34. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- Improvements in Information Support and Communications
It is critically important to be able rapidly to obtain and display in the White House information on national security matters. The facilities to do this should be designed to provide you with instant briefings in critical situations and to support any group of advisers or task force that you might assemble. The White House Situation Room and the communications facilities which link it with the outside world should be designed as an integral whole to meet this need, using the most modern techniques and facilities available.
Realization of this goal requires coordinated action in five areas:
- design of an improved conference room
- automation of information handling
- more space
- review of communications capabilities
- development of substantive information files
Improved Conference Room
The Conference Room associated with the Situation Room should be equipped to provide you with instant briefings and also should be able to support any advisory group or task force that you might assemble in a crisis. To do this, the Conference Room should have the following features:
- It should have rapid access to sizeable central file of facts, as well as to current messages and intelligence.
- It should have the facilities to rapidly display selected fact sheets, messages and intelligence reports to a group of up to twenty people.
- It should have facilities for preparing and updating large map displays without interfering with other activities in the Conference Room.
- It should have telephone facilities to support up to twenty people in the Conference Room, with provisions for the Situation Room staff to screen incoming calls if desired.
- It should be designed and outfitted to minimize the physical and psychological discomfort associated with any prolonged use of the room by a single task group.
If undertaken in conjunction with the other projects described below, the improved Conference Room can be available in 12 months, and can be paid for out of funds available to the Defense Communications Agency (discussed under Space below).
Automated Information Handling
The principal means we have to keep continually abreast of fast-moving developments is to read the messages addressed to the Secretaries of State and Defense and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff which are routed to the White House for information, and to read the intelligence reports and summaries which are prepared for us by the intelligence community. This incoming information is now received by teletype, manually transferred to the Situation Room, and screened and routed within the White House. It is then manually transmitted to the Executive Office Building where it is further screened, routed and delivered to members of my staff. Once seen, these messages are filed in various places in accordance with a simple classification scheme. These procedures frequently involve handling delays under normal time pressures; in crisis periods such delays could have serious consequences. I would, therefore, like to automate as much of this process as possible, in order to increase the speed and reliability of both initial dissemination and subsequent retrieval of information. A modest, computer-based system, similar to systems now used by the State and Defense Departments, will permit us to do this.
The computer would:
- display messages for screening and routing as soon as they are received, with simultaneous presentation in the Situation Room and in the NSC Secretariat. (Sensitive messages would be restricted to the White House.)
- receive indexing and routing instructions from the analysts who screen the messages. (It may also be feasible to have the computer assign index terms and routing instructions based on the contents of the message, subject to verification by the analyst.)
- automatically print out the required number of copies for immediate distribution.
- automatically create files accessible by originator, subject, and date/time of receipt.
- quickly find, display, and print out if desired, messages and other indexed material retained in current files.
It will take about two years to get a fully operational system, assuming a competitive procurement. The system will cost about $500,000 annually for leased equipment, operation and maintenance. This will be partly offset by current communications center costs of $300,000 per year. The White House Communications Agency is prepared to pay all of the costs of this project except for the programming costs which may be associated with the development of special files for the White House/NSC. The development of such files would be part of the Substantive Information project described below.
The most immediate limiting factor in achieving any improvement is space. The present Situation Room conference area is too small for a group of any size, and cannot effectively use modern techniques such as rear projection displays. The communications center is in the bomb shelter, far removed from the Situation Room, and it has no room to install modern message handling, storage and retrieval facilities.
The necessary additional space can be obtained by underground construction immediately behind the Situation Room. The White House Communications Agency has done some preliminary planning for a new communications center there. These plans can be revised to incorporate the new conference room and automatic information handling facilities discussed above. The cost for the entire facility should not exceed $1.5 million, and WHCA can make that amount available within its FY 1970 budget.
Planning, construction and equipment installation will require about one year. Upon completion of the new Conference Room, the existing Situation Room spaces will be reconfigured as necessary to support the new Conference Room, and any excess space will be released for other use.
General Albright (WHCA) has assured me that the noise level associated with excavation will be minimal except when jackhammers are needed to cut around existing manholes. The jackhammer work will be scheduled at times when you are not in residence.
I recommend that you (1) approve the construction of a new Conference Room and Communications Center adjacent to the present Situation Room, (2) approve the installation of improved information handling and display facilities, and (3) authorize General Albright to proceed with construction as soon as Mr. Haldeman and I have approved the detailed plans.
Review of Communications Capabilities
While facilities in the White House are being modernized, it is important to keep in mind the support you need when you are away from the White House. Staff coordination procedures and information support which can be readily implemented in the White House are much more difficult to achieve when you and part of your staff are elsewhere, or enroute. To cope with these situations, it is important to assure that:
- Communications facilities are as reliable and responsive as possible, and
- the limitations of facilities are recognized and staff procedures are designed with these limitations in mind.
I feel that it is also important to review at this time your requirements for communications through the systems of the various Executive Departments, and the present ability of those systems to meet your needs in various circumstances. The results of such a review would be the development of better guidance for the agencies concerned, as well as a better understanding of the procedures which may be necessary to accommodate limitations in communications performance.
I recommend that you authorize me, in consultation with WHCA, to organize a review of the communications facilities and systems which support the National Security functions of your office.
The foregoing steps will speed the receipt, dissemination, storage, retrieval and display of information in the White House. However, to assure that accurate information is readily available when desired, it is necessary to identify the specific substantive information desired, to organize this information into accessible files, and to establish procedures for updating the information to keep it current. Information which does not change frequently can be maintained easily in a central data bank. For information which changes frequently, there is a choice which must be considered carefully between maintaining an accurate file in the White House and delegating this responsibility to an appropriate department or agency.
I proposed to have the RAND Corporation assist us in determining information needs, defining the contents of the central data [Page 84] bank, identifying useful data banks elsewhere to which we should have access, and evaluating the choices between White House versus Agency maintenance of data files. The funds for this task can be provided by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 332, Improvements in Information Support and Communication. Sent for action. No classification marking.↩
- There is no indication of approval or disapproval of any of the recommendations, but Haldeman informed Ken Cole on April 23 that the President had approved all Kissinger’s recommendations and Cole informed Kissinger of that fact in an April 29 memorandum. (Ibid.)↩