94. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Status Report on Political Intelligence

In response to your November note,2 David Aaron, Dave Newsom and Frank Carlucci have been supervising a broad State-DCI-NSC effort to determine the factors contributing to unsatisfactory performance and to identify and implement practical remedies.

As a first step, political intelligence reporting [1½ lines not declassified] was reviewed in detail. This review established that in nearly all cases both collection and reporting were inadequate across the board on internal political dynamics. Specifically, insufficient attention has been given to strains associated with rapid modernization, population growth, urbanization and other such developments; strengths and weaknesses of the central leadership; nature and effectiveness of opposition forces; attitudes, social characteristics, cohesion and loyalty of the security forces at all levels; orientation and potential political influence of the mass media, labor groups, youth and student groups and religious elements; attitudes and influence of ethnic, racial or religious minorities; and Soviet activities, particularly with respect to infiltration of or influence on domestic political groups, subversion, and other intelligence activities.

Surveys of reporting from a number of other countries confirm that shortcomings in all of these areas are widespread.

The next step was to instruct all our diplomatic posts to reorder collection priorities to ensure consideration by collectors of the points noted above; to emphasize to all Ambassadors the important role of clandestine collection and the need to develop clandestine assets; and to instruct Ambassadors and Chiefs of Station to coordinate their collection and reporting better. A [less than 1 line not declassified] cable (at Tab A) conveying instructions on these points was sent on February 15. Additionally, selected diplomatic posts were directed to submit com[Page 411]prehensive reports analyzing the vulnerability of their host government to destabilizing social, political or economic forces, or events such as the loss of a leader who is the principal source of stability.

Additionally, the following actions have been taken in recent weeks to improve political reporting:

—[1 paragraph (14 lines) not declassified]

Constraints: Over the years a number of constraints have been imposed by Washington or by Ambassadors on the clandestine collection of information abroad. These have included a lack of cooperation on overseas CIA personnel assignments [less than 1 line not declassified]; refusal to permit the opening of a station; restrictions on collection, especially in the Middle East; and cover problems. Dave Newsom and Frank Carlucci have met several times and succeeded in reaching agreement to remove or reduce many of the constraints. A few remain and are still under negotiation; on one, clandestine collection in [less than 1 line not declassified], we will be coming back to you for a decision.

Cover: A serious operational problem for CIA for years has been obtaining and keeping plausible cover for its case officers abroad. [12 lines not declassified]

Improved State Department Reporting: A serious problem has developed in recent years with the increasing diversion of language-qualified political officers in our embassies to take care of visiting official delegations, particularly from the Congress. Moreover, as embassies have been tasked to perform additional tasks (such as narcotics, security, science and technology, refugees, etc.), limited resources available have resulted in the use of political officers’ slots to perform these duties. The result has been a decrease of 18% in the number of political slots abroad now compared to 1970. State is taking steps to minimize assignments for its political officers other than political reporting, and has developed a plan which, over a period of years, would restore a number of political officer slots abroad. State, with NSC support, will be working with OMB on this.

Language Training: There has been a serious decrease over the years in the number of language-qualified CIA and State Department officers serving abroad. [1½ lines not declassified] To reverse this situation, State and CIA both have agreed to develop incentives programs to encourage their personnel to learn and maintain foreign languages. By reprogramming already budgeted funds, the Department of State in FY 1980 will make available about $300,000 for such incentives and CIA is prepared to allocate over a million dollars to this purpose. These incentives programs mark a major step in the effort to reverse a very adverse trend.

State-CIA Cooperation: To diminish State-CIA rivalry in overseas posts and improve relations, both agencies have augmented their train[Page 412]ing programs at all levels to improve understanding in the ranks of each other’s role. Additionally, the cable Cy sent to all posts in February contained a very strongly worded section on embassy-CIA relations and the importance of better coordination between the two. Also, State and CIA separately this month sent cables to their posts abroad3 encouraging greater exchanges of information and analysis by the CIA and State political reporters and greater efforts to improve relations between State and CIA personnel. No one has any illusions that this problem will be overcome in the immediate future, but an important start has been made.

All recognize that improved analysis must accompany improved collection. State and CIA independently in recent months have made major efforts to set forth a program of recruitment, training and incentives to improve analysis and reporting by their personnel abroad and here in Washington. A brief summary of their respective programs is at Tab B.4

You should be aware that progress in improving collection and reporting has been difficult because of long-standing disputes between the Department of State and CIA, including in particular deep seated hostility and resentment at State toward CIA activities abroad in general. Whether the subject is [less than 1 line not declassified] giving greater attention to developing clandestine assets, or administrative arrangements, there are many at State who seek to obstruct CIA efforts at every turn.

At the same time, CIA for years has failed to raise these problems to a policy level and appears simply to have acquiesced to measures which have significantly diminished the agency’s political reporting capability. In light of this background, considerable credit is due David Aaron, David Newsom and Frank Carlucci for their role in this effort, particularly in Newsom’s case because of the very difficult bureaucratic battles he has had to wage inside State to make even the limited progress outlined above. Without your prodding of last November,5 State-CIA recognition of your continuing interest, and continued pressure by David Aaron, this entire effort would fold overnight. The improvement of political intelligence is a long-range undertaking. We will keep pressing this effort, and I will report our progress to you periodically.

[Page 413]

Tab A

Telegram From the Department of State to Select Diplomatic Posts6

Washington, February 15, 1979, 0122Z

38873. Subject: Political Reporting. References: (A) 78 State 90943; (B) 77 State 257648; (C) 78 State 265767.7

1. Last November the President, concerned about the quality of political reporting and analysis, asked Dr. Brzezinski, Admiral Turner and me to work closely together to strengthen political intelligence. At our request, David Aaron, Frank Carlucci and David Newsom have been examining the problem and have begun to develop recommendations for carrying out the President’s instructions. I inform you of this so that you and your Mission will understand the importance which the highest levels in Washington attach to improving political reporting and so that you can better appreciate the special significance of the following guidance. (C)

2. Recent events abroad have raised questions here about our assumptions regarding internal political circumstances in countries of importance to us, particularly with respect to the prospects for their long-term stability. We are concerned, in particular, that Missions are not being sufficiently attentive in their reporting to:

—Institutional weaknesses of the political leadership and related inability to act effectively in a crisis;

—The extent to which processes of rapid change may be generating pressures which current regimes are incapable of handling;

—The possibility of a charismatic ethnic, religious or similar figure rapidly galvanizing diverse elements or classes of society into a unified potent political force;

—The sudden transformation of workers, under unusual economic circumstances, from disorganized, weak groups into an organized powerful force;

—The potential for a student movement antagonistic to the existing power structure to play, in combination with other forces, a major political role in bringing down the government;

[Page 414]

—The rapid resurgence of long repressed radical leftist elements in key sectors of the economy and bureaucracy; and

—The possibility that the cohesion, attitudes and capabilities of the armed forces may prove critical to the political balance and processes of many countries. (S)

3. Dr. Brzezinski, Admiral Turner and I are concerned that Washington may lack accurate information as to the vulnerability of governments of importance to us to destabilizing social, political or economic forces or to the loss of a leader who is the principal source of stability. We are concerned that our assumptions about the internal situation in a number of countries may be flawed or complacent. (C)

4. Accordingly, your Mission should undertake a searching review of its assumptions about the vulnerability of your host government to destabilizing forces or events. The review should, at minimum, address the following points:

—Major political or social strains associated with rapid modernization, population growth, urbanization, or other broad developments;

—Strengths and weaknesses of the central leadership (including the political and personal strengths and weaknesses of key individuals);

—Nature and effectiveness of the opposition forces (in-country or expatriate);

—Attitudes, social characteristics, cohesion and loyalty of the security forces at all levels repeat all levels;

—Orientation and influence of mass media;

—Orientation and political capabilities/potential of large groups;

—Attitudes and potential influences in times of social and political stress of youth and student groups;

—Organization, orientation and influence of religious elements and individual religious leaders;

—Attitudes and influence of ethnic, racial or religious minorities;

—Interactions among the above forces;

—External influences on the above forces;

—Soviet activities, particularly with respect to infiltration of or influence on domestic political groups; subversion; and other intelligence activities. (S)

5. The perception in Washington is that a number of posts need to intensify Mission coverage on the above subjects—which I expect to see integrated into post reporting plans called for in 78 State 265767. Within that context and for the longer term, all elements of your Mission should regard the checklist in paragraph 4 as comprising high priority targets for collection and reporting. (C)

6. We in Washington appreciate that your Mission in many instances is already active in collecting information, reporting and [Page 415] analyzing some or all of the topics or groups listed above. Nevertheless, because of the importance of high quality, accurate and forward-looking political intelligence and analysis to our national security, I believe you should take a fresh look at your reporting and frankly appraise the quality of the information you have with a particular view toward developing new contacts and sources—overt; clandestine; and, for your host country’s armed forces, through the Attache and MAAG—at all levels of the groups and institutions cited in this cable. (S)

7. In this connection, I am aware that some posts may impose restrictions on overt repeat overt contacts and travel of Embassy officers for various reasons. These include avoidance of contacts with certain opposition political parties, trade unionists, military personnel, religious elements or other elements of society, as well as travel in certain locales. I would like you to review any such “restraints” you may have in effect, either as a result of your own decision or previous guidance from Washington with a view to ensuring the broadest possible coverage consistent with your best judgment. You should provide your conclusions on those restrictions you believe must continue to be enforced for Washington’s review and seek guidance in the future whenever you believe such restrictions should be expanded. (S)

8. [15 lines not declassified] Emphasis on the importance and priority of that role by Chief of Mission should serve to make the implementation of that policy more effective. (S)

9. I want to address the question of Embassy [less than 1 line not declassified] relations more specifically. In certain instances it will be necessary for your Mission to use clandestine sources to meet the objectives described above. I am aware of the risks, but, recognizing what is at stake, I believe you should review carefully how your Mission can make greater use of clandestine collection with a view to increasing their reporting. You should take into account that some information of importance may not be susceptible to overt collection, that some clandestine means should be used to verify information overtly collected (and vice versa); and that development of clandestine sources is probably desirable and necessary in the event overt sources are denied to us through a change in political circumstances. Accordingly, you should re-examine the role of clandestine collection at your Mission to see what further contribution it might make to your overall effort. (S)

10. While the risk of clandestine collection must always be taken fully into account, risks may have to be taken to obtain specific information not overtly available or where long lead time is necessary to develop assets which will be of benefit in the long term. It is in our interest to do what we can to ensure that we are aware of growing threats to the stability and any elements of weakness in the societies of countries where we have major interests. For you to make judgments [Page 416] about political risks versus value of the information sought requires that [less than 1 line not declassified] keep you fully and currently informed in considering such problems. In cases where the Chief of Mission feels the risk of proposed clandestine collection efforts could prove too high, or where there are substantial differences on the priority of targets, the COM and COS should refer the matter to Washington for resolution. (S)

11. The coordination of clandestine and overt collection requires that the Chief of Mission assure that there is neither unnecessary duplication nor a concentration of resources on one area at the expense of others. The means by which this can most appropriately be accomplished is for the COM—as part of the reporting plan process—to review with the Station Chief both the principal political and economic contacts of the Embassy and the areas of focus of [less than 1 line not declassified] in order to identify individuals or areas where there appears to be a conflict or unnecessary overlapping of effort. In this manner, reporting responsibilities can be clearly and efficiently allocated. (C)

12. Clearly you will want to share this with [2 lines not declassified] Admiral Turner, Lt. General Tighe (Director, DIA) and Lt. General Graves (Director, DSAA) will be tasking their respective elements separately to provide full cooperation. You will also wish to bring to the attention of the other members of your Country Team the high priority we attach to improved reporting. (C)

13. The collection of information, however complete (and it can never be 100 percent) cannot produce the final product alone. Improvement of our intelligence and political assessments requires the most intensive exercise of intellectual capacity and judgment. In Washington and the field, I ask all concerned to set the highest standards. (C)

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Political Intelligence Meeting, 5 June 1979. Top Secret; Sensitive. Printed from an unsigned copy. In an April 23 covering note to Brzezinski, Aaron argued that this memorandum not be submitted to Carter until Carlucci could review the draft after returning to the office on May 4. Both Carlucci and Newsom had been promised drafts. Brzezinski agreed. (Ibid.)
  2. This note is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. X, Iran: Revolution, January 1977–November 1979.
  3. Neither found.
  4. Not found attached.
  5. See Document 67.
  6. Secret; Roger Channel. Drafted by Gates (INR); cleared by Bowdler, Newsom, Read, Wisner, Carlucci, Gates (NSC), and Tighe (DIA); approved by Vance. Sent to select posts [text not declassified].
  7. Telegram 90943 is printed as Document 81. Telegram 257648 is printed as Document 65. For telegram 265767, see footnote 4, Document 89.