An Intelligence Briefing Book for President Ford

03.03.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Many current debates in intelligence policy are prefigured in a 1975 “Intelligence Community Decision Book for the President” that was prepared for President Gerald R. Ford.

The 243-page document (pdf) addresses basic questions of executive authority, congressional oversight of intelligence, covert action, domestic surveillance, budget secrecy and more.  The briefing book was completed after the eruption of the intelligence scandals of the 1970s, but prior to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and reflects the uncertainties of the times.  The title page of the 243-page document bears the name of then-White House chief of staff Dick Cheney.

A non-binding issue brief included in the document explores the separation of powers.  It acknowledges a role for Congress in a way that the Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel would discount three decades later:

“While the President may be the Nation’s ‘sole organ in its external relations,’ implying certain inherent powers in foreign intelligence activities, when the Executive requires Congressional action — particularly appropriations — Congress has a concurrent power, and pursuant to this power may impose various and substantial limitations on those foreign intelligence activities which require Congressional funding.” (at pdf page 208).

At another point the then-classified briefing candidly acknowledged that the mechanism for funding the CIA may have been unconstitutional:

“The constitutionality of the section of the 1949 CIA Act authorizing unlimited transfers of funds to CIA from other agencies seems open to question,” President Ford was advised, though he was also told that no court was likely to enforce any constitutional requirement to the contrary.  (at pdf page 217).

In a statement of personal opinion included in the briefing book, former Director of Central Intelligence John McCone (1961-1965) told President Ford in 1975 that “CIA has been tarnished and should be done away with.”  (at pdf page 238).

The document was declassified in 2000 (except for some historical intelligence budget information that was unnecessarily, and therefore improperly, redacted) but it does not seem to have been widely circulated or read since that time.  Thanks to Susan Maret for sharing a copy, originally obtained from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

See “Intelligence Community Decision Book for the President,” transmitted to President Ford on December 22, 1975.