Presidential Reflections on U.S. Intelligence: Jimmy Carter
From President Truman on, each president has written a note of thanks to the men and women of the CIA. These notes are displayed with the president’s official photograph in the Presidential Gallery of the New Headquarters Building. This story is the sixth in a series about the relationship each president has had with the CIA. This article focuses on President Jimmy Carter.
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President Carter’s term coincided with a turbulent period in world affairs, especially in its final two years. Through it all, Carter received dedicated intelligence support from the Central Intelligence Agency. At first, Carter was somewhat skeptical of the Agency because of the recent revelations of questionable activities during the 1950s and 1960s. His early experiences with CIA briefings and finished intelligence products helped ease some of his concerns.
The First Presidential Briefing
In the summer of 1976, Democratic presidential candidate Carter asked to receive intelligence briefings. President Gerald Ford, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Bush, and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft agreed to Carter’s request. DCI Bush and several Agency intelligence professionals met with the candidate periodically during the campaign to bring him up to speed on the latest intelligence.
During the first briefing, Carter listened very closely and asked many detailed questions. The Agency officers were impressed not only by his interest in the briefing, but by the hospitality he and Mrs. Carter had shown them.
Turner at the Helm
After taking office, PresidentCarter chose a new DCI, Adm. Stansfield Turner, to lead the Agency. Turner had attended the Naval Academy with Carter, graduated at the top of his class, and had a very successful Navy career.
Together, Carter and Turner redefined the relationship between Congress and the Intelligence Community (IC). In addition, Carter signed Executive Order 12036, which gave the DCI more control over the IC.
Intelligence Support from CIA
The end of Carter’s tenure was a tumultuous time. In November 1979, Iranian militants seized control of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 U.S. citizens hostage for more than a year. In December 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Throughout these crises, Carter received extensive support from the Agency in the form of daily briefings and finished intelligence.
In a speech delivered during a visit to the Agency, Carter recognized the dedication of the men and women of CIA:
“I appreciate what you are, what you do, the high professionalism, training, education, experience that you bring to your job and which you demonstrate every day with your good work, the honesty and integrity that you present to me and to your other superiors, to the Congress, to the public for critical examination.”
Carrying on the tradition started by President Truman, President Carter wrote a note to the men and women of the CIA that accompanies his portrait in the Presidents’ Gallery at Headquarters:
“I am impressed with the professionalism and responsiveness of the CIA. I think if all Americans knew what I know, there would be an alleviation of concern.”
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