I. How Intelligence-Sharing With Congress Has Evolved

1947 to 1974

The Early Years

The National Security Act of 1947 charged the Central Intelligence Agency with responsibility "to correlate and evaluate intelligence relating to the national security, and provide for the appropriate dissemination of such intelligence within the government . . . "(1) While other intelligence agencies were authorized to produce and disseminate "departmental" intelligence, CIA was, for all practical purposes, the focal point for intelligence analysis at the national level.

Although the 1947 Act did not specifically identify Congress as a consumer of intelligence, CIA appears to have regarded Congress from the very beginning as a legitimate, albeit limited, user of the intelligence analysis it produced. Indeed, the CIA attorney who was principally involved in setting up the initial arrangements with Congress, Walter Pforzheimer, did not recall the issue of whether the CIA should share intelligence with the Congress ever having arisen.(2)

From 1947 until 1966, Congressional requests were handled through a single Legislative Counsel in CIA's Office of the General Counsel. The Legislative Counsel reported directly to the DCI. (The Office of the General Counsel itself was initially part of the Agency's Directorate for Support.) Pforzheimer, the first Legislative Counsel, recalls that DCI Roscoe Hillenkoetter stopped him in a hallway after passage of the 1947 Act to say that he did not think he could afford to keep him on as Legislative Counsel because there would not be enough business between the CIA and Congress to justify a full-time attorney.

The position of Legislative Counsel endured, nonetheless, to ensure enactment of the Agency's annual funding request and to handle the other aspects of the Agency's relations with Congress. During this period, handling Congressional relations largely meant satisfying the needs of the four Congressional committees that at the time provided oversight and funding for the CIA: the two armed services committees and the two appropriations committees in each House. Over time, each of these committees established small, handpicked subcommittees responsible for the CIA.


The "CIA Committees

" Typically, the relationship between the CIA and the four committees was dominated by the chairman of each full committee, who usually doubled as chairman of the CIA subcommittee.(3) For the most part, these chairmen were part of the "old guard" in their respective Houses--powerful Members who, by virtue of the Congressional seniority system, were able to retain their positions for lengthy periods of time.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia was the dominant figure in the Senate where intelligence was concerned, regardless of what position he happened to occupy. Russell chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in 1951-53 and again in 1955-69. He also served as a member of the Appropriations Committee (SAC) for most of this period, and he chaired that committee in 1969-71--during which time he also chaired the CIA subcommittees of both the SAC and SASC. The SAC was chaired by only three Senators between 1947 and 1969--Styles Bridges, Kenneth McKellar, and Carl Hayden--with Hayden serving considerably longer than the others (1955-69).

A similar situation existed in the House of Representatives. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) was controlled essentially by three chairmen (Carl Vinson, Mendel Rivers, and Edward Hebert) from 1947 until 1974. The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) also had three chairmen (John Tabor, Clarence Cannon, and George Mahon) during the same period, with Cannon serving the longest (in 1949-53 and 1955-64).

In general, these chairmen were strong supporters of intelligence and did not see a need for intrusive oversight by Congress. Senator Russell typified this attitude in a 1956 letter written to the chairman of the Rules Committee, opposing a resolution offered by Senator Mike Mansfield to create a new joint committee on intelligence:

  • It is difficult for me to foresee that increased staff scrutiny of CIA operations would result in either substantial savings or a significant increase in available intelligence information . . . If there is one agency of the government in which we must take some matters on faith, without a constant examination of its methods and sources, I believe this agency is the CIA.(4)


His Republican colleague, Senator Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, who chaired the SASC in 1953-55, expressed similar sentiments during the floor debate on the Mansfield proposal:

  • "It is not a question of reluctance on the part of CIA officials to speak to us. Instead, it is a question of our reluctance, if you will, to seek information and knowledge on subjects which I personally, as a Member of Congress and as a citizen, would rather not have . . . "(5)


Faced with the opposition of Senators Russell, Saltonstall, and Hayden, the Mansfield resolution was defeated by a 59 to 27 margin in April 1956.

From the outset, CIA adopted the policy that it would give the four committees any intelligence reports they might seek and would respond to their requests for briefings. In practice, as Saltonstall's comment suggests, few requests were received. The committees had no place to store intelligence information, and therefore nothing could be left with them. Members or staff who wanted to read intelligence analysis had to do so by having it brought to them or by visiting the CIA. The committees employed small staffs during this period (typically five to seven professionals to serve a full committee and its subcommittees), and not all of these staffers were cleared for access to intelligence.

CIA's formal appearances before "its committees" were relatively infrequent. One of the CIA officials involved in this period recalled, "[In] the early years, we practically had to beg them to hold hearings. Years would go by sometimes without any hearing at all being held on the Agency's budget."

The "CIA committees" would hold occasional oversight hearings as well as receive briefings on world events. For example, each of the four committees held hearings in 1950 on CIA's performance in predicting the outbreak of the Korean war. Later, DCI Walter Bedell Smith regularly briefed the committees on the progress of the war. In 1958 the CIA's Legislative Counsel reported a "stepped-up interchange between the Agency and Congress," citing a total of 23 briefings during the year to Congressional committees.(6) In 1959, each committee received briefings from DCI Allen Dulles on Soviet strategic strength. In 1960 all four committees, plus the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), held hearings on the Soviet shootdown of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

On the whole, however, CIA's appearances on the Hill, even before "its committees," were relatively rare. As late as 1968, for example, CIA records reflect only one briefing that year to the HASC, three to the HAC, and two each to the SASC and SAC. Attendance typically was limited to Members only, and often no record of the proceedings was kept. Sometimes, reportedly, no questions were asked at all.(7)

The amount of sensitive information imparted to the four committees during these briefings was minimal.(8) For example, although DCI Dulles briefed the committees in 1959 on Soviet strategic capabilities, they were not told how information on these capabilities was principally being collected-that is, by U-2 flights over the Soviet Union. Indeed, they were not apprised of this until Francis Gary Powers was shot down a year later. When Dulles apologized for not having informed the committees earlier due to security concerns, most Members expressed understanding rather than anger. Nevertheless, Dulles was sensitized by the U-2 episode; he later directed that the CIA subcommittees be advised of the planning for the Bay of Pigs operation several months in advance of its execution in 1961 by CIA-trained Cuban exiles.(9)

Despite the substantial criticism levied against CIA by other committees and individual Members in the wake of the U-2 episode and the Bay of Pigs debacle, the "CIA committees" became more determined than ever to protect their own power bases. In 1962, Senator J. William Fulbright, chairman of the SFRC, complained publicly that his committee needed access to intelligence in order to fulfill its responsibility to oversee foreign policy. He suggested that a joint committee on intelligence might help solve the problem. But Senator Russell remained staunchly opposed, even rejecting a compromise suggested by DCI Dulles that one or two members of the SFRC be allowed to sit with the CIA subcommittee.(10) Efforts to resurrect the joint committee proposal were beaten back in the House in 1964 and in the Senate two years later, due to the efforts of the powerful leaders of the CIA committees.

In 1966, to soften the blow of having lost the Senate vote to create a joint committee, Senator Russell invited Senator Fulbright and several other Senators who had cosponsored the failed legislation to attend the meetings of the CIA subcommittee of the SASC. Senator Fulbright attended one or two such meetings, but he soon found they were not worth his time, complaining, "they (CIA) never reveal anything of significance."(11)

Still, membership on the "CIA committees" carried a certain aura. Members had access to the secrets of the CIA and could, if they chose, cite such access to justify positions they were taking on particular issues--that is, "if you knew what I know, you would understand why I'm taking this position."


Relations With Other Congressional Committees

Senator Fulbright attended one or two meetings [of the Armed Services Committee's CIA subcommittee], but he soon found they were not worth his time, complaining, "they [CIA] never reveal anything of significance." The chairmen of the "CIA committees" for the most part kept their colleagues on other committees at bay. As indicated above, efforts in the House and Senate to create joint committees on intelligence were repeatedly and decisively beaten back. Requests by other committees or individual Members for intelligence briefings normally had to be cleared with the House or Senate chairman concerned. CIA was advised, for example, that other Senate committees were not to be briefed unless Senator Russell approved, and all such briefings were to be limited to Members. Similarly, HAC chairman Cannon did not want CIA to share intelligence beyond his CIA subcommittee.(12)

In practice, however, CIA was permitted to provide substantive briefings to other committees so long as they did not include information on intelligence operations or funding. For some of these entities, notably the Joint Atomic Energy Committee (JAEC) and the Joint Economic Committee (JEC)--neither of which had budget, oversight, or legislative authority--CIA's analytical assistance was substantial.

Almost immediately after passage of the 1947 Act, for example, CIA began providing classified written reports on a semiannual basis to the JAEC on the Soviet atomic program. The committee occasionally held hearings to receive the DCI's testimony on this report. At this time, the JAEC maintained the only storage facility on Capitol Hill for classified information (located on the fourth floor of the Capitol). Former Legislative Counsel Pforzheimer also recalls, "they [the JAEC] were our only regular customer for many years. We received occasional requests from other committees [for substantive briefings] but they are hardly worth mentioning."

In late 1959, CIA also established a new and uncharacteristically open relationship with the JEC. DCI Dulles agreed to testify for the first time in public on the Agency's view of the Soviet economy. Beginning in 1960, CIA started contributing unclassified articles on aspects of the Soviet economy to compilations of economic research periodically published by the JEC and known as the "Green Books," a practice that has continued to the present. In 1974, DCI William Colby reinstituted the practice of providing annual testimony to the JEC on the Soviet economy; the committee subsequently published the testimony in sanitized form.(13) There also were occasional briefings to the SFRC and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on matters pending before them, as well as scattered appearances by CIA officials before other committees.

On the whole, however, from 1947 until the mid-1960s, Congressional demands on CIA for substantive analysis were light. The flow was limited and hardly routine.

This began to change in the late 1960s as Congress grew more assertive in foreign policy and military affairs. Prompted in part by growing public mistrust toward the executive over its handling of the Vietnam war, Congress began to assert itself more forcefully on how the war was being prosecuted as well as on the arms control and defense initiatives of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. As a result, Congressional demands for intelligence increased.

In 1966, to handle an increasing level of involvement with Congress, DCI Richard Helms created a separate Office of Legislative Counsel with a staff of six. It was the first time the head of any US intelligence agency had seen fit to establish a separate office to handle Congressional relations.

Later, this office reported having handled 1,400 contacts with Members and/or staff during 1969. These included 60 substantive briefings before individual Members and various committees, among them the SFRC, the JAEC, and the House Committee on Science and Astronautics(14) While the large number of contacts and briefings in 1969 stemmed to a great extent from growing Congressional involvement in national security affairs, it also reflected CIA's substantial involvement in the Congressional debate that year over funding the Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) System.


CIA Involvement in the 1969 ABM Debate(15)

The SFRC held hearings in March 1969 on the Nixon administration's request to fund a new ABM system known as Safeguard. Testifying publicly on the need for such a system, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird disclosed that the Soviet Union was developing a new missile, the SS-9, which, if deployed in sufficient numbers, could give Moscow a first-strike capability--that is, a capability to wipe out all US land-based missiles--within five years. This testimony was at odds with the conclusions reached in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concerning the SS-9, prepared six months earlier, which had previously been briefed to the SFRC.

A few days after Laird's testimony, the conclusions of the NIE were leaked to the New York Times, and CIA found itself drawn into a contentious Congressional debate by those Senators who opposed funding the new ABM system. Senator Fulbright, who chaired the SFRC, requested CIA testimony on the ABM issue--including an assessment of the SS-9--as well as copies of all pertinent NIEs. CIA checked with Senator Russell, who approved CIA's briefing the contents of the NIEs but not handing over copies of them.(16)

In June, DCI Helms testified in closed session, at the side of Secretary Laird, regarding the Intelligence Community's assessment of the SS-9. While the partially declassified record of that hearing reflects an effort by Helms and Laird to close ranks on the issue, Senator Fulbright subsequently wrote to Laird expressing continued objection to Safeguard on the basis of the earlier NIE.(17)

In July, in preparation for the vote on funding Safeguard, the full Senate met in closed session to debate the issue, and CIA prepared a classified briefing paper for use by each Senator. On 6 August 1969 the Senate agreed by a narrow margin to fund the Safeguard system.


Growing Restlessness in the Early 1970s

In the following year, Congress became agitated by press leaks, attributed to administration officials, concerning possible expansion of the Soviet submarine base at Cienfuegos, Cuba. When the HASC asked to see the overhead reconnaissance photographs of the Soviet base, President Nixon's National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, put his foot down, saying he did not want anything on this subject shared with Congress. Helms, however, wanted to accommodate the HASC, one of CIA's oversight committees, and allowed the photographs to be shown to it. HASC chairman Mendel Rivers took the occasion to seek out Kissinger and tell him he would brook no interference with his committee's right to see intelligence.(18)

The number of CIA's appearances on the Hill reached a low point in 1971,(19) in part because of Senator Russell's death that year. Relations between CIA and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heated up in 1972 when the SFRC, as part of its inquiry into the Vietnam war, requested copies of all NIEs and Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIEs) relating to Southeast Asia since 1945. CIA objected to the request but offered to provide briefings to the committee on issues of concern to it.

In reaction to CIA's perceived stonewalling, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky introduced a bill requiring that intelligence information and analysis be provided to Congress; he argued that Congress could not carry its constitutional responsibilities in the foreign policy area without such intelligence support. The SFRC held hearings on the proposal, and witnesses from the Nixon administration and the Intelligence Community testified in vigorous opposition. The bill died in committee.

President Nixon signed the SALT I treaty with the Soviet Union in May 1972. The treaty capped the total number of strategic weapons on both sides and provided a framework to govern future deployments of such weapons. It was ratified by the Senate later in the year by a wide margin. Congress had been kept well apprised of developments in the negotiation of the treaty since 1969 and had received an assessment from DCI Helms that the Intelligence Community would be able to verify compliance. But Congress was not given (nor did it request) the data to enable it to make its own independent assessment on the verification issue.

Once the SALT I treaty was signed, the administration clamped down on the flow of intelligence on this issue to the Hill. A high-level committee was established in the National Security Council to monitor Soviet compliance. At Dr. Kissinger's behest, all intelligence reporting on this subject was ordered channeled to this committee without further dissemination within the executive branch or to Congress. Ford administration officials later explained to the Pike Committee (see below) that Kissinger wanted to preserve the ability to raise troublesome issues with the Soviets directly rather than have them surface in the press or be exposed to Congress, thus limiting the administration's flexibility in dealing with such problems.(20)

In time, however, Congress began to question why it was not receiving CIA assessments of possible treaty violations. In 1975 the Ford administration permitted CIA to give its first closed-session briefing to the SASC on Soviet compliance with SALT I.(21)

Congress grew increasingly restive in the early 1970s concerning the existing oversight arrangements for intelligence. Senator Russell's death in 1971 had removed the personification of the old system from the scene. During the same year, legislation was offered in both houses that would have required CIA to report on its overseas activities to the SFRC and HFAC. Although both bills were beaten back, they did represent a sense of growing dissatisfaction. CIA's Legislative Counsel advised DCI Helms that the "aging and harassed protectors and benefactors" of the Agency could not be expected to "hold the lines" much longer against increasingly aggressive Members with different outlooks and temperaments.(22) In fact, when the chairmanship of the HASC subcommittee on CIA became vacant in 1973, younger House members rebelled, demanding broader accountability for intelligence activities. They succeeded in having a younger, more assertive House Member--Lucien Nedzi of Michigan--named chairman of the subcommittee.

Although . . . the Intelligence Community largely avoided being drawn into the Watergate affair, that debacle nonetheless had a profound effect on the willingness of Congress to defer to executive authority. Although CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community largely avoided being drawn into the Watergate affair, that debacle nonetheless had a profound effect on the willingness of Congress to defer to executive authority. Where Congress had previously acquiesced, it was now deeply skeptical, and the press fed this skepticism. Sensing that the time was ripe, reporters began to dig into US intelligence activities, producing a number of sensational exposes.

Among the revelations were reports in September 1973 of alleged CIA involvement in the military coup in which Chilean President Salvador Allende was overthrown and killed. DCI William Colby managed to turn aside a request for testimony from a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee in the fall of 1973, but the CIA subcommittee of the HASC took up the issue in April 1974, requiring that Colby describe CIA activities undertaken in 1970 with the intent of preventing Allende from assuming the presidency. The leakage to the New York Times of much of Colby's testimony sparked an outcry in Congress and among portions of the public, prompting various legislative proposals to restrict or terminate CIA's involvement in covert actions. One of these initiatives, the so-called Hughes-Ryan Amendment, was enacted into law; it required that future covert actions be approved by the President and reported to the armed services, appropriations, and foreign affairs committees of Congress.(23)

The Senate Government Operations Committee began hearings in October 1974 on a new proposal to create a separate oversight committee for intelligence. Deliberations on this proposal were overtaken in December 1974 when the New York Times ran another front page story, this time charging that the CIA had conducted "a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation . . . against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States" in violation of its statutory charter.(24) The Ford administration reacted by creating a special commission led by Vice President Rockefeller to look into the charges. This action did not preclude Congress, however, from establishing separate investigative bodies.


The Church and Pike Committees (1975-76)

The Senate acted first in January 1975 by creating a special investigating committee led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The House followed suit a month later, establishing a separate investigating committee under Representative Nedzi. It subsequently came to light, however, that Nedzi had previously been advised of certain alleged misdeeds by the CIA when he was chairman of the HASC subcommittee and had done nothing about them. Nedzi resigned amidst the furor, and a new chairman, Otis Pike of New York, was appointed in July 1975.

The Church Committee initially focused its attention on allegations that intelligence agencies had engaged in assassination plots, collected information on the political activities of American citizens, withheld information from the Warren Commission, and conducted "dirty tricks" aimed at discrediting and harassing US individuals and groups. The committee's final report, however--issued in May 1976--addressed a much broader agenda, looking at the role of the DCI and the operation of the Intelligence Community generally. Among other things, the report specifically attempted to evaluate the quality of NIEs and to determine whether the process used for producing NIEs was free of analytic or political bias. In addition, it addressed the problem of retaining qualified analysts.(25)

The Church Committee report also discussed the provision of intelligence to Congress. It pointed out that the National Intelligence Daily (NID) had often been shown to the SFRC and the SASC but that NIEs had not been provided. It noted, however, that in the preceding year CIA had begun publishing a daily "Intelligence Checklist," specifically tailored to what the Agency perceived were the substantive needs of Congress. The committee concluded with a strong plea for better, more consistent intelligence support:

  • With the resurgence of an active Congressional role in the foreign and national security policymaking process comes the need for members to receive high-quality, reliable, and timely information on which to base Congressional decisions and actions. Access to the best available intelligence product should be insisted upon by the legislative branch. Precisely what kinds of intelligence the Congress requires to better perform its constitutional responsibilities remains to be worked out between the two branches of government, but the Select Committee believes that the need for information and the right to it [are] clear.(26)


The Pike Committee chose a different tack from that taken by its Senate counterpart. The Pike group focused on the performance of the Intelligence Community in warning of international crises during the preceding 10 years: the 1968 Tet offensive in South Vietnam, the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1972 declarations of martial law in the Philippines and South Korea, the 1973 war in the Middle East, the 1974 coup in Portugal, the 1974 nuclear explosion in India, and the 1974 Cyprus crisis.

The committee subpoenaed intelligence analysis on each of these topics and proceeded to hold public hearings on most of them. After classified information was disclosed at one of these hearings, President Ford halted the flow of information to the committee altogether until a process could be agreed upon for deciding what information would and would not be made public.

The Pike Committee also explored the earlier clampdown by the Nixon administration on reporting evidence of SALT I violations to the Hill and within the executive branch. (See preceding subsection of this study.) Although the Pike Committee appeared motivated more by a desire to attack Dr. Kissinger personally than by a concern for Congressional prerogatives, it did establish that a clampdown had occurred. Kissinger admitted to having delayed the flow of intelligence on Soviet compliance with SALT I for as long as two months. The committee ascertained that some had been withheld for as long as six months.(27)

The final report of the Pike Committee was never officially published. A draft was leaked to newsman Daniel Schorr and printed in the Village Voice newspaper before the security review of the document had been completed. In reaction to this unauthorized disclosure, the House of Representatives voted to block publication of the report altogether and to disband the committee. Not surprisingly, the draft report was extremely critical of the performance of the Intelligence Community in each of the episodes examined by the committee. Notable among its recommendations was a proposal that all NIEs be sent to the appropriate committees of Congress.(28)

Although the Pike Committee's report was not officially approved and the Church Committee report only touched on the provision of intelligence to Congress, it was clear that the old way of doing business with Congress would no longer suffice. Oversight would no longer be limited to a few senior Members in each body, nor would they control the flow of intelligence to the rest of Congress. Blind deference to the executive where intelligence matters were concerned would no longer be acceptable.


The SSCI and HPSCI: The Early Years (1976-80)

In May 1976, shortly after the Church Committee issued its final report, the Senate adopted one of the Committee's main recommendations by creating a permanent oversight committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). The resolution creating the committee contained, among other things, nonbinding "sense of the Senate" language that department and agency heads should keep the SSCI "fully and currently informed with respect to intelligence activities" carried out by their respective department or agency.(29) Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was named chairman, heading a committee of 17 Members and 50 staff (including 14 holdovers from the Church Committee staff).

Events moved more slowly in the House of Representatives, which had been left with a sour taste from its experience with the Pike Committee. CIA began providing Speaker Tip O'Neill daily intelligence briefings in 1977, but, without a committee to turn to, the Speaker had no vehicle for dealing with them. In June 1977 the Senate passed the first intelligence authorization bill developed by the SSCI, but in the absence of a counterpart committee in the House the measure was never enacted.(30) At the urging of President Carter and new DCI Stansfield Turner, O'Neill moved to create a counterpart to the SSCI. The House, taking great care to distance itself from the record of the Pike Committee, voted to create a Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) in July 1977. The new committee, with 12 Members and a 20-person staff, was chaired by Congressman Edward Boland of Massachusetts.

The resolutions establishing oversight committees contained language allowing these new entities to adopt procedures governing access by other committees, and by individual Members, to classified information held by the oversight committee. Both oversight committees were structured to ensure that some of their Members also served on other committees with jurisdiction in the national security area--such as the foreign relations or armed services committees--in order to provide a bridge to (and avoid conflict with) these committees.

Initially, the creation of the two intelligence committees--with broad charters to oversee intelligence agencies and operating under stringent security requirements--tended to diminish the contacts between the Intelligence Community and the "nonoversight" committees of the Congress. Intelligence agencies began to regard the oversight committees as "their" committees, and other Congressional committees, in turn, looked to the oversight committees as having the predominant role where intelligence was concerned. In 1977, DCI Turner noted this phenomenon and directed his staff to make a point of expanding CIA's substantive briefings beyond the oversight committees. He specifically rejected a suggestion, however, that the CIA develop special unclassified publications for Congress on topics of current interest.(31)

Both oversight committees were conscious of the need to develop an atmosphere of trust between themselves and the agencies they were to oversee if oversight was to work. Unlike other Congressional committees, the intelligence committees were completely dependent upon information provided by intelligence agencies to carry out their functions.

For their part, the intelligence agencies geared up to do business with the new structure. The Office of the Legislative Counsel at CIA expanded to a staff of 32.(32) The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) established offices to deal with the new committees, and smaller agencies designated liaison officers. According to several people interviewed for this study, NSA's new Director, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, instituted an arrangement for passing sensitive SIGINT and "monographs" on SIGINT activities to the staff directors of the two oversight committees, with the proviso that storage and handling of such information would be strictly limited to the leaders and staff directors of each committee.(33)

In 1976, representatives of CIA met with senior SSCI staffers to discuss access for the committee to CIA information. A CIA memorandum on the meeting indicates verbal agreement was reached that CIA would deliver the NID each day to the committee but that it would not be stored there. The committee would be furnished copies of certain finished intelligence reports at the Secret level, but more sensitive intelligence, classified at the Top Secret Codeword level, would be read at CIA headquarters and would not be stored at the committee. NIEs could be reviewed as needed, but the committee would not retain copies. The committee would not have access to the President's Daily Brief or other reporting tailored to high-level officials, nor would it receive "raw" (that is, unevaluated), single-source intelligence reports. Finally, CIA indicated its intent to protect the identity of its clandestine sources from the committee staff.(34)

Similar arrangements were worked out in 1977 with the senior staff of the HPSCI. CIA records reflect agreement that access to especially sensitive intelligence would be limited to the two staff directors, the chief counsel, and the chairman of the HPSCI.(35)

Both sides acknowledge that these arrangements never amounted to more than informal understandings. Indeed, to this day, there are no written agreements governing access by the oversight committees to intelligence information.


A Deepening Relationship

An executive order issued by the Carter administration in 1978 instructed the intelligence agencies to keep the two committees "fully and currently informed" of their activities; this wording was carried over from the nonbinding language in the Senate resolution creating the SSCI. The order also directed the DCI to "facilitate the use of national foreign intelligence products by the Congress in a secure manner."(36) For the first time, a President had imposed specific obligations on intelligence agencies regarding their support of Congress.

Later, as part of the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980, the "fully and currently informed" language was enacted into law.(37) Although this language was intended to create an obligation to provide information for oversight purposes as opposed to providing substantive enlightenment for the Congress, for the intelligence committees this was a distinction without a difference. The committees asserted a need for access to substantive intelligence in order to oversee the Intelligence Community's performance.

In 1977 both committees created subcommittees to deal with issues related to intelligence analysis and production. These subcommittees undertook a number of comprehensive inquiries during the late 1970s. The SSCI evaluated the so-called "A-Team, B-Team" process for assessing the CIA's position on Soviet strategic capabilities and produced a number of recommendations for improving the NIE process. The SSCI also evaluated the integrity of the analytic process used to produce NIEs on Soviet oil production.

The HPSCI, for its part, conducted a far-reaching inquiry into the Intelligence Community's performance in predicting crises. When the Shah of Iran's regime fell apart in the late 1970s, the Committee shifted its focus to that country. In 1979 it undertook a study of the Community's performance in warning of China's invasion of Vietnam. At around this time, the HPSCI also produced a study of the NIE system as it related to indications and warning of hostilities, recommending creation of a new National Intelligence Officer for Warning. CIA subsequently adopted this recommendation.

Each of these studies was done in the name of oversight and involved access to substantial amounts of intelligence analysis. For the inquiry into the Shah's fall from power, for example, CIA provided its entire production on the subject to the HPSCI.(38)

A few months before the signing of the SALT II treaty in June 1979, the SSCI launched an extensive inquiry into the ability of the Intelligence Community to verify the treaty. The committee made a request, unprecedented in its scope, for detailed information on all intelligence collection capabilities available to monitor treaty compliance. In the end, the committee received what it asked for, albeit with certain handling restrictions. Even today, the SSCI staffers involved in that inquiry regard it as a watershed in terms of the committee's access to intelligence. The committee previously had not been permitted to receive and store highly sensitive information.

Ultimately, the SSCI produced a brief, unclassified report of its findings for the Senate as a whole, as well as a detailed classified report that was made available to Senators on request. Although consideration of the SALT II treaty was halted at President Carter's request in December 1979 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the SSCI's work on the treaty contrasted sharply with the manner in which SALT I had been handled seven years before when the SSCI did not exist.

By 1980 it was clear that the relationship between Congress and the Intelligence Community had fundamentally changed. As indicated above, the obligation of intelligence agencies to keep the oversight committees "fully and currently informed" had been established by law. A general obligation to "facilitate the use" of intelligence products by Congress had been established by executive order.

Not surprisingly, CIA records reflect a major upsurge in the information going to Congress during the last half of the 1970s. In 1975, before the oversight committees were established, the Agency gave 188 substantive briefings on the Hill and furnished 204 classified intelligence products (excluding the NID). In 1979 the number of substantive briefings had risen to 420 and the number of classified intelligence products to approximately 1,800.(39)

Principally through its oversight committees, Congress thus had become a major consumer of intelligence and had won access to information of unprecedented scope and sensitivity. The intelligence oversight committees had supplanted the armed services and foreign relations committees as the principal repositories for substantive intelligence and had, for the most part, established themselves as responsible partners who could be entrusted to protect sensitive information.


Intelligence-Sharing in the 1980s

The trend toward ever-greater sharing of intelligence continued through the 1980s, despite both sides' preoccupation with covert actions undertaken during the Reagan administration, especially the so-called Iran-Contra affair.

When William Casey became DCI in 1981, he sought to play down the importance of the Agency's relationship with its Congressional overseers. He combined the Office of Legislative Counsel with the Office of Public Affairs, renaming the new entity the Legislative Liaison Division. The chief of the division was a career officer from the Directorate of Operations, who was perceived by Members and staff alike as being less than forthcoming.

Even so, the oversight committees continued to receive most of the finished intelligence produced by the Intelligence Community and could call upon analytic elements within the Community--in particular, CIA, DIA, NSA, and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)--for briefings and other types of substantive support. In the early 1980s the oversight committees began receiving copies of NIEs, which they previously had been allowed to read but could not store. This development, in turn, led the committees occasionally to seek--and obtain--access to "raw" intelligence to verify judgments presented in the NIEs. Increasingly preoccupied with the CIA's covert action program in Nicaragua, the committees also sought and received access to "raw" intelligence on that country in order to learn what impact the CIA's program was having. When identities of sources became relevant to committee investigations of alleged malfeasance, the CIA occasionally even made exceptions to its policy against revealing them.

After the Iran-Contra affair exploded in the fall of 1986, thousands of additional CIA documents were turned over to Congress, initially to the intelligence committees themselves and later to the special investigating committees appointed in each House. The Iran-Contra problem consumed the CIA and Congress for more than a year.

In late 1986, after the disclosure of arms sales to Iran, CIA took a noticeably more forthcoming position on support to Congress. The Legislative Liaison Division was once again given a separate identity and renamed the Office of Congressional Affairs, and a new director with a background in intelligence analysis was appointed. One of his first initiatives was an attempt to institute weekly intelligence briefings for each of the oversight committees to keep them abreast of world developments. The HPSCI agreed to such briefings, but attendance soon fell off and the briefings were discontinued; the SSCI was too busy to schedule them at all. Even so, a marked increase occurred in the number of substantive briefings requested by both oversight and nonoversight committees during the mid-to-late 1980s, prompted largely by the changes taking place in the Soviet Union.

In 1987 the Senate leadership, in response to SSCI recommendations, established an Office of Senate Security to serve as a secure repository for classified documents sent to Senate committees other than the SSCI; this office also was to serve as a central point for processing security clearances for Senate staff. A similar initiative was considered by the House of Representatives but was not implemented.

Also in 1987, the SSCI undertook another in-depth examination of an arms control treaty--the INF Treaty. The result was a 350-page classified report on the Intelligence Community's ability to monitor this treaty. As a result of the SSCI's work, aspects of the treaty relating to on-site inspections had to be renegotiated. In the end, the SSCI's work played a major role in the Senate's "advice and consent" on ratification.

The level of analytical support furnished to Congress as a whole continued to be high. In 1988, CIA's Office of Congressional Affairs reported that more than 1,000 substantive intelligence briefings had been provided to Members, committees, and staffs during the year. More than 4,000 classified publications had been sent to the Hill, and Members and staff had made more than 100 visits to CIA facilities abroad.(40)


Developments in the 1990s

The cataclysmic events on the world stage between 1989 and 1991--the fall of Communist governments in Eastern Europe, the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf war, and the collapse of Communism in Russia itself--produced heavy demands on the Intelligence Community to provide information to Congress. Requests became particularly intense in the runup to the Gulf war when President Bush asked Congress to approve the commitment of US military forces in the Gulf (discussed in part V of this study).

In 1991 the confirmation hearings of Robert Gates to be Director of Central Intelligence provided the first-ever public setting for a Congressional examination of intelligence analysis. The principal issue explored by the SSCI was whether CIA analysis had been distorted or slanted for political purposes during Casey's tenure as DCI and Gates' years as DDI and DDCI. After a long and wrenching inquiry into more than 20 disputed cases, the committee recommended approval of Gates' nomination and the full Senate concurred.

But the Gates hearings left an indelible imprint on the Intelligence Community, Congress, and the rest of the executive branch. While the production of objective, unbiased analysis had long been a precept of intelligence analysts, "politicization" took on new meaning for the managers and overseers of intelligence agencies, who were profoundly sensitized by the Gates hearings that "politicizing" intelligence was an evil to be avoided at all costs.

In the year following Gates' confirmation, both intelligence committees considered new legislation offered by their respective chairmen (Senator David Boren and Congressman Dave McCurdy, both of Oklahoma) to reform the Intelligence Community. While the more radical elements of these proposals fell by the wayside, in October 1992 Congress did enact--with the acquiescence of the executive branch--a major restatement of the duties and authorities of the DCI vis-a-vis the rest of the Intelligence Community.(41) Among other things, the legislation spelled out the DCI's responsibility to provide substantive intelligence that was "timely, objective, independent of political considerations, and based upon all sources available to the Intelligence Community" to customers in the executive branch, and "where appropriate, to the Senate and House of Representatives and the committees thereof" (italics added).(42) This was the first time that the requirement to provide intelligence to Congress had been expressly stated in law.

Unfortunately, the legislative history of the bill provided no elaboration of Congress's intent with respect to this aspect of the DCI's responsibilities. Although the qualifying phrase "where appropriate" cried out for clarification, the language sailed through without debate by the Congress and without formal comment by the executive branch.(43)

In the first year of the Clinton administration, Congressional votes on sending US troops to Haiti and on legislation to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) generated increased Congressional demands for intelligence briefings on these subjects.

Early in 1994 a 30-year employee of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, Aldrich Ames, and his wife Rosario were arrested for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union and later Russia. Ames's activities had gone undetected for almost nine years and had resulted in the death or imprisonment of virtually all of the CIA's Soviet agents in the mid-1980s. After Ames pled guilty in May 1994, the CIA's Inspector General and both intelligence committees initiated extensive inquiries into the case.

In the public's mind, what emerged from these inquiries in the fall of 1994 was a picture of an agency whose professionalism was suspect and whose employees seemed to be unaccountable for their deficiencies. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York introduced legislation to do away with CIA entirely; other legislators called for a reexamination of the Agency's missions and functions. Fairly or not, other intelligence agencies were also tarred by the case.

Paradoxically, perhaps, the demand for intelligence by the Congress did not diminish. The impression of several Congressional staffers interviewed for this study was that, after the Ames debacle, CIA and other intelligence agencies were more intent than ever on restoring their image by proving themselves responsive. When new Republican majorities came into power at the beginning of the 104th Congress, both Houses found an Intelligence Community ready and willing to support their needs.





Section 103 (c) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 103-3).

(2) Interview with Walter Pforzheimer, 15 October 1996.

(3) Not infrequently, these committees would choose not to publish the names of the Members who served on the CIA subcommittees.

(4) Quoted in Smist Jr., Frank J, Congress Oversees the United States Intelligence Community 1947-94, second edition (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994), p. 6.

(5) Quoted in Ranelagh, John, The Rise and Decline of the CIA (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

(6) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study on relations with Congress.

(7) Ibid.

(8) According to the unpublished draft CIA History Staff study, no records could be located at CIA that indicated these committees had been briefed on CIA's involvement in covert actions during the early 1950s.

(9) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Smist, pp. 6-7.

(12) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(13) The DCI's practice of appearing annually was continued by Colby's successors, George Bush and Stansfield Turner. DCI William Casey continued to provide annual testimony but sent subordinates to deliver it.

(14) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(15) For an excellent case study of this episode, see Lundberg, Kirsten, The SS-9 Controversy: Intelligence as a Political Football (Cambridge: John F. Kennedy School of Government, 1989).

(16) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(17) Kennedy School Case Study, pp. 16-17.

(18) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(19) The unpublished draft CIA History Staff study indicated there were no briefings to the SASC during 1971 and only one each to the SAC and HASC.

(20) Ranelagh.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(23) Enacted as Section 662 of the Foreign Assistance Act (22 U.S.C. 2422).

(24) Hersh, Seymour, "Huge CIA Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces," New York Times, 22 December 1974, p. 1.

(25) See Church Committee's Final Report, Book I, pp. 257-277.

(26) Ibid., p. 277.

(27) For a description of this episode, see Smist, pp. 201-202.

(28) See Pike Committee Report, pp. 259-260.

(29) Sec. 11(a) of S.Res. 400, 94th Congress.

(30) Smist, pp. 214-215.

(31) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(32) Ibid.

(33) This practice did not extend beyond Admiral Inman's tenure as NSA Director.

(34) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(35) Ibid.

(36) Sec. 1-601(c) of Executive Order 12036, 24 January 1978. The same language was included in section 1.5 (s) of Executive Order 12333, issued 4 December 1981, which is still in effect.

(37) See Title IV of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1981 (50 U.S.C. 501[a] [1] ).

(38) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(39) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(40) Unpublished draft CIA History Staff study.

(41) See Title VII of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1993.

(42) Section 103 of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended.

(43) Permitting myself a personal note here, as author of this language and principal coordinator of the legislation, I was advised by representatives of the executive branch that they did not see this language as anything more than a codification of the existing practice, and, so long as some type of qualifying language was present, they would not object to it. Indeed, they preferred not to tackle the thorny issues involved in specifying what support would, from the executive standpoint, be "appropriate."



Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 02:12 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:01 PM