179. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to President-Elect Nixon 1

You have asked for my assessment of the strengths and limitations of the Government’s foreign intelligence coverage and my views as to measures which could be taken to improve this effort. I am generally satisfied with the adequacy of our intelligence on such matters as:
The military capabilities of foreign nations of strategic concern to the United States (including the characteristics and state of deployment of their missiles and other strategic weapons); and
World economic developments and political trends in most non-Communist countries of significant interest to the United States.
[6 lines of source text not declassified]
There are, in my opinion, certain steps that should be taken to improve the intelligence effort. The most important of these are: (a) implementation of plans for the development of a satellite borne photographic reconnaissance system, capable of practically instantaneous transmission of pictures for interpretation in Washington; and (b) the appointment of an Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense to advise and assist him on intelligence resources with a view to sharpening the focus of intelligence activity and eliminating marginal programs.
The following paragraphs will give you in somewhat greater detail my views about the effectiveness of our intelligence programs.

a. Communist Military Capabilities.

It is, I think, obvious that the competence and scope of our intelligence effort has improved and expanded substantially during the past ten to twelve years. We can count on reliable information about the size and disposition of military forces around the world. Improved overhead photographic reconnaissance systems, which regularly produce coverage of wide geographic areas with [3 lines of source text not declassified] give us a reasonably complete understanding [1½ lines of source text not declassified].
Through signals intelligence activities, conducted largely by units of our military services, acting under the technical direction of the National Security Agency, [8 lines of source text not declassified].
[1 paragraph (7 lines of source text) not declassified]
Generally speaking, we can provide planners in the Defense Department and military services with information which permits them to make decisions concerning the level and character of forces and weapons systems needed by the United States with reasonably precise knowledge of the probable nature of the military threat against which these forces and weapons will be used. One of the imperatives of good defense planning, of course, is adequate advance notice of the emergence or likely emergence of new enemy weapons systems. We have reason for confidence in our ability to detect and identify [5 lines of source text not declassified]

b. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]

[1 paragraph (25½ lines of source text) not declassified]
[1 paragraph (25 lines of source text) not declassified]
[1 paragraph (14 lines of source text) not declassified]

c. Economic Coverage and Intelligence on Areas Outside the Communist Bloc.

Our understanding of economic developments in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe generally is reasonably complete. This coverage is, of course, a factor in an assessment of probable military strengths, force levels and projected weapons production in Communist countries.
Intelligence coverage of political and economic developments outside of the Communist Bloc is generally satisfactory. [6½ lines of source text not declassified]
In Latin America, programs for the penetration of Communist parties and surveillance of potentially subversive Communist supported political activity have progressed satisfactorily.
In Southeast Asia the main emphasis, of course, has been in Vietnam where all elements of the intelligence community are extremely active. The United States military commands have been primarily responsible for the development of order of battle intelligence and tactical intelligence support to combat commands. CIA has been active in the rural development and pacification programs and in counterintelligence work designed to penetrate the Viet Cong organization and subversive programs, as well as in providing political coverage of the South Vietnamese government. [8 lines of source text not declassified]
[1 paragraph (11 lines of source text) not declassified]
Turning to the question of what should be done to strengthen United States intelligence, I believe that some improvements can be made in the organizational [Page 363] structure and procedures of the Central Intelligence Agency. As you are, of course, aware, the organization of CIA was originally shaped by the experience of OSS in World War II and has evolved through the administration of five Presidents. Its organizational pattern has changed as experience in crises, from the blockade of Berlin to the recent Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, has suggested better arrangements for the collation, analysis and speedy dissemination of information. Since its creation in 1947 it has been the subject of numerous reviews by groups which included such highly qualified and responsible members as General James Doolittle, Robert Cutler, C. D. Jackson, General Mark Clark, Edward Rickenbacker, Mansfield Sprague, Livingston Merchant, James Killian, Clark Clifford, General Maxwell Taylor, and John McCone.
I have just completed my own survey of the Agency which has satisfied me that in general it is performing effectively the functions entrusted to it by law and by the National Security Council and that its organizational structure is basically sound.
I believe, however, that some modifications of its organization and in the scope and emphasis of certain of its activities may be desirable. Specifically, I believe that improvements can be made in the organizational arrangements and procedures through which coordinated National Intelligence Estimates are produced. I hope to be able to streamline and improve the facilities within the Agency for the automatic or computerized handling, storage, and dissemination of information. I also believe that the resources available for research and analysis, particularly as an adjunct to the formulation of estimates of probable political trends and occurrences in foreign countries, should be reviewed and can perhaps be strengthened.
Another factor of cardinal importance to the Central Intelligence Agency is the cover and security available for its operational personnel overseas. [18 lines of source text not declassified]
I believe that steps can also be taken which will improve the effectiveness of the intelligence community as a whole. As far as capabilities for the collection and rapid dissemination of data are concerned, [4½ lines of source text not declassified]. We also have plans for a new satellite borne photographic reconnaissance system providing [1½ lines of source text not declassified]. Finally, as I have suggested in paragraph 3., I believe that we should proceed with the design and development of a satellite photographic system which would include a [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. This would permit us to follow certain events and developments in foreign and potentially hostile regions on an hour-to-hour basis almost as they occur. Obviously the development of such a capability would be expensive and may burden the facilities presently available to exploit and interpret photography. Nevertheless, I believe that we should acquire this new system and am assured [Page 364] by technical experts, including Dr. Edwin Land of the Polaroid Corporation, that it is technically feasible.
In addition to plans for improving our collection systems, we also are undertaking action calculated to insure that our automated facilities and related procedures for the storage, collation and rapid retrieval and dissemination of information of interest to the intelligence community as a whole are modern and as efficient as possible.
Another matter of considerable importance, as I have also indicated in paragraph 3., is the need for greater centralization of control over the intelligence activities conducted in the Department of Defense. [3 lines of source text not declassified] They are managed through three principal programs:
.The Consolidated Cryptologic Program (CCP). The bulk of communications intelligence and electronic intelligence activities of the United States Government are managed under the CCP, the total budget for which runs in FY 1969 to about [dollar amount not declassified]. The National Security Agency is responsible for this effort to the Secretary of Defense, to whom the Director, NSA, reports through the Director for Defense Research and Engineering.
The National Reconnaissance Program (NRP). This program encompasses all projects for the collection of intelligence and of mapping and geodetic information obtained through overflights of denied areas by both manned aircraft and satellite vehicles. It is managed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Director of which is simultaneously the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development, although the Director, NRO, reports directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense on reconnaissance matters. The budget for the NRP for FY 69 is approximately [dollar amount not declassified]. Guidance to the reconnaissance effort is provided by an Executive Committee consisting of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and the Director of Central Intelligence.
The Consolidated Intelligence Program (CIP). This program includes the various activities of DIA and the military services which collect and produce information of primary interest to military planning, operations and readiness. These activities include a considerable mapping and charting effort, peripheral reconnaissance (as distinguished from overhead reconnaissance conducted under the NRP), the Defense attaché system and the Atomic Energy Detection System. The cost of these programs amounts to [dollar amount not declassified] in FY 69. The CIP is the direct responsibility of the Director, DIA, who reports to the Secretary of Defense through the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Although existing arrangements for the control and review of these three individual programs are adequate, no machinery exists in the Department of Defense for the interrelation of all three programs [Page 365] with each other. A common element in the review of these programs is afforded by my own representatives who participate in the review of each individual program. I have no managerial authority over components of the Defense Department, however, and my influence over these programs is necessarily limited to broad and generalized guidance. I have recently established a National Intelligence Resources Board (NIRB),2 with the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence as Chairman and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Director of Intelligence and Research in the Department of State as members, to help me determine what resources are really needed in the intelligence effort. My role, however, as far as Defense Department programs are concerned is advisory only. I have no authority to compel any action with respect to Defense Department activities. No other machinery exists, below the level of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, through which integrated control of these programs is actually exercised.
In view of the sensitivity and importance of intelligence programs, it is essential that those conducted under the managerial authority of the Secretary of Defense should continue to be supervised and administered by individuals with direct access to the very highest level of the Department of Defense. In recent years oversight and policy direction of these three programs has been increasingly the responsibility of the Deputy Secretary of Defense personally. It is important that no intermediate echelon should develop to constitute a bureaucratic layer between the Deputy Secretary and the Directors of these three important programs. On the other hand, experience has proved that it is impossible for a man with the broad responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary of Defense individually to exercise continuing administrative supervision over the complex of activities represented in these three large programs. Nor would it be desirable to add this responsibility to the functions of any of the Assistant Secretaries. Accordingly, I believe that a very senior and competent individual who is thoroughly experienced in intelligence should be appointed to act as an Assistant to the Deputy Secretary with a small staff to advise and assist the Deputy Secretary on matters relating to intelligence resources.
Another subsidiary change calculated to improve the management of intelligence programs would be to divest the Director, National Reconnaissance Office of responsibility for any matters other than the reconnaissance program itself. At the moment the Director, NRO, is also the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development, a responsibility which has seriously limited the time and attention which he can [Page 366] devote to the affairs of the National Reconnaissance Program. It should be possible to arrange some official designation, in the Air Force or otherwise, which would explain his presence in the Defense Department and serve as a cover for his actual activities but which would nevertheless not detract from his efficiency by burdening him with administrative or other responsibilities outside the reconnaissance field. I also believe that the Director, NSA, should report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense instead of through the Director for Defense Research and Engineering who, however, should be consulted on matters in all three intelligence programs which have technical or engineering implications.
I believe that with these changes in arrangements for the supervision of intelligence in the Defense Department it should be possible for us to reduce the cost of certain existing programs and activities, some of which produce data and information of marginal importance. Economies and improvements in the efficiency of existing programs would permit us, I hope, to offset the substantial cost of developing new and expensive facilities, such as the capability for an immediate readout of satellite photography which I have mentioned above, and which are badly needed to improve the effectiveness of our over-all effort.
Richard Helms
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 207, CIA, Vol. I, Jan 69–31 Dec 69. Top Secret; Handle via Byeman Comint Channels.
  2. For documentation on the establishment of the NIRB, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; United Nations, Documents 278 and 285.