78. Letter From Director of Central Intelligence Turner to Secretary of State Vance1

Dear Cy:

Out of a concern that the discussions between our staffs on the State-CIA “Treaty”2 may not be progressing as dispassionately as I would hope, and because I am deeply concerned at the recent turn of events, I would like to lay out my views on this critical subject to you privately.

There is no relationship more important to the intelligence community than that with the Department of State; there is no one, after the President, whom I would rather accommodate than you. Yet, despite what I consider a substantial effort on my part to foster that relationship through agreeing to the “Treaty,” selecting an Ambassador as my Deputy,3 and hopefully cooperating in other ways, the State-CIA relationship seems imperiled.

Let me recount what has happened as seen through my prism. Once the “Treaty” was signed, the burden of change was on us. Because the changes called for were in a most delicate area, the secrecy of very sensitive and risky operations, I felt that amplifying instructions to CIA Chiefs of Station were necessary. The staff’s draft of amplifying instructions to be issued in my name was not to my satisfaction so I drafted them personally. After clearing it with Hal Saunders, it was sent to the Chiefs of Station with instructions to show it to Ambassadors. I hope that you can take time to read that message (enclosed)4 because I believe it leaves no question that I expect the Chiefs of Station to observe the spirit as well as the letter of the “Treaty.” The message was purposely forceful to ensure compliance with this change of longstanding policy.

My staff then recommended that the Chiefs of Station be provided with specific procedural guidance. It was not their intent that this message undercut the “Treaty.” We were, however, adjusting existing procedures and attempting to delineate where changes were and were [Page 368] not required. Perhaps because the Agency was fundamentally in agreement with the existing procedures, a defensive tone crept in. I reworked their draft substantially but its tone was not changed adequately. I assume the responsibility for this.

Finally, the staff originated the famous “View/Mum” message, designed to establish a system permitting Washington to know at a glance what had been called to the Ambassador’s attention. I do not recall whether or not I saw this in advance, but I did know of its existence soon thereafter. Although it has now been cancelled, I supported, and still do support, this mechanism enabling Washington to monitor that which has been shown to an Ambassador, for if a Station Chief neglects to call a given message to the Ambassador’s attention, we can ask him to do so.

In sum, I permitted the poorly worded message to go out. While I do not believe that it has led our people to undercut the agreement or my specific admonishment as to its spirit, an unfortunate air of suspicion has been fostered, particularly among those who read only the staff messages and not the one which bore my personal identification.

The question is “Where do we go from here?” Really there are two issues: What will best serve the Government’s needs? What can be done to allay the suspicion that has been aroused?

On the first issue, the question is “To what depth is it crucial that an Ambassador know CIA activities?” The agreement is explicit: Ambassadors should know the scope of CIA activities. My supplementary instructions are also explicit: Ambassadors will not be surprised. Yet why not tell them everything? First, because the scope, or nature, of a CIA activity will usually be adequate for an Ambassador to judge that activity’s equities. Operational mechanics or the identity of agents are details which usually will not change those equities, but will place on the Ambassador the added responsibility of their concealment. Concealment of information is an art in itself. Without specialized knowledge of hostile collection techniques, defense against inadvertent disclosure of meaningful information is greatly reduced. In view of the fact that lives are sometimes at stake, Ambassadors would assume an unnecessary burden of responsibility by knowing every detail. In some instances the risks which foreign agents are asked to take for us are so great that my case officers would demur if someone other than their Chiefs of Station, and perhaps one or two individuals at Headquarters, had access to the full details.

Second, public knowledge that the CIA was required to reveal the details of all its activities to Ambassadors would be a severe if not fatal blow to our ability to recruit foreign nationals willing to commit [Page 369] treason against their own government for the United States. We are already in a crisis of confidence around the world because of the numerous leaks of CIA clandestine relationships. A major issue with the Congress this year will be the degree of detail we will be required to provide to them on clandestine collection operations. There was a last-minute crisis over Executive Order 12036 in averting wording that would require exposure of every sensitive clandestine operation to the full SCC. Whether it is two reliable committees of Congress, our trusted Ambassadorial corps or the high-level SCC, further sharing of critically sensitive, operational secrets and the inevitable publicizing of that policy would, in my view, weaken our clandestine activities for a very long time. Even dampening 30 years of mistrust and suspicion by a relatively few Ambassadors is not worth the price.

The instances in which an Ambassador would find it necessary or worthwhile to read more messages concerning intelligence activities than are now being offered to him would be few. I intend to ensure that such will be the case by continuing to insist that our Station Chiefs live by the spirit of our agreement. I see no way that we can ever share everything we do; such is the necessary consequence of intelligence work. As long as one message is withheld, some suspicion will be aroused. We need to build toward a mutual confidence that the terms of our agreement, which I believe adequately protect Ambassadors and on-going intelligence activities, are fulfilled.

How can that best be achieved? If we amend the agreement we will pay the consequences of creating the perception and perhaps the fact of much greater risk to our operations, while not satisfying the Ambassador who is suspicious because he still will not see everything. Trust is justified and can be built over time.

To renegotiate an agreement less than four months after it is put into operation would in effect suggest we deliberately tried to undermine it, and this is not the case. I suggest the correction be appropriate to the problem, which arose from a distorted interpretation of well intended but egregiously worded instructions. While we can always clarify the agreement, what we decided upon after extended negotiations is basically sound. I intend to put my full weight behind the agreement and propose a joint message to this effect.

In this way we can refute the distortions and build a solid relationship based upon an atmosphere of mutual trust. In doing so, my Chiefs of Station will be again assured that there was never an intent to undermine a word of our agreement or my supplementary instructions, and your Ambassadors will be assured that they have firm rights [Page 370] which we both support. A draft joint statement to our field organizations is enclosed for your consideration.5


Stansfield Turner6
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Secretary of State, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Executive Order on Intelligence, 1978. Secret.
  2. See Documents 65 and 77.
  3. Frank Carlucci had served as Ambassador to Portugal before becoming Deputy Director of Central Intelligence.
  4. Not found attached. Printed as Document 62.
  5. Attached but not printed. For the text of the joint statement sent to all diplomatic posts, see Document 81.
  6. Turner signed “Stan” above this typed signature