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The Rumsfeld Papers – Picking a CIA Director, 1975

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Monday, February 14, 2011 at 2:24 PM

In connection with the publication of his new book, Known and Unknown, Donald Rumsfeld has created an on-line library of interesting documents drawn from his time in U.S. government service.

Here is one:  A memo, probably from the Fall of 1975, from Chief of State Donald Rumsfeld to President Gerald Ford on the subject of “CIA Director.”  The undated memo was likely written in anticipation of Gerald Ford’s early November 1975 cabinet shake-up known as the “Halloween Massacre.”  Among other things, Ford sent Rumsfeld from the White House to become Secretary of Defense; made Richard Cheney White House Chief of Staff; and made George H. W. Bush the Director of the CIA, replacing the fired William Colby.  One reason for the shake-up, especially at CIA, was that the administration was suffering through the revelations of the Church-Pike congressional hearings on the intelligence community.  Here is how Tim Weiner, in Legacy of Ashes, described the view from the White House at the time:

The CIA was being sacked like a conquered city.  Congressional committees were combing through its files, the Senate focusing on covert action, the House homing in on failures of espionage and analysis. . . . The Agency’s senior officers feared personal and professional ruin.  The White House feared political destruction.

The White House was searching for a CIA Director to help beat back these trends.  Those listed by Rumsfeld as possible replacements for Colby included Robert Bork (who was Solicitor General at the time), Harold Brown (who was then President of Cal Tech), George H. W. Bush (then ambassador to China), Bob Dole (then a Senator), Lee Iacocca (then President of Ford), Elliot Richardson (former Attorney General and Secretary of Defense), George Schultz (then President of Bechtel), and Byron White (then on the Supreme Court).

Rumsfeld’s memo lists brief pros and cons for each man (and for others).  Bork  was a “team player” with “impeccable integrity” who would “neutralize concern over domestic abuses,” but he lacked relevant intelligence or management experience.  Harold Brown had the right background but was “independent,” “arrogant” and “interested mainly in strategic affairs.”  George H.W. Bush had “high integrity” and the right experience but his former position as head of the Republican National Committee “lends undesirable political cast.”  Bob Dole has a “strong ‘law and order’ image” but no intelligence or management experience.  Lee Iacocca has “excellent managerial ability” but no relevant experience, and he was “closely identified with Robert McNamara.”  Elliot Richardson had a “strong public image of integrity and high intelligence” and many other positive qualifications, but suffered from a limited understanding of intelligence and was “possible viewed by some as inherently compromised by presidential ambition.”  Byron White was “calm, modest, for past decade uninvolved in national politics, [and] confirmable,” but he was a “swing vote on the Supreme Court” with “no experience in international affairs or intelligence.”  George Schultz had a number of pros, including a fine disposition, “strong executive experience,” and a deep knowledge of “government and bureaucracy, and no listed cons.

The memorandum is worth a read, and the library is worth a browse.

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