Presidential Reflections: Gerald R. Ford
Over the decades, American presidents have written notes of thanks to the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency for their service and dedication. Each message is displayed with the respective president’s official photograph in the Presidential Gallery of CIA’s New Headquarters Building. This story—the seventh in a series about the CIA under different presidential administrations—focuses on Gerald R. Ford.
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When Gerald Ford took office in August 1974, he faced a series of tough foreign policy challenges, from facilitating a Cold War détente to reducing conflict in the Middle East. Ford made progress toward better relations with the Communist bloc when he signed the Helsinki Accords. He also secured a truce between Israel and Egypt. As he made policy in difficult times, Ford drew on information and insights from the CIA and the Intelligence Community (IC).
A Seasoned Intelligence Consumer
Well before he became president, Ford was an avid consumer of intelligence. As a member of Congress, he served on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. There, he received regular briefings from the CIA.
Ford also kept pace with developments in imagery intelligence. He was proud to have been one of the few Congressmen informed of secret U-2 flights over the Soviet Union.
The Agency already briefed Ford as vice president, making his transition to president virtually seamless as a customer of intelligence. His two Directors of Central Intelligence, William E. Colby and George H.W. Bush, played pivotal roles in the history of the CIA. Director Colby led the Agency through a turbulent period marked by a vigorous public debate over the proper role of intelligence. Director Bush focused on rebuilding Agency morale after extensive investigations of CIA activities.
Changes in Oversight of the IC
Amid the controversy over past CIA operations, including covert action in Chile, Ford worked to restore public confidence in the Agency. Increased Congressional oversight of intelligence was part of the answer, and both the House and Senate established new committees for that purpose. The close scrutiny from Capitol Hill led some to call 1975 the “Year of Intelligence.” In a speech to Congress on April 10, 1975—at the height of the investigations—Ford shared his views on the importance of intelligence:
“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 … 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.”
Continuing a presidential tradition, Ford wrote a note to the men and women of the CIA. The following words, from our 38th president, are on lasting display at CIA Headquarters:
“To the Central Intelligence Agency, In peace, there is no substitute for intelligence.”
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