Hot Documents: Circusmaster Cheney and the Church Committee

Dick Cheney worked for President Gerald R. Ford as his deputy assistant, under Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney became the point man in responding to the spy scandals of 1975, when a public firestorm, ignited by revelations of CIA domestic spying, led to investigations of U.S. intelligence agencies in both the Senate (Church Committee) and the House of Representatives (Pike Committee). Mr. Cheney’s handwritten notes, reproduced here, show his anxiety that the Ford White House had “no coherent policy” for responding to congressional requests for information on U.S. intelligence.

In a breakdown of what needed work, Cheney’s notes show that he wanted to restrict discussion of spy activities to “hypothetical” examples, and that he wanted to carve out “categories of activities or documents” over which President Ford would use executive privilege to deny the information to Congress. Next, an annotated copy of Senator Frank Church’s omnibus request for information on the CIA, dated March 12, 1975, shows exactly what Mr. Cheney thought Congress had no right to see–including the actual “Family Jewels” documents (item II./19), for which he would substitute an anodyne inspector general review, materials on CIA authority to conduct covert operations and some on its domestic activity [III./3/(a)(b)], some of the applicable jurisdictional agreements, none of its directives or manuals on covert operations, none of its security directives, no office of management and budget reports on the spies, and so on. Information regarding  a third of the questions the Church committee had as a result of testimony CIA director William Colby had already given was to be denied, two questions would be met by providing only summary or partial material, a third would be stonewalled (“hold”). In all, half of the Church committee’s inquiries were to be denied.

These documents shine an interesting light on Richard Cheney’s secrecy strategy, on what a U.S. administration thought it could get away with at that time, and on what intelligence issues the U.S. Senate sought to investigate in 1975. (For more, you can look at this presentation in conjunction with our March 15, 2014 posting of “Church Committee Access to CIA Records.)

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