90. Letter From President Carter to Secretary of Defense Brown1

To Secretary Brown

As I stated in my July 27, 1977, letter to Senator Inouye,2 I consider intelligence abuses to be of such import that I intend to deal personally with such matters, including the obligation of the Executive Branch to inform the appropriate congressional committees. Therefore, I am writing, pursuant to Section 3–4 of Executive Order 12036, to indicate the appropriate procedures for reporting to congressional committees “. . . information relating to intelligence activities that are illegal or improper and corrective actions that are taken or planned.”

The Department of Defense should continue to report to the Intelligence Oversight Board activities which raise questions of legality or propriety. The IOB will review the matter and, if it raises a serious question, report it to me with its recommendations. If you feel that the gravity of a matter is such that it should be reported directly to me, the information also should be provided at the same time to the IOB so that it can begin its review promptly.

After considering the reports of the Department of Defense and the IOB and, on questions of legality, the judgment of the Attorney General, I will review any determinations that an activity is illegal or improper, the proposed corrective action, and the manner and timing of reporting to the Congress. You will then make the appropriate report on the matter to the congressional committees, except when I communicate the matter to them directly.

In the case of questions of legality or propriety which you believe are so minor that they clearly do not need to be brought to my attention, you should continue to inform congressional committees, as well as the IOB, in a timely manner. You may, of course, at any time suspend an activity which raises a serious question of legality or impropriety, [Page 404] until a final determination is made whether the activity should be modified or discontinued and what other corrective action is required.

If in your judgment special circumstances require reporting an illegal or improper activity to Congress within a time period shorter than those outlined here, you should so indicate at the time the matter is reported to the IOB or to me.

In any event, you should discuss this concern either with myself or the IOB before undertaking to report the matter to Congress ahead of this timetable.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–82–0204B, 039, No Title. No classification marking. Identical letters were sent to Bell and Turner. (Ibid.) In a covering memorandum to Carter, September 20, Brzezinski wrote, “Stan Turner, Harold Brown and Griffin Bell are prepared to live with the guidance in these letters. However, their initial preference—which gave rise to this proposed guidance—was to report all possible abuses to you, the IOB and Congress simultaneously. This, of course, would have greatly limited your flexibility and would inevitably result in strong pressures from the Congressional oversight committees before you had a chance thoroughly to study the problem and decide upon appropriate remedial actions. The guidance in the letters assures that this will not be the case.” Carter wrote “OK. J” beneath Brzezinski’s note. (National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Intelligence Oversight Board, 3 Jun 1977–25 Jan 1979)
  2. See Document 58.