217. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Discussion with Mr. Vance, 16 December 1964

The purpose of my call was to lay the foundation for the talks with McNamara and Vance on NRO. Prior to this discussion I called his special attention to the COMOR study on Mission [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and the CIA forecast of French nuclear capabilities through 1980, both of which I said would be delivered to him by special messenger.2

With respect to NRO, I made the following points:

DCI must have a continuing and positive voice in all of the reconnaissance operation, including research and development directed towards new systems, as well as operational details, schedules, targeting, etc. I said that aerial photography represented such an important input to the intelligence inventory that the DCI could not function responsibly without a strong voice in these activities.
I agreed there must be an NRO and a D/NRO as reconnaissance was [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] a year operation and could not be managed by a committee or a group. However, some changes had to be made.
I questioned whether the D/NRO should be the Under Secretary of the Air Force.
The D/NRO should utilize to the fullest extent available scientific, technical and operational resources of the entire Air Force (not just a very narrow compartmented section of the Air Force) and CIA. In this regard I said that General Schriever, of whom Vance spoke most highly, appeared very dissatisfied with the present NRO setup.
That if D/NRO was to operate a “line operation”, the line operating responsibilities should be limited to the Pentagon and the field and that he should task CIA to perform assigned responsibilities in research, development, procurement, etc., should set up a procedure for reporting on the performance of the assigned tasks and should hold the CIA responsible for its performance. The D/NRO should not go “through the side of the building”, direct personnel within CIA, [Page 480]attempt to control contracting and fiscal procedures in CIA, attempt to remove and reassign men within the CIA organization, as all of these actions were highly disturbing and unnecessary.
I did not feel it necessary to duplicate the Air Force’s booster program or its management of it. I envisaged a plan under which CIA would deliver to the Air Force operating unit a payload properly checked out and enough technical assistance to insure the interface between the payload and the booster, and the Air Force could do the job from there.
I did not feel it possible to maintain a competent organization which could do the imaginative things, such as the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], the U-2 operating from a carrier, the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] camera (which I briefly discussed with Vance) and dozens of others which require a highly competent technical organization, oriented towards the intelligence mission, unless they are authorized to carry through on the development, thus encouraging close liaison arrangements with the contractors, scientific groups, etc.
All camera systems are subject to evolutionary improvements. No one payload exactly duplicates another. History of the continual improvements of the U-2 camera, Corona camera, etc., have proven to me that evolutionary improvements are made by the organization responsible for the development. Thus, I think a plan under which the R&D developing agent, i.e. Air Force or CIA was responsible for supplying to the Air Force operating unit the payload as suggested, would insure the maximum evolutionary development.

I told Vance that all this philosophy had been spelled out in my letters to Bundy and McNamara 3 and that I would like him to review the whole NRO program against the background of our talk and my letters and the three of us would meet. Vance was non-committal. It was obvious my views did not conform to his, which I felt reflected McNamara’s desire to create a “single instrument.”

Finally, in discussing the single instrument, I pointed out that the military have a mission which requires “instantaneous readout.” CIA has a mission of acquiring “maximum input into the intelligence inventory for estimative and analytical purposes.” Therefore I reasoned that if the Air Force became the single instrument of reconnaissance, we would revert to a condition where all R&D and development programs would be oriented to meet the requirements of the military mission. This could not be changed as it was traditional and correct that the military should so plan. There would evolve, therefore, a situation in which essential intelligence would be lost. I pointed out this was the history of [Page 481]the SAMOS development in which the Air Force insisted on a “readout system” against the advice of almost everyone because the military mission demanded instantaneous readout. The NSC (and I was sitting on it) finally had to insist on a new approach, the military fought it, and finally CIA picked up the Corona and made a great success of it.

It is against this background that I feel the program proposed in my letters is logical, in the national interest, will probably save money, and will satisfy both the needs of the SecDef and the DCI.

One essential ingredient of a successful NRO would be the maintenance of the NRO Executive Committee although I would not feel it required weekly meetings if a properly oriented D/NRO was running the show.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (McCone) Files, Job 80–B01285A, DCI McCone Memo for the Record. Secret; Eyes Only. Prepared by McCone on December 17. A copy was sent to Wheelon. A note on the memorandum indicates it was noted by Carter.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. See footnotes 3 and 4, Document 208.