Tenth DCI, William Egan Colby
William Colby: Positive Efforts Amid Turmoil
[American intelligence] now demands the management techniques of major
technical enterprises…requires mammoth financing…[and] has quite simply
outgrown the old concept of a small, secret intelligence service
located at the elbow of the President.
President Nixon nominated William E. Colby to replace Schlesinger as DCI in May 1973. As DCI-designate, Colby amicably shared power with the DDCI, Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters, USA, who became acting DCI in early July when Schlesinger departed. Even before Schlesinger left, Colby’s apparent intention to abolish ONE led to the departure of its chief, John Huizenga. Colby also moved ahead to shape future initiatives at the staff level, anticipating his soon-to-be authority. His confirmation hearings—marred by charges about his involvement in the Phoenix program in Vietnam—were held in July, and his formal installation came in early September after a prod of the preoccupied White House.
The Watergate scandal that had struck intelligence glancing blows in 1973 grew into the maelstrom that forced President Nixon to resign. Then, soon after Gerald Ford became president in 1974, revelations of past CIA misdeeds unrelated to Watergate aroused Congress to investigate and to institute a new level of intelligence oversight. Although not central to congressional concerns, DCI leadership of the community could not avoid becoming caught up in the renewed attention to accountability. President Ford felt compelled to take initiatives as well to show his own command of the intelligence arena and to preempt or steer congressional actions. Colby’s considerable attention to his community role in part reflected those pressures, but it also testified to the importance he placed on it despite having to devote the major part of his energy to saving CIA.
A Professional Ready for Reform
The choice of Colby to be DCI was uncontroversial within the executive branch. Although he was, like Helms, a professional clandestine service officer interested in protecting his agency, his style differed from Helms’s in his willingness to project energy and optimism about possible improvements via change. Andrew Marshall recalled years later that “the thing that was favorable to Colby was that he did seem to want to respond [to President Nixon’s November 1971 directive] more than…Helms and some of the others earlier.” To Marshall, “his strength seemed to be that he seemed to be a bit more open to discussion [than other senior CIA officers]….”
For Colby, making every personal effort to fulfill presidentially set objectives was a way to earn through performance the spurs he had been awarded. Also, whereas Helms took pride in upholding traditions and practices that had worked, Colby seemed to be a true believer in “modern” management initiatives. When the administration became infatuated with “management by objectives,” Colby readily signed intelligence up to play its part in the program. He held no elitist attitudes that it should be exempt from modern management practices or from being held accountable for its performance. He also refused to hide behind executive branch prerogatives and the shield of secrecy, instead accepting as legitimate congressional demands for reform and accountability, including the rough treatment he received in his confirmation hearings. Colby’s willingness to accept new dimensions of openness and accountability grated on colleagues who believed their work was “special,” unlike any other government activity.
Hit the Ground Running
On the day he was sworn in, Colby issued to the community a “DCI Perspectives” document setting forth his view of where intelligence needed to go in the future. His staff saw this document as a continuation of DCI planning guidance documents dating back to 1970, and as a replacement for the “National Intelligence Community Planning Guidance, 1975-1980,” issued in January 1973, Helms’s last full month as DCI. By issuing an updated version as he took the reins (rather than await the regular annual revision), Colby signaled that he intended to take a personal role in setting objectives and following up on activities related to them. In addition to including a tour d’horizon of the most important “trends in the world situation,” the document provided a list of “primary intelligence problems,” giving prominence to economics and “some new global problems” such as environmental crises and international terrorism. The overall message was that consumers had told the Intelligence Community that it needed to improve.
Colby no doubt understood that such general guidance did little by itself, but he was utilizing what had always been a strong area of DCI authority, getting substantive requirements from the top-level consumers of intelligence products and tasking the Intelligence Community for action. In what almost seemed to be an effort to “will” greater impact, he promised recipients that he would soon forward to USIB members more “specific” substantive intelligence objectives and management and resource goals. Sure enough, he issued in September a simple set of formal “DCI Objectives,” laying out a main direction of effort for the Intelligence Community in terms of substantive areas of prime importance. These two documents, which had been worked on for weeks prior to Colby’s entry into office, laid claim to the kind of leadership Colby felt the president had requested in his November 1971 memorandum. Colby sent them to President Nixon and received in reply a “Dear Bill” letter approving his initiative and urging him to continue to work with OMB in improving community management.
Early in 1974, Colby discussed with his staff revisions to these documents. He wanted even more emphasis on specific actions in his next “Perspectives” issuance, and he rejected his staff’s suggestion of including a section on “management,” apparently believing that doing better management was better than discussing it. He also said he saw no need to discuss possible structural changes in the community. These might be warranted or suggested by others, he thought, but he was more interested in working on real problems than on organizational schemes.
Within a month of becoming DCI, Colby sent a report to PFIAB that laid out his overall program. It melded initiatives from the Helms and Schlesinger periods but emphasized new initiatives of his own. Most important, it looked different from its predecessors. Whereas they had highlighted USIB committee activities and past year accomplishments, Colby’s report relegated the committee summaries to an annex and bore much more the stamp of a single, forward-looking leader in charge.
When he submitted the report in draft to top subordinates in CIA for comment, Colby got varying reactions. The DDI cautioned that “the overall optimism of the report may overstate just what PFIAB should expect of the DCI,” and the DDA more boldly warned that it conveyed an image “of a DCI who is fumbling in his efforts to develop an approach to the community problem.” At OMB, however, an associate director emphasized “the highly favorable impression the report conveys of DCI leadership in community matters.” In these different reactions, an important element in Colby’s approach to his job can be discerned: he shaped his messages with downtown audiences in mind as well as those of his home organization.
Key Intelligence Questions
Colby wasted no time in introducing to the community additional ideas to create a new dynamism for US intelligence as Vietnam faded in importance. He established a set of “Key Intelligence Questions,” or KIQs, which were intended to provide the community with intelligence targets of “major current importance to policy levels of the government.” He intended the KIQs to force top-level consumers to validate the most important substantive topics for the community to address and to enable the DCI to use those topics as drivers for community activities and evaluations. He had an initial set of candidate KIQs prepared in the fall of 1973 and sent to the NSCIC principals for changes and additions.
By involving the formal consumer mechanism set up by the president’s November 1971 directive, Colby demonstrated a desire to make the administration’s initiative effective, and after incorporating suggestions made by NSC staffers and others, he had the first set of KIQs ready for promulgation early in 1974. He had to make do, however, without the participation of busy top-level policymakers. Two months after sending out the initial KIQs, Colby sent Kissinger and the other members of the NSCIC another memorandum noting that the early NSCIC meeting he had hoped would consider the KIQs was not going to occur (because of the busy chairman’s schedule) and thus he was soliciting their comments in writing. Dynamism was falling prey to bureaucratic realities.
Similarly, Colby’s ambition to use the KIQs as a benchmark against which to measure the use of Intelligence Community resources encountered inevitable obstacles. He instituted a formal “KIQ Evaluation Program,” or KEP, in the hope of being able to show how well the community could respond to policy needs. Instead, the community pointed out to him that the KIQs were a selective set of top priority issues, not a comprehensive list of targets for all intelligence activities. Thus, any evaluation based only on them would not encompass a wide range of legitimate intelligence activities and would be, at best, of partial value in helping managers of the larger programs redirect resources. The JCS declared that the KIQs covered “only a small portion of the total Defense intelligence effort” and that the KEP therefore “could impact adversely” on that effort, and the deputy secretary of defense argued that it “should not be regarded as a comprehensive basis for recommending resource allocations.”
In kicking off the KEP effort early in 1974, Colby said that “the first performance period is essentially a pilot run.” He invited feedback…and he got it. In October 1974, the USIB human source intelligence committee reported that since their budget data were not organized in KIQ categories, the collectors “encountered considerable difficulties in complying with the KEP requirements.” CIA complained that the process had caused “grumbling as well as confusion up and down the line,” and the DDO “sought to exempt itself entirely.” The Navy declared that it “fervently hoped” the next iteration would not attempt such “radical changes” mid-stream. The DCI’s staffers tried to convince their counterparts in the intelligence agencies that using KEP to measure community performance and to influence the allocation of community resources was worth pursuing. But in the end, the KIQ process failed to become a workable tool enhancing the DCI’s role in community resource allocation. Danny Childs, a future CIA comptroller then working in the IC Staff, recalled years later that “the KIQs/KEP program really never went anywhere” and that only Colby was really interested in it. He also recalled that the program and budget section of the IC Staff (where he worked) had made “much more real progress” than the group responsible for KEP.
The last formal evaluation based on KIQs was issued in the fall of 1976, nearly a year after Colby left office. By then it was clearly a leftover project from the period of Colby’s tenure as DCI. The foreword to the last set of KIQs noted that previous KIQs had been used mainly by staff officers (that is, not by community collection or production program managers, as had once been hoped). It weakly reminded readers that, since not all intelligence programs were taken into account by the KIQ process, “therefore, except in a general way, the Intelligence Community should not apply the findings of the report to resource considerations. At most the data raise questions; they do not provide answers.” So it was that a managerial concept meant to strengthen the impact of DCI leadership within the community, implemented at the outset with great DCI support and vigor, quickly became a staffing exercise without impact. By the time it ended, its demise probably was both a blessing and a sensible managerial decision.
The KIQ effort, Colby tells us in his memoir, was intended “to replace an enormous paper exercise called the ‘requirements’ process—which pretended to tell the community precisely what it should be reporting on—with a simple set of general questions about the key problems that we should concentrate on.” Actually, Colby was aware that his initiative dealt only with the topmost level of “requirements,” and that the KIQs, however promising to him at first, were near-term in nature and did not truly “replace” other elements in what did indeed seem to be an “enormous” exercise. The IC Staff was producing a matrix of intelligence targets and priorities as an attachment to DCI Directive (DCID) 1/2. The DCID 1/2 listing looked to the longer planning horizon of one to five years and was intended to be comprehensive in nature, accounting for all targets worthy of intelligence attention. Colby was willing to try to use this effort too to enhance his impact. A senior staffer penned a handwritten note to Colby saying “The more I get into this requirements process the keg of worms becomes mind boggling. Perhaps we can develop a graphic which will demonstrate the complexity—this would be a useful jolt to USIB. What think? We need to cut it way back and simplify.” In response, Colby wrote that he found the thought “most tempting.” “Since I’ve got a Presidentially approved objective of straightening out the RQM [requirements] system, should we give it a whirl?”
Colby’s IC Staff chief, Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, USA, noted in an internal memorandum the difficulty they faced: “We are still making resource decisions without an audit trail back to the fundamental requirements to be served.” One staff officer argued that, in view of the president’s having explicitly asked that this link be made, its absence was a critical problem for the DCI. Another proposed that somehow the “process” be made a “system” with an organization devoted to it, namely another USIB committee, this one devoted to requirements. This uninspired thought at least tried to get at a basic problem: the individual collection disciplines (e.g., SIGINT) could work their requirements-to-resources linkage as a practical matter (though there was doubt about how efficiently this was accomplished), but there was no overall process or system that rationalized all the collection disciplines against a given objective.
Colby kept the older, more comprehensive substantive requirements effort even as he launched his own KIQ initiative, and in March 1974 a revised DCID 1/2 attachment listing was disseminated to the community for implementation. In September 1974, Colby sent a memorandum to USIB members asking the basic question whether the DCID 1/2 effort should be continued. “I wonder whether the existence of both documents [the KIQs list and the DCID 1/2 attachment] may cause some confusion,” he wrote, leading him to say he was “personally uncertain as to whether DCID 1/2 should be retained.” In the end, nothing came of this thought as events inundated the DCI with more pressing issues that dominated his last months in office.
National Intelligence Officers
Schlesinger and Colby had both been interested in 1973 in having senior assistants for major substantive problems, assigning them a wide range of tasks related to their regional or functional specialties. Schlesinger early in his tenure brought in experts to work Soviet and Middle East issues for him. Colby, long associated with Vietnamese issues, was a fan of CIA’s office of the special assistant for Vietnamese affairs (SAVA) that had been set up under Raborn.
On becoming DCI, Colby moved immediately to abolish ONE, establishing in its place in the fall of 1973 a set of National Intelligence Officers (NIOs) with a range of duties that included, but went beyond, producing NIEs. For him, the NIOs were—like SAVA—talented officers able to carry on sustained dialogue with sophisticated customers and to shape papers of higher quality and greater policy relevance. The first six of these officers were appointed on 26 October, but in fact Samuel Hoskinson, the one responsible for the Middle East, had been in operation since the outbreak of the war in the region on 6 October. Colby had already on 3 October informed USIB principals of his appointment of George Carver as his new deputy to the DCI for NIOs and of the dissolution of the Board and Office of National Estimates and of SAVA (Carver had been SAVA; the position was no longer needed since US involvement in Vietnam had wound down).
This move highlights Colby’s readiness to showcase change in a manner unlike Helms. Many saw ONE as successful in the 1950s and 1960s in producing quality estimative intelligence and in operating a smooth community-oriented process. With its products under attack downtown, however, and with its image in the community as a captive of CIA (it was housed at CIA headquarters and staffed almost entirely by CIA officers), Colby hoped to use its demise to signal a readiness both to improve service to the White House and to foster a more community atmosphere in its replacement. The latter goal, however, proved elusive. Carver was a CIA officer, and Colby succeeded in attracting only a few non-CIA officers to become NIOs.
Colby conceived that the NIOs—in addition to fulfilling their estimates preparation and customer relations duties—would assist the DCI’s community management role. For one thing, he hoped to appoint a more varied set of officers than had come to populate ONE. For another, they were to be the key senior officials responsible for leading activities in support of formulating the DCI’s family of perspectives, objectives, and KIQs documents intended to affect resource allocation throughout the community. They would not decide resource allocation, but they could lead the evaluation of intelligence products that Colby believed could be central to a new, better method of resource allocation.
This conception of the NIOs was congenial to a viewpoint pushed in 1973 by key NSC staffer Andrew Marshall. In a memorandum to Colby, he commented: “I think the most useful contribution of these individuals would be in management—using their positions to improve the coordination of collection efforts and the analysis of intelligence and to link producers to high-level consumers.” He argued that the DCI needed NIOs who were not so much area experts as “aggressive, management oriented individuals.” They would “resemble product or project managers in private industry,” with “unclear lines of authority over other organizations” and “a need to rely on personal influence” to accomplish goals. “Industry has normally chosen its more aggressive managers for such tasks,” Marshall contended, and Colby should as well.
Like Schlesinger, Colby asked the IC Staff to think about ways of linking substance (in the form of the key information needs of top consumers of intelligence) to the IC Staff’s program and budget work, and Colby tasked the new NIOs with a role in the evaluation of how well community programs responded to those substantive needs, a role that had not been asked of ONE and its staff. Indeed, ONE, which prided itself on its separation from the hurly-burly of management issues and on its single-minded focus on substance, would not have been amenable to some of the tasks Colby had in mind for NIOs.
In the end, Colby did not resolve the argument as to which talent—substantive expertise or bureaucratic skill—he valued more; he asked the NIOs to perform in both roles. In fact, however, he favored the former in his initial selection of NIOs, and in his memoir he acknowledged that the NIOs “did not work so well in the management aspects….” The linkage that Colby tried so hard to make between substantive needs and program oversight proved difficult for his loyal staffs to achieve.
Community Role Staffing
After becoming secretary of defense in July 1973, Schlesinger “stole” the officer he had placed at the head of the IC staff in the spring of 1973, Maj. Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., USAF, and made him head of NSA. Colby chose another military officer, Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, USA, to head the IC Staff, and, when he departed to head DIA, Colby chose another Army lieutenant general, Samuel Wilson, to succeed Graham. Wilson served until shortly after Colby left office. These military officers were intelligence professionals dedicated to strengthening the community, and they served as symbols of Colby’s desire to seek community advice and support more widely than had been the case when veteran CIA officers had headed the staff.
One of the strengths these generals possessed was a greater interest in and familiarity with leadership and management as an explicit function to be studied and improved via various paths, including concepts such as “management by objectives” and “systems” approaches. In 1974, Graham had Lt. Col. Donald B. McBride, USAF, one of his IC Staff officers, prepare what came to be called the “McBride Report.” This energetic staffing effort sought to help the DCI achieve a much-desired result, i.e., translating the lofty generalities of broadly stated “objectives” into a comprehensive set of specific “actions,” tangible results constituting the fulfillment of progress toward the broad objectives.
To connect specific activities to goals, McBride wanted to map 115 management tasks that the IC Staff had identified against five large objectives that Colby had laid out in his first month in office. McBride saw in the “wide variety of ICS projects, meetings, and related activities” the natural result of the “rapid expansion of a new and aggressive senior US Government staff.” He wrote of using “network analysis” models, charts, and the new “Systems Dynamics lexicon” to describe a “world model” and lead to “development of a management-oriented description of the entire US Intelligence System.” He asserted that few government executives actually changed the organizations they headed, but he expressed hope that the DCI could do so despite the fact that he confronted “more difficult and complex managerial responsibilities than most senior governmental executives, who at least have legal authority over all or most of the resources they are responsible for.”
He was on Colby’s wavelength, enthused about possible results but wary that they would be forthcoming. Colby’s marginal comments on the report show a similar attitude. McBride asked whether the last set of DCI budget recommendations had had impact, and Colby penned in the margin his version of the classic planner’s dictum: “In the process, yes; the paper itself, less so.” McBride also gently pointed out that the Colby initiatives in USIB and the IRAC, including the KIQ process, will not do the job “as there remain large management coordination gaps.” The answer, he wrote, lay in creating a better planning process within the community, led by the IC Staff, and an overall focus on management by objectives.
This episode gives a flavor of the ideas, the rhetoric, and the hopes both of the DCI and of a dedicated staff trying to give life to an impulse. The commitment to improved mechanisms supporting DCI leadership of the Intelligence Community was strongly present in the mid-1970s, and Colby was intent on attempting to exercise such leadership. Some factors limiting what would be achieved were internal, but external circumstances probably did more to make the changes that did occur insignificant relative to the ambitions that drove them.
Colby was well aware that more was expected of him as DCI in pulling together a coherent community-wide intelligence program even though he had no new authority to compel actions by agencies outside CIA. His gaining presidential approval of his broad objectives in the fall of 1973 was a good initial step, but he faced pressures to do more as a leader and manager. In March 1974, President Nixon complimented him on what he had done in his first six months as DCI and urged him to “continue to strengthen your role as leader of the intelligence community.” “I am particularly concerned,” Nixon wrote, “that the link between substantive intelligence needs and intelligence resources be clearly understood and evaluated.”
Earlier that month, in previewing the program for fiscal year 1976, Colby noted that “up to the present time” he had mainly used reviews at CIA and as chairman of the NRO executive committee to review the community’s resources. His participation in DOD reviews had been through his staff. He noted also that OMB had floated a proposal to undertake a study that would assist OMB in giving fiscal guidance to the National Foreign Intelligence Program budget. Colby reported that this proposal, which he characterized as responding to a memorandum he had sent the president, deviated from previous OMB/DOD joint review procedures and had prompted Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements to question whether OMB fiscal guidance forthcoming in June would have an impact on DOD budget decisionmaking.
Colby then stepped through his view of how he wished to undertake his budgeting responsibility. He started by saying he had told the president and Congress that he would commit “much of my personal time” on this task, which he noted had been assigned to him by the president. He said he was impressed by the lack of flexibility available to him since the “vast bulk” of community resources “are virtually uncontrollable,” particularly in an era of cost constraints, and he urged development of a national SIGINT plan. He wished to work things out jointly via IRAC mechanisms, trying to achieve the linkage between need and resource use called for by the president, and asserted that he thought the guidance forthcoming from OMB, “presumably issued to me,” would help. He said he was “mindful” that it might not be binding on DOD directly and that “we all have our channels to the President,” but felt such guidance might help the community to develop the best possible program.
One week after Colby delivered these remarks to an IRAC meeting, an OMB associate director sent a letter to Clements delivering a message that OMB clearly believed needed emphasis. It charged that Clements had implied that the intelligence budget was “no more than a ‘segment of the DOD program and budget.’” “This implication,” OMB stressed, was “wholly inconsistent with the overall thrust of the President’s Intelligence Directive of November 5, 1971, a copy of which I have appended for your careful study.” The OMB letter then went on to quote from the directive to the effect that it was the DCI, not DOD, that was to submit the intelligence budget. “It is simply incorrect and unacceptable to imply,” the letter declared, “that the consolidated Intelligence Community budget should be dealt with as a part of the Defense budget.” The letter concluded with a rebuttal of a Clements suggestion that issues might be referred to the NSCIC (a body not chaired by the DCI) for resolution and stated that the IRAC (which the DCI chaired) would be used to develop fiscal guidance, which will be “agreed upon in July with the DCI, and the Secretary of Defense will, as in the past, be informed of amount agreed upon.”
There is no evidence that this letter did anything to change the basic equation of power between the DCI and DOD. It may have felt good to OMB officials to write it, and to the DCI and his staff as they read it. But despite the accuracy of its basic points, the DCI, lacking independent authority to make significant changes in programs, still had to achieve what he could via cooperation with DOD officials and intelligence agency heads (he received another “attaboy” note from Nixon in June). Colby recognized this and, while asserting his authority in the process, made it clear that he was looking for agreement, not confrontation. In the fall of 1974, at another IRAC meeting, he referred to a renewed presidential mandate Ford had sent him on 9 October 1974 affirming his role as the community’s “leader” as directed in Nixon’s 1971 memorandum, and expressed hope that a national intelligence strategy could be developed. He said he realized intelligence was only one part of the DOD budget and that DOD managers had to make their own determinations of need. He said he viewed his role as one of an independent “court of appeals” and looked for cooperation while noting he could advise the president directly if he disagreed with a DOD recommendation.
In reacting to the twin pressures of budget constraints and congressional interest, Colby showed that he did not view intelligence as exempt from the kind of scrutiny that other programs faced. In the spring of 1974, he told IRAC members that he needed more data and a better understanding of their intelligence programs in order to make more effective Congressional presentations. This anticipated what would become more evident in later years as Congress joined the president as a more important overseer of intelligence. In the fall of 1974, Colby argued that he needed to be able to provide clear justification for intelligence expenditures “against other Federal expenditures.” Colby recognized that intelligence would always be a “special” undertaking in some regards, but no longer was it a sacrosanct part of national security matters that would brook no comparison with other federal programs.
DOD was itself continuing to look to reform its own intelligence arena. In mid-1974, the deputy secretary of defense formed a Defense Intelligence Management Council chaired by Assistant Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) Albert Hall and including the heads of NSA, DIA, and the military service intelligence organizations. It was to review management problems and address the need-resource linkage within DOD. The deputy secretary also ordered a new panel to look at all that had been done since the blue ribbon panels of the early 1970s to see if there were further improvements that ought to be undertaken. NSA, under Lt. Gen. Lew Allen, was also seeking guidance from wherever it could get it—including from the DCI and IRAC—so that its inevitable adjustments to the post-Vietnam War period accorded with its customers’ needs.
Omnibus National Security Council Intelligence Directive
Early in his tenure as DCI (indeed, even before he took office), Colby undertook to have written a single unclassified NSC Intelligence Directive (NSCID) to replace a set of nine such documents that were classified and had last been updated in 1972. Colby explained to Kissinger that “the genesis of this ‘Omnibus’ NSCID is substantial Congressional and public interest in the ‘secret charter’ of the Intelligence Community and CIA.” The initiative, which seems to have been entirely Colby’s, certainly seems to reflect his readiness to be more open to having his profession known, in its basics, to the public and to be accountable to some basic, public set of orders.
Colby apparently hoped that he could use the omnibus NSCID to bolster his position as DCI. An early draft placed up front a section on the role of the DCI, charging him with “overall responsibility for positive leadership of the Intelligence Community.” In discussing the pros and cons of the project, Colby listed as a “pro” that assembling all the responsibilities of the DCI in one place “would increase awareness of the DCI’s role and the inter-relationships involved in activities of the Intelligence Community.” Interestingly, a senior NSA officer expressed concern that this might better be considered a “con,” fearing that it might be “counter-productive in Congress by emphasizing the authorities given to one man—the DCI.”
In listing the major responsibilities of the DCI, the draft directive placed the “managerial” functions of planning, evaluating, and allocating resources first, ahead of producing the national intelligence needed by the NSC. This is noteworthy as a bellwether of the change wrought by the Nixon administration’s emphasis on management (or, as Colby would put it, “leadership”). Additional rhetoric reinforced this theme. “Authoritative and responsible leadership for the intelligence community as a whole must be assured,” one provision intoned, and another stated that the DCI should “act for the National Security Council” in issuing appropriate DCI Directives.
Colby tried in vain for a year or more, even after the objective became a classified directive, to get the NSCIC to take up consideration of the idea. DOD intelligence organizations objected to both the whole idea and specific provisions. NSA was dismayed to see its extensive activities, which took up an entire specially classified NSCID in the series of nine, relegated to a minor placement in the omnibus version. The same was basically true for DIA and for DOD generally. The idea died in 1975 as DOD opposition dug in and Colby’s attention shifted to other matters.
As an exercise in leadership, the episode was more a story of a DCI trying to cope with congressional demands than of a DCI trying to rally the community around change (the omnibus NSCID did not really try to break new ground). In the final analysis, however, Colby’s effort bore fruit. President Ford came to see clarification of DCI responsibilities in an unclassified document as a way of preempting potentially less good congressional actions, and Colby’s ideas had significant impact on the executive order on intelligence Ford signed within a month of Colby’s departure from office. In his memoir Colby, never one to let go of a cherished idea, claimed: “In effect, the order constituted that ‘omnibus’ intelligence directive I had started working toward so many months before.”
Colby took other steps intended to make the community work together better and to enhance his ability to perform as DCI. He made the primary daily intelligence product a more community document (as well as putting it into newspaper format, a change disliked by Kissinger and others, but one that reflected Colby’s interest in the presentational aspects of finished intelligence, where he thought boldly about future television and other “multi-media” ways of disseminating finished intelligence) and considered establishing an analysis support center as a joint enterprise of CIA and DOD’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, reaching out for new “venture capital” projects. He also created a new Office of Political Research at CIA, in part to foster the application of new, modern analytic techniques to intelligence issues, and pushed for more and better efforts in economic analysis, an area he believed was more important for CIA and the community in the 1970s.
In an effort to provide better intelligence support to “crisis management,” Colby overhauled the community’s warning system, replacing an existing warning committee in 1974 with a new strategic warning staff. This step reflected Colby’s vision of the intelligence business as something that had to be viewed end-to-end, as a total system where the output had to be kept in mind constantly when changing processes, organizations, etc. By giving DOD a greater role in the DCI’s warning process, Colby may have hoped to improve DOD perceptions of the DCI’s community leadership. Colby also created a community-wide research and development council under the IRAC, recruiting Dr. Malcolm Currie, the director of DOD’s research and engineering office, to head it.
Colby actively supported doing more to improve information handling processes and technology in the Intelligence Community. All major elements of the community were harnessing the power of the computer to address intelligence problems of all kinds, but using automated data systems to tie the community together was a more elusive goal. A Community On-line Information System (COINS) started in 1965 had not been as successful as had been hoped in furthering this goal. At his staff’s urging, Colby took steps, including appointing a special assistant to survey the community and consider research and development initiatives, to revive a community Information Handling Committee that had fallen into disuse. He also urged using computer power to put the community’s collection and processing capabilities “into better balance,” a time-worn problem already by the 1970s.
One week after becoming DCI, Colby established an IRAC working group to review the community’s information system needs, including an examination of the data system used by the IC Staff to monitor the community’s various programs, the Consolidated Intelligence Resources Information System (CIRIS). DOD, OMB, and the IC Staff had supported creating this system, but it was mainly of use to the IC Staff. The working group determined that it did not really fit the DCI’s needs as a management information system that could contribute to the evaluation of community performance against substantive objectives such as the KIQs. To support the objectives of the president’s November 1971 directive in relating resource usage dynamically to substantive targets, the working group concluded, the DCI required a new management information system.
In the fall of 1974 the IC Staff held an off-site conference just as Lt. Gen. Wilson took over as its head. It reviewed the various initiatives undertaken to date in the Schlesinger-Colby era and discussed how best the staff could support the DCI in furthering those initiatives. For example, the staff took up a study at the behest of OMB and the White House on the so-called “national-tactical interface,” an issue that was not new but was thought to be potentially fruitful in terms of identifying duplication of effort and possible cost savings. In reading the file about the conference, one gets the sense that the energy and effort of the staff were high, no doubt in part because of the personal attention to its work by the DCI. But the events that unfolded at the end of 1974 overwhelmed the man for whom they worked so hard and on whose support they depended. Colby turned to face even more pressing tasks, namely the survival of CIA and the working out of whatever new rules or methods of oversight were to be devised. 1975 would be a defensive year and a “time of troubles” for him, foreclosing further attempts to provide positive leadership to managing community matters.
Call for Reform
The weakened state of the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the unfriendly spotlight cast on intelligence made 1975 an unwelcome “year of intelligence” for the executive branch and an unpleasant final year as DCI for Colby. Although most attention centered on intelligence operations and the adoption of guidelines to govern them or on other aspects of intelligence, DCI leadership of the community also came in for some scrutiny and figured in some of the changes brought forward during 1975. The focus was no longer on DCI Colby’s personal initiatives within the community, however, but rather on broad structural reform and how best to assure leadership of intelligence that could keep future “abuses” of power from occurring as well as ensure the community’s accomplishment of basic missions.
One external study effort that came to fruition in June 1975 (at the same time the Rockefeller Commission issued its report on intelligence abuses) had actually started in 1973, long before the Hersh article. This was the so-called Murphy Commission, named after its chairman, Robert D. Murphy, which had been established to examine how the government was organized for foreign policy. It included foreign intelligence within its scope and came up with a modest set of suggestions related to community leadership. The main thrust of its ideas was to provide firmer direction and oversight to the community, but they promised little if any added authority for the DCI. The Murphy Commission envisaged a “Director of Foreign Intelligence” who would spend most of his time in an office near the president and much less time running CIA (to be called the “Foreign Intelligence Agency”). He was to have strengthened community planning and budgeting staff capabilities and the benefit of a more active NSCIC, but little else other than his presumably closer relationship to the president.
Although most of the impetus for study and change came from outside, there were some internal calls for reform. Albert Hall, DOD’s assistant secretary responsible for intelligence, prepared remarks for PFIAB that reflected the same frustration felt by outsiders and focused on hope for “management” reform. He captured the flavor of dissatisfaction well in charging that “successive reorganizations and restructuring of the intelligence community which have occurred since 1947 [some would call it more a gradual process of accretion characterized by lack of change, but perhaps within DOD it seemed more hectic] have created a complex organization held together by multiple layers of management and review. In both the management and substantive areas of intelligence, operation by boards and committees appear to be the rule rather than the exception. These groups consume thousands of manhours and an inordinate amount of effort in refining, coordinating, and reviewing papers of varying value. All of this complex committee and board structure diffuses authority and responsibility and leads to problems not being faced squarely. Furthermore, it cannot cope with the changes which we are now facing in a timely and decisive manner. Specifically, it is time for a thorough in-house review of the organization of the intelligence community and its management with the view toward streamlining it to face the…future.”
It is hard to know which groups in the 1970s felt most strongly a frustration with complexity and a consequent desire for “streamlining”: DCIs, other senior intelligence officials like Hall, senior customers including the president, members of Congress, or the public. Colby’s staff averred that these impulses tended to lead to recommendations for some version of “autocracy.” The American intelligence enterprise may not have been the “rogue elephant” that Senator Frank Church (D-ID) called CIA in a press conference in June 1975, but a lot of people, inside and outside of government, would have agreed that it was elephant-sized and had outgrown the ability of its putative keepers to control it, or even to comprehend it.
Colby himself instigated internal studies aimed at reform. In part, he wanted to shift the public debate from alleged wrongdoing to changes that would enhance mission accomplishment. Another motive was to not leave the field to outsiders. In particular, in light of ongoing congressional interest and the coming presidential election year, he wanted to avoid a debate politicized by partisanship and calls for legislation that might contain unwelcome provisions.
A group of half a dozen senior CIA officers led by Deputy Comptroller James Taylor, who had worked at OMB and on community-wide issues for several years, wrote the principal internal study done for Colby. Entitled American Intelligence: A Framework for the Future, it focused on problems of DCI community leadership and management and suggested ways to deal with them. They finished their report in September 1975, and in October Colby sent it to the president, members of the NSC, PFIAB, and other senior White House officials concerned with intelligence. Colby acknowledged its “CIA perspective” and did not formally endorse its findings, but he clearly hoped it would inform and influence a White House staff working with OMB on its own version of what President Ford should adopt as his executive action amidst the ongoing congressional probes and public discussion.
Taylor had sought to engage Colby on issues of DCI leadership earlier in 1975. In January and again in May he sent Colby thoughtful memorandums suggesting more study of a range of issues likely to be considered by Congress. He identified basic issues he thought would end up being the focus of congressional reform interest so the DCI could consider what position he might wish to take ahead of their arrival on his desk. The most important was: “What Community-related responsibilities should the DCI have?” In a succinct and penetrating analysis, Taylor observed that the “coordination” function the DCI had had from the beginning basically was “substantive” work, providing the best intelligence possible to the NSC. While that remained an important duty in the 1970s, he noted that Schlesinger’s study had in effect added the notion that the DCI’s coordination function included resource management as well. This change, Taylor argued, was new. “In retrospect, it is probably fair to say that few DCIs had perceived that their coordination responsibilities included any serious concern about Community resource issues.” This new role would have to be accommodated, Taylor declared, and he then described alternative versions of how a DCI might structure his role and authority to fulfill it. This thinking presaged what the group he led would do in the fall of 1975.
Taylor related the new DCI role regarding resources to the old role regarding substance. Schlesinger, he pointed out, saw the logic of having the person charged with overall review of substance and delivery of finished product being responsible also for deciding how best to achieve the collection of information needed to construct that substantive product. In addition, Taylor observed that the president’s emphasis on the new DCI role implicitly meant that he considered the DCI a better locus for that responsibility than himself (a president has too many other duties) or his staff (i.e., OMB, which would otherwise be a logical place for it since it oversees all executive branch programs and could thus be expected to review and coordinate programs from more than one executive branch department or agency).
The CIA study group’s ideas were based on solid knowledge and a generation’s worth of experience, and the report took the long view in trying to shape a direction of change that would be evolutionary rather than a rejection of the past. The 1947 National Security Act, the report argued, was inadequate in the world of the 1970s. It had implicitly made the DCI the head of what would grow into the Intelligence Community, and it had given him modest responsibilities because most thought that the “correlation and evaluation” function aimed at fixing the Pearl Harbor problem was a modest task. By the 1970s, the report declared, a large-scale national intelligence effort had grown up around the mission of discerning the capabilities and intentions of a menacing, secretive adversary, and the development and management of expensive collection mechanisms in particular required a “central, unified management” structure not foreseen in 1947. “…28 years of experience suggest,” the report stated, “that the intelligence provisions of the Act are obsolete and too weak to carry the large and complex system that has evolved over that period.”
The 1971 re-chartering of the DCI’s responsibilities by President Nixon, the report argued, had made explicit the role not spelled out in 1947, charging the DCI with the leadership of the Intelligence Community. In recognizing the scale of the DCI’s responsibilities in the 1970s, however, Nixon had not increased the DCI’s power. The report also noted that Nixon’s 1971 memorandum had not reduced the power or authority of the secretary of defense, who controlled directly so much of the community’s resources. Thus the DCI could not, by himself, rationalize the management structure. He could not even make efficient use of the mechanisms that had developed, and in any case did not have a mechanism that reached across all the collection programs. Yet the DCI had to act, the report pointed out. It also provided one reason why the DCI was assigned responsibility for “tactical” intelligence in 1971. If DOD rationalized national and tactical needs on a departmental basis, “such a system will tend to displace the national one unless it is incorporated within a larger system devoted to all national intelligence purposes including the tactical.”
DCIs through the years, the report argued, had not developed the staffing or patterns of activity conducive to community-wide leadership partly because they had never adopted a strong leadership role within CIA. “The DCI is in effect a feudal lord over four baronies,” the report asserted in describing the situation within CIA, noting that CIA’s sizable S&T activities since the early 1960s had been managed largely at the directorate level. This history went hand in hand with the fact that the office of the DCI had “traditionally been very leanly manned indeed,” and thus was not geared to supporting a leadership role within the community any more than it was to supporting such a role within CIA.
It then described the styles of the DCIs historically, attributing to none of them a strong effort in the community leadership role other than Smith, who established a leading DCI role in producing estimative analysis, and McCone, the only DCI to “do battle with Defense on resource matters,” albeit in the report’s view not very successfully. Taylor’s team described Colby, the DCI to whom their report was tendered, as giving equal attention to CIA and community matters (the latter involving principally the NIO and KIQ initiatives).
Finally, the report offered its prescription for change. It considered the possibility of a unitary agency in charge of foreign intelligence and rejected that option as unworkable. If such an agency were independent of DOD, it would not be acceptable to DOD. If it were within DOD, it would place intelligence in too secondary a position. Thus, the report concluded, CIA and the DOD intelligence agencies would be left where they were in the bureaucracy, and a new kind of DCI should be sought. Here, the report argued that, rather than leaving in place a DCI with line authority over CIA and a staff role with respect to the rest of the community, a new “Director General of Intelligence” should be created with direct authority over funding allocations and without line authority over CIA, which would be renamed the “Foreign Intelligence Agency.”
The new DGI would be the entity to which Congress would appropriate funds, and his authority over the major foreign intelligence programs would be clear, subject only to presidential authority. He would be a member of the NSC, chair the NSCIC, and have a staff adequate to the task of overseeing all the major foreign intelligence programs, particularly NSA and the NRO. The heads of the major intelligence agencies would have line control over their programs, but the resources at their disposal would depend on the DGI’s judgment of how well they addressed the nation’s intelligence needs. No longer would the IRAC or a separate assistant secretary of defense be needed. This complex idea was conveyed in a diagram the report offered to show how a DGI would wield control over the relationships between activities rather than over the activities themselves. In its original form, the diagram depicted an abstract “DGI” in a cloud reaching down with grasping hands. In the more prosaic version forwarded to the White House, the image of a god-like entity is absent.
This recommendation assumed that resource allocation was the key problem to be solved, a viewpoint often expressed throughout the Nixon administration. “The stronger the DCI’s voice in the allocation of funds,” the report declared, “the easier it will be for him to impose rationality on other aspects of his job. ” Also clearly accepted by the Taylor group was an idea that had seized Schlesinger, namely, that heading CIA was a detriment to a DCI who desired to assert a significantly greater community leadership role. That these two ideas had such sway in the mid-1970s showed how far the conception of DCI leadership had shifted from the 1950s. It was the resource management job that required emphasis now, and the DCI no longer required control over CIA and its full range of intelligence activities to play an active leadership role.
The insider reformers were motivated by a fear that the examinations of CIA and foreign intelligence occurring in 1975 would lead to new legislation. Thus, arguing for a major change that would require new legal justification would not incur more change than was going to happen in any event. In the view of the report’s authors, it made sense to seize the initiative in order both to bring about a change that would be of benefit to the executive branch anyway and to preempt undesirable change flowing from congressional action.
Shape of Future Change
Indeed, the issue that faced the Ford administration in the fall of 1975 was how to handle the fallout of the investigations and publicity that had so dominated this “year of intelligence.” In light of several other important political events that pressed the administration in the field of national security (Saigon fell in April, the Mayaguez crisis soon followed, and the drumbeat of doubt about the policy of détente with the USSR was growing louder), its decisions regarding foreign intelligence were actually but a part of a larger set of national security concerns. The president changed his entire national security team in the fall, keeping Henry Kissinger as secretary of state but promoting Brent Scowcroft to be national security adviser, replacing James Schlesinger with Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense (Richard Cheney replaced Rumsfeld as White House chief of staff), and replacing Colby as DCI with George Bush. In Colby’s case, his handling of the revelations about CIA, including sharing the “family jewels” with Congress before giving them to the White House, had led to a loss in presidential confidence. Ford kept Colby on in lame-duck status until the end of January 1976 to allow Bush to depart his diplomatic post in Beijing in an orderly manner, and during that period he gave Colby full rein to exercise his authority as DCI and to contribute to administration thinking on reform.
In September 1975 President Ford established a group headed by his counselor Jack Marsh to coordinate actions regarding intelligence, and in November he directed that a study of the Intelligence Community led by Donald Ogilvie of OMB be completed by 12 December. The need for change was mainly political, but the focus of interest on community leadership and management, including the DCI’s role and authority, dealt with intelligence in a more positive way than simply highlighting corrections of past problems. In the package prepared by his staff for study over the Christmas holiday, the president was told that three broad imperatives were at issue: doing something about the basic intelligence charters “to restore public confidence in the Intelligence Community,” clarifying the relationship between the executive and legislative branches regarding intelligence, and clarifying the relationships within the executive branch. Thus, improving the organization and management of the Intelligence Community appeared prominently as one of five goals (the others were eliminating abuses, improving intelligence product quality, protecting secrets better, and building more effective ties to Congress).
A basic problem, the report noted, was “the ambiguous relationship among intelligence officials and agencies within the executive branch, particularly between the Department of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence.” The report portrayed the 1971 initiative as designating the DCI the intelligence leader but not providing him the tools to be effective, and it asserted that the pressures for change that grew during 1975 had created an opportunity to add improvements to the 1971 effort. The “guideposts” the president was given for thinking about executive branch reforms indicated that he was going to have to solve this problem himself and should focus on realistic, i.e., conservative, changes. Point one, that the “strong and independent head of the Intelligence Community” should not be “so committed to one bureaucracy that he loses his objectivity,” clearly signaled that concern about the DCI’s two hats was an important factor in the thinking of the president’s advisers. Point two, however, stated that the “Community leader should have enough of an institutional ‘base’ so as to maintain his independence,” a formula suggesting a “Goldilocks” solution. The emphasis on “objectivity” and “independence” was unexceptional, but what organizational arrangement best promoted them was not going to be simple to describe.
The report presented a range of four possible organizational solutions. One centralized full line and resource control of all national intelligence activities under a “Director of Intelligence.” The second centralized resource control under a “Director General for Intelligence,” who did not have line control of CIA (or, in an alternative version, had control only of CIA’s analytic production capabilities). The third option, featuring “departmental emphasis,” called for a “Director, Foreign Intelligence” who had neither line nor resource control but who would review programs, set priorities, and produce national intelligence. The fourth simply modified current arrangements by giving a “Director, Central Intelligence” a second deputy to whom he would delegate operational control of CIA and the chairmanship of a resource “executive committee” to review SIGINT programs in a way similar to that used for NRO programs.
Colby reacted to the White House study and its options by offering his own assessment and recommendation. In the end, the president accepted Colby’s views, probably because they were realistic, sensible, and matched the president’s own inclination to seek improvements rather than radical reform. Most important, Colby recognized that the first three options would require legislation and judged that a version of the fourth option, which did not require revising existing laws, would be a reasonable alternative from both the DCI’s point of view and the president’s. Options one and three he rejected outright. The first, he felt, “cannot meet Defense’s legitimate requirements,” and the third “effectively destroys the DCI’s present limited authority.” Options two and four were workable, he stated, but four was preferable because it would not occasion lengthy congressional debate.
His recommendation, therefore, was for a version of option four, which he described as giving “no additional muscle to the DCI” but improving the structure of his relationship with the secretaries of state and defense. Regarding resources, it left matters where they stood, “where the DCI is at best first among equals.” Colby’s modification was to suggest a simplification of the principal committees, including the NSCIC, which was characterized as ineffective. He proposed a new NSC executive committee for intelligence, to be chaired by the DCI and to have the deputy secretaries of state and defense as members, as a general purpose board of directors for intelligence. It would handle resource decisions (subject to appeal to the president), user guidance, and intelligence policy issues. It would replace the NSCIC, the IRAC, the NRO’s Executive Committee, and USIB except for national intelligence production. A new National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB) would replace USIB for the purpose of advising the DCI on substantive matters.
On two other issues, Colby objected to a suggestion that CIA’s research and development activities be given to DOD, and he endorsed the study group’s recommendation that the DCI be relieved of the responsibility he had been given in 1971 for the tactical intelligence budget, which he described as “an unworkable arrangement.” He accepted the idea that the DCI could still be responsible for integrating national and tactical intelligence systems and for avoiding unnecessary duplication between them.
At a White House meeting in January 1976 Colby proposed his option, and the administration basically accepted it as the basis for addressing the issue of community management in a new executive order. Although there were further changes before the order was issued, Colby had strongly influenced the essential argumentation of the main Ford administration decisions on intelligence. Even as a lame duck and after a year of intense public and political pressures (and in the midst of personal grief; Colby attended the funeral of murdered CIA officer Richard Welch four days before the White House meeting), Colby had successfully asserted his own views of DCI leadership.
Colby’s tenure as DCI saw unprecedented turmoil for the office. Abroad, events challenged US policy in many ways: war in the Middle East, revival of communist political strength in Western Europe, increased Soviet strategic missile strength, Soviet foreign policy activities that caused the president to drop the word “détente” from his vocabulary, and final victory for the communists in Vietnam. At home, the nation witnessed the resignation of a president and startling revelations about past intelligence actions. Colby’s activist stance in trying to provide leadership to the community looks remarkable against this backdrop.
There can be little doubt about Colby’s determination to make an impact. His attitude comes through in the way he described his actions in his memoir. “I vigorously used the various organs in which the separate intelligence agencies met” to open up contacts, stimulate cooperation, recommend joint actions, and review results. He described the post-mortems he commissioned as “hard-hitting,” aimed at spurring remedial actions. He seemed unfazed by the “many hours of frantic homework” called for in trying to fulfill “the appealing concept of ‘leadership’ of the sprawling intelligence community.” In homilitic fashion he preached that for senior officials in Washington “for every hour he spends on dramatic policy-making he must spend at least ten on the business of making the bureaucracy function and moving it in the direction he believes important.” This belief that a multitude of individual bureaucratic actions, tied to a set of clearly expressed and communicated objectives, constituted useful leadership seemed to animate his approach to his job and to lead him to be hopeful that progress was being achieved in pulling the community together.
At the same time, Colby balanced his upbeat recounting of positive efforts with a Helms-like recognition of their limitations, describing himself as turning “to the ‘art of the possible’ in dealing with the intelligence community.” Near the end of his tenure, in remarks prepared for congressional testimony, Colby readily acknowledged learning a “few hard truths” about the limitations on his power. While asserting that the DCI “can have a major impact on national intelligence management,” he called the DCI the community’s “leader, its spokesman, its primary coordinator, but not its manager.” At the same time, in reviewing his impressions of how DCIs through the years had viewed their role, he singled himself out as the most concerned with his community role: “My tour has been devoted largely to serving as spokesman for the Intelligence Community and strengthening the Community aspect of the US intelligence effort. I have paid less attention to details of Agency operation than most of my predecessors.”
Most of Colby’s energy on community initiatives necessarily was expended in the first half of his tenure, and his impact on Ford’s executive order could scarcely be called visionary. Other than the creation of the NIOs, who persist to this writing in 2005, his legacy of reform was modest. He had, however, advanced a semblance of DCI leadership of the Intelligence Community during a period when his office and his home institution were severely tested. And, his assistance to a beleaguered White House in finding passage through a swamp of conflicting advice represented a commendable service to the president, and to his successor, who was able to begin his year as DCI with a new executive order suitable for continued efforts at leading the community.