We looked at being offered Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or CNO, or any one of the unified commands. I mean, we were letting our imaginations run, trying to figure out, “What do I prepare myself for?”
I must say, the CIA did come to mind. President Carter’s first nominee, Ted Sorensen, hadn’t panned out. When this possibility was raised, someone said, “He shouldn’t do that to you—he’s your friend and classmate.” And then, “Tell him you could serve him better as a military officer.”
When we arrived [in the United States] I was told I was to meet Secretary Brown at 10 a.m. and the President at 10:30. Thirty minutes isn’t much time between two appointments in two different places. A bell went off in my mind that it also isn’t much time to meet a Secretary of Defense for the first time and have him size you up if you’re going to get a military assignment.
Secretary Brown was brief and polite. The President has something he wants me to do and he’ll tell me about it. Within about ten minutes of the meeting starting, I was on my way to the White House. As we crossed the river, I said to myself, “You are going to the CIA. If the Secretary of Defense neither wants to meet you nor accompany you, you are not going to a military assignment.”
I was ushered into the President’s private office for a meeting with him and Vice President Walter Mondale. The President started off by telling me what sterling qualities I had and what great contributions I had made to our country. I recognized this as a sales pitch for what was coming next.
He said they needed somebody to head up Central Intelligence. He had two candidates in mind—I was one of them. He just wanted to talk to me about this. I then went into automatic and said, “Mr. President, you are very kind to have described me the way you did. But if I do, in fact, have those qualities, they are very much needed in the United States military. I believe I could serve you better in the military.”
He assured me the law provided I could remain on active duty in this assignment—and he would prefer that. He also wanted me to understand I would be director of Central Intelligence, not just head of the CIA. This meant running all of the intelligence agencies in our government and coordinating their efforts.
We discussed this a little more—probably for less than a half hour—at which time he said, “Fritz, I have narrowed the field to one.” The President . . . then turned around and ordered the Vice President to get me the forms to fill out for security clearances and to get together with Harold Brown and start the ball rolling. I don’t recall ever saying, “Yes sir, I’ll do this.” It was so much an assumption on my part that I couldn’t say no.
The Naval Institute thanks the many individuals who helped underwrite the Turner oral history, especially Edson W. Spencer and Herman Wouk. Our thanks also to the Tawani Foundation for its ongoing support of the Oral History Program.
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