Ronald Reagan Intelligence And The End Of The Cold War

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' CENTER.FOR THE \ ' STUDY oF INTELLIGENCEHistorical CollectionDivisionThe Ronald ReaganPresidential LibraryCenter for the Studyof Intelligencehistorical collections primarily by developing release events and partnerships to highlight eachAs one of eleven presidential libraries administered by the NationalThe History Staff in the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence fosterscollection and make it available to the broadest audience possible.Archives and Records Administration, the Reagan Library, under theunderstanding of the Agency’s history and its relationship to today’s intel-Presidential Records Act, is the repository of presidential records forligence challenges by communicating instructive historical insights to thePresident Reagan’s administration. The Library’s holdings include over 60CIA workforce, other US Government agencies, and the public. CIA histo-million pages of documents, over 1.6 million photographs, a half millionrians research topics on all aspects of Agency activities and disseminatefeet of motion picture film, tens of thousands of audio and video tape, andtheir knowledge through publications, courses, briefings and Web-basedover 40,000 artifacts. The newly renovated Museum integrates hundreds ofproducts. They also work with other Intelligence Community historians onartifacts, over half never before seen, and dozens of interactive displays.publication and education projects that highlight interagency approachesThese 18 new galleries pay tribute to America’s 40th president and histo intelligence issues. Lastly, the CIA History Staff conducts an ambitiousaccomplishments by capturing his patriotic spirit, his respect for individualprogram of oral history interviews that are invaluable for preservingliberty, his belief in global democracy, and his support of economic opportunity.institutional memories that are not captured in the documentary record.The Historical Collections Division (HCD) of CIA’s Information Management Services is responsible forexecuting the Agency’s Historical Review Program. This program seeks to identify and declassifycollections of documents that detail the Agency’s analysis and activities relating to historicallysignificant topics and events. HCD’s goals include increasing the usability and accessibility ofThe mission of HCD is to: Promote an accurate, objective understanding of the information and intelligence thathas helped shape the foundation of major US policy decisions. Broaden access to lessons learned, presenting historical material to emphasize the scopeand context of past actions. Improve current decision-making and analysis by facilitating reflection on the impactsand effects arising from past decisions. Showcase CIA’s contributions to national security and provide the American publicwith valuable insight into the workings of its government. Demonstrate the CIA’s commitment to the Open Government Initiative and its threecore values: Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration.6RONALD REAGAN, INTELLIGENCE AND THE END OF THE COLD WARPARTNERS7

RONALD REAGAN,INTELLIGENCE,W I L L I A M C A S E Y,AND CIA:A REAPPRAISALNick DujmovicRonald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States more thanthirty years ago, and ever since he stepped down to return to California eightyears later, historians, political scientists, and pundits of all stripes havedebated the meaning of his presidency. All modern presidents undergoreappraisal after their terms in office. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, waslong considered a sort of caretaker president who played a lot of golf butwho was not very smart or capable; access to formerly closed administrationrecords has changed the minds of historians, who generally consider him apresident fully in charge of national policy, clear-minded, and even visionary.8RONALD REAGAN, INTELLIGENCE AND THE END OF THE COLD WARREAGAN’S USE OF INTELLIGENCE9

Reagan has undergone a similar reappraisal. The old view,exemplified by Clark Clifford’s famous characterizationthat Reagan was “an amiable dunce,” posited Reagan as agreat communicator, to be sure, but one without substance,a former actor who knew the lines others wrote for him, butintellectually an empty suit. Many commentators, especially self-described political liberals, agreed with NormanMailer’s view of Reagan as “the most ignorant president weever had.” Gore Vidal joked that the Reagan Library burneddown and “both books were lost”—including the one Reagan had not finished coloring.1 Even if these are extremeviews, the perspective among many liberals, Democrats,even some Republicans, and most definitely public intellectuals (including historians) was that Reagan was neververy intelligent, never very curious, and never read much;as president, he liked to watch movies and tell funnybut pointless stories, delegated all hard choices, workedvery little, and took lots of naps. If the Cold War largelyended on Reagan’s watch, and if he oversaw an economicrecovery, he was just lucky. Reagan, in the old narrative,simply could not be the architect of anything positive thathappened while he was president.That perspective has changed forever and is marked by thecontinually improving regard historians have for Reagan.Whereas Reagan ranked 25th among US presidents in a1996 poll conducted by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., amongfellow historians, in 2000 a bipartisan polling of scholarsranked Reagan eighth.2 Since 2001, the reappraisalreally took off with the publication of Reagan’s voluminouspersonal and professional writings that demonstrate hewas a voracious reader, a prolific and thoughtful writer, afully engaged mind with a clear, reasoned, and consistentphilosophy.3 More recently, scholarly analysis—some of itby former Reagan critics—of the Reagan administrationrecord, including declassified documents, makes a convincing case that the end of the Cold War and the demiseof the Soviet Union were no accidents and that Reagandeserves credit for his national security policies that ledto these developments.4 Finally, there are the illuminatingReagan diaries, which have persuaded many skeptics—including Iran-Contra prosecutor Arthur Liman—that Reaganwas a thoughtful and capable president.5LINGERING MYTHOLOGY ABOUT REAGANAS INTELLIGENCE CONSUMERThe earlier assessments of Reagan and the subsequent reappraisals should matter to CIA officers because they haveimplications for the history of the Agency and its work. IfReagan was a lightweight who read little, was disengagedfrom policy, and was ignorant about matters of statecraftand national security, there are implications about how CIAproduced and presented its intelligence for the Chief Executive, how much that intelligence (and therefore CIA) mattered to the Reagan administration, and how the Agencymight adjust its approach to another similarly intelligence10impaired president. The lack of a scholarly reassessment ofReagan as a user of intelligence has led to the persistenceof a series of assertions consistent with the earlier generalview of Reagan but similarly in need of reappraisal. Theseassertions are in fact overlapping, self-supporting mythsabout Reagan and intelligence perpetuated by prominentwriters about US intelligence. There are three such myths:Reagan was profoundly ignorant of intelligence and nevercared to learn much about it. He came to the presidency,according to the author of a recent and flawed history ofthe Agency, knowing “little more about the CIA than whathe had learned at the movies.” Others have seconded thisview, including former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI)Stansfield Turner, who asserts that Reagan’s lack of interestin intelligence facilitated the unwarranted influence of DCIWilliam Casey on the president and on policy.6Reagan was not much of a reader of intelligence becausehe tended to read little of anything, especially material(like intelligence) with which he was not already familiar orinterested in. Casey himself initially took this stance—saying to an aide, “If you can’t give it to him in one paragraph,forget it”—before he learned otherwise. Former DCI Turnersays that Reagan paid little attention to CIA products likethe President’s Daily Brief (PDB), citing Vice PresidentGeorge Bush’s statement that Reagan read intelligenceonly “at his leisure.”7 Others go so far as to assert thatReagan generally read no intelligence estimates or assessments of any kind; a highly regarded history of CIA’s workin Afghanistan from the Reagan years to the 9/11 attacksasserts that the Agency learned early that “Reagan was notmuch of a reader” and that detailed written intelligence“rarely reached his desk.”8 Variants on the theme thatReagan read little or no intelligence include the notionthat Reagan’s PDB was unusually short (implicitly by thestandards of other presidents) to encourage his readingit or that Reagan’s PDB was orally briefed to him so hewould not have to read it.9Because Reagan was not a reader, he preferred to watchintelligence videos and films made for him in lieu of traditional printed intelligence products. This myth is supportedby Reagan’s purported preference as a former career actorin films and television and by the old perspective of Reagan’s simple-mindedness. One widely quoted intelligencescholar (a former CIA analyst) asserts that CIA managersmade sure to give the president his intelligence in theform he preferred—images rather than text.10 Anothersniffed that Reagan “wanted a show” instead of traditionalprinted reports, so he received “intelligence briefings invideo format in which predigested facts were arranged likedecorations on a cake. . . a mode of presentation [that]blurred any distinction between fact and judgment, intelligence and advertising, reality and artist’s conception.”11A recent (2009) study of intelligence analysis by a respectedWashington think tank asserts that the PDB as preparedfor Reagan conformed to his preferences, which were for“simple briefings” and “audio-visual presentations.”12RONALD REAGAN, INTELLIGENCE AND THE END OF THE COLD WARThese three Reagan intelligence myths are consistent withthe old interpretation of Reagan the insubstantial presidentbut directly conflict with the more recent evidence thatindicates Reagan was a capable and engaged Chief Executive.In any case, these myths persist, probably from a lack ofpublished evidence specifically covering Reagan’s use ofintelligence combined with a partisanship that blinds someintelligence writers to the facts that have come to light.This paper will present new intelligence-specific findingson Reagan that will refute these myths.R E A G A N ’ S U N D E R S TA N D I N G O F I N T E L L I G E N C EBEFORE HIS PRESIDENCYMuch—probably too much—has been made of Reagan’sacting career and its alleged influence on his substantiveknowledge of intelligence and national security matters.Even the widely esteemed Professor Christopher Andrew ofCambridge University opens his otherwise superb discussionof US intelligence in the Reagan years with the observationthat a third of the films Reagan made in the late 1930s andearly 1940s dealt with national security threats; Andrewconsiders especially telling the four “Brass Bancroft” filmsin which Reagan starred as Secret Service Agent J-24. Moresignificant, however, was Reagan’s wartime service makingfilms for Army Air Corps intelligence, particularly those filmsused for briefing pilots and bombardiers before their Pacificwar missions. The intelligence unit to which Reagan wasassigned used prewar photographs and intelligence reportsto construct large scale models of targets, over which a movingcamera would film; Reagan would then record a narrationtelling the pilots and bombardiers what they were seeing andwhen to release their payloads.13 Reagan thereby had directexperience in the production of an overhead imagery productthat had operational value.The story of Reagan’s struggle with Hollywood’s leftists inthe late 1940s is well known.14 After World War II, Reaganrose to the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG),which was facing an attempted takeover by a stealthCommunist faction and which had to deal with Communist-inspired labor unrest. Reagan successfully fought theattempts of the Communists to gain influence in SAG,and he persuaded union members to cross picket lines atCommunist-organized studio strikes. He was threatenedpersonally for his efforts—an anonymous caller warned hewould have acid splashed into his face—and he acquired andstarted carrying a handgun. He became a secret informantfor the FBI on suspected Communists and their activities,but publicly Reagan named no names and asserted thatthe film industry could handle the problem itself withoutgovernment intervention. These experiences are invariablydescribed—apparently accurately, given Reagan’s subsequentmove into politics—as hugely influential on a formerly politically naïve young actor, in particular by shaping his antiCommunist ideology. But these experiences were relevantalso to Reagan’s understanding of intelligence. Throughthem Reagan learned something about secret groups undertaking clandestine activities, the challenges of workingagainst ideologically driven adversaries, and the value ofintelligence sources with access (in this case, himself).15Reagan lent his celebrity support during 1951 and 1952for the “Crusade for Freedom,” a fundraising campaign tobenefit Radio Free Europe (RFE). It remains unclear whetherReagan at the time knew he was participating in one ofCIA’s most significant Cold War influence programs. Hisinvolvement was sparked in September 1950, when Reagan,in his capacity as SAG president, wrote to the chairmanof the Crusade for Freedom, retired general Lucius Clay,pledging the support of the more than 8,000 membersof SAG: “We offer you our complete support in this greatcounter-offensive against Communist lies and treachery.”In his televised appeals, Reagan modestly introducedhimself—he was a well known film star at the time—andconcluded by saying “The Crusade for Freedom is yourchance, and mine, to fight Communism. Join today.” Reaganat the time might well have suspected US governmentinvolvement in the Crusade for Freedom, since its operatingentity, the National Committee for a Free Europe, boastedAllen Dulles in its leadership (Dulles had not yet joined CIAbut was well known as a former OSS spymaster). As a wellconnected Hollywood star, he could hardly have failed tonotice when syndicated columnist Drew Pearson publicizedthe CIA backing of RFE in March 1953, or when anothermedia personality, Fulton Lewis, attacked RFE’s CIAconnection during 1957-58 in his radio shows and syndicated columns for King Features.16 Whether or not Reaganin the 1950s knew about CIA’s sponsorship of RFE, itprobably would not have mattered to him, but in any casehe would have found out when it was officially disclosedin 1971, after which it was publicly funded. Reagan neverdisavowed his participation in a covert “hearts and minds”operation that was consistent with his visceral anti-Communist beliefs, nor did he ever suggest he had been duped.Reagan’s later emphasis on the importance of counterespionage as a vital pillar of intelligence stems in part fromhis time as governor of California from 1967 to 1975.Reagan had a cooperative, even warm relationship with theFBI, which opened a field office in Sacramento not longafter Reagan was first inaugurated. Reagan’s staff informedthe Bureau that the Governor “would be grateful for anyinformation [regarding] future demonstrations” at theBerkeley campus of the University of California—a majorpolitical challenge for Reagan at the time—and other typesof “subversion.” Reagan sent a warm personal letter to FBIdirector J. Edgar Hoover praising the Bureau for its “continuing fight against crime and subversion” and pledginghis help. At the bottom of the letter, Reagan wrote in hisown hand, “P.S. I’ve just always felt better knowing yourmen are around.” Declassified FBI documents show thatReagan received at least 19 discrete and credible threatsagainst him during his eight years as governor, many ofwhich were passed to him.17REAGAN’S USE OF INTELLIGENCE11

Reagan’s tenure as governor also provided direct experienceregarding classified material and security clearances, sincehis duties included oversight of Lawrence Livermore NationalLaboratory—a national resource for nuclear research—whichrequired Reagan to hold a “Q” clearance granted by theAtomic Energy Commission.18THE ROCKEFELLER COMMISSION,JANUARY – JUNE 1975Reagan’s most formative and direct pre-presidential experience of CIA and intelligence undoubtedly was his participation in 1975 as a member of the President’s Commission onCIA Activities within the United States, better known informally as the Rockefeller Commission after its chairman, VicePresident of the United States Nelson Rockefeller. PresidentGerald Ford created the commission on 4 January 1975to investigate allegations, published in the New York Timesthe previous month, that the Agency had illegally spied ondomestic groups, especially the anti-war movement, duringthe presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.Reagan at the time was within days of stepping down aftertwo terms as governor, and he was named along with abipartisan mix of career public servants that included formercabinet secretaries, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs ofStaff, and leaders in labor and education. The White House,in announcing the appointments, noted that the eight members (including Rockefeller) were chosen because they wererespected citizens with no previous connections with CIA—though certainly most had some knowledge of intelligence.19The FBI in January 1975 interviewed dozens of Reagan’sfriends, associates, colleagues, and others pursuant toits background investigation of Reagan before he couldparticipate on the Rockefeller Commission. Documents fromReagan’s FBI file indicates that almost all those interviewedhighly recommended Reagan for the position, praising hisintelligence, loyalty, honor, and dedication, but there werea few exceptions, mostly among Reagan’s former politicalrivals. Jesse Unruh, the former speaker of the CaliforniaAssembly (whom Reagan had defeated in his reelectioncampaign in 1970) considered Reagan unqualified for anygovernment position because of his lack of “compassion”for people; former California governor Edmund “Pat” Brownsaid that Reagan was “out of touch with the common man”and that his “overemphasis” on security and law enforcement“would raise a question of possible bias in favor of the CIA”;US Senator Alan Cranston challenged Reagan’s capabilitiesfor the position on the grounds that he was” insufficientlyconcerned about civil liberties.” None of Reagan’s critics,however, expressed the opinion that he was ignorantabout intelligence.20At the Commission’s first meeting in the Vice President’soffice on 13 January 1975, Reagan informed Rockefellerthat his busy schedule—booked full over several monthswith speaking engagements and taping sessions for hisradio commentaries—meant that he would have to miss12some meetings. Rockefeller accepted Reagan’s absenceson the condition that he read the transcripts of the meetingshe would miss. Reagan missed the next four meetings dueto these previous commitments and because of the difficultycommuting from California to Washington, where theCommission met. Following unfavorable media reports andcritical editorials in February, Reagan offered to step downfrom the Commission, an offer Rockefeller refused, againon the basis of Reagan’s ability to read the transcripts.21Reagan ended up attending eleven of the Commission’s26 sessions over the next six months, which irritated Rockefeller, who as a liberal Republican was a political rival ofReagan’s.22 According to Rockefeller’s counsel at the time,Peter Wallison, Rockefeller “regarded Reagan as a lightweight who was not taking his responsibilities seriously.”Scholarly critics ever since, when they mention Reagan’sparticipation in the Commission at all, point to his poorattendance record as evidence that Reagan was not veryinterested in CIA and intelligence.23Testimony from participants and witnesses, however, paintsa different picture. Reagan was not only substantivelyengaged, he emerged as a leader within the Commission.He did miss many meetings, especially in the beginning,but his absences were not due to lack of interest or ability.Former Commission staff counsel Marvin Gray remembersthat “frankly, he didn’t miss very much in those firststages. It wasn’t bad judgment on his part to miss thosefirst meetings, when we were just getting organized and beforewe really got started.” Wallison recounts that Reagan, whenhe attended, listened attentively to the proceedings. TheCommission’s senior counsel, David Belin—who has beenpublicly critical of Reagan—has written that Reagan kepthimself informed through his absences; Belin noted that“I was able to keep him advised on all key questions.”According to Belin, Reagan showed leadership in disagreeing with Rockefeller’s views on two issues: whether theCommission should investigate CIA assassination plotsagainst foreign leaders, and whether the work of the Commission should be sealed from public access for five years.Rockefeller opposed the first and advocated the second.Reagan took the position that the Commission should lookinto assassination plots and opposed Rockefeller’s proposalfor the five-year moratorium. Reagan’s position on bothissues influenced others on the Commission and becamethe majority view. On the matter of assassinations, theCommission ran out of time to conduct a full investigation,electing to transfer its materials on the subject to thePresident (who sent them to the ongoing Senate investigationknown as the Church Committee), while Reagan’s viewon openness helped lead to the June 1975 unclassifiedpublication of the Commission’s report.24Testimony about the drafting of the report itself providesmore insight into the question of Reagan’s understandingof complex issues such as intelligence. “Unlike other commissions where the commissioners merely sign off on whatthe staff has written,” Gray noted, “for the RockefellerCommission the members were very involved in draftingRONALD REAGAN, INTELLIGENCE AND THE END OF THE COLD WARthe report.” Reagan, Gray said, played an important role indrafting the report: “I was surprised by how Ronald Reagancame up with a point of view and language that allowed theCommission, often divided on issues, to compromise.”25Gray was not alone in his newfound appreciation for Reagan’sabilities. Wallison, at the time a “Rockefeller Republican”who initially shared his boss’s disdain for Reagan, quicklychanged his mind: “As the commission began to draft itsreport . . . a contributing Reagan emerged. . . Rockefeller wasnot an analytical or critical thinker [and] was not able to offermuch leadership in the actual drafting of the report.”26For a while the commission seemed unable todevelop a generally acceptable formulation of itsviews. As the discussions went on inconclusively,Reagan started to write on a yellow legal pad that hebrought with him. At first I thought he was simplytaking notes. Then, on several occasions, when thediscussion flagged, he would say something like“How does this sound, fellas?” and would readaloud what he had written. His draft language wasusually a succinct summary of the principal issuesin the discussion and a sensible way to addressthem. Often, the commission found that they couldagree with his proposal, which went directly into thereport. . . Among a group of gifted and famous men,in the setting of the Commission on CIA Activitiesin the United States, Reagan was a standout.Wallison remembers his amazement that Reagan “wasreally able to digest a lot of very complicated stuff [and]to write it all down in a logical order, in a smoothly flowingset of paragraphs that he then read off to the Commissionmembers. It summarized for them and for all of the rest ofus what we had heard.” This was so impressive, Wallisonwrites, because Reagan went beyond the understanding ofcomplex issues to being capable of accurately describingthem—“adopting actual words to describe these conceptscan be quite difficult. . . if one’s understanding is limited,it is difficult to choose the right words. Having a sufficientmastery of the subject matter to prescribe a solution is harderstill. Reagan more than met these standards.” Wallison’saccount is confirmed by Commission member Douglas Dillon,a former Treasury secretary for Presidents Kennedy andJohnson, who recounted that Reagan’s intervention ended an“impasse” among the commissioners and who was surprisedby the ease with which Reagan pulled it off.27CIA’s critics and congressional Democrats have long deridedthe Rockefeller Commission’s findings as a “whitewash,”but it was far from that. The report Reagan helped bring tolife was critical of CIA. It described at length the domesticactivities revealed by the New York Times and additionallyuncovered a few other abuses for the first time, such as thetesting of LSD on unwitting Americans, one of whom hadcommitted suicide.28 As a result of his membership on theRockefeller Commission and his leading role in drafting itsfinal report, Reagan was well grounded on both the fun-damentals and specifics of CIA’s missions, activities, andresponsibilities as well as its organization, oversight, andlegal and regulatory constraints.In the immediate wake of his Commission experience,Reagan—who philosophically was suspicious of encroachments of the federal government on individual liberty—enthusiastically defended the mission of intelligence inkeeping the nation secure. As Congress continued its owninvestigations of US intelligence activities, Reagan publiclycalled for an end to ongoing congressional inquiries (theSenate’s Church Committee and the House’s Pike Committeeinvestigations), saying that the Rockefeller Commissionreport satisfied the public’s need to know, that Congresswas approaching the subject with “an open mouth and aclosed mind,” and that further investigation would harmCIA’s ability “to protect the security of this country.”29R E A G A N ’ S D E V E L O P ING VIEWS ON INTELLIGENCE,1975-1979Reagan put the knowledge he acquired from his membership on the Rockefeller Commission to good use during his“wilderness period” from January 1975, when he steppeddown as California’s governor, to October 1979, as he waspreparing to announce his candidacy for the Republicannomination for president. During this period, Reagan wroteand delivered hundreds of commentaries for his syndicatedradio spot that ran five days a week; he also drafted opinionpieces, private letters, and public remarks.30 In thesewritings, Reagan commented on a broad range of foreign,national security, and domestic topics, including intelligenceand CIA. Early on, in a radio broadcast he titled “CIA Commission,” Reagan in August 1975 highlighted his service onthe Rockefeller Commission and emphasized that, thoughinstances of CIA domestic espionage were found, it did notconstitute “massive” spying as reported in the media, themisdeeds were “scattered over a 28-year period,” and CIAhad long ago corrected them. Reagan reiterated his concernthat congressional investigations were assuming the characterof “witch hunting” and threatened “inestimable harm” toCIA’s ability to gather intelligence. “There is no doubt,”Reagan warned, that intelligence sources worldwide “havebeen frightened into silence” and that CIA officer themselveswere now less likely to take risks.31The need for secrecy in intelligence and the potential harmof publicity is a frequent theme in Reagan’s writings andpublic statements during this period, frequently coupledwith statements of enthusiasm for the work of US intelligenceofficers and of the overall need for a strong intelligenceposture to protect US national security in a perilous world.Many of Reagan’s radio commentaries were mostly or entirelydevoted to the subject of intelligence: “CIA Commission”(August 1975); “Secret Service” (October 1975); “GlomarExplorer” (November 1976); “Intelligence” (June 1977);“Spies” (April 1978); “Intelligence and the Media” (October 1978); “Counterintelligence” (January 1979); “CIA”REAGAN’S USE OF INTELLIGENCE13

(March 1979). Many more touched on intelligence subjects,sometimes to make a broader political point, sometimes fortheir own sake. Americans have more to fear, Reagan oftensaid, from domestic regulatory agencies like the InternalRevenue Service and the Occupational Safety and HealthAdministration than from intelligence agencies like CIAor the FBI. The threat from Soviet expansionism, terror, anddomestic subversion required robust US capabilities in intelligence collection—Reagan highlighted the need for humanand technical collection alike—as well as in counterintelligence. Addressing well publicized intelligence issues of the1970s, Reagan advocated allowing journalists to volunteeras intelligence sources but declared “the US should not beinvolved in assassination plots.” He strongly favored covertaction programs that might lead to freedom for people livingunder Communist regimes, and he supported FBI surveillanceand infiltration of domestic extremist groups. Not leaving anymajo

as president, he liked to watch movies and tell funny but pointless stories, delegated all hard choices, worked very little, and took lots of naps. If the Cold War largely ended on Reagan’s watch, and if he oversaw an economic recovery, he was just lucky. Reagan, in the old narrative, simply could not be the architect of anything positive that

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