168. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (Carter) to Secretary of Commerce Connor1


  • Sale of Color-TV Equipment to the USSR
Reference is made to my memorandum of 2 March, subject as above, in which I stated that a study had been set in motion to determine the potential damage to U.S. intelligence collection methods that might come about as a result of making available to the USSR certain components of color-TV equipment.2 Attached herewith is the study on potential effects on U.S. intelligence and security of a proposed exception to the embargo policy on rotary-head magnetic tape recorder/reproducers.3
As you are aware, the critical element in the proposed RCA sale is the advanced recording technology, and its product, the sophisticated RCA commercial rotary-head magnetic tape TV signal recorders, models TR–4 and TR–22 (the former is a somewhat simplified version of the latter). On the basis of analysis of all-source information I believe that video type recording devices produced within the Bloc are considerably inferior to the devices in question.
The sale of these recorders to the USSR should be considered only after weighing the following: [Page 486]
It is a fact that a significant number of sophisticated U. S. recorders are in foreign hands and are thus vulnerable to Soviet intelligence exploitation. There is no evidence to date that the Soviets have either the TR–22 or the TR–4 machine, or equivalent machines or significant components thereof, in their possession. We do not know whether the systems have been compromised. Even if the Soviets possess information on such equipment, information alone is a far cry from having the equipment in hand.
Considering the importance of precision wideband recording capability to effective [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] operations and as an analysis tool for research and development programs, it is probable that some work in specialized recording techniques is being conducted by the Soviets, in addition to known efforts to improve their existing system.
Technical intelligence from open sources suggests that as much as a seven-year U. S. advantage may exist in the basic commercial television recorder technology. U. S. experience indicates that the basic commercial technology can not only be directly used for strategic applications but through the expenditure of one to two years be improved for sophisticated intelligence and defense objectives.
The Soviets appear to regard the tape recorder and its technology as a matter of considerable importance to them. Ambassador Kohler’s message (Embassy Moscow Telegram 2615 of 6 March)4 reports that Mr. Karaulov of the Soviet Union “skillfully made quite clear that the tape recorder and technology is an essential part of the package he hopes to be offered. He also expects to visit tape recorder production facilities.” (Also pertinent is another Embassy telegram of 6 March from Moscow #2624.)5
Rotary-head recorders, such as the TR–4 and TR–22, could:
Improve Soviet intercept capabilities;
Improve Soviet [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] analysis and advanced radar development;
Improve handling of Soviet satellite reconnaissance data;
Improve Soviet handling by television of data transmission for military purposes; and
Improve Soviet missile and space telemetry data recording and analysis.
I believe that approval of the RCA request could be exploited by the Soviets to bring about a significant improvement in their [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] collection capability. I urge, therefore, that decision by the appropriate authorities on the proposed sale of this RCA recorder equipment to the USSR be made only after full consideration of this memorandum and the attached study. Because of the fact that a number of these U. S. recorders are in foreign hands as indicated in paragraph 3a above, I cannot make a categorical statement, based on security factors alone, that the proposed sale should not be authorized.6
Marshall S. Carter
Lieutenant General, USA
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Miscellaneous CIA Intelligence Memorandum [2 of 3], Box 5. Top Secret;[codeword not declassified]. Copies were sent to Secretaries Rusk and McNamara and McGeorge Bundy.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid.)
  3. “Report on Potential Effects on U.S. Intelligence and Security of a Proposed Exception to the Embargo on Rotary-Head Magnetic Tape Recorder-Reproducers,” March 5, not printed.
  4. In telegram 2615, Embassy officials reported a March 6 meeting with some Soviet color television people, who said that they had accepted an RCA invitation to make an “exploratory” 2-week visit to various RCA facilities in the United States “for purpose helping ascertain what would be necessary to produce domestically under license or import if Soviets decided to have color TV.” (Department of State, Central Files, TEL 9 USSR)
  5. Telegram 2624 reported evidence that the Soviet Union was prepared to accept the French SECAM color television system, but the head of the French team then visiting Moscow claimed that the French offer did not include tape recorders or technology. The telegram went on to speculate on possible Soviet motivations in these parallel negotiations with the French and the upcoming visit of the Soviet television team to the United States. (Ibid.)
  6. On March 22 France and the Soviet Union announced that they had agreed to combine their technical knowledge and to work together for European adoption of the French SECAM color television system. (Telegram 5379 from Moscow, March 23; ibid.)