Intelligence Agencies Under Fire

December 28, 1979

Report Outline
Concern Over Alleged Failures
Development of U.S. Intelligence
Proposals for Agency Reform
Special Focus

Concern Over Alleged Failures

Criticism of Surprises in Iran and Cuba

Public concern about intelligence agency abuses became intense in the wake of the Watergate scandal, in which murky connections between the Central Intelligence Agency and Watergate figures came to light. The disclosure in December 1974 that the CIA had illegally spied on thousands of Americans led to the establishment of two investigations, one by the Rockefeller Commission and the other by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the chairmanship of Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho. A series of revelations soon followed. Among other things, it was discovered that the agency had conducted drug experiments on unwitting victims, conspired to overthrow constitutionally elected governments abroad, and cooperated in efforts involving the assassination or attempted assassination of at least five foreign leaders. As a result of these disclosures, the Senate and then the House set up permanent committees to oversee intelligence activities.

During the past year the intelligence agencies once again have come under fire, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but now they are accused not of conducting illegal activities but of failing to do their assigned tasks adequately. Several alleged failures have raised questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence. While some persons argue that the agencies are themselves at fault for their shortcomings, others believe that excessive public scrutiny has made it impossible for them to do their job properly.

Among the incidents causing alarm about U.S. intelligence was the discovery in August that the Soviet Union had organized its troops in Cuba into a combat unit several years earlier, without being detected by U.S. intelligence. Opponents of the U.S.-Soviet strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II), which is now before the Senate for approval, asked how American intelligence was going to monitor missile developments in the Soviet Union if activities occurring 90 miles from the U.S. coast could not be detected. In an effort to defuse such criticism, President Carter said in a nationally televised speech on Oct. 1 that “we are enhancing our intelligence capability in order to monitor Soviet and Cuban military activities — both in Cuba and throughout the world.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Intelligence Agencies
May 29, 2015  Intelligence Reform
Sep. 25, 2009  Interrogating the CIA
Jun. 04, 2004  Re-examining 9/11
Sep. 12, 2003  Homeland Security
Jan. 25, 2002  Intelligence Reforms
Apr. 11, 1997  The FBI Under Fire
Feb. 02, 1996  Reforming the CIA
Dec. 11, 1992  The New CIA
Dec. 28, 1979  Intelligence Agencies Under Fire
Sep. 30, 1977  FBI in Transition
Jul. 25, 1973  Intelligence Community
Jun. 25, 1971  Future of the FBI
Dec. 28, 1961  Intelligence for Security
Feb. 03, 1954  Security Risks in Government
May 18, 1949  Foreign Intelligence
Military Intelligence