James Schlesinger was born in New York City on 15th February, 1929. Educated in Harvard University he obtained a B.A. (1950), M.A. (1952), and Ph.D. (1956) in economics. Between 1955 and 1963 he taught economics at the University of Virginia and in 1960 published the book The Political Economy of National Security. In 1963 he moved to the Rand Corporation and later became director of strategic studies at the organization.
During the Watergate Scandal Nixon became concerned about the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. Three of those involved in the burglary, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez and James W. McCord had close links with the CIA. Nixon and his aides attempted to force the CIA director, Richard Helms, and his deputy, Vernon Walters, to pay hush-money to Hunt, who was attempting to blackmail the government. Although it seemed Walters was willing to do this, Helms refused. In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Helms. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest.
Schlesinger now became the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: The clandestine service was Helmss Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size. This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.
On 9th May, 1973, Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about activities outside the CIAs charter.
There were several employees who had been trying to complain about the illegal CIA activities for some time. As Cord Meyer pointed out, this directive was a hunting license for the resentful subordinate to dig back into the records of the past in order to come up with evidence that might destroy the career of a superior whom he long hated.
It has been argued by John Simkin that it was this Schlesinger directive that encouraged senior CIA operatives to leak information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about Nixon's attempt to cover-up the Watergate Scandal. On 16th May, 1973, Deep Throat has an important meeting with Woodward where he provides information that was to destroy Nixon. This includes the comment that the Senate Watergate Committee should consider interviewing Alexander P. Butterfield. Soon afterwards told a staff member of the committee (undoubtedly his friend, Scott Armstrong) that Butterfield should be asked to testify before Sam Ervin.
On 25th June, 1973, John Dean testified that at a meeting with Richard Nixon on 15th April, the president had remarked that he had probably been foolish to have discussed his attempts to get clemency for E. Howard Hunt with Charles Colson. Dean concluded from this that Nixon's office might be bugged. On Friday, 13th July, Butterfield appeared before the committee and was asked about if he knew whether Nixon was recording meetings he was having in the White House. Butterfield reluctantly admitted details of the tape system which monitored Nixon's conversations.
The appointment of Schlesinger as Director of the CIA created a great deal of unrest in the agency and after three months Nixon decided to replace him with William Colby. Schlesinger now became Secretary of Defense. Soon after his appointment Schlesinger outlined his basic objectives. This included a "strong defense establishment"; "assure the military balance so necessary to deterrence and a more enduring peace"; and to obtain for members of the military "the respect, dignity and support that are their due."
Schlesinger argued that the Soviet Union now had "virtual nuclear parity with the United States" and that the country would have to increase its spending of the military. In a speech in San Francisco in September 1972, he warned that it was time "to call a halt to the self-defeating game of cutting defense outlaysthis process, that seems to have become addicting, of chopping away year after year."
President Richard Nixon resigned on 8th August, 1974. His replacement, Gerald Ford, had doubts about the wisdom of increasing military spending in the months leading up to a presidential election. In November, 1975, Ford fired Schlesinger. After leaving office Schlesinger explained his departure in terms of his budgetary differences with the White House.
When Jimmy Carter became president in January 1977 he appointed Schlesinger as his special adviser on energy. Nine months later he became the first head of the new Department of Energy. Schlesinger held this position until July 1979.
Since leaving government Schlesinger has been Chairman of the Board of the MITRE Corporation, Senior Adviser at Lehman Brothers and Counselor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.