James Schlesinger

James Schlesinger

James Schlesinger was born in New York City on 15th February, 1929. Educated in Harvard University he obtained a B.A. (1950), M.A. (1952), and Ph.D. (1956) in economics. Between 1955 and 1963 he taught economics at the University of Virginia and in 1960 published the book The Political Economy of National Security. In 1963 he moved to the Rand Corporation and later became director of strategic studies at the organization.

In 1969 President Richard Nixon appointed Schlesinger as his assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget. Two years later he became chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

During the Watergate Scandal Nixon became concerned about the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. Three of those involved in the burglary, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez and James W. McCord had close links with the CIA. Nixon and his aides attempted to force the CIA director, Richard Helms, and his deputy, Vernon Walters, to pay hush-money to Hunt, who was attempting to blackmail the government. Although it seemed Walters was willing to do this, Helms refused. In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Helms. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest.

Schlesinger now became the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: “The clandestine service was Helms’s Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size.” This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.

On 9th May, 1973, Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: “I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about “activities outside the CIA’s charter”.

There were several employees who had been trying to complain about the illegal CIA activities for some time. As Cord Meyer pointed out, this directive “was a hunting license for the resentful subordinate to dig back into the records of the past in order to come up with evidence that might destroy the career of a superior whom he long hated.”

It has been argued by John Simkin that it was this Schlesinger directive that encouraged senior CIA operatives to leak information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about Nixon's attempt to cover-up the Watergate Scandal. On 16th May, 1973, Deep Throat has an important meeting with Woodward where he provides information that was to destroy Nixon. This includes the comment that the Senate Watergate Committee should consider interviewing Alexander P. Butterfield. Soon afterwards told a staff member of the committee (undoubtedly his friend, Scott Armstrong) that Butterfield should be asked to testify before Sam Ervin.

On 25th June, 1973, John Dean testified that at a meeting with Richard Nixon on 15th April, the president had remarked that he had probably been foolish to have discussed his attempts to get clemency for E. Howard Hunt with Charles Colson. Dean concluded from this that Nixon's office might be bugged. On Friday, 13th July, Butterfield appeared before the committee and was asked about if he knew whether Nixon was recording meetings he was having in the White House. Butterfield reluctantly admitted details of the tape system which monitored Nixon's conversations.

The appointment of Schlesinger as Director of the CIA created a great deal of unrest in the agency and after three months Nixon decided to replace him with William Colby. Schlesinger now became Secretary of Defense. Soon after his appointment Schlesinger outlined his basic objectives. This included a "strong defense establishment"; "assure the military balance so necessary to deterrence and a more enduring peace"; and to obtain for members of the military "the respect, dignity and support that are their due."

Schlesinger argued that the Soviet Union now had "virtual nuclear parity with the United States" and that the country would have to increase its spending of the military. In a speech in San Francisco in September 1972, he warned that it was time "to call a halt to the self-defeating game of cutting defense outlays‹this process, that seems to have become addicting, of chopping away year after year."

President Richard Nixon resigned on 8th August, 1974. His replacement, Gerald Ford, had doubts about the wisdom of increasing military spending in the months leading up to a presidential election. In November, 1975, Ford fired Schlesinger. After leaving office Schlesinger explained his departure in terms of his budgetary differences with the White House.

When Jimmy Carter became president in January 1977 he appointed Schlesinger as his special adviser on energy. Nine months later he became the first head of the new Department of Energy. Schlesinger held this position until July 1979.

Since leaving government Schlesinger has been Chairman of the Board of the MITRE Corporation, Senior Adviser at Lehman Brothers and Counselor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Primary Sources

(1) Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA (1983)

By refusing to participate in the Watergate cover-up, Helms preserved the institutional integrity of the CIA, but he also ensured the end of his career as director. Nixon waited until after his overwhelming election victory to deliver the coup de grace. Then, on November 20, he summoned Helms to Camp David. There were some serious budgetary issues to be resolved and, thinking these would be the subject of the meeting, Helms prepared himself to discuss these fiscal problems. Although, after the election, Nixon had asked his top officials to submit their resignations in order to start his new term with a clean slate, Helms had not offered his own resignation in the belief that the CIA directorship, in accordance with past tradition and precedent, should be kept separate from the election results and not become a political plum. He was therefore surprised when Nixon demanded his resignation at Camp David but subsequently accepted Nixon's offer of an ambassadorship, and chose Iran as a country where his past association with the Agency would not be likely to cause problems.

A few days later, James Schlesinger, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, was called to Camp David and was offered the job of CIA director by Nixon.... In firing Helms so abruptly, Nixon was taking a chance that he might choose to retire from public life and use his newfound freedom to reveal the White House role in attempting to obstruct the FBI investigation of the Watergate affair and to bribe the participants. However, Nixon probably figured that Helms was too much the loyal public servant to damage the American presidency and its relation to the intelligence community by revealing this information....

In my dealings with Schlesinger, I quickly came to respect his capacity for sustained hard work and to realize that he was widely read and extremely intelligent. I never had any reason to complain in my own case of the personal rudeness that many others had cause to resent. However, I did quickly discover that he carried with him into his new job a firm conviction that the clandestine service which I temporarily headed exercised too dominant a role within the Agency, was out of phase with the intelligence requirements of the modern age, and was heavily overstaffed with aging veterans of past cold wars. Just where he had obtained these views I am not clear to this day, but Colby explains in his memoirs that he shared Schlesinger's convictions on this point and Colby's early briefings obviously must have had an influence. The resentment within the White House domestic staff against Helms and his close friends and associates may have also played some role. Whatever the reason, Schlesinger did not hide his distrust and dissatisfaction with the clandestine service, and reports reached me on a daily basis of derogatory remarks he had made - I'm sure some exaggerated in the telling and others purely apocryphal. For example, I received two separate accounts of a social occasion at which Schlesinger was reported to have stated, "The clandestine service was Helms's Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size." Whether true or not, these stories were widely believed, and they did not make my job any easier in trying simultaneously to win the confidence of the new director and to sustain the morale of the people down the line...

Schlesinger was determined to track down and identify every possible piece of evidence that might bear on the Watergate affair. Only by being completely forthcoming with the congressional committees on Watergate could the Agency hope to put to rest the suspicions that it was deeply implicated, and any new discovery of unrevealed involvement would only confirm the general belief that we must somehow have been party to the cover-up. For this reason, Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees on May 9, 1973, in which he stressed his determination to "do everything in my power to confine CIA activities to those which fall within a strict interpretation of its legislative charter."

It required a retrospective confession of any perceived guilt by all current and past Agency employees going back to the inception of the CIA in 1947. It was not limited to activities directly or indirectly connected with the Watergate affair. Since the legislative charter of the Agency laid down in the language of the National Security Act of 1947 had been deliberately made general and ambiguous, the directive invited the penitential employee to come forward with his own definition of what might be construed as outside that vague charter. We were required to sit in judgment on all past activities as to which one of them might conceivably have been illegal, improper, or unjustified under the broad language of the 1947 Act. It was a hunting license for the resentful subordinate to dig back into the records of the past in order to come up with evidence that might destroy the career of a superior whom he had long hated. It was an invitation to the self-righteous and the moralistically inclined to resurrect "old unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago" in an effort to prove in the perspective of the present that they had been right in the dimly remembered past. There are very few human institutions in this world, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Boy Scouts, that could survive in good working order so broad an injunction to confess all past improprieties or mistakes in judgment, least of all an intelligence agency whose job it is to operate outside the law in foreign countries.

In his interview with me in October 1978, Schlesinger admitted that he had made a serious mistake in issuing a directive so sweeping in scope and so open-ended in time, and in retrospect he wished he had not done so. Schlesinger asserted that he had been primarily concerned with identifying any hidden involvement in Watergate and that he should have restricted his order to that subject. However, he explained that Colby had drafted the directive for his signature and that he had signed it as drafted without giving sufficient thought to its far-reaching implications. In fairness to both Schlesinger and Colby, it should be added that neither of them foresaw that the results of this confessional enterprise would eventually leak to the press; they believed instead that the findings could be used within the Agency to reform past practices and improve existing regulations. They were also motivated by an understandable desire to be fully informed on anything that might rise from the past in the course of the congressional investigations and to be in a position to assure the Congress that remedial action had already been taken.

In the event, the compilation of all possible past misdeeds that flowed from Schlesinger's directive was accomplished with less internal damage than might have been the case in a less disciplined organization. Colby was designated by Schlesinger to oversee the preparation of a report based on all available records and the testimony of those who came forward to confess. Employing the staff of the CIA inspector general, Colby pursued the project with penitential zeal and by May 21, 1973, had collected 693 pages describing all past instances in which the Agency's legislative charter might conceivably have been violated." Individual officers racked their memories for any activity they could recall that might be questionable, and dutifully submitted their reports. The process was certainly thorough, but the results were necessarily skewed by a number of factors. With the passage of time, memories had dulled, crucial witnesses had died or could not be found, and the written record was not always complete. The chain of approval up the line to the policymakers was sometimes deliberately obscure in order to protect the President. Most significant, activity undertaken at the height of the cold war and in a period of direct confrontation with the Soviets had a different aspect in the milder climate of detente. A retrospective severity of judgment tended to color the findings.

For example, Colby's early determination that the opening by the Agency of mail between American citizens and correspondents in the Soviet Union in the period between 1953 and 1973 was clearly illegal was later called into question by the Department of Justice. In his book, Colby makes the point that "opening first-class mail was a direct violation of a criminal statute; I looked it up in the law library to make sure." On the basis of this superficial finding, the mail opening program was cited by Colby as a particularly egregious example of an illegal violation of the Agency's legislative charter. When the story of the Agency's past misdeeds finally broke in the press in December 1974, this mail opening operation figured as a prime example of how the Agency had illegally violated the rights of American citizens, and with scare headlines across the country the American people were made to feel that the CIA had functioned as a domestic Gestapo in operating beyond the law.

(2) Mark Riebling, Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11 (2002)

Nixon decided to replace Helms with James Schlesinger, a relatively unknown forty-eight-year-old economist in the Bureau of the Budget. A politicized intellectual with white hair and the habit of taking off his eyeglasses and chewing absently on one endpiece, Schlesinger had recently made what old-school CIA analysts like Ray Cline regarded as "a very sensible study of Central Intelligence." Informed of the president's decision even before Helms, Schlesinger suggested that Helms' sixtieth birthday, the following spring, would be a more appropriate time to make the switch, since Helms' own policy required automatic retirement at that age. But on November 20, Nixon called Helms in and asked him to become ambassador to Iran, effective the following February. Not feeling quite ready to quit government, but more than happy to escape Washington, Helms accepted the post.

Before leaving, Helms briefed Schlesinger on operational matters, and liaison relationships, especially with the FBI. The Bureau was getting set to send over a regular liaison officer again, to supplant ad-hoc contacts that had been occurring surreptitiously in Hoover's last two years, and openly and with great frequency in the months since his death. After they had successfully resisted the White House cover-up scheme, a sense of secret alliance and shared integrity bound CIA officers like Helms, Walters, and Colby to FBI men like Gray and Bates. Nor was the Bureau objecting anymore to the DCI's wearing of his second hat, as leader of the intelligence community as a whole, and there was now a golden opportunity for the new director to expand into that role by a more activist chairing of interagency boards, and the assumption of more control over the preparation of national estimates. By the end of his tenure Helms regarded the traditional FBI-CIA problem as "absolutely no problem at all."

(3) James Schlesinger, a directive to all CIA employees (9th May, 1973)

I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about “activities outside the CIA’s charter”.

(4) John Stockwell, open letter to Stansfield Turner (10th April, 1977)

With each new Director they hope there will be a housecleaning and reform, but each Director comes and goes, seven in my time, preoccupied with broader matters of state, uttering meaningless and inaccurate platitudes about conditions and standards inside the DDO. The only exception was James Schlesinger, who initiated a housecleaning but was transferred to the Department of Defence before it had much effect.

You, sir, have been so bold as to state your intention to abrogate American constitutional rights, those of freedom of speech, in order to defend and protect the American intelligence establishment. This strikes me as presumptuous of you, especially before you have even had a good look inside the CIA to see if it is worth sacrificing constitutional rights for.

If you get the criminal penalties you are seeking for the disclosure of classified information, or even the civil penalties which President Carter and Vice-President Mondale have said they favour, then Americans who work for the CIA could not, when they find themselves embroiled in criminal and immoral activity which is commonplace in the Agency, expose that activity without risking jail or poverty as punishment for speaking out. Cynical men, such as those who gravitate to the top of the CIA, could then by classifying a document or two protect and cover up illegal actions with relative impunity.

I predict that the American people will never surrender to you the right of any individual to stand in public and say whatever is in his heart and mind. That right is our last line of defence against the tyrannies and invasions of privacy which events of recent years have demonstrated are more than paranoiac fantasies. I am enthusiastic about the nation's prospects under the new administration, and I am certain President Carter will reconsider his position on this issue.

And you, sir, may well decide to address yourself to the more appropriate task of setting the Agency straight from the inside out.

(5) Ray S. Cline, Secrets, Spies and Scholars: Blueprint of the Essential CIA (1976)

That system received a severe buffeting when Nixon summarily transferred Helms out of CIA after the election of 1972. In 1971 a relatively unknown economist in the Bureau of the Budget, James Schlesinger, made a very sensible study of central intelligence. For his pains he was made Director of Central Intelligence to try to carry out his own suggestions; he stayed in this job only from February to July 1973, when he was abruptly transferred to Defense. He made three important moves in this brief period-all wrong. All were designed to tighten White House control of CIA as a secret instrument of operational utility. One was to abolish the Office of National Estimates, a move not effected until after his departure, but one decided upon very early by Kissinger and Schlesinger; the second was to retire summarily over 2,000 employees, most of them the oldest hands at CIA, an act that brought morale to a new low; the third was to subordinate to the clandestine services CIA's long-established overt collection system responsible for contacting U.S. citizens who wanted to pass to the government information learned abroad. The deinstitutionalization of the national estimates system, which thenceforth had as its main purpose writing estimates to order for the NSC staff, the abrupt dismissal of so many CIA officers, making it look as if something had been very wrong, and the reinforcement of the cloak-and-dagger image in connection with perfectly overt CIA functions in the United States-all these were retrograde steps for which CIA has suffered since.

The job of DCI was then passed along to Bill Colby, the able clandestine services officer who had returned from Vietnam to be Executive Director of CIA under Helms. This move probably accounts for the survival of CIA as an institution despite the blows it has received. Bill is a courageous, broadminded intelligence officer, a man of total integrity and dedication to the public service. It was a handicap for him to be tagged as a covert action operator of many years and a prominent activist in Vietnam just when CIA came under fire for its covert acts, but he handled himself with great responsibility and professional dignity in a very tough situation. The end of the Nixon era was a bad period for the whole federal bureaucracy; for Bill Colby, the end of the Watergate episode when the President left office in August 1974 was followed by a wave of press and Congressional criticism that occupied him fully until the end of 1975.

(6) William Colby, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA (1978)

James Schlesinger came on strong. Although his was to he the shortest tenure of any DCI in the Agency's history barely four months - he was to have an exceptionally profound impact on it. He came to the job from the chairmanship of the Atomic Energy Commission. But before that, as noted, while deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1971, on the direct orders of President Nixon, he had conducted a comprehensive review not only of the Agency but of the entire intelligence community. So he was no neophyte when he was sworn in as CIA chief in February 1973. Indeed, quite to the contrary; he knew a great deal about it. More to the point, he had developed some strong ideas about what was wrong with it and some positive ideas as to how to go about righting those wrongs. So he arrived at Langley running, his shirt tails flying, determined, with that bulldog, abrasive temperament of his, to implement those ideas and set off a wave of change both in the practice of intelligence generally and in the organization and operation of the CIA specifically. And in my view, he succeeded admirably.

Central to Schlesinger's ideas was his thinking about the DCI's role in the over-all intelligence process. Bluntly put, he believed that he should be unequivocally the head of it, and that "it" included all American intelligence agencies, not just the CIA...

But it was on my trip to Bangkok in early May of 1973 that I read in a newspaper the story that would radically shake up my life, and that of CIA. It was the story that reported that, during Daniel Ellsberg's trial for disclosing the Pentagon Papers, it had been revealed that the office of his psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis J. Fielding, had been broken into by Howard Hunt, using CIA equipment, in search of material that would then be turned over to CIA and from which CIA would prepare a"psychiatric profile" on Ellsberg for the White House. This was a shocker and I couldn't understand how I had never heard of it before, when I was supposed to have been in charge of assembling all the CIA material relevant to Watergate. But more disturbingly, I wondered how the news had hit Schlesinger; for I had assured him that I had told him the full story of CIA's relationship to Watergate on virtually the first day he had arrived at Langley.

I didn't have to wait long after my return home to find Schlesinger's reaction. In a most moving vote of confidence in me, Schlesinger said he assumed that the news was as much of a surprise to me as it was to him. But then he went on to say that we would tear the place apart and "fire everyone if necessary," but we had to find out whether there were any other such questionable or illegal activities hidden in the secret recesses of the clandestine past that we didn't know about and that might explode at any time under our feet. To do this, Schlesinger said, he wanted to issue a directive to all CIA past and present employees, ordering them to come forward with any matter they knew of where the Agency had engaged in an activity outside its proper charter. With that directive, which he issued on May 9, the CIA "family jewels" were born, and led inexorably to a year of Congressional investigations and a whole new status for American intelligence.

(7) James Schlesinger, Wall Street Journal (17th April, 2003)

With the process of establishing a new dispensation in Iraq proceeding apace and the remaining pockets of resistance gradually being crushed, it is time to reflect upon the deeper strategic significance of the second Gulf War.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein, with his megalomania and confidence in his own survival, provided crucial tactical assistance. His defiance of United Nations resolutions, his likely possession and secreting of weapons of mass destruction, his general support of terrorism, his harboring of noted terrorists, his constant attacks on U.S. and British aircraft policing the no-fly zones, and his violation of the spirit if not the letter of the 1991 cease fire agreement - all this provided ample justification for the allied ultimatum and ultimate attack.

Yet, the longer-run strategic meaning transcends the essentially three-week war itself. The outcome will alter the strategic - and psychological - map of the Middle East.

The war has most dramatically conveyed the following realities:

1.) The US is a very powerful country.

2.) It is ill-advised to arouse this nation by attacking or repeatedly provoking it--or by providing support to terrorism; and

3.) Regularly to do so means a price will likely be paid. Far less credence will now be placed in the preachments of Osama bin Laden regarding America's weakness, its unwillingness to accept burdens, and the ease of damaging its vulnerable economy, etc.

Many have argued that greater self-criticism or better understanding of the roots of terrorism would magically dispel the hostility displayed in much of the Arab world. This was reflected in widespread demonstrations as we responded to 9/11 in Afghanistan; pervasive sympathy for, as well as some direct support of, bin Laden; celebration of 9/11 itself; constant anti-American whining in the Arab press; and a steady flow of critiques from Arab governments (albeit sometimes primarily for domestic consumption.)

All that has now changed. The rapid collapse of what many had expected to be a long and stout-hearted resistance has altered the tone in the Arab world. While the whining in the press continues, it is now quite different: How long will the Americans stay? Will they successfully build an (infectious) democracy? Will they apply pressure to neighboring states? Who might be next? The dismay and shame in the region that the Arabs did not put up a better fight stands in remarkable contrast to the joy of the Iraqis that Saddam is finally gone.

There is a notable diminution of the earlier braggadocio. The many-heralded "catastrophes" did not take place. There was no "explosion" in the Middle East, no widespread unrest immediately upsetting governments, no endless urban warfare, no heavy casualties, no use of chemical and biological weapons (which Saddam supposedly did not have). What we have seen instead is a stunned realization of an awesome display of military power.

It may be too much to hope, but even the US media may glean a lesson or two. Much of what appeared in press accounts was misleading, if not wrong. There were coalition forces supposedly "bogged down" in a "quagmire," suffering "substantial casualties," with insufficient forces, with supply lines stretched and exposed to undue risk. Momentary setbacks - or alleged setbacks - were inflated in a manner that obscured the overall course of battle.

To be sure, the European press was even worse - with its mixture of prophecies of doom and Schadenfreude. And, of course, the same people who said that an attack without an additional U.N. resolution would be the end of the UN are now desperately scrambling to refurbish and reestablish the role and the credibility of the U.N. - and, they hope, its ability to act as a constraint on American power. All in all, it may teach us to be more skeptical about European wisdom and European "sophistication." By and large, European sophistication turned out to be simply European sophistry.