142. Talking Points for Meeting with Vice President Rockefeller on Telecommunications Security1 2

Steps are underway to protect governmental and defense contractor communications from Soviet intercept in Washington, New York, and San Francisco by moving microwave circuits to less vulnerable cable.

  • —Government circuits are complete in Washington.
  • —New York and San Francisco government circuits will be complete in 9 months and 18 months, respectively.
  • —It will take about a year before the first defense contractor circuits are actually moved.

We also have an aggressive technology program underway at NSA to develop techniques for bulk protection of microwave circuits which could be applied on a wide scale at relatively modest cost [text not declassified] for the whole of the U.S.).

The next major step will be to actually use these techniques to provide broad protection of private sector as well as government communications.

  • —This will require further Presidential decision.
  • —It is an important problem for the new Administration.
  • —It will require public explanation of the Soviet intercept threat and the vulnerability of our microwave communications network. (In the absence of an available technical fix and not wanting to provoke public indignation possibly affecting our relations with the Soviets, the President earlier decided to wait for a technical fix to be available before publicly announcing the threat.)
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[FYI: The Vice President has made public reference to the Soviet interception of telephone communication in an attempt to stimulate public vigilance in guarding what is said on the phone. Even in the military arena such voluntary security measures are notoriously ineffective, and it must be presumed that civil discipline would be worse.]

We have three interrelated actions underway to provide a better basis for such a Presidential decision:

We have conducted the first phase of a detailed assessment of the damage to national security and other national interests resulting from Soviet intercept. This assessment confirmed our concerns and provided specific indications of damage resulting from intercept of communications of defense contractors and private sector institutions. [text not declassified] While there is no direct proof that the Soviets have used this information to make specific decisions in international economic affairs, the circumstantial evidence is very convincing.

A detailed long-range plan is well along for wide scale application of communications protection in the private sector, first in the Washington, New York, and San Francisco areas, and eventually nationwide. Two major alternatives for the government/industry role in implementing improved communications security are being considered in this plan:

  • —The first alternative would minimize the government role through a cooperative government/industry effort. The government would require government agencies and sensitive government contractors to use approved commercially provided secure communication services [Page 3] (cable or protected microwave). This would create a substantial market demand for secure communications as well as providing needed improvement in security of government communications. It would be anticipated that once established, market forces combined with greater public awareness would work to assure broad application of telephone security. The drawback to this alternative is the lack of certainty that such broad protection would in fact materialize. If not, we would continue to have a major national security problem and several years would have been expended.
  • —The second alternative is surer but would require stronger government action to meet the threat through a Federally-mandated program directing implementation of approved protection techniques throughout the national microwave network. This approach would require implementing legislation and might well require the government to make sensitive choices as to which sectors of the private sector would be protected and which would not.

In either of these alternatives, the government would establish policy, standards and regulations, would assist the private sector by making government-developed cryptographic technology available for commercial application, and would promote public acceptance of the need for communications security by making the private sector aware of the nature and scope of the threat as well as the commercial availability of government-approved secure communications. Industry would apply bulk protection techniques to the communications networks and would pass the added costs on to the users.


Since telecommunications security for the domestic sector is a problem without precedent, no existing government entity is structured to deal with it. We recently asked a White House Task Group, made up of representatives from NSC, OMB, OTP, the Domestic Council, and the White House Counsel’s office to look at this organizational question and to provide recommendations. They considered the pros and cons of six alternatives for a more permanent government organization to supervise both the policy and programmatic aspects of the problem.

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These were:

A specially designated Cabinet Committee reporting to the President.
A joint Government Committee located in the Office of the Vice President.
Continuation of NSC oversight of the program.
Designation of a single Cabinet Department, probably DOD, to implement the program.
Formation of a new organization in the Executive Branch reporting to the President.
Designation of an existing office in the Executive Branch, probably OTP, to implement the program.

The Task Group did not believe it to be appropriate to recommend an organizational approach to a new Administration; however, they did offer several observations in that regard:

  • —A cooperative voluntary partnership between the Federal Government and the commercial communications carriers was considered preferable to a potentially contentious and legally difficult Federally-mandated program.
  • —A strong and adequately staffed government focus must be provided, with sufficient authority to resolve expected policy disputes and to carry out policy decisions.
  • —The government must make every attempt to promote public acceptance and understanding that technical solutions to improve communications security are in the national interest and are not perceived as a threat to individual privacy. The government organizational focus should not be publicly perceived as an extension of the military/intelligence organizations.
  • —It would be desirable to provide a mechanism such as an advisory board to represent the interests of the private sector, including the telecommunications carriers, the telecommunications users, and the public at large.

These observations led the task group to favor either a Cabinet Committee or a joint Government Committee in the Office of the Vice President. A permanent organizational focus for the telecommunications security problem will be required, but we will retain the existing ad hoc arrangement in the NSC until the permanent structure can be established.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Subject Files, Box 1, Communications (2). Top Secret.
  2. The document provided a status report of key issues concerning telecommunications security to be discussed with Rockefeller.