Eleventh DCI, George Herbert Walker Bush
George Bush: Calm Between Storms
It is perhaps the toughest job in government right now.
George Bush was not only a different DCI; he was a different kind of DCI. No American political leader had ever held the position. Like the country’s top military officer, the head of US intelligence was generally regarded as separate from partisan politics. George Bush had served two terms in Congress as the representative of Texas’s seventh congressional district, had run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1964 and 1970, and had chaired the Republican National Committee during 1973–1974. He had almost been picked by President Ford as vice president in 1974, and the near-miss (Ford, who named Nelson Rockefeller, told Bush the decision had been a close call) had been “an enormous personal disappointment” to Bush. In late 1975, serving as the head of the US Liaison Office in Beijing, China, he was still considered a potential future candidate for national-level office.
Ford’s appointment of Bush to become DCI in November 1975 was part of the so-called “Halloween massacre,” in which several officials holding top national security jobs were shifted. It is plausible that a major purpose of Bush’s appointment was to remove him from consideration as the Republican Party nominee for the vice presidency in 1976. Bush was asked to commit to the job immediately and was not told that Rockefeller would be withdrawing from consideration as a vice-presidential nominee in 1976. Bush also was not told of the other officials being moved around, learning that news in Beijing from Voice of America. Bush saw the appointment as the end of his political career. After all, the DCI position, like the other executive branch positions he had held in the 1970s (he had been US ambassador to the United Nations in addition to the China posting), was appointive and moved him to a job where he would have to forswear politics for the time being. As part of his confirmation, the administration promised that he would not be a candidate for vice president in 1976.
The investigations of intelligence probably also figured in the reasoning that led the president to choose Bush as DCI. Intelligence professionals were reeling under public pressures, and the White House wanted to turn over a new page. George Bush was to be part of the solution, not part of the problem as the administration had come to view Colby. With congressional inquiries coming to a head, and the likelihood of future congressional oversight and even legislation, intelligence faced new challenges with significant political dimensions. Having as DCI a politically skilled leader who had served in Congress fit the unprecedented circumstances of the moment.
The president’s request that he serve as DCI came as a surprise to Bush. In responding, Bush shared at least a portion of his candid reaction with Ford and Kissinger: “I do not have politics out of my system entirely, and I see this as the total end of any political future.” He said he wished that he had had more time to consult and think about his answer. At the same time, he told them he saw service to country and president as a matter of duty, a value inculcated in him by his father, and replied with “a firm ‘YES’” and “an enthusiastic ‘I Accept.’” He thanked the president for the honor and told him: “I will work my heart out.” He attached three “conditions” to his acceptance: that he be permitted to pick his top deputies, that he have “free and direct access to the president,” and that he and the president share the objective of “a strong, well financed intelligence capability.”
Bush delayed coming home so that he could help host the president’s visit to China in early December. Once back in the United States, however, he acquainted himself with the key issues he would face in his job. He took advantage of help from key White House staffers who shared with him the materials being finalized for presidential decisions about intelligence, thus getting in front of coming change.
He also had the help of Colby and his senior assistants who had been involved in the consideration of the changes. In briefings scheduled for the DCI-designate at CIA, Bush was exposed to CIA’s views about his duties. IC Staff chief Wilson informed him about the activities the staff supported, including 30–45 minutes with each of the USIB committee chairmen. Reflecting the recent trend toward a less CIA-dominated community staff, it stated that past DCIs had “increasingly made a distinction between Agency and Community affairs.” In fact, Colby had planned to move the IC Staff downtown (he had in mind the East Building on the old CIA campus at 2430 E Street NW). The IC Staff prepared for Bush to use with the president talking points describing the changes in the executive order under consideration as “the longest step forward in Community management since the Act of 1947,” representing “real change, not cosmetic.”
George Bush welcomed any and all help in preparing for the job. He took the initiative to establish a clear and mutually agreed basis for his working relationship with the president, sending him on 3 January 1976 a letter containing 12 recommendations regarding what the president might put in an initial letter of instruction similar to the one he had sent to Colby (and like others sent earlier by presidents beginning with John F. Kennedy). The points were unexceptionable on issues such as direct access, but he did request cabinet rank. As Bush notes in his memoir, this was the one suggestion Ford rejected, and he records that, upon reflection, he agreed with Ford (when Bush became president, he did not give his DCIs cabinet status).
Four of his suggestions dealt specifically with the DCI’s community role. First, he recommended that the president announce that he planned to appoint a second deputy for the DCI who would “concern himself primarily with coordination of the Intelligence Community.” Second, he wanted the president to direct the DCI “to renew his efforts in the resource field for the entire community.” He asked for no new authority but made clear he was ready to review intelligence programs community-wide as envisaged by President Nixon in 1971. Third, he echoed the views of his predecessor and requested that the DCI “not have as a priority the tactical intelligence field.” Finally, again following Colby’s lead, he asked that the DCI be told to house his IC Staff “in a location separate from CIA Headquarters in Langley.” At the same time, he indicated he did not want to move his community staff and downtown office to the executive office building (EOB) nearest the White House. He argued that it would look too political, and that “my own political past argues for a location other than in EOB.”
Well prepared and eager to do a good job in a position that was both important and something of an unusual challenge, George Bush entered on duty as DCI at the end of January 1976. One of his first tasks was to assert his rightful place among the chief national security officials. Although a recent arrival in Washington lacking cabinet rank, Bush felt confident he had solid White House support, and he was determined to play a significant role as DCI.
Senior CIA officer Richard Lehman gave Bush memorandums in his first days in office to prepare him for the bureaucratic battles he faced. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had asserted that 80 percent of the intelligence budget was really battlefield support and was not inclined to allow the DCI too powerful a role in determining DOD intelligence resource allocations. Lehman explained to him that one could argue with equal persuasion that at least 80 percent of the intelligence resources in the program for which the DCI was responsible supported national needs rather than those of field commanders. The broader point he made to Bush was that, if what DOD wanted to argue about was “tactical” intelligence programs, the DCI could afford to negotiate over his exact program and budget role. If, however, DOD wanted to argue that it should not reduce its voice (relative to the DCI’s) on national reconnaissance programs, then that was a more serious matter in which the DCI should “stand firm.”
Of particular importance was the main new mechanism at the White House level—to be called in the new executive order the Committee on Foreign Intelligence (CFI)—that was to decide major intelligence resource issues. The DCI was to chair it, and the deputy secretary of defense and the deputy national security adviser were to be on it. It replaced the ineffective NSCIC and promised to bring more vitality to the DCI’s community leadership, as Nixon had ordered in 1971. The DCI, not the national security adviser or the director of OMB, was now to preside over the topmost intelligence program decision body below the president himself and the full NSC, potentially an important shift of power. Lehman urged Bush to support the new executive order and this new committee: “The greatest strength of the proposal is that, through the device of what might be called collective management, it gives the DCI for the first time clear lines of authority commensurate with his responsibilities.” Bush was warned, however, that DOD would not readily agree: “For him [the DCI] to have more say over Defense-managed programs, however, means that DOD will have less.”
Another issue was whether to include the secretaries of state and the treasury as members of the new CFI. DOD opposed this proposal, and Bush was advised to agree with DOD on this point (in part to concentrate on disagreeing with DOD about the larger issue of the DCI’s leadership of the national intelligence program). After all, neither the State Department nor the Treasury Department had intelligence resources at issue comparable in size with the DCI’s or the defense secretary’s. They did, however, have legitimate interests as definers of intelligence requirements and consumers of intelligence products. These interests, Bush’s CIA advisers reasoned, could be accommodated by active State and Treasury involvement on an ad hoc basis in other activities, including the CFI’s definition of requirements.
Bush was also alerted to the “national/tactical issue.” It was well and good for the DCI to declare his intention not to try to run tactical intelligence, but the ineluctable merging of these two dimensions of intelligence now obliged him to deal with it in some way. “Even if he had not been given this budgetary responsibility,” Lehman argued, “the DCI would increasingly be forced to involve himself deeply in tactical questions, because these questions have become thoroughly entangled with national ones.” If DOD increasingly integrated new generations of intelligence capabilities into systems geared only to military purposes, “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.” In the margin, Richard Lehman wrote for Bush’s benefit: “This is what [the CFI] must do.”
New Executive Order
By the end of 1975, the stage was set to decide on correctives for US intelligence. The Murphy and Rockefeller commissions had finished their work months before, and the special congressional committees were preparing to wind up their investigations. The scope of problems uncovered and the political atmosphere at the time led many to believe that a rechartering of intelligence was in order. Previously, NSC directives resting on the authorities defined for the DCI in the 1947 National Security Act (both of them revised and amended from time to time) had collectively constituted the DCI’s charter. Both to satisfy this need and to forestall potentially bad legislative solutions, the Ford administration decided to issue a new executive order defining a modestly reformed US Intelligence Community.
President Ford was familiar with intelligence from his service in the House of Representatives, and he took personal interest in it as president. Upon succeeding Nixon in August 1974, Ford asked that the CIA’s personal, face-to-face morning intelligence briefings he had been receiving as vice president be continued, thus marginally reducing his dependence on national security adviser Henry Kissinger, who had acted in the Nixon White House as virtually an in-house DCI. Also, by choosing Bush to be DCI and carrying through on his promise of direct access once Bush was aboard, Ford enhanced the DCI’s position and role. In a meeting in early March 1976 Bush told Ford he was enjoying his job and that their meetings were “very, very important to the entire Intelligence Community.”
Ford and Bush both wanted the nation’s intelligence capabilities strengthened as well as safeguarded against future abuses. This approach marked Executive Order 11905, United States Foreign Intelligence Activities, issued by the White House on 18 February 1976. As has been noted, it followed the lines of change discussed at length with Colby, and Bush’s agreement with its provisions, which modestly bolstered the DCI’s community role, allowed its issuance to proceed smoothly.
Under the new executive order, the full NSC was to conduct a semi-annual review of intelligence, but the important new element was the new Committee for Foreign Intelligence (CFI). This body, which supplanted the NSCIC and the DCI-DOD executive committee that managed national reconnaissance matters, was supposed to “control budget preparation and resource allocation for the National Foreign Intelligence Program [NFIP]” using a program and budget developed and submitted by the DCI. Its membership was spare: the DCI, the deputy secretary of defense, and the deputy national security adviser. By involving a part of the president’s staff in addition to OMB, an extra level of supervision was afforded what were inevitably largely DCI-DOD discussions about the largest budgets in the intelligence field. Significantly, the DCI was named to chair the CFI, and the IC Staff was to provide its staff support.
The order established the DCI as the head of CIA and of the IC Staff and enumerated his duties. Notably, with new congressional oversight committees clearly on the horizon, he was now designated “the principal spokesman to the Congress for the Intelligence Community.” Assigning the DCI this responsibility gave him a significant new role in an era in which Congress would be asking many more detailed questions about how intelligence was managed. Also underscoring the importance of the DCI’s expected community role was the enshrining in the order of the position of deputy to the DCI for the Intelligence Community, a post that many expected would soon require Senate confirmation. The order also directed the DCI to delegate the day-to-day operation of the CIA to the DDCI, thus freeing the DCI to give more attention to community-wide matters.
In an important change for the members of the Intelligence Community, Executive Order 11905 abolished the United States Intelligence Board (USIB). President Eisenhower had established this body in 1958, and previously the NSC had chartered it and its predecessors. Now, the president simply said the DCI could form whatever board he felt he needed for advice on community matters ranging from estimates to resource or policy issues. DCI Bush, in turn, established on his own authority a National Foreign Intelligence Board (NFIB) to replace USIB in its roles regarding intelligence policy and estimative intelligence (resources were now being treated by the CFI). Arguably, this entailed a loss of status for the members of USIB, who now owed their positions on the board to the DCI, not to the higher authority of the NSC. The order established the membership of the Intelligence Community as: CIA, NSA, DIA, special DOD reconnaissance offices, and the intelligence elements of the military services, the FBI, the Departments of State and the Treasury, and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA).
Similarly, the USIB committees for SIGINT, etc., were now designated “DCI” committees, again a status conferred by the DCI rather than the NSC. And, since the closest thing to USIB’s replacement, the NFIB, dealt mainly with substance, some of the committees were moved to the IC Staff, becoming more a part of the DCI’s staff structure than of a collective community management structure. Probably to assuage concerns that this step diminished their status or utility, the argument was put forward that their new designation and placement made them more flexible instruments of DCI authority, for example, to help him chair CFI deliberations. They continued to serve as the DCI’s mechanism for providing guidance to the costly collection apparatuses of the community.
Other elements of Executive Order 11905 dealt with matters such as the NSC Operational Advisory Group (which handled covert action) and the establishment of a new executive branch Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), which was to be on the watch for new Intelligence Community abuses. The emphasis, however, was on what was described as the “new command structure” for foreign intelligence, characterized in a White House press release as “the first major reorganization of the Intelligence Community since 1947.”
Implementing the New Executive Order
George Bush could not have asked for a better start to his tenure. Although difficult issues abounded, the kind of presidential interest and support that DCIs always wish for had been at least formally declared with the issuance of the new executive order. The NSC staff asked Bush for biweekly reports showing the progress on implementing the order, and all staffers supporting the DCI worked hard to make the various bits and pieces of change work. Bush himself found the work associated with adjusting old mechanisms to fit new definitions challenging. In May 1976, Bush wrote to a close friend, “I’ve never worked so hard in all my life, and after three months here I conclude this is the most interesting job I’ve ever had.”
Bush urged the Intelligence Community to move at once to implement the new executive order, commenting that the “retooling of our intelligence machinery” had given a “great deal of responsibility to the DCI and the new CFI.” He wanted to undertake his responsibilities smoothly, building teamwork and minimizing potentially negative reactions. To his staffers at CIA, he noted that DOD had expressed some concern at the augmented DCI authority in areas involving the military, and he cautioned them that the change wrought by Executive Order 11905 “should not be regarded as a victory gained at DOD’s expense.”
Bush invited the members of USIB to comment on the new executive order and its implications for the community. In response, Maj. Gen. George Keegan, the Air Force intelligence chief, suggested that a new board be formed to produce better national intelligence estimates by keeping them out of the maelstrom of policy. For its part, ERDA worried that, although it had not been as active as others in USIB meetings, the abolition of USIB conceivably could leave it without normal channels of communication with the rest of the community. Lt. Gen. Lew Allen, the director of NSA, argued that his agency should be considered full “producers” of intelligence even though NSA did not produce all-source finished intelligence products. He said that he had made “a serious mistake” in October 1973 in believing that simply getting NSA’s SIGINT product to all-source producers fulfilled his production responsibilities. “I resolved that in the future I would ensure that a separate view be presented when the judgment of SIGINT analysts differs from the common view,” he wrote to the DCI. He also urged that new emphasis be placed on adopting a “target-oriented approach” to requirements, which he said NSA needed to guide its work.
The inclusive style with which Bush handled this episode is worth noting. He had started the exchange by inviting comments immediately after the president had promulgated the new order. He answered individually the various comments he received, and he indicated interest in considering views from all as he moved forward to adjust CIA and the community to the new presidential guidance. His participative, team-oriented approach, with open communication lines and an implicit expectation that the DCI would continue to lead a vital enterprise despite the turmoil that had dominated 1975, took good advantage of his position as a fresh face at the top of US intelligence.
Bush took a similar approach in implementing the new executive order’s establishment of the watchdog IOB. The order called for the inspectors general and general counsels within the community to bring to the IOB’s attention issues involving the legality and propriety of intelligence activities and operations. Bush directed CIA’s inspector general and general counsel to contact counterparts at the major intelligence agencies to ensure compliance with the basic reporting needs of the new IOB. Not surprisingly, the separate community member organizations felt differently about how this should be done. The State Department inspector general argued that his reporting, by statute, was exclusively for the secretary of state. Others felt that they should report to the IOB via the heads of their department rather than coordinate among themselves. Bush indicated to the community that he cared about this provision of the executive order and that community members should comply with it, but he did not allow the issue to become divisive. He apparently saw no DCI equity furthered by pressing for a goal that promised more problems than solutions.
Emphasis on Community Role
Bush, while attentive to CIA’s damaged morale and need for leadership, gave prominence to his community leadership role. He moved early to have VAdm. Daniel Murphy, USN, appointed to be deputy to the DCI for the Intelligence Community and to demonstrate firm support for Murphy’s role. (Murphy was a friend and rival of another admiral, Stansfield Turner.) Bush obtained for him a fourth star, thus elevating his position over those of the heads of NSA and DIA, traditionally three-star billets. This was unprecedented; Murphy’s military predecessors as head of the IC Staff had all served as three-star officers. Bush also informed OMB that he wanted to upgrade other positions associated with the IC Staff. He justified this step as recognizing their expanded responsibilities in light of the new executive order and the recent commission reports. The order, he asserted, “discusses more managerial control and supervision within the Community and the several agencies.”
Bush also made it known that he considered his community deputy to be his primary deputy. He asked, for example, that Adm. Murphy serve as vice chairman of the new NFIB, with the DDCI representing CIA. Bush made it clear in his dealings with the newly created Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) that he wanted a community deputy provision to be enacted as soon as possible, even ahead of action on other revisions of the 1947 and 1949 laws on issues such as protecting sources and methods. Such action would make the community deputy, like the DDCI, a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed official. Like all DCIs, Bush was subject to White House judgments on the political advisability of such steps, and, after the presidential election in November 1976, the White House chose not to submit this legislative proposal to Congress.
Richard Lehman, deputy to the DCI for national intelligence, advised Bush of “a serious problem” with the idea of elevating the community deputy over the DDCI. The 1947 act establishing CIA had placed the main responsibilities exercised by the DCI “on the CIA,” thus not giving Bush the room to move any authorities to a non-CIA deputy until the law was changed. Lehman indicated that he was working with Mitchell Rogovin, an attorney who had helped DCI Colby in 1975, to see if a way around the problem could be found and that he had discussed the issue with Adm. Murphy.
CIA officers like Lehman were unsure what Bush’s emphasis on broad DCI responsibilities and community-wide actions meant for the agency. During Bush’s initial months as DCI, both of his top deputies were military officers, and CIA seniors felt some concern whether agency interests were adequately represented in community meetings. In mid-1976, Bush elevated career CIA officer E. Henry (Hank) Knoche to replace Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters as DDCI. Knoche was readily confirmed, and the division of labor between himself and Adm. Murphy occasioned no significant difficulties. Knoche took seriously the role assigned to him by the executive order as CIA’s day-to-day boss and tried to fit the agency’s management actions, where appropriate, into Bush’s community-wide policies. In the fall of 1976, for example, he sent Bush a lengthy memorandum showing how CIA was acting internally to further the DCI’s community-wide goals and objectives statement for fiscal year 1977.
Knoche’s appointment may have eased the minds of CIA career officers, but some remained worried that Bush might not fully share their perception of CIA as a unique institution that should be tied more closely to the DCI than any other element of the Intelligence Community. A particular concern for some senior CIA officers in the mid-1970s was the questioning by outside observers of CIA’s role in fostering and managing S&T and SIGINT projects. Colby, as he left office, had been fighting a rearguard action not to have these activities taken away from CIA and consolidated within DOD and NSA, respectively. James Taylor, appointed CIA’s comptroller on the same day Knoche became DDCI, told Knoche that CIA’s role in the community had emerged as the “most basic problem” with which senior CIA executives had to deal. He pointed out that DDI Sayre Stevens, an officer with a strong S&T background, “had noted that recent changes had challenged many of our prior understandings of CIA as the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Intelligence Community Staff
Bush strengthened the IC Staff and separated it more from CIA since it was to be the engine providing him and Adm. Murphy with the practical support for carrying out community-wide responsibilities, including the authority to manage resources via the CFI. Knoche wrote a working paper in April 1976 stating that the IC Staff “must be reorganized and revitalized” to meet three DCI community responsibilities: staffing CFI, supporting other community responsibilities of the DCI under Executive Order 11905, and supporting the “follow-on to USIB.” Knoche identified five areas “in need of special attention”: monitoring community implementation of policies set from outside (e.g., by the president or Congress), devising better long-term planning linked with resource implications, improving assessment of NFIP programs, improving the ability to make informed trade-offs among major collection programs, and setting up a stand-alone staff capacity away from CIA’s campus.
Bush carried through with the planning under way to move the IC Staff downtown and sought to accomplish that goal during his tenure. For CIA, this step symbolized the ending of its “ownership” of all elements of the DCI’s staff—a “central” role it had always believed naturally fell to itself. When a CIA staff officer suggested to Knoche that augmented CIA headquarters staff could provide adequate support from Langley for the new IC Staff location downtown, Knoche replied sharply that he showed: “little or no understanding of the agreed intent to separate the ICS from the Agency and to make a clear distinction between the DCI’s two hats. To construe this as somehow cosmetic is to misunderstand the intent fundamentally.” For others, it meant the DCI was willing to act more independently of CIA’s influence. For Congress, it provided reassurance that the DCI intended to fulfill his broader community responsibilities. Bush did not quite achieve the goal of the move on his watch, but it took place soon after his departure.
Bush also sought more positions and dollars to build up the IC Staff. In July 1976, he wrote to the director of OMB that he had completed a new staffing structure totaling 196 positions and that he wanted to create 18 new supergrade positions in addition to 17 CIA supergrade positions he was already using for the staff. He wanted this structure so he could avoid depending on contributing community member organizations for positions, pay, etc. Bush also took a personal hand in selecting senior officers. In May 1976 he tapped CIA’s John McMahon (a future DDCI) to be Adm. Murphy’s deputy and recruited other well regarded officers from both CIA and other organizations for senior positions. For example, Fritz Ermarth, an analyst on Soviet affairs brought to CIA in 1973 by Schlesinger, was assigned to the IC Staff to improve evaluation, and CIA analyst Richard Kerr (another future DDCI already in a senior community post guiding national imagery collection) was assigned as the staff’s executive officer.
The tasks of the staff mixed new and old. Trying to mesh the DCI’s role with the secretary of defense’s in managing intelligence programs was familiar enough, but the CFI support role was new and took up more of Adm. Murphy’s time than any other function. William Kvetkas, a former comptroller from NSA who served as Murphy’s chief budget officer, wrestled long and hard to form the first consolidated NFIP. Near the end of Bush’s tenure, a staff summary showed that the CFI had met 19 times and resolved 33 issues in making it possible for the DCI to forward the NFIP to the president in November 1976. “This was the first instance ever of a unified Intelligence Community response,” the summary noted proudly. At the same time, it recorded that “the DCI is not entirely satisfied” with the CFI’s development, because “differing interpretations” of Executive Order 11905 “have raised questions regarding the extent of DCI and CFI authority.”
Indeed, an entire section near the end of the summary entitled “The Adequacy of DCI Authority” noted that the DCI’s role came mostly at the “review” end of the program and budget cycle, with only “figurative” authority existing at the “allocation, application and central control” stages of resource management. “This poses problems to the DCI’s leadership role,” it frankly stated. On the optimistic side of the ledger, the paper judged Executive Order 11905 to be a step in the right direction because in creating the CFI it at least had provided a forum for the DCI and DOD to resolve issues.
Murphy wanted to enhance the planning function and proposed a community “planning system” encompassing short-term, mid-term, and long-term planning perspectives. He brought in an Army major general to work in this area. The main staff products used to guide community members, however, were the same ones used during Colby’s tenure. A “DCI Goals and Objectives” document aimed at the current fiscal year’s activities, and the last set of KIQs was issued during Bush’s year in office. A “DCI Perspectives” document like Colby’s, along with a priorities attachment to DCID 1/2, constituted the main mid-term planning products. For the long term (beyond five years), no specific product emerged in Bush’s time in office although thought was given to how this might be done. Another idea proposed within the IC Staff was to create a “United States Intelligence Strategy.” This initiative did not come about until the fall and did not result in a new product before Bush left office, but it did reflect the sense of comprehensiveness with which Bush, Murphy, and the staff conceived of their responsibilities. They continued to use the CIRIS database to amalgamate program information across the community.
The IC Staff also supported the newly established NFIB. Although the NIOs provided the substantive work that drove its consideration of estimates, the DCI committees and other IC Staff elements staffed the policy and resource dimensions. Bush issued twelve principles to guide NFIB’s work. Most dealt with substance (e.g., “total objectivity is the hallmark of all intelligence reports and estimates”), but they also addressed the national/tactical interface problem and how the community as a whole must behave. “The concept of an Intelligence Community must be strengthened,” one precept declared, and we will be judged “on Community accomplishments and on the effectiveness of our interaction in Community problems as well as on our substantive end products.” Another exhorted members to be “action oriented and responsive…. decisions must be reached and results must be demonstrated.”
Committee on Foreign Intelligence
A critical arena for community leadership was the new CFI, which started out in need of some basic defining. What programs should constitute the NFIP? At first, the FBI argued that its foreign intelligence collection activities were simply supportive and therefore “no amount” of the FBI’s budget should be included. How should State or Treasury departmental equities be handled in a forum purposely kept spare by presidential decision? Secretary of State Kissinger had not fought for membership on the committee, acquiescing in the president’s decision to keep the membership limited but requesting—and receiving—reassurance from Bush that State’s interests would be protected.
Bush viewed the CFI as a kind of top-level collective leadership for intelligence. It was just below the level of the president and the NSC, and it could bring a policy-level focus to intelligence problems. When PFIAB asked him who was the “strategist” for the full range of national intelligence, Bush replied that it was the CFI. The CFI was meant to be preeminently a forum for making decisions about important DOD and DCI equities. Bush and Robert Ellsworth, a newly appointed second deputy secretary of defense charged with handling intelligence matters, worked out an initial truce of mutual non-interference. The DCI agreed that CFI’s work should not disrupt DOD’s program and budget process, already well along in preparing the fiscal year 1978 program for DOD. For its part, DOD agreed that it would not impose new management on the NRO as it reformed internal DOD management arrangements.
The biggest intelligence programs at issue, of course, were those involving expensive national reconnaissance activities. Ellsworth sent a memorandum to the other two members of the new CFI (Bush and deputy national security adviser William Hyland) in early March 1976 proposing an updated statement of management policy for the National Reconnaissance Program (NRP) consistent with the new executive order. It amounted to a re-chartering of the program, replacing the agreement reached by his and Bush’s predecessors in 1965, and Ellsworth indicated he intended to raise it at a CFI meeting. The IC Staff (in the person of acting head Hank Knoche, who had not yet been named DDCI) advised Bush that the proposed charter contained many undesirable changes and that he should deflect the initiative, at least until new CFI procedures for approving the consolidated intelligence budget were worked out. A CFI task group drafted a new charter for the NRO acceptable to the DCI.
Revision of the NRO charter greatly concerned the members of PFIAB as well. Their major worry was that DOD mechanisms not replace or encumber the basic DCI-DOD management arrangement as DOD went about reforming its intelligence program management in 1976. They talked with both Bush and Ellsworth about this matter. But the DCI’s position also concerned some PFIAB members, who wanted to ensure that he understood the importance of defending the NRO’s continued ability to meet the needs of national-level policy customers while fulfilling the tactical intelligence requirements of appropriate DOD customers. One PFIAB minute states that, after an informal chat between Bush and two PFIAB members (Ellsworth pointedly not being invited), “Mr. Bush said that he now understood the Board’s apprehensions, indicated his own concern, and promised to take a fresh look at the draft charter.”
Throughout 1976, Bush and Ellsworth (and their staff chiefs) continued their dialogue, debating just how the CFI and its IC Staff support should operate. In April, Ellsworth argued that the CFI should perform its functions “at a senior oversight level” for the “aggregate” NFIP and “should not attempt to inject itself into the internal fiscal planning of the departments” or “usurp decision authorities of the heads of executive departments.” He viewed the programs in DOD as the secretary of defense’s business, and although the IC Staff was welcome to “attend” DOD internal program reviews and share resource planning data with them, it was not appropriate for it to exercise control or make decisions in the course of the normal management cycle. Access to program managers “throughout the year” would “unnecessarily overburden” them, he argued, indicating that the IC Staff should usually deal with the main OSD staff overseeing DOD intelligence programs.
The new executive order said that the CFI was supposed to “control budget preparation and resource allocation” for the NFIP and that the secretary of defense was supposed to “direct, fund, and operate” intelligence agencies such as NSA. Both principals, therefore, stood on solid ground in debating the CFI’s role. In effect, Ellsworth was saying, “I’ll prepare the DOD-supplied parts of the porridge and then we’ll work together to assemble the final dish,” and Bush was saying, “Let’s prepare the DOD parts together, then our joint final preparation task will be easier.”
Ellsworth and Bush exchanged letters in September 1976 that again explored their differing viewpoints regarding how the CFI and the IC Staff should function. Ellsworth referred back to his April letter and complained that Adm. Murphy had formally tasked DOD program managers to perform studies of intelligence programs. To Ellsworth, such tasking should come through OSD since the assistant secretary of defense (intelligence) oversaw all DOD intelligence programs in the NFIP. He objected to IC Staff chairmanship of budget review hearings and stated that the CFI had promised not to interfere with existing DOD budget processes. He also expressed concern about continued unresolved differences late in the budget cycle and suggested that CFI’s problems in creating a consolidated NFIP could lead Congress to create “a single unclassified appropriation account,” something “obviously…not in the best interests of the nation or the administration.”
For his part, Bush firmly backed Murphy’s position, arguing that the new CFI procedures, while respectful of DOD processes, had always envisaged “a departure from past practices” and that adopting Ellsworth’s viewpoint would relegate the CFI “to a ‘post-facto’ review mechanism.” As for the reviews, he declared he had already proposed co-chairmanship between his and DOD’s staffs and thought that remained “a perfectly reasonable solution.” He urged Ellsworth to support the CFI review process.
Bush was quite active in dealing with the topmost levels of the Pentagon in order to fulfill the executive order’s demand that he prepare an overall consolidated national intelligence budget. His calendar for 1976 shows a fairly regular pattern of meetings in several different forums with senior DOD officials—including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements—in addition to many CFI meetings. When all else failed, the CFI supported presidential decisions. In a wrap-up done for a member of President-elect Carter’s transition team at the end of 1976, Adm. Murphy noted that “when OMB disagreed with certain recommendations of the CFI, the CFI met with the President with favorable resolution.”
For whatever success Bush had in defending the programs of the community’s agencies, however, the heads of those agencies had to live with limitations on their participation in NFIP budget decisions. A future community budget chief noted a few years later that the CFI “was a relatively closed forum and the program managers did not play as extensive a role in that process as they do in the current one.”
For all their differences, Bush and Ellsworth fought their bureaucratic battle by Marquis of Queensbury rules, and they shared the view that Executive Order 11905 had not fully resolved issues concerning their competing authorities and responsibilities. A paper that Ellsworth gave PFIAB in October 1976 summarized what it called the “two currents of reality which have emerged regarding how the CFI and the Secretary of Defense will be required to function.” One was the need for “a steady strengthening of national authority” over intelligence, driven largely by the cost and complexity of technical intelligence systems and the needs of Washington policymakers. The other was the need to achieve “full fusion” of intelligence capabilities and military operations at all levels. Each leader recognized that the other had serious and important responsibilities underlying his position, and the mutual respect for that fundamental fact muted the impact of the practical difficulties in their dialogue.
Other Leadership Challenges
Bush’s stewardship of CIA was a component of his community leadership. The agency, after all, encompassed major US intelligence capabilities in need of repair and support when he took over as DCI. His warm and sincere cheerleading support for CIA’s professionals helped them accept his leadership of the agency (he replaced 12 of the 16 top officers at CIA during his tenure without creating rancor or dissension) and his simultaneous emphasis on community affairs. Bush’s positive and confident approach also helped quell nervousness by others over the damage publicity was causing US intelligence, in particular CIA. He told the members of PFIAB, for example, that he thought the public mood about intelligence improved during 1976 and that even CIA’s critics recognized the need for a strong intelligence capability.
Bush also led the way in establishing precedents for how a DCI should deal with the new level of congressional oversight (the Senate created its oversight committee while Bush was DCI and the House was debating the issue of setting up its parallel committee, which it created in 1977). He was uniquely qualified for this task, of course, and his community initiatives swam with the tide of congressional pressure, which wanted him to assert leadership over the entire Intelligence Community. Bush dealt collegially with George Mahon (D-TX), the powerful chairman of the House appropriations committee although Mahon’s control of House intelligence oversight actions had been trimmed by congressional committee reforms. Bush faced detailed questioning from Mahon, having to defend the ICS’s administrative links to CIA and his use of CIA’s general and legislative counsels for advice on community matters. He also had to explain that Adm. Murphy’s attendance at CIA’s morning staff was not a mechanism feeding CIA bias into community issues.
Bush also faced a leadership challenge in handling the so-called “Team B” episode. In 1975, Colby had deflected PFIAB pressure to sanction an outside competitive analysis exercise challenging NIE judgments on several Soviet military weapons issues, asking that the board review the next regular NIEs covering them. Some PFIAB members, believing that the NIEs underestimated threats posed by Soviet military programs and capabilities, declared themselves still dissatisfied in 1976 and renewed their request with Bush. Bush acceded to their wishes, granting the outsiders access to classified data, and three parallel competitions were set up pitting the government intelligence analysts who produced the NIEs (Team A) against panels of non-government experts (Team B). The results of one Team B panel, depicting Soviet strategic objectives and programs as extremely threatening to US national security, leaked to the press. Bush reacted angrily, objecting vigorously to his loss of control over the analytic exercise. Like Colby, he had tried to find the right course of action in the midst of political pressures and had been unable to avoid having intelligence dragged into the unwelcome and unfriendly spotlight of political controversy.
Sense of Accomplishment
At the three-month point in his tenure, Bush reported to President Ford that he was making good progress in implementing the executive order. He highlighted CFI’s activities in aligning NSCIDs with the order and reviewing intelligence programs and mentioned establishing NFIB, reorganizing the IC Staff, and drafting legislation for his community deputy. The following month he wrote to W. Averill Harriman, “I am totally dedicated to the concept that we must have a strong intelligence community – second to none in the world.” In reporting to Ford again at the six-month point, he asserted: “We have implemented the Order,” and stressed his appearances before congressional committees. He was getting “first-class support” at CIA and from the rest of the community, he reported, and “the two deputy system is working well.” He declared that his relationships with Scowcroft at the NSC, Kissinger at State, and seniors at CIA were improving steadily, the latter having absorbed his changes “with a minimum of personal and institutional heartburn.” He balanced mention of areas of manageable concern (too much disclosure, press relations, and congressional demands) with a final cautiously upbeat note: “Things are moving in the right direction.”
On the last full day of the administration, Bush presented Ford with a formal report summarizing his tenure as DCI. Essentially written for the files, it conveyed a sense of accomplishment: “This is the first comprehensive report on the Intelligence Community presented to the President and the Congress by the Director of Central Intelligence.” Indeed, it was intended to be the first in a series of annual reports, suggested by the IC Staff and embraced by a DCI proud of the steps he had taken. Bush explained that the DCI committees “have taken on a true Intelligence Community flavor by becoming directly responsible to me and the Community staff” and met routinely with the DCI’s community deputy. He noted initiatives he had undertaken to improve national intelligence products, and he claimed value for the Team B exercise despite the press leaks but stated he did not want to institutionalize the experiment. He highlighted the CFI’s “entirely new way of developing a Community budget,” the fact that the IC staff had been “significantly strengthened,” and the reorganization of lines of control over DOD intelligence.
In an accompanying letter to the president, Bush stressed his community role: “I have been especially gratified that during these traumatic times there has developed a growing sense of community among the various elements and departments that make up our intelligence effort.” Bush said he believed strongly that the DCI should continue to head CIA and that he “would very much like to see enacted into law” the proposal he had forwarded making his community deputy a statutorily designated official. But even as he praised the CFI as a prominent Ford accomplishment, he seemed bothered at the end by its inadequacies from his perspective. “It needs strengthening,” he argued, “to provide the DCI,...and his Intelligence Community deputy...more direct access to program managers on resource matters.” His dissatisfaction with DOD’s requirement that all matters go through the deputy secretary of defense before getting to the program managers was strong: “We were able to get the job done in spite of this, but it was a most difficult chore, and unnecessarily so.” Bush’s frustration must have been high for him to put this point in his final letter to the president. However valuable Bush and his predecessors considered the designation of a senior civilian overseer of the many DOD intelligence programs, they still felt a need for greater authority for themselves in dealing with that official if they were to satisfy those demanding that the DCI play a stronger community role.
“For Lack of a Better Term”
With Jimmy Carter’s election in November 1976, Bush soon realized his tour as DCI would last only a year. When Bush and Knoche went to Plains, Georgia, to brief the president-elect and vice president-elect, Bush had Adm. Murphy begin the five-hour session by discussing the Intelligence Community, the CFI, and the major collection programs before having Knoche explain CIA. Bush urged that Carter grant his new DCI direct access to the oval office and have confidence in his intelligence support. Bush left the meeting unsure “whether the President-Elect plans major reorganization of the Intelligence Community, whether he supports human intelligence or not,…I frankly just don’t know.”
Bush’s approach to being DCI in some ways resembled Colby’s. Both departed from CIA tradition in welcoming greater dialogue with Congress, and both emphasized community matters while paying due attention to CIA. Bush started with the advantage of being an outsider unconnected with past CIA misdeeds, however, and he made good use of his political background (which, in other hands, could have become a problem rather than a benefit) to bolster his various leadership roles. Angst felt in CIA that he was making the agency less “central” strengthened his appeal in the eyes of other intelligence agencies, and his known dealings with the president and at the cabinet level gave an additional boost to the DCI’s image and role as the community’s leader. Even so, he and others were conscious of the limits of his accomplishments: a briefing paper given to Carter early in the presidential election campaign described the DCI as “leader (for lack of a better term) of the Intelligence Community.”
George Bush’s comment on the DCI position, written in a letter to his siblings at the time of his appointment. George Bush, All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings, 239.
Bush, All the Best, 195–96.
One historian depicts the shuffle as intended “chiefly to cover the fact that Nelson Rockefeller was not going to run as his vice-presidential candidate in 1976.” Ranelagh, The Agency, 625.
Bush, All the Best, 240.
Bush, All the Best, 233–34. In a letter to his brothers and sister, he told them the DCI job was “a graveyard” for politics (239).
A memorandum by four senior CIA officers (L.C. Dirks, G.F. Donnelly, J.H. Taylor, and R. Lehman) entitled “Where You Should Sit,” requested that Bush not do anything—including relocate entirely downtown—that would depress CIA morale at a time when the agency was reeling from public attacks. “Any move by a DCI,” it warned in a sentence underscored for emphasis, “that could be interpreted as an attempt to disassociate himself from CIA would be destructive indeed.” Another argument stressed the DCI’s substantive responsibility to provide intelligence to the president and related that role to managerial efficiency. “A manager who can assemble the experts he needs in five minutes can operate efficiently; one who needs an hour will gradually accumulate new experts in his immediate office.” This line of reasoning would accommodate a community staff, and even a second DCI office, placed downtown, but the memorandum encouraged the DCI to spend most of his time at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
The memorandum, entitled “Suggestions for Presidential Directive to the new Director-CIA,” appears in its main parts in Bush, All the Best, 245–48. The parts left out of the memoir are mainly additional comments Bush placed with each suggestion. Regarding the key issue of community resources, Bush commented that he felt the DCI needed “more than this supportive language if he is going to really be a constructive influence in controlling resources,” and he said he intended to be in touch with the director of OMB on resource control after his confirmation. In November 1980, after Ronald Reagan had been elected president, Vice President-elect Bush recommended “strongly” to him that he appoint “a professional—preferably a person coming up through the ranks of CIA,” to be DCI. This advice came, of course, after the period of the Carter administration and with the knowledge the new administration would have, in Bush, a former DCI sitting as a statutory member of the NSC. Bush, All the Best, 305.
This practice lasted more than a year but was discontinued in the fall of 1975, about the time Brent Scowcroft replaced Kissinger as national security adviser and resumed the middleman role. The same pattern was repeated in 1989, when George Bush, as president, chose to receive personal briefings from CIA similar to those he had gotten as vice president. He kept up the practice throughout his four-year term.
Bush, All the Best, 250. Regarding Bush’s enjoyment of the job, in a public speech given three days after this meeting with the president, Bush readily associated himself with the beleaguered agency he headed, telling the audience that “We at CIA…” were working to strengthen the United States. All the Best, 252, emphasis added. This kind of behavior won for him heartfelt support from many professionals at CIA.
Copy in Warner, Central Intelligence, 89–102. Some officers at CIA had been anxious to have it issued sooner. Its timing was probably helpful, however, since it gave a new DCI a fresh set of instructions. E. Henry Knoche, who became DDCI in July 1976, believed the timing was good, coming after the American public had wearied of sensitive disclosures, and attributed the delay to the new national security team’s learning curve regarding intelligence issues.
The strengthening of the DCI’s community role was a consensus position by 1976. The Murphy Commission had suggested that the DCI spend more time on community matters. The Rockefeller Commission, which concentrated on CIA domestic wrongdoing, did not address the strengthening of the DCI’s ability to manage the community but had suggested a second Senate-confirmed DDCI for the purpose of having a military officer improve CIA’s relations with the military. The Senate’s Church Committee observed that the relationship between the DCI and the members of the community “should be restructured in order to achieve better accountability, coordination, and more efficient use of resources.” The House’s Pike Committee report recommended that a new DCI position be created separate from any particular agency “for the purpose of coordinating and overseeing the entire foreign intelligence community with a view to eliminating duplication in collection and promoting competition in analysis.”
The word “foreign” was prominently included in the title of the executive order and in the terms CFI, NFIP, and NFIB to make clear that the business of the Intelligence Community was not connected with any purposes that would lead it back into domestic illegalities.
Letter to Mr. Jack Mohler, 4 May 1976. Bush, All the Best, 255.
Keegan felt that NIEs had been politicized and as a result had consistently underestimated the magnitude of the Soviet threat. Keegan strongly defended having a board of community members such as USIB as a way of obtaining the best estimates. Others were less concerned about the role of USIB in estimates production. INR, for example, indicated it did not see that the board needed to meet to achieve approval of NIEs (critics of NIEs often believe the coordination process undercuts substantive sharpness and leads to “lowest common denominator” products). Bush basically did not change the community production mechanisms during his tenure, keeping the NIOs and using NFIB in approving estimates. He did permit some internal changes within CIA, in which the science and weapons analysis units were returned to the analytic directorate from the S&T directorate and a short-lived policy support mechanism was set up that looked duplicative of the NIO system.
His argument had merit given the critical importance SIGINT often plays in contributing key knowledge. It applied logically also to human source intelligence (HUMINT), whose products also often contribute key information and like SIGINT often go directly to consumers outside the Intelligence Community, but the top community HUMINT officer was not added to NFIB until 2004 in the wake of controversy over questionable human source reports about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
A new inspector general for defense intelligence was established in June 1976. That the DCI should try to do more than Bush did is problematical. An inspector general typically looks into issues of accountability and control, matters usually associated with managerial lines of control that are much more clear-cut and authoritative than those characterizing the DCI’s relationship to the individual elements making up the Intelligence Community.
Congress, in granting this promotion, thus indicated support for the DCI’s emphasis on addressing community-wide issues. Up to this point, all military DDCIs but one (Gen. Charles Pearre Cabell in the last half of his nearly nine-year tenure from 1953 to 1962) had been three-star officers at most. In 1981, DCI William Casey obtained four-star rank for his DDCI, Adm. Inman, USN, and the two military DDCIs serving after Inman—Adm. William Studeman, USN, and Gen. John Gordon, USAF—also received their fourth stars once they were confirmed as DDCI.
This occasioned a futile objection from Edward Proctor, CIA’s DDI, who argued that the community deputy was not staffed for substantive analytic work whereas the DDCI, by virtue of his connection to the DI, was ideally suited to be the NFIB vice chairman. Bush saw no reason why the DDCI, as CIA’s representative on the board, could not make full use of CIA’s analytic expertise as Proctor wished. NFIB was established by DCI Directive 1/8 on 6 May 1976. Its membership included the DCI as chair, his community deputy as vice chair, the DDCI for CIA, the heads of INR, DIA, and NSA, and representatives of Treasury, ERDA, and the FBI, with the intelligence chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force accorded observer status.
Knoche had served as Murphy’s deputy briefly just before becoming DDCI, thus giving him a thorough exposure to community affairs unusual for even a senior CIA officer. Knoche tried to assuage CIA concerns regarding Bush’s desire to give primacy to the community deputy, and he made it clear to Bush that this emphasis did not bother him.
DCIs in the past had purposely fostered these capabilities within CIA in order to improve intelligence collection and analysis, and they had profited from not having to go through DOD’s more bureaucratic processes to achieve results using them. Also, these CIA programs gave the DCI more understanding, staff support, and clout in his dealings within the Intelligence Community and with senior DOD officials. Bush appreciated these equities and did not adopt an attitude basically different from that of his predecessors.
Murphy used NFIB to coordinate resource matters even though that board had a primarily substantive role.
A cool look at US attitudes suggested that the stormy “year of intelligence” (1975) had not damaged the bedrock of public support for a strong US intelligence capability. Cynthia M. Nolan, “Seymour Hersh’s Impact on the CIA,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 12, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 18–34.
Like other DCIs before and after him, Bush understood the logic behind having advice for the community role independent of CIA but did not want to deal with two different advisers on issues of congressional, public, or legal affairs.
For a general history of this episode, see Anne Cahn, Killing Détente: The Right Attacks the CIA. The episode was part of a growing public debate at the time in the United States about US policy toward the USSR. President Ford—confronted by critics in his own party worried that US-USSR strategic arms control talks were allowing the Soviets to build a decisive edge in nuclear weaponry—stopped using the term “détente” to describe US policy and had to beat back a challenge by Ronald Reagan to win the nomination of the Republican Party as its presidential candidate in 1976. The episode is often cited as a case of the “politicization” of intelligence, and indeed it provides a rich example. Some thought previous intelligence had been politicized to “sell” unwise US-Soviet arms control agreements (their choice as politicizer was Henry Kissinger). Others thought the competitive analysis exercise injected undue political influence into the internal analytic process of producing NIEs (both Team B and PFIAB could be depicted as politicizers and even the DCI was vulnerable by virtue of having blessed the exercise even though he condemned the leaks). Finally, members of the public might wonder why a CIA-sponsored report was playing a role in a public policy debate (here the politicizer of choice was the leaker, presumably a member of Team B or a government official sympathetic to its views).
Letter dated 28 June 1976. Bush, All the Best, 257.
The very next day, Bush wrote to his old friend Jack Mohler, “Things are rocking along. I am staying the hell out of politics [the Republican Party convention was approaching], but it isn’t easy….” Bush, All the Best, 255.
This suggests he felt strongly about his innovation of a fully empowered community deputy; other than on this issue, he agreed with the White House that the end of 1976 was not a propitious time for Congress to revise the basic 1947 legislation governing his job and CIA.
After the election, Bush conversed with a White House staffer about possible refinements to the CFI before Ford left office, even at the risk of seeming to be “ramming through” changes just before a new president took office. In the last days of the Ford administration, Bush and Knoche heard that the incoming NSC staff was considering abolishing the CFI, and Knoche warned the DCI-designate, Theodore Sorenson, that such a move could threaten the DCI’s community role unless accompanied by a well prepared alternative.
Bush, All the Best, 264. The DCI’s legislative counsel had studied Vice President-elect Walter Mondale’s past statements (Mondale had been a member of the Church Committee) and noted that he had advocated strengthening the DCI’s community role, including giving him “greater authority to manage important technical collection programs and the budget.”