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CIA Declassifies Presidential Briefings from the 1970s

  • Wayne Lee

FILE - Then-vice presidential nominee Gerald R. Ford (R) listens as President Richard Nixon, accompanied by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Oct. 13, 1973.

FILE - Then-vice presidential nominee Gerald R. Ford (R) listens as President Richard Nixon, accompanied by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Oct. 13, 1973.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has released 2,500 previously classified daily foreign intelligence briefings given to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the 1970s that shed new light on a crucial era of Cold War and Third World events.

Included in the 28,000 pages of documents are nuggets of fascinating information about world affairs, including the controversial Vietnam War that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 U.S. service members.

The briefings were given to Nixon and Ford when they occupied the White House during an eight-year period beginning on January 20,1969. They offer insight into events such as Nixon's historic visits to China and the Soviet Union, the first such visits by a U.S. president, and Nixon's fall from grace that led to his resignation.

The Ford years

The briefings during Ford's years as president detail historic developments like the end of the Vietnam War and the death of the founding father of the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong.

When Nixon arrived in Beijing on February 21, 1972, the briefing meticulously noted which Chinese officials attended the various events, an attempt to better understand the operations of the politburo, which is still closely observed today.

The briefings, which were about 10 pages long, revealed how little the CIA knew about China, the world's most heavily populated country, which was just beginning to re-establish a global presence after more than two decades of isolation.

The CIA summary later informed Nixon that his visit to China rattled the Soviet Union and Japan and motivated European countries to engage with China. China, the briefing noted, was "generally pleased" with Nixon's visit.

On August 10, 1974, one day after the resignation of Nixon, the briefing to the newly sworn in Ford provided details about the world's response to Nixon's exit from office.

"None of the potential troublemakers has produced even a rumble," the briefers said.

During a briefing a year-and-a-half later, President Ford was informed of the death of Mao Zedong, who was described as the "dominating force in Chinese politics."

The high-level CIA briefings, released Wednesday, do not provide much insight into how much they impacted Nixon's decision-making, given that he was aloof and tended to isolate himself. Nixon chose not to get in-person briefings from CIA officials, opting to receive them, instead, from his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger.

A declassified CIA history, also released Wednesday, noted that CIA officials were discouraged at their lack of access to Nixon, who carried a grudge against the intelligence agency for his loss to President John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election. Nixon believed the CIA had failed to discredit Kennedy's erroneous assertion that the U.S. had relinquished its lead in intercontinental ballistic missile technology to the Soviet Union.

In a 1973 summary, Nixon was briefed about an upcoming May 26 meeting of the heads of the Organization of African Unity. It said Israel's presence in Africa would be the primary issue at the conference, precipitated by demands from Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi that "African states sever their ties with Israel or face loss of Libyan aid to them and to African liberation groups."

Salvador Allende (L) of the Marxist left-wing coalition is congratulated for his victory in the Chilean presidential election by Christian Democrat candidate Radomiro Tomic at Allende?s home, Sept. 5, 1970 in Santiago.

Salvador Allende (L) of the Marxist left-wing coalition is congratulated for his victory in the Chilean presidential election by Christian Democrat candidate Radomiro Tomic at Allende?s home, Sept. 5, 1970 in Santiago.

Chile

In the South American nation of Chile, the 1970 election of Salvador Allende as president worried Nixon, who thought Chile could become "another Cuba," a communist country in the Western Hemisphere.

Nixon and Kissinger spent the next three years using the CIA to secretly support Allende's opponents with the intent of forcing him out of office or inciting a coup. Allende was killed in a coup in September 1973 led by army commander Augusto Pinochet, igniting decades of debate about the role the CIA had in the putsch. The briefs did not confirm direct CIA support for the overthrow of the Chilean government.

The briefings devoted a great amount of attention to developments in Indochina, where the U.S. was attempting to withdraw from the Vietnam War and support faltering governments in nearby Cambodia and Laos.

Not all of the CIA's information was accurate. As the Vietnam War was winding down, an analysis given to President Ford on March 28, 1975 predicted the U.S.-trained South Vietnamese troops would maintain stability until "early 1976." The communist troops from North Vietnam captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, a month later.

Ford approached the daily CIA briefings much differently from Nixon, becoming the first president to receive them orally by a CIA official.

The release of the briefings is part of a continual endeavor to publicize presidential intelligence briefings. These latest summaries were released by CIA Director John Brennan and National Intelligence Director James Clapper at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.

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