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Former President Carter Praises CIA for Intelligence Work Leading Up to the 1978 Middle East Peace Accords at Camp David

November 13, 2013


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was the guest speaker today at a symposium jointly sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Historical Review Program (part of CIA’s Information Management Services) and the Carter Presidential Library and Center in Atlanta.  The symposium marked the declassification of more than 250 documents -- totaling more than 1,400 pages -- of intelligence provided to President Carter leading up to the September 1978 Middle East Peace Accords at Camp David.

In addition to President Carter, the symposium featured CNN International Correspondent Jonathan Mann, as well as former National Security Council senior staff member William Quandt, CIA Historian Matthew Penney, former CIA analyst on the Middle East and South Asia, Martha Neff Kessler, Founding Director, CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, Jerrold Post, and Adam Howard, general editor of the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States Series publication.

Prior to the Accords, President Carter asked the CIA and the Intelligence Community to prepare detailed briefings on both Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.  “The successes at Camp David were made possible by the team efforts and CIA and intelligence community heroes -- who have never been recognized,” said Carter.  “Thank you for participating in what was a truly historical event.  Not a word of the ultimate treaty of peace negotiated six months later in the spring of 1979 has been violated by either Egypt or Israel.”

Carter noted that he asked CIA and the intelligence community to prepare briefings on both Begin and Sadat that addressed a number of key questions.  These questions included exploring the characters that permitted them to become leaders, the basic root of their ambition to become leaders, and their basic goals in life.  Carter also wanted to know about key childhood events that influenced both Sadat and Begin, as well as their religious beliefs, their family relationships and their relationships with other leaders around the world.

“I also wanted to know how both Begin and Sadat reacted to pressure,” Carter added.  “When under pressure, Begin resorted to details; conversely, Sadat would resort to generalities.  They were completely different in that respect.”

Carter also wanted to know about the strengths and weaknesses of both leaders, the views of each leader to each other publicly and privately, as well as their views and attitudes towards the United States and to Carter personally.  “For example, how Sadat viewed his trip to Jerusalem in November 1977 greatly differed from how Begin interpreted Sadat’s visit,” Carter added.

During his remarks, Quandt noted some challenges with fulfilling President Carter’s requests. “Even with the best intelligence and analysis, there are always going to be events that catch you by surprise,” said Quandt.  “One of these was the surprise election of Begin as Israel’s prime minister.  Begin was a relative unknown, and one of the things we had to consider was how much different Begin’s presence at Camp David was going to make.”

“We also knew that the issue of settlements was going to be an extremely difficult one,” added Quandt.  “How far could Sadat get in front of the other Arabs?  Sadat was very hard to read on this and we knew he needed cover.  We did know that Sadat would need some kind of commitment in principle to Palestinian rights, but it was difficult to pin down the extent of rights on which Sadat would insist.”

According to Martha Neff Kessler, the Agency produced four areas of intelligence for President Carter:  geographic, military, contextual and intentions intelligence.  “A major effort was to provide policymakers the major geographic points associated with the major issues under discussion.  Maps were so critical in working through the negotiations,” said Kessler.  “We produced an annual national intelligence estimate that looked at Israeli forces, the forces of each individual Arab country, as well as their combined capabilities.  We also looked at the attitudes of military officers in order to help negotiators to better understand these leaders.”

“Contextual intelligence provided information on the political parameters that each party dealt with, for example the importance of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time,” noted Kessler.  “Finally, providing intentions intelligence was key, notably Sadat’s views of and intentions towards other Arab leaders.  The issue of collecting the intentions of leaders is difficult, as these decisions are generally made with the knowledge of very few people.  It becomes a matter of judgment,” added Kessler.

Declassified in time to observe the 35th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, the documents cover the period from January 1977 through March 1979 and were produced by the CIA to support the Carter administration’s efforts leading up to President Carter’s negotiations with Sadat and Begin.  The collection includes newly declassified national intelligence estimates on Egypt and the Middle East military balance; selections from the CIA’s briefing book on Camp David created for President Carter; leadership profiles created by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence on key personalities during the summit; intelligence on the informal and formal anti-Arab negotiations and divisions between Israeli political parties with regard to the peace initiative and summit; the role of Jordan in the peace process; and more than 400 pages of Foreign Broadcast Information Service reporting focused on the negotiations and global reaction.

During the symposium, Joe Lambert, Director of the CIA’s Information Management Services organization presented President Carter with an award from the CIA for Carter’s exceptional service to the United States.

For more information, visit the interactive website: President Carter and the Role of Intelligence in the Camp David Accords. To download the PDF files of the booklet and declassified documents, visit the Historical Collections page. View the full collection of historical photos on CIA’s Flickr stream and videos on CIA’s YouTube channel.

Posted: Nov 13, 2013 02:36 PM
Last Updated: Nov 13, 2013 02:46 PM