and insist that the joint instruction be amended as follows: “The Chiefs of Station are to show the Chiefs of Mission all communications to and from the Station with only source identification and operational details excised.” We could also propose that the Joint Instruction be amended to require notification to the Secretary of State whenever the CIA is exempted from the requirement to keep a Chief of Mission informed.

We believe that disclosure of the secret CIA messages almost requires us to recommend the second course to the President. We tried to accommodate CIA’s concerns and they did not deal squarely with us. A law and a Presidential instruction are involved. Moreover, the discrepancy between the President’s forthright public letter and the more restrictive position of the secret messages could be politically troublesome for the President if the issue is pursued.

We would prefer to see this handled quietly and hopefully with Stan’s cooperation, but we see little likelihood we could take the first course and trust the Agency to play it straight.

State-CIA Relations in Washington

However the above choice falls, it seems to us that now is the time to launch our long-proposed effort to regularize meetings involving the State policy bureaus, the CIA Division Chiefs, and INR. What we envision are parallel memos from you and Stan to the Assistant [Page 366] Secretaries and to the CIA Division Chiefs instructing them to meet on a regular basis and defining what CIA must tell the Assistant Secretaries and what it can properly withhold. There will probably be more resistance to the effort to codify what must be divulged in this exercise than there was in the discussion of the joint instruction on ambassador/station chief relations, but it seems to us that the effort is important.


1. That you find an opportunity to discuss privately with the President your concern over the impetus given to increased CIA collection without opportunity for full policy control of the exercise. Specifically that you:

—confirm that no request from the President (or Zbig) for better intelligence was intended to lead to CIA activity outside your control and the ambassadors’;

—seek his agreement to propose to Stan that you develop an instruction to ambassadors on the need to improve both overt and covert collection and on a division of labor between the two approaches;

—that, if you are satisfied with the President’s understanding and support, you raise the subject with Stan and promise to produce a draft message for discussion later in the week.

2. That, on the secret CIA messages, you make the following points to Stan:

—Revelation of the secret CIA messages re-opens the question of the ambassadors’ access to communications. You see little choice now but to propose a change in the joint instruction as described above.

—Before raising this with the President, you wanted to see what Stan’s own views were.

3. A separate memorandum on the proposed Special Presidential Intelligence Committee is attached at Tab 9.14

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Secretary of State, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Executive Order on Intelligence, 1978. Secret. Sent through Read. Cleared by Marks. A copy was sent to Habib.
  2. Minutes of the meeting were not found.
  3. See Document 75.
  4. See Document 65.
  5. Not found attached. Printed as Document 75.
  6. Not found attached. P.L. 93–475 includes a section that makes Ambassadors responsible for oversight of all U.S. Government personnel at a post, including intelligence personnel. See Document 65.
  7. Not found attached. See footnote 2, Document 65.
  8. Not found attached. Printed as Document 65.
  9. Not found attached. Printed as Document 62.
  10. Not found attached. The messages are summarized below.
  11. Not found attached.
  12. A reference to the 1970 covert action plan in Chile that was conducted without Department of State knowledge.
  13. A reference to David Binder’s article, “State Dept. and C.I.A. Split on Envoy Role,” New York Times, February 3, 1978, p. A1.
  14. Not found attached.