CIA declassifies Nixon, Ford briefings

Release of seven years of declassified daily briefings that painted a picture of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford

Published: Updated:

The director of the CIA was in Orange County on Wednesday for the release of seven years of declassified daily briefings that painted a picture of the world for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

About 2,500 documents containing the government’s most up-to-date intelligence analysis on key national security issues during Nixon’s term beginning in January 1969 through the end of Ford’s term in January 1977 were released by the CIA.

The release was followed by an afternoon symposium at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda discussing the importance of the documents.

“Today is an opportunity to shed a bit more light on our mission and our history for the benefit of the American people,” CIA Director John Brennan said.

See all the released declassified documents.

Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper toured the ongoing $15 million renovation of the Nixon Library’s galleries before participating in the symposium, which was attended by about 600 people.

The intelligence provided each day reported on critical historical events, including the Vietnam War – which is mentioned in more than two thirds of the briefings – and Nixon’s historic trip to China.

‘Nixon frequently ignored reports’

The briefings also monitored international response to Watergate and Nixon’s resignation Aug. 9, 1974, which was mixed: The Soviets expressed worry about the future of detente. North Korea reacted brashly, calling Nixon’s exit the “falling out” of the “wicked boss” of American imperialists. South Vietnam put its forces on high alert because it feared the North Vietnamese would take advantage of the vulnerable US political situation.

“The world in the past 24 hours has seemed to mark time as the US succession process worked itself out,” the Aug. 10, 1974, brief says. “None of the potential troublemakers has produced even a rumble. … It may be that many have not had time to consider how the situation might be turned to advantage. Many, the Soviets for example, had probably not anticipated the situation to come to a climax so rapidly.”

The brief on Sept. 5, 1973, said that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had “voiced suspicions” that opponents of the emerging detente were trying to exploit Watergate and that “he wanted to build detente so firmly that it will not be an issue in future US politics.”

Clapper, who served in the Vietnam War, said he thought the daily briefings were a pretty good chronicle of what he remembers during his time in Vietnam. “It was very interesting for me to look back,” he said.

David Robarge, chief historian at the CIA, said the importance placed on the briefings depended on the president.

“In the case of Nixon, he got a lot of information from other sources, and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger would present them to him as kind of a morning package,” said Robarge, who described Nixon as a “hostile audience.”

The CIA didn’t have a daily role in briefing Nixon – it is said he frequently ignored the reports.

By the end of 1969, the presidential daily briefings were about 10 pages long. Ford, the “eager consumer,” requested more analysis, and his briefings were at times close to 20 pages.

Today, President Barack Obama gets his daily briefings on his iPad; they include graphics, videos and previous articles.

“I think that this is going to be a really amazing contribution to historians and political scientists who are going to be able to dig deeper into this material and really understand the information that Presidents Nixon and Ford were given and how they were informed to make these very controversial decisions that have already been judged by history,” said Cathleen Buzan of Orange, who attended the symposium. She is starting her master’s degree at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance in September.

“Now we’ll be able to see a little bit more specifically what intelligence they were provided,” she said, “and have a little bit more of a roadmap to how they made those really important and challenging decisions for foreign policy.”

The Nixon and Ford briefings released Wednesday are available on the CIA website, though some information has been redacted.