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White House Efforts to Blunt 1975 Church Committee Investigation into CIA Abuses Foreshadowed Executive-Congressional Battles after 9/11

Church-Committee (1)

Church Committee

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 522
Posted – July 20, 2015
Edited by John Prados and Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi

Washington, D.C., July 20, 2015 – Forty years ago this year, Congress’s first serious inquiry into CIA abuses faced many of the same political and bureaucratic obstructions as Senate investigators have confronted in assessing Intelligence Community performance since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Records posted today for the first time by the National Security Archive document the often rough-and-tumble, behind-the-scenes dynamics between Congress and the Executive Branch during the “Year of Intelligence” – highlighted by the investigations of the congressional Church and Pike committees.
In 1975, it was then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney who spearheaded the Ford White House’s hostile approach to Congress, which required the CIA to submit all proposed responses to Capitol Hill for prior presidential approval and featured the explicit intent to keep investigators away from the most sensitive records. Those events presaged the battles between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the U.S. Intelligence Community since 2012 over plans to publish the former’s 6,000-page report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program.Among White House and Intelligence Community stated concerns during the period of the Church and Pike inquiries were preserving the effectiveness of the CIA and reassuring future operatives who might fear their “heads may be on the block” for their actions, no matter how well-intentioned. But intelligence officials also worried that disclosures of agency operations would be “disastrous” for CIA’s standing in the world: “We are a great power and it is important that we be perceived as such,” a memo to the president warned, urging that “our intelligence capability to a certain extent be cloaked in mystery and held in awe.”

Related to today’s posting, a much larger compilation of 1,000 documents, many of them previously classified, was published in June 2015 in the online collection CIA Covert Operations II: The Year of Intelligence, 1975, the second in a series on the CIA through the Digital National Security Archive, a joint project with the scholarly publisher ProQuest.

Today’s e-book touches on the high points of one major aspect of the 1975 experience – the Church committee’s efforts to obtain evidence for its inquiry and countervailing work by the White House and CIA to limit and restrict the Senate’s access. Documents posted today show that:

  • The White House of President Gerald R. Ford, spearheaded by deputy assistant to the president Richard Cheney, quickly seized control of the administration’s response to the congressional investigations.
  • Lists of records to which the Church committee requested access for its investigation were reviewed in detail and Mr. Cheney ultimately decided whether to provide them in each case.
  • Specific records in categories approved for access were first sent to the White House for individual review and recommendation by National Security Council staff, followed by approval from Mr. Cheney.
  • The White House required the CIA to propose measures to govern Church committee access to CIA materials. These accommodation measures were then reviewed both by Deputy Assistant Cheney and Counsel to the President Philip Buchen.
  • CIA accommodation measures were explicitly designed to keep Church committee investigators away from its most important records.
  • National Security Council officials convened at the White House to express themselves in advance regarding proposed CIA testimony to the Church committee.

* * * * *

Fortieth Anniversary: The Church Committee, the White House and the CIA, Spring 1975

By John Prados and Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi

President Gerald Ford (center) with White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld (left), and Rumsfeld’s assistant, Dick Cheney, in the Oval Office, April 28, 1975. (Source: David Hume Kennerly, photographer; courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library)

Washington, D.C., July 17, 2015 – Forty years ago there had never been a public investigation directly aimed at the Central Intelligence Agency. Congressional oversight had long been a matter of secret subcommittees and information privately shared with small circles of legislators. What reviews of intelligence there had been were carried out in the dark using reliable people. Even with major flops like the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, official investigations were confined to the executive branch—within the CIA itself or under the auspices of the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House. Public dissatisfaction with the CIA had grown through the Vietnam war, however. Concern spiked with the Watergate scandal, then revelations of the agency’s role in attempting to raise a Russian submarine off the floor of the Pacific Ocean, and its hand in the Chilean political troubles which led to the overthrow and death of Salvador Allende. On December 22, 1974 curiosity and concern became a firestorm of anger when the New York Times revealed that the CIA had spied on American citizens, monitored their political views, and carried this out on a massive scale for many years. The allegations were white hot because the law prohibited the CIA from engaging in domestic activity.[1]

President Gerald R. Ford, then vacationing at Vail, Colorado, was surprised to be told of the new CIA exposé, followed on succeeding days by yet more allegations of CIA skullduggery. The president demanded an explanation from CIA director William E. Colby. The agency’s chief responded with a report that confirmed New York Timesreporter Seymour Hersh had uncovered real CIA operations. It became apparent in the course of a few days that investigation was inevitable. Ford made an effort to take control of the issue early in January 1975 by means of creating a presidential commission under Vice-President Nelson A. Rockefeller. This was an inquiry of the old kind, one by minions who could be trusted to stay away from sensitive matters. But just a couple of weeks later President Ford let the cat out of the bag himself, admitting to visiting newspaper editors that he wanted to control the investigation to avoid sensitive issues like CIA participation in assassination plots. The mention of assassination plots blew the lid off the investigation issue. By the end of January 1975 both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives had established special committees to investigate U.S. intelligence.

The Senate committee would be the first to pull itself together and begin its inquiry. It was led by Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church. The House committee would be delayed for months by squabbles over collusion with the CIA involving its own secret House overseers, so the first struggles over access to agency material were fought with the Senate.

Meanwhile the “Colby Report,” the preliminary response the CIA director had compiled to meet President Ford’s demand for information, became a focus that helped define how the various players approached the question of CIA information. At an early Senate hearing, on January 15, 1975, Director Colby tried to walk the thin line of belittling the press revelations while acknowledging that some of them were true. He recited the same story line he had used with the Rockefeller Commission, which naturally drew from the Colby Report. Colby’s testimony infuriated Henry Kissinger, then occupying the posts of national security adviser and secretary of state simultaneously. Kissinger was outraged both that Colby was speaking out of school and that he had not cleared his remarks with the White House in advance.

The White House reaction, which might have sounded predictable today, belonged to a pattern just being set in 1975. Why White House officials would have expected the CIA director to do anything other than rely upon the Colby Report for his testimony, none of them has ever said. Philip Buchen, the president’s counsel and point man on these investigations, left no record. Richard Cheney, the top operator, wrote a memoir that distances himself from the action despite information that has become available about his central role.[2] Kissinger writes of Colby burning a match in a gasoline depot.[3] But Colby’s only alternative would have been to say nothing and that, in the superheated political climate of January 1975, was not a viable option. The Colby Report had been pulled together very quickly because it was based on a larger in-house study, informally known as “The Family Jewels,” that had been ordered by Colby’s predecessor. If the CIA director had to say anything, there could be no doubt he was going to rely upon these sources. Nevertheless, the White House determined to ride herd on the CIA for its dealings with the investigations.

CIA Director William Colby at a press conference at CIA headquarters, September 12, 1975. (Source: Larry Morris, photographer; Washington Post / Getty Images)

IA Director William Colby at a press conference at CIA headquarters, September 12, 1975. (Source: Larry Morris, photographer; Washington Post / Getty Images)

William E. Colby, who had returned to CIA from a Vietnam assignment just in time to witness the fallout from the Watergate scandal, wrote that he learned from Watergate that a CIA “distancing” strategy actually left suspicions behind, and that he recognized the congressional authority to investigate. On its own the CIA would have been on very shaky legal and constitutional ground in denying Congress. Investigation of the executive branch had always been a recognized role for the legislature, and law existed which specified that executive branch agencies could not deny any information necessary to an investigation by a properly constituted congressional inquiry. The denial strategy just would not work.[4] Therefore, from Colby’s perspective, the application of White House control was a good thing. Apart from the anger expressed towards him personally, the White House intervention gave Director Colby a useful and convenient rationale for denying information to congressional investigators.

CIA deputy general counsel Walter Pforzheimer was simply wrong when he told an interviewer in 1998 that whatever Bill Colby had in his mind on a given day was going to come out.[5] The documents selected below from the National Security Archive’s “CIA Covert Action II” set demonstrate conclusively just how far from the truth was the perception that the CIA was giving away the store in 1975. Rather than letting out all the secrets, what happened during the Year of Intelligence was a very carefully-contrived process in which the Ford White House asserted its prerogative to approve every release and the CIA followed suit. The Church Committee laid out its demands for information; they were reviewed and frequently denied; and the committee ended by appealing, cajoling, negotiating, or begging for data.

From the outset, Ford administration strategy relied upon giving the appearance of cooperation while invoking national security to shield information. On February 22, for example, Director Colby met with secretaries Kissinger, James R. Schlesinger, and others on measures to protect data (Document 1). Five days later, with Senator Church, Colby agreed to waive the agency’s employee secrecy oaths in dealing with the committee, and he promised to provide such basic material as organization charts, budget information, and legal authorities. In return Colby obtained the senator’s consent to subject his committee investigators to the kind of secrecy agreements considered at the White House on February 22.[6] The language the secrecy agreements eventually employed appears in Document 14.

On March 5, 1975, Senators Church and John Tower, the committee’s Republican vice-chairman, together with their staff chiefs, went to the White House to meet with President Ford and key administration officials. In his coat pocket Senator Church carried a list of White House documents he required for the investigation. Among them were the materials Colby and Church had discussed a week earlier. President Ford’s talking points for the meeting (Document 4)promised cooperation but emphasized a need not to “cripple” the intelligence agencies or reduce the CIA “to the level of a newspaper clipping and filing agency.” Senator Church promised not to be a “wrecking crew.” Mr. Ford played the Senate investigation against that of the House of Representatives, remarking that he did not want to put on paper his agreement to cooperate as he would then be forced into a similar agreement with the House committee, and, the president went on, “It’s best not to formalize. Let’s proceed on a case-by-case basis.”[7]

What the promised cooperation actually meant began to become evident after March 12, when Senator Church sent a new list of required documents directly to Director Colby at the CIA (Document 5). Only a few days later, in an encounter with a senior Colby aide, a senior staffer for the House committee complained that CIA’s exceptions to what it was being asked to produce were “so broad as to encompass nearly everything” (Document 6). On March 24 a White House official, possibly assistant to the president Richard Cheney, returned a copy of the Church-CIA document request that had been annotated to indicate approvals for the provision of the materials (Document 9). A wide swath of documents were to be denied.

On March 25, the CIA provided a progress report on its arrangements and guidelines (Document 10). Material bearing on the president would be entirely denied to investigators, who would be entitled only to briefings based on real material. At the next level there would be “fondling files” to be consulted only at the CIA or another originating agency.

On March 29 Robert C. McFarlane, then an NSC staff member, completed his evaluation of White House documents requested by the Church committee (Document 11). Again covert operations, which the Church investigators had an obvious interest in examining, were notably underplayed.

A favorite device of the CIA and White House in meeting the demands of congressional investigators became the “abstract.” Classified abstracts of much larger bodies of work, reports, reviews, or histories were repeatedly compiled. There are examples in several of the exhibits included here (Document 11, Document 21, Document 23). This permitted the administration to claim it had made an effort to satisfy investigators without, in fact, giving much away.
Faced with this problem, the administration came up with a device too clever by half – seeking a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption for agency documents submitted to Congress (Document 26). This would free the CIA and other agencies to keep secret the material given to Congress, refusing any FOIA request for that information. At the same time, since the CIA position was that classified information disclosed by any means other than direct release by the agency remained officially secret, if Congress did decide to release CIA documents the agency would be able to pretend the information was still classified. Fortunately for the public, in 1975 there was no political possibility the CIA could succeed in obtaining an FOIA exemption of that kind.The insoluble problem which remained for Ford administration officials was that the Congress, a coordinate branch of government, had complete authority within its sphere. White House and CIA officials could never resolve the implications of this for the secrecy of their records. This quandary would arise again in the fall of 1975 with the House investigating committee, but it was already a factor during the spring with Church. An identical dilemma has faced the present-day CIA confronted with the SSCI inquiry into its torture and detention programs. The CIA’s top lawyer in 1975, John Warner, frankly advised that, while he could see no plain authority for the Congress to release classified data, there was no question the Congress had a constitutional immunity from the consequences of releasing any piece of classified information (Document 15). Ranging over the same set of thorny issues, on April 14 NSC staffer McFarlane wrote that until the secrecy could be guaranteed, no classified information should be supplied to the Church committee(Document 19). (A forthcoming National Security Archive posting will address the revival of this issue, even more sharply, with the Pike Committee.)

With intractable secrecy issues still unresolved, the Church committee continued moving ahead with its investigation, closing in on the subject of covert operations that Ford officials had sought to avoid. White House lawyer Philip Buchen drafted an approval memo for a decision on what to cover in dealing with Church on covert operations. He wanted to restrict access to senators Church and Tower only, and to permit discussion of just eight covert operations (Document 27). Deputy national security adviser Brent Scowcroft issued a different decision memo. This provided that CIA present a briefing that spoke of covert operations in general, without reference to techniques, times or places (Document 28). The testimony Director Colby would present would be reviewed in advance by the NSC.

The electronic briefing book ends with Director Colby’s account to the National Security Council of his meeting with the committee heads and his testimony to the full committee(Document 31). Reacting to Colby’s remarks, the irrepressible Kissinger declares it “an act of national humiliation” for a nation to have laws that prevent a president from ordering an assassination.

* * * * *

THE DOCUMENTS

Document 1: White House, National Security Council Staff, Memo of Conversation, Kissinger, Schlesinger, Colby, Areeda, Hoffman, Silberman, Scowcroft, “Investigation of Allegations of CIA Domestic Activities,” February 20, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, National Security Files, Memoranda of Conversations, box 9.

This White House Memorandum of Conversation shows Kissinger warning that the investigations on the intelligence community could be “as damaging to the intelligence community as McCarthy was to the Foreign Service,” potentially leading to “the drying up of the imagination of the people on which we depend. If people think they will be indicted ten years later for what they do.” As such, the group comes up with several plans for controlling the investigations and the information they share with the committees. Suggestions include: setting up “secrecy agreements” with Committee members in order to control the materials and information that will be shared with them, and giving committee members secret documents in hopes that they are leaked to the press, allowing the White House to refuse to share more documents citing “executive privilege.”

Document 2: White House, Office of Congressional Relations, Senate, “Schedule Proposal for President,” February 22, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting File, National Security Series, Box 30, folder, “Intelligence (2).”

On February 22, 1975, President Ford is informed that Senators Frank Church and John Tower, the Chairmen and Vice Chairmen, respectively, of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, have asked to meet with the President to discuss the committee’s inquiries and to request the President’s full cooperation with the committee.

Document 3: White House, Office of Congressional Relations, Senate, Note for William Kendall from HDC, February 25, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting File, National Security Series, Box 30, folder, “Intelligence (2).”

On February 25, 1975, a White House staffer with the initials HCD sends a note to William Kendall, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Congressional Relations, to try and set up a meeting with the President and Senators Church and Tower before March 5 in order for Henry Kissinger to attend the meeting. (The meeting is eventually scheduled for that date and Kissinger is unable to attend).

Document 4: White House, Office of Congressional Relations, Senate, “Presidential Meeting with Senators Frank Church (D-Idaho) and John Tower (R-Texas),” March 4, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting File, National Security Series, Box 30, folder, “Intelligence (2).”

On March 4, 1975, President Ford receives a briefing memo to prepare for his meeting the following day with Senators Church and Tower. As part of the President’s talking points, he is to mention that he wants to cooperate with the committee, however, a series of dire warnings are presented. First, in the process of investigating allegations of impropriety, it is essential that, “we not cripple the effectiveness of the institutions which are so critically important to the very survival of this country.” Second, while “willful wrongdoing cannot be tolerated,” we must also “be careful that we do not create the impression among loyal dedicated intelligence personnel that their heads may be on the block in later years for actions they undertook in the belief they were serving their country… ” if this were to happen, “the CIA would be reduced to the level of a newspaper clipping and filing service.” Third, the memo warns that “disclosures would be disastrous” for perceptions of the U.S. around the world: “We are a great power and it is important that we be perceived as such.” Therefore, it is necessary that “our intelligence capability to a certain extent be cloaked in mystery and held in awe.” Given such concerns, the memo concludes that we must “tread very carefully” and that the goal must be “to preserve and enhance the confidence of the American people in their intelligence organizations.” To do so, the White House will cooperate with the Committee, however there will be a “presumption against providing sensitive material not indispensably material to the inquiry.”

Document 5: Church Committee, Letter from Senator Frank Church to CIA Director William Colby, March 12, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Congressional Investigations (1).”

This letter from Senator Church to CIA Director Colby outlines the types of documents that the Committee is requesting from the CIA, including files from the U.S. Intelligence Board staff, the Offices of the Director and Deputy Director, the General Counsel, the Legislative Counsel, Comptroller, Inspector General, Historical Studies, and Finance, as well as documents pertaining to Colby’s testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee on January 15, 1975.

Document 6: Central Intelligence Agency, Memorandum for the Record, “Meeting with Jack Boos, House Select Committee Staff Member, 14 March 1975,” March 17, 1975.

Source: NARA, CIA CREST Files, CIA-RDP77M00144R00020058-6

In this CIA memorandum of conversation, Jack Boos, Staff Member for the House Select Committee on Intelligence, is quoted expressing his frustration at the CIA guidelines for access to documents, asking, “How soon will you invoke executive privilege?” and noting that Director Colby’s exceptions to documents “are so broad as to encompass nearly everything.” The memo then explains a number of security provisions that could be used during the investigations. Ultimately, the document concludes that, “I am not sure that Boos was reassured that the Committee and its Staff would have the access they think they need.”

Document 7: White House, Office of the Deputy Assistant to the President, Richard Cheney Handwritten Notes re strategy to cope with Church Committee, c. March 24, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Intelligence – General.”

Dick Cheney’s handwritten notes briefly outline a strategy to cope with Church Committee demands.

Document 8: White House, Office of the Deputy Assistant to the President, Richard Cheney Handwritten Notes re on the problem of coping with the Church Committee, c. March 24, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Congressional Investigations (1).”

This brief handwritten note by Cheney cautions that the White House has no coherent policy for dealing with Congressional requests concerning their investigations.

Document 9: White House, Office of Congressional Relations, Senate, Copy of Senator Frank Church’s letter to CIA Director William Colby of March 12, 1975 with White House notations, c. March 24, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (2).”

This is a copy of Senator Church’s March 12 letter [Document 5] to CIA Directory Colby requesting documents from the CIA bearing Cheney’s handwritten notations of White House decisions as to which to provide the Committee. Items to be withheld were marked “no” or left blank. More than half of the requested “special studies” (eleven of twenty) were to be denied, including those on covert operations, among them the postmortem on the Bay of Pigs debacle. Also denied was the 1967 “Katzenbach Report” and a companion study of CIA activities at American universities, both triggered by the very public revelation that the CIA had funded voluntary groups of American university students (the National Student Association). All reports of the Bureau of the Budget or the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – White House entities – were to be denied, which was unfortunate because the most recent management study of the intelligence community that existed had been done by OMB in November 1971. Access to the Colby Report was ruled out and the “Family Jewels” were to be protected, save for a CIA Inspector General’s study that had covered some of the same ground.

Document 10: Central Intelligence Agency, “Responsibilities and Support,” March 25, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Congressional Investigations (1).”

This memo provides a progress report and outlines CIA guidelines for dealing with inquiries from Congress. It explains the creation of an Ad Hoc Coordinating Group tasked as the principal mechanism for coordinating the exchange of information within the CIA, with the White House, with the USIB, and with the investigating Committees. The memo also describes security procedures being set up to share information with Congress, and outlines four levels of security that will be applied. The CIA would create a central index to record all materials released and to index and abstract papers and testimony. Officials offered a “central reading room” – at CIA – for investigators to go to read agency documents. The data deemed most sensitive will “not be available to Select Committee Staff in its raw form.” This included memos to and from the president. Congressional investigators would be restricted to briefings about that material. At the next level there would be “‘fondling files’” that could be viewed only at the originating agency, with “specific limitations placed upon them by the agencies concerned.” At the next lower level documents would actually be given to the investigators but only in a sanitized form. Only at the lowest level would data be directly provided in unexpurgated form. If the briefings did not satisfy the committee there would be negotiations. The memo then explains a process where Committee members could challenge such limitations, which could open the door for documents to be read in the presence of authorized agency personnel. The memo also outlines a strategy for dealing with press inquiries and allegations.

Document 11: White House, National Security Council, Memorandum, from Robert C. McFarlane to Brent Scowcroft, “Submission of Documents to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Operations,” March 29, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Box 7, Folder, “Intel-Release of Documents to Church Committee 4/2/75 (1).”

This NSC Report by Robert McFarlane to General Scowcroft describes seventy-two NSC directives/documents and recommends whether they should be made available to the Church Committee. The McFarlane evaluation recommended in favor of the provision of general organizational material but it was thin in regard to approvals of material related to covert operations. The directive then in force governing approval of covert operations, called National Security Decision Memorandum 40, was approved for release. But many earlier documents in the NSC-10 and NSC-5412 series were to be restricted to a classified abstract. NSC-124/2, which had created the Special Group (Counter-Insurgency) in the Kennedy administration, should be denied, McFarlane advised. Also to be denied were presidential decision memos on Radio Free Europe (1961) and psychological warfare operations in wartime.

Document 12: White House, (Probably NSC – Robert McFarlane), “Summary/Abstract of Report Requested by Senate Select Committee (Dulles-Jackson-Correa Report),” c. April 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Box 7, Folder, “Intel-Release of Documents to Church Committee 4/2/75 (1).”

This document is a White House summary of a 1949 National Security Council policy review of intelligence functions, requested by the Church Committee. “The CIA and National Organization for Intelligence” found that the CIA had failed to produce coordinated national intelligence estimates and that it engaged in much duplicative activity. The report advocated the consolidation of CIA operational activities under a single directorate, separated administratively and physically, to the extent possible, from the analytical side of the agency. This became an impetus for creation of the CIA operations directorate. The note goes on to warn that the policy review, also known as NSC-50, cited two more interim reports that the Church Committee might be interested in but did not know about, and which Ford officials had not examined.

Document 13: White House, Memorandum from Philip Buchen to President Ford, “Request of Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities for Information,” April 2, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 7, Folder, “Buchen Memo re Release of Docs (1).”

This White House memo for President Ford explains that the documents requested by the Church Committee have been reviewed by the offices of Jack Marsh, Counsel to the President, and Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser. The memo recommends the release of several documents, including the Colby report. However, some documents “which are so sensitive or so central to the Presidency” will not be made available, and in the future might only be revealed to Senators Church and Tower. The memo refers to documents in Tab A, B, and C, Tab A refers to Senator Church’s information request list [Document 5] in this EBB, and Tab B refers to Robert McFarlane’s NSC analysis of the materials [Document 11]. Tab C is the Colby Report.

Document 14: Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Draft “Employee Notice and Agreement Concerning Treatment of Confidential Material,” April 5, 1975.

Source: NARA, CIA CREST Files, CIA-RDP77M00144R000400020055-9

This is the draft employee agreement concerning the treatment of classified information that all committee staff members had to sign. Director Colby had told colleagues at a February 22 meeting [Document 1] that agreements of this kind would prevent the committees from releasing CIA information. He obtained Church’s agreement to constrain investigators in this way on February 27.

Document 15: Central Intelligence Agency, Open Memorandum by John Warner, CIA General Counsel, “Authority of Congress to Release Classified Data,” April 11, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, James E. Connor Files, Intelligence Series, Box 56, Folder, “House Select Committee – Legal Opinions on Subpoenas for CIA Documents (1).”

This CIA memo by General Counsel John Warner concludes that, “I have found no express authority for Congress to publicly release information classified by the executive branch pursuant to an Executive Order issued by the President.” At the same time, Warner notes that, “Congress is constitutionally immunized, at least in part, against any consequences flowing from release and disclosure of classified information.” The memo goes on to explain the law behind his conclusions and presents different scenarios in which members of Congress are and are not liable for disclosing classified information. The implication is that there is no effective recourse to Congress releasing any information it desires.

Document 16: White House, Office of Congressional Relations, Senate, Memorandum from Patrick E. O’Connell to Friedersdorf, Hills, Kendall, and Loen, “Senator Frank Church’s Press Conference on CIA Select Committee Meeting, April 9 1975, 4:45pm,” April 11, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library: Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Central File, Agency Series, box 19, Folder, “F.G. 6-2: Central Intelligence Agency 1/1/75-6/30/75.”

This White House Office of Congressional Relations memo notes that the Church Committee is seeking Executive Directives to the CIA, which the Committee believes it has jurisdiction over and are not protected by executive privilege.

Document 17: White House, Office of Congressional Relations, Senate, Memorandum from James A. Wilderotter to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Buchen, Hills, Marsh, Wolthuis, Scowcroft, and McFarlane, “Response to Church Committee Request for CIA Backup Materials, Relating to Director Colby’s January 15, 1975 Testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee,” April 11, 1975.

Source: Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Intelligence-Congressional Investigations (1).”

This heavily excised memo concerns follow-on requests from the Church Committee. It takes up several of the items listed by Senator Church, describing several documents requested by the Church Committee concerning CIA Director Colby’s January 15, 1975 testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and argues in favor of releasing some of them.

Document 18: White House, Memorandum from James Wilderotter to Cheney, and Rumsfeld, “Material for the Senate Select Committee Investigating Intelligence Activities,” April 11, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Intelligence-Congressional Investigations (1).”

This is a brief summary of four CIA reports requested by the Church Committee. The document also outlines potential problems that might arise if they are shared with the committee. These include: a 1954 “Report on the Covert Activities of the Central Intelligence Agency” (Doolittle Report); a 1962 “Final Report of Working Group on Organization and Activities;” a 1965 “Review of Selected NSA Cryptanalytic Efforts” (The Bissell Report); and, also from 1965, “The Long Range Plan of the Central Intelligence Agency.” To take one example, the Doolittle Report was reviewed for names of personnel that had appeared before the review board, with many deleted, and a loss to historical interpretation of the period. In 1975 deleting this material arguably served no identifiable national security purpose.

Document 19: White House, Memorandum from Robert McFarlane to James Wilderotter, “Procedures for Safeguarding Classified Information,” April 14, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (2).”

This NSC Memo to the Church Committee raises several concerns regarding safeguarding classified information based on Senator Church’s claim to have the “right to make public any document provided to it … ” The memo objects to this claim, arguing that such decisions should be made by the President. The memo concludes that pending the resolution of this matter, “no classified information should be provided to the Committee.”

Document 20: White House, Memorandum for the Record by James Wilderotter, “Meeting with David W. Belin, April 15, 1975,” April 16, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (2).”

This memo summarizes a meeting between White House functionary James Wilderotter and David Belin, Executive Director of the Rockefeller Commission, concerning the sharing of documents with the Church Committee. Belin agrees with Wilderotter’s requests to limit the sharing of some documents, including the omission of materials relating to assassination plots raised in a CIA Inspector General’s report.

Document 21: White House, Summary of CIA Internal Histories, forwarded from James Wilderotter to Richard Cheney, April 18, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Intelligence-Congressional Investigations (1).”

This is a brief summary of two CIA reports requested by the Church Committee. The document outlines potential problems that might arise if the reports are shared with the Committee. These include: from 1967, “Report on Strategic Warning;” and from 1968, “Intelligence Activities and Foreign Policy.”

Document 22: White House, Memorandum from James Wilderotter to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Buchen, Hills, Marsh, Wolthuis, Scowcroft, and McFarlane, “Studies Requested by the Church Committee,” (attached are document approval forms), April 21, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Intelligence-Congressional Investigations (1).”

This memo presents Wilderotter’s recommendation with respect to half a dozen studies and reviews of intelligence and asks senior officials to note their approval or rejection. One of the six, concerning National Security Agency electronic spying (the Bissell Report of February 1965), should be withheld, it is argued, with no decision made at least until its contents have been discussed in a general way with senior Church Committee staff. Wilderotter assesses the other five as suitable for revelation to selected committee members at CIA headquarters, with classified abstracts furnished to the full committee at some later date.

Document 23: White House, Memorandum from James Wilderotter to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Buchen, Hills, Marsh, Wolthuis, Scowcroft, and McFarlane, “CIA Internal Histories Requested by the Senate Select Committee,” April 23, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Richard Cheney Files, Intelligence Series, Box 6, Folder, “Intelligence-Congressional Investigations (2).”

Wilderotter writes a cover memorandum describing a set of internal CIA histories that have been requested, and encloses brief CIA summaries of the histories. The CIA notes categorize each of the documents and describe in general terms what they cover. Eleven can be released to the Church Committee but five others will need further review before they are released. In fact, in subsequent years a number of these histories were declassified, entered the public domain, and were published without any perceptible negative effect on the national security.[8]

Document 24: Central Intelligence Agency, Fax to White House, Buchen, Hills, and Wilderotter, re More Materials to Church Committee, April 24, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (1).”

This is a CIA fax to the White House responding to the Church Committee request for all materials relating to CIA Director Colby’s December 22, 1974 Report and January 15, 1975 Senate Testimony. The memo warns that such a request may raise, “policy issues involved here which we should focus on soon and also discuss strategy.”

Document 25: White House, Memorandum from James Wilderotter to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Buchen, Hills, Marsh, Wolthuis, Scowcroft, and McFarlane, “Reports Requested by the Senate Select Committee,” May 7, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (1).”

This memorandum summarizes two CIA reports requested by the Church Committee: from 1964, “Middle East Task Force Report” (the Nolting Report); and from 1966, “Foreign Intelligence Collection Requirements” (The Cunningham Report). Wilderotter recommends that the Cunningham report should be made available at CIA, however the Nolting report should only be discussed in general terms with Senators Church and Tower. Summaries and concerns regarding both reports are provided.

Document 26: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Legislative Counsel, Memorandum for the Record, “Requests under the Freedom of Information Act for Agency Documents Provided Select Committees and the President’s Commission,” May 8, 1975.

Source: NARA, CIA CREST Files, CIA-RDP77M00144R000400020052-2

This CIA memorandum discusses the potential of adding an exemption “to relieve the Agency from responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act for Agency documents provided to the House and Senate Select Committees and the President’s Commission investigating CIA.” In case such an amendment does not pass the Congress, a Joint Resolution is proposed where any material furnished to the Committees “shall not be publicly disclosed without the express approval of the Chairman of these Select Committees and the head of the particular agency or department involved.”

Document 27: White House, Memorandum from Buchen, Kissinger, Marsh, and Rumsfeld to President Ford, “Request of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities for Information on Covert Actions,” Draft, May 9, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (1).”

This approval memorandum sought President Ford’s decision on a strategy of allowing administration officials to avoid testifying to the Church Committee at all. Instead Buchen recommends a strategy of briefing only Senators Church and Tower on CIA covert actions. In this context the President would permit specific discussion of ten covert operations, with current activities to be covered only generically. For example, he would permit discussion of the Katzenbach report of 1967, which had been denied in the initial White House review of the Church document requests [Document 9]. Buchen lays out the pros and cons of his suggested course of action.

Document 28: White House, National Security Council, Memorandum from Brent Scowcroft, to CIA Director William Colby, “Briefing of the Senate Select Committee on Covert Action,” c. May 9, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (1).”

This memo outlines the president’s authorization of a more restrictive course than Philip Buchen had recommended. Director Colby is to discuss covert operations with Senators Church and Tower alone, and only in the most generic terms. The memo requests that the final text of the CIA’s briefing to Congress be reviewed by the Counsel to the President (Buchen).

Document 29: White House, Office of Counsel to the President, Phillip Buchen, Meeting Briefing Memo, “Meeting with Secretaries Kissinger, Schlesinger, and Director Colby, Wednesday, May 14, 1975,” May 13, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting File, National Security Series, Box 30, folder, “Intelligence (2).”

In this advance briefing memo, White House Counsel Buchen discusses a strategy for dealing with further Church Committee requests on covert operations. Topics include what CIA Director Colby should discuss with Senators Church and Tower the following day. The goal of Colby’s briefing should be to “induce the Chairman and ranking Minority Member to impose limitations on the further investigation of the subjects covered.” The CIA should seek to confine the discussion to a limited list of cases of covert operations, and impose restrictions on committee staff access to CIA records of its activities.

Document 30: White House, Memorandum from James Wilderotter to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Buchen, Hills, Marsh, Wolthuis, Scowcroft, and McFarlane, “CIA Responses to Senate Select Committee Follow-up Requests for ‘All files relating to CIA participation in the so-called Huston Plan’ and ‘Files relating to penetration of the email, mail opening or mail cover,’” May 13, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, White House Operations, Robert K. Wolthius Files, Subject Series, Box 2, Folder, “Intelligence Investigations – Church Committee (1).”

This memo summarizes CIA materials concerning the “Huston Plan” relating to domestic activities and requests White House authorization for sharing them with the Church Committee.

Document 31: White House, National Security Council Meeting Minutes, Part III of III, May 15, 1975.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, Kissinger-Scowcroft Files, NSC Minutes Series, Box 1, Folder, “May 15, 1975.”

In this set of National Security Council Meeting Minutes, CIA Directory Colby describes his testimony to the Church Committee: “it was like being a prisoner in the dock, there was a real interrogation. All the questions were on assassination and it was like ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’” Colby also explains a discussion on assassinations he had with Church where, “I also told them that our policy and our orders are very clear: we will have nothing to do with assassination: Church ended by saying that is not enough. We need to have a law which prohibits assassination in time of peace.” To which Kissinger responded, “It is an act of insanity and national humiliation to have a law prohibiting the President from ordering assassination.”


[1] Seymour Hersh, “Huge C.I.A. Operation reported in U.S. against Anti-War Forces, Other Dissidents in Nixon Years,” New York Times, December 22, 1974, p. 1.

[2] Richard Cheney with Liz Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

[3] Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Renewal. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999, p. 320.

[4] William E. Colby with Peter Forbath, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA. New York: Simon & Schuester, 1978, p. 444.

[5] John Prados, William E. Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2009, quoted p. 306.

[6] Loch K. Johnson, A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1985, p. 28-9.

[7] Ibid., p. 30-31.

[8] For example, Arthur B. Darling, The Central Intelligence Agency: An Instrument of Government, to 1950 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990); or Ludwell Lee Montague, General Walter Bedell Smith as Director of Central Intelligence, October 1950-February 1953 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 19

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What Really Killed William Henry Harrison?

NEW YORK TIMES     MARCH 31, 2014

William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, holds a distinction that with luck will never be equaled: He was our shortest-serving president, dying on April 4, 1841, after just a month in office.

What killed him? Historians have long accepted the diagnosis of Harrison’s doctor, Thomas Miller: “pneumonia of the lower lobe of the right lung, complicated by congestion of the liver.”

The pneumonia was thought to be a direct result of a cold the 68-year-old Harrison caught while delivering a numbingly long Inaugural Address (at 8,445 words, the longest in history) in wet, freezing weather without a hat, overcoat or gloves.

But a new look at the evidence through the lens of modern epidemiology makes it far more likely that the real killer lurked elsewhere — in a fetid marsh not far from the White House.

The first clue that the pneumonia diagnosis was wrong lies in Miller’s own apparent uneasiness with it. “The disease,” he wrote, “was not viewed as a case of pure pneumonia; but as this was the most palpable affection, the term pneumonia afforded a succinct and intelligible answer to the innumerable questions as to the nature of the attack.”


             An 1846 map of Washington, top, shows the home (A) of              William Henry Harrison, above, its water supply (B), and a field of “night soil” (C) that could have harbored deadly bacteria.

Harrison — who had had some medical training as a young man — summoned Miller to the White House on March 26, complaining not of a lung ailment but of anxiety and fatigue. Miller did not bleed him, as was the standard treatment for pneumonia at the time. (More about what he did do in a moment.) But Miller may have overlooked a clue that was in front of his nose.

In those days the nation’s capital had no sewer system. Until 1850, some sewage simply flowed onto public grounds a short distance from the White House, where it stagnated and formed a marsh; the White House water supply was just seven blocks downstream of a depository for “night soil,” hauled there each day at government expense.

That field of human excrement would have been a breeding ground for two deadly bacteria, Salmonella typhi and S. paratyphi, the causes of typhoid and paratyphoid fever — also known as enteric fever, for their devastating effect on the gastrointestinal system.

Two other antebellum presidents, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, developed severe gastroenteritis while living in the White House. Taylor died, while Polk recovered, only to be killed by what is thought to have

Harrison had a history of dyspepsia, or indigestion, which potentially heightened his risk of infection by gastrointestinal pathogens that might have found their way into the White House water supply.

Although we have no record of how he managed his dyspepsia, the standard treatment in the 1840s was carbonated alkali, which would have neutralized the gastric acid that otherwise kills harmful bacteria. In the absence of the gastric acid barrier, gastroenteritis can be caused by as few as one ten-thousandth the number of bacteria usually needed.

In 1841 there was no effective treatment for enteric fever. The most a doctor could do was adhere steadfastly to medicine’s most sacred tenet, primum non nocere — first do no harm.

At least Miller did not bleed the president. But he gave him a host of toxic medications that were then considered the standard of care — including opium, which retards the intestine’s ability to rid itself of microbial pathogens, facilitating their invasion into the bloodstream.

Enemas, which Miller repeatedly gave to Harrison, are also potentially dangerous in such patients. They can perforate ulcers produced by S. typhi and S. paratyphi in the ileum, the lower end of the small intestine, through which the bacteria would be able to  escape from the intestine into the bloodstream, resulting in sepsis.

As he lay dying, Harrison had a sinking pulse and cold, blue extremities, two classic manifestations of septic shock. Given the character and course of his fatal illness, his untimely death is best explained by enteric fever. Pneumonia was a secondary diagnosis — as Harrison’s hapless doctor perhaps suspected all along.

Jane McHugh is a writer in San Antonio. Dr. Philip A. Mackowiak, a scholar in residence at the University of Maryland, is the author of “Diagnosing Giants: Solving the Medical Mysteries of Thirteen Patients Who Changed the World.”

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