Gerald R. Ford, 1974-77

"Our First Line of Defense" Presidential Reflections on US Intelligence (U)


Gerald Ford became President after Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974. Ford's experience as a member of the intelligence subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee gave him a deep appreciation of the value of intelligence.

Fundamental changes in the way CIA operated occurred during the Ford administration. Congressional oversight of CIA and its operations tightened as a result of the Church Committee hearings in 1975, which investigated alleged CIA misconduct.


    "IN THE WORLD IN WHICH WE live, beset by continuing threats to our national security, it is vital that we maintain an effective intelligence and counterintelligence capability. This capability is fundamental in providing the safeguards that protect our national interests and help avert armed conflict. The Central Intelligence Agency has had a notable record of many successes in this field, but by the nature of its operations, such successes and achievements cannot be divulged publicly.

    "It is essential in this republic that we meet our security requirements and at the same time avoid impairing our democratic institutions and fundamental freedoms. Intelligence activities must be conducted consistently with both objectives."

    Statement of President Gerald R. Ford, 4 January 1975




    "IN A WORLD WHERE INFORMATION is power, a vital element of our national security lies in our intelligence services. They are essential to our nation's security in peace as in war. Americans can be grateful for the important, but largely unsung contributions and achievements of the intelligence services of this nation.

    "It is entirely proper that this system be subject to Congressional review. But a sensationalized public debate over legitimate intelligence activities is a disservice to this nation and a threat to our intelligence system. It ties our hands while our potential enemies operate with secrecy, with skill and with vast resources. Any investigation must be conducted with maximum discretion and dispatch, to avoid crippling a vital national institution.

    "Let me speak quite frankly to some in this chamber and perhaps to some not in this chamber. The Central Intelligence Agency has been of maximum importance to Presidents before me. The CIA has been of maximum importance to me. The Central Intelligence Agency and its associated intelligence organizations could be of maximum importance to some of you in this audience who might be President at some later date.

    "I think it would be catastrophic for the Congress or anyone else to destroy the usefulness by dismantling, in effect, our intelligence systems upon which we rest so heavily."

    President Gerald R. Ford Address before Congress, 10 April 1975


    MR. SEVAREID. "MR. PRESIDENT, wouldn't the whole thing [keeping Congress informed about CIA's activities] be safer and clearer and cleaner if it was simply the law that the CIA gather intelligence only and engage in no covert political operations abroad?"

    The President. "If we lived in a different world. I can't imagine the United States saying we would not undertake any covert activities, and knowing at the same time that friends, as well as foes, are undertaking covert activity, not only in the United States but elsewhere.

    "That would be like tying a President's hands behind his back in the planning and execution of foreign policy. I believe that we have to have an outstanding intelligence gathering group, such as in the CIA, or in the other intelligence collection organizations in our Government. But, I also think we have to have some operational activity.

    "Now, we cannot compete in this very real world if you are just going to tie the United States with one hand behind its back and everybody else has got two good hands to carry out their operations."

    President Gerald R. Ford CBS News Interview, 21 April 1975


    "AS CONFLICT AND RIVALRY persist in the world, our United States intelligence capabilities must be the best in the world. The crippling of our foreign intelligence services increases the danger of American involvement in direct armed conflict. Our adversaries are encouraged to attempt new adventures while our own ability to monitor events and to influence events short of military action is undermined. Without effective intelligence capability, the United States stands blindfolded and hobbled."

    President Gerald R. Ford, State of the Union address, 19 January 1976


    "GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR once said that in war there is no substitute for victory. Let me assure you that in peace there is no substitute for intelligence. The time is long overdue for the men and women of the American intelligence community to receive the praise and the gratitude of the Nation that you have so conscientiously served. I have and I will continue to give voice publicly to that gratitude.

    "As every President since World War II, I depend on you as one of America's first lines of defense. Every morning, as a result of your efforts, an intelligence report is delivered to my desk which is complete, concise, perceptive, and responsible.

    "As a result, I am fully aware of the tremendous effort, the tremendous teamwork that goes into it and all of the other intelligence reports that I receive that are so vital to the making of sound policy decisions on national security. And let me express my personal gratitude for this fine work."

    President Gerald R. Ford Swearing-in ceremony of George Bush as DCI, 30 January 1976


    " . . . WE MUST MAINTAIN A STRONG and effective intelligence capability in the United States. . . . To be effective, our foreign policy must be based upon a clear understanding of the international environment. To operate without adequate and timely intelligence information will cripple our security in a world that is still hostile to our freedoms.

    "Nor can we confine our intelli-gence to the question of whether there will be an imminent military attack. We also need information about the world's economy, about political and social trends, about food supply, population growth, and, certainly, about terrorism.

    "To protect our security diplomati-cally, militarily, and economically, we must have a comprehensive intelligence capability. The United States is a peace-loving nation and our foreign policy is designed to lessen the threat of war as well as aggression. In recent years, we have made substantial progress toward that goal . . .

    "Yet, we also recognize that the best way to secure the peace is to be fully prepared to defend our interest. . . . A central pillar of our strength is, of course, our armed forces. But another great pillar must be our intelligence community--the dedicated men and women who gather vital information around the world and carry out missions that advance our interests in the world."

    President Gerald R. Ford News conference, 17 February 1976


    "IN CARRYING OUT MY Constitutional responsibilities to manage and conduct foreign policy and provide for the Nation's defense, I believe it essential to have the best possible intelligence about the capabilities, intentions and activities of governments and other entities and individuals abroad. To this end, the foreign intelligence agencies of the United States play a vital role in collecting and analyzing information related to the national defense and foreign policy."

    President Gerald R. Ford Message to Congress, 18 February 1976


    "I HAD TWO FUNDAMENTAL objectives [in the comprehensive programs for the reorganization of our intelligence community]:

    "Number one, to strengthen the Central Intelligence Agency and the remainder of the intelligence community. Under no circumstances will my Administration, in any way whatsoever, hurt--and the last thing I would do would be to dismantle--the Central Intelligence Agency. It is a good, fine, excellently operated, totally necessary part of our Federal Government, and we are going to have, as we have had, the best intelligence community that any country could possibly have.

    "Secondly, there were some abuses. Let's be honest and frank. They were minor in total although serious where they were actually committed. Under the new organization with the new restrictions that I have applied, there will be no abuses."

    President Gerald R. Ford, Dover, New Hampshire, 20 February 1976


    "THE INTELLIGENCE NEEDS OF the `70s and beyond require the use of highly sophisticated technology. Furthermore, there are new areas of concern which demand our attention. No longer does this country face only military threats. New threats are presented in such areas as economic reprisal and international terrorism.

    "In developing the Nation's offensive and defensive strategy to conduct foreign policy and provide for the national security, we must be able to deal with problems covering the broadest spectrum of activities."

    President Gerald R. Ford, 11 March 1976


Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 01:33 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:59 PM