187. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to Secretary of Defense Laird and the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Packard)1


  • Major Intelligence Problems, Particularly in the SIGINT Field
With further reference to my memorandum of 18 February,2 I am enclosing a paper which outlines my views on the Government’s SIGINT activities.
In July 1967 the President directed that a special review of these activities be conducted by the Director of Central Intelligence. The purpose of the review was to assess the efficiency of these operations and their responsiveness to national needs at minimum necessary cost. To assist me I appointed a special study group chaired by Mr. Frederick M. Eaton, which submitted its report in August 1968. Since then I have received comments on the report from various elements of the Department of Defense as well as from the Director of the Bureau of the Budget. A copy of the Eaton report is attached.3 The other members of the study group were Mr. Livingston Merchant, General Lauris Norstad, and Mr. Eugene Fubini.
The annexed memorandum sets forth in rather general terms some of the conclusions which I have reached after considering the Eaton recommendations and the various comments on them. I propose ultimately to transmit my recommendations concerning possible measures to improve the organization and administration of the SIGINT effort to the President through you. Before putting such recommendations in final form, however, I would like to discuss with you personally the broad outlines of the main problem as I see them. In anticipation of such a discussion, the attached paper provides a summary of my views. When you have had a chance to review it, I should appreciate an opportunity to talk to you about specific actions that may be taken.
Richard Helms 4


Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms

Conclusions Concerning Possible Improvements in the Organization and Administration of U.S. SIGINT Programs

There is a need to bring together review of the three major intelligence programs of the Department of Defense (the Consolidated [Page 379] Cryptologic Program, the Consolidated Intelligence Program and the National Reconnaissance Program). As you know, these account together for something on the order of 85% of the total resources devoted to national intelligence. In the past these programs have been considered by separate reviewing authorities, which has complicated the problem of identifying gaps and redundancies in the intelligence effort as a whole. Better arrangements are needed for identifying and evaluating all the resources and activities committed to the coverage of particular targets and problems, particularly where high cost systems are involved. It is also important that all of the Defense Department’s intelligence programs at the national level should be kept under more or less continuous review and that this be done with full recognition of the relationship of each to the others and to the total efforts of the community. In this way it should be possible to assess more clearly the intelligence impact of resource decisions. It was largely to facilitate the process of continuing review of the totality of the Defense Department intelligence effort that I recommended that you appoint a senior official to act as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary for intelligence resource matters.
Resources must be more closely related to intelligence needs than they now are. I believe that we have made considerable progress in trying to achieve this. Among the more important steps is the establishment of the National Intelligence Resources Board (NIRB), consisting of top representatives of the principal intelligence producers, i.e., DIA, State and CIA, chaired by the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. The purpose of this Board is to provide me with informed advice concerning the real need for particular systems or activities when the information which they produce, or are likely to produce, is balanced against their cost. We have established a Target Oriented Display (TOD) to assist the NIRB in identifying and assessing the totality of resources applied to particular national intelligence needs. In this connection, we will need your help in persuading certain elements of the intelligence community to conduct their business so that they can be adequately responsive to calls for information on the resources which they deploy, including cost data.
We are also endeavoring to devise more effective means of arriving at an accurate assessment of the true value of the intelligence which is eventually produced as a result of the operation of particular resources. This is a most complex problem and we have been trying to attack it in several different ways, including the use of advanced methods of systems analysis.
The mechanism of the U.S. Intelligence Board (USIB) and its functional committees has been useful in developing intelligence requirements in the first instance. A good deal of progress has been made [Page 380] in developing procedures to provide a continuing assessment and refinement of these requirements with the objective of keeping the flow of raw intelligence information within reasonable and effective bounds. This problem has been exacerbated by the steadily increasing technical effectiveness of collection systems. Here we have encountered a certain amount of natural reluctance to make hard selective decisions concerning what data is really essential or at least important. I suggest that we will all have to work together to achieve a proper balance between the “nice to know” and the “need to know.”
Much thought has been given to the desirability of attempting to formulate a long term national intelligence plan to determine the objectives, targets and priorities of the intelligence effort. A plan, in the conventional sense of the word, is probably too elaborate and rigid a format for the provision of practical guidance for intelligence activity. It is hard to conceive of a planning document which would be very helpful in projecting the intricate and multitudinous activities contemplated for American intelligence activity over an appreciable period of time. An alternative would be a series of program memoranda related to the intelligence effort against the more important areas. Such memoranda could define the objectives of the effort in the area, describe the resources committed and recommend the maintenance of a particular level of effort and the allocation of particular resources to this effort. The recommendations of the memoranda, insofar as they relate to resources, would be based, in part at least, on the results of systems evaluations completed during the course of a program year. Preparation of such program memoranda would be the joint responsibility of the DCI’s staff and designated elements of the Defense Department.

One of the most difficult problems in the SIGINT field is to achieve a proper allocation of resources as between those devoted to national requirements and those which are necessary to support military units, particularly in the case of ELINT. Under NSCID 6,5 NSA is assigned the mission to provide “an effective unified organization and control of the COMINT and ELINT intercept and processing activities of the U.S.” This would appear to be ample authority for NSA but in practice this centralized control has been eroded. At the heart of the problem is the fact that almost all the collection resources of the CCP are operated by one of the three service cryptologic agencies (SCA’s). The SCA’s are oriented in large measure to the needs of their respective parent services. Thus, while NSA nominally has tasking authority over all COMINT and ELINT collection facilities, it has perforce delegated [Page 381] control of a substantial portion of these facilities to the SCA’s so they might fulfill the intelligence needs placed upon them by their parent services. Particularly in the area of ELINT collection, resources programmed against national requirements are at times diverted to meet the tactical needs of local military commanders without the consent of the Director, NSA. The result has been that a portion of the resources of the CCP which are allocated and justified on the basis of national intelligence needs are subsequently tasked to meet other requirements.

There are some resources which are now clearly and unequivocally being tasked for exclusively tactical needs. Such resources should be identified by careful study, then removed from the CCP and assigned to the sole jurisdiction of the military commands they are serving, as elements essential to military operations and readiness. Criteria should be not the nature of the equipment but the purpose it serves. They should be funded through normal service channels rather than under one of the national intelligence programs. By undertaking such action, I believe that some of the tugging and hauling for resources that now goes on between NSA and the military services can be eliminated.

The authority of the Director, NSA over all resources, other than those transferred to the military services or commands on the grounds that they serve essentially tactical purposes, should be confirmed and strengthened.
It would be desirable to do away with the present subordination of the Director of NSA to DDR&E, and to have him report directly to the Deputy Secretary, recognizing that additional staff support in the form of the senior assistant proposed will be necessary. The establishment of a cryptologic career within the services should be encouraged and supported. Steps toward this objective have already been taken but further progress is possible.
The capability of the Director, NSA for direction and guidance of the cryptologic community should be strengthened by the assignment of senior officials with experience and competence in planning and programming.

Existing arrangements between the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the rest of the intelligence community, including NSA, appear to me generally satisfactory. The NRO agreement was negotiated with considerable difficulty with a view to accommodating conflicting interests. It has provided an increasingly effective mechanism through which the potentialities and capabilities of various agencies of the Government for overhead reconnaissance have been exploited. Design, development and operational control of overhead sensors has proceeded under the overall direction and coordination of the Director, NRO. Guidance to this effort is established through the appropriate USIB mechanisms which determine the number, frequency [Page 382] and objectives of missions required from particular sensors, e.g., the resolution of photography for certain purposes, frequencies, band widths and general characteristics of signals to be intercepted, is determined as a result of a dialogue between the substantive elements of the community (acting through USIB) and the appropriate echelons of the NRO. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] is adequately represented in USIB and maintains effective working relationships, at the technical level, with the NRO.

The processing facilities of NSA play an essential part in the exploitation of data collected from SIGINT satellite operations just as the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) plays an essential part in the exploitation of overhead photography. Action to ensure that facilities for processing the take from overhead reconnaissance activities are adequate can be taken through the appropriate USIB mechanisms and in any event should be part of the program review responsibilities of the managers of the intelligence programs. The measures recommended above to establish more centralized supervision over the intelligence activities of the Defense Department would help to ensure that appropriate action is taken to relate all processing facilities to all collection activities.

I believe that these general conclusions can serve as the basis for specific actions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the management of all Defense Department intelligence programs, including specifically SIGINT.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80–R01284A, Box 14, Folder 8, DCI Chron 1969. Top Secret; Handle via Byeman Comint Channels.
  2. Not found.
  3. Not attached. Documentation on the Special Study Group (known as the Eaton Group) is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80–R01580R, Sigint Study Group. Copies of the report are ibid., Job 86–B00269R, Box 8, Folder 39, Eaton Report—16 August 1968; and ibid., Box 14, Folder 125, The Eaton Report, Comint and Elint Program, 16 Aug 68.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Helms signed the original.
  5. Reference is to NSCID 6, Communications Intelligence and Electronic Intelligence, September 15, 1958, and January 18, 1961; neither found.