Sixth DCI, John Alex McCone
John McCone and William Raborn:
New Kind of DCI
In carrying out your newly assigned duties as Director of Central Intelligence,
it is my wish that…you undertake, as an integral part of your responsibility,
the coordination and effective guidance of the total United States foreign intelligence effort.
President John F. Kennedy placed this charge in the opening sentence of a 16 January 1962 memorandum instructing John Alex McCone on his duties as DCI. After becoming president in 1961, Kennedy had kept Allen Dulles as DCI and proceeded with the CIA plans under way to undermine Fidel Castro. After the Bay of Pigs disaster, however, he replaced Dulles with McCone, a widely respected businessman and former senior executive branch official. It was useful to the president politically that McCone was a conservative Republican. But McCone’s reputation as a strong manager and leader also gave notice that DCI leadership and energy would be newly important factors in the Intelligence Community. Kennedy, with his impulse to do things differently than Eisenhower, probably did not conceive his action as following Eisenhower’s lead, and McCone’s background and style certainly differed from Dulles’s. Nonetheless, Kennedy carried forward Eisenhower’s goal of strengthening the DCI’s community role.
Embraces Community Leadership Role
John McCone enthusiastically welcomed the community leadership role, and he clearly believed that his talent and experience were suited to the task. He particularly wanted to enhance the nation’s capabilities by applying modern science and technology to intelligence projects. In nominating him, the president referred to his role as “Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Board,” but McCone clearly wanted to do more than chair meetings.
McCone was conscious of the importance of the DCI’s standing within an administration as a fundamental condition affecting his effectiveness. Within two months of taking office, he sought and obtained from President Kennedy the memorandum directing him, “as the Government’s principal foreign intelligence officer,” to undertake the charge cited at the beginning of this chapter. The words Kennedy used provided a slightly stronger formulation than that contained in NSCID 1, issued under Eisenhower in 1958. Some had argued that it should be even stronger, ordering the DCI to coordinate and “direct,” not just guide, the community. But the drafters bowed to reality, accepting that the new emphasis on community leadership had realistic limits. The White House sent copies of the president’s memorandum to the secretaries of state and defense, the attorney general, and the chairman of the AEC, thus making clear whose authority and interest lay behind the DCI’s community actions.
The president’s memorandum instructed McCone to work closely with the “heads of all departments and agencies having responsibilities in the foreign intelligence field,” signaling that the DCI outranked the intelligence chiefs in those units and would be expected to deal directly with their bosses. The memorandum stated the expectation that the DCI would delegate much of the task of running CIA to his deputy, thus allowing him to carry out better his “primary task as Director of Central Intelligence.” It also noted approvingly that the DCI had added his deputy to USIB to represent CIA on that body. McCone meant this designation to underscore his role as a broader Intelligence Community leader not necessarily tied to CIA’s positions, thus addressing the perception strongly held by many outside CIA that the DCI could not be as effective a leader of the whole community if he also headed one of its constituent units. McCone sometimes ruled against his deputy’s position in USIB meetings, making clear that he would not simply be beholden to CIA’s interests. McCone also directed that his daily activities be planned with emphasis on non-CIA activities in mind and that his morning staff meeting not focus on internal CIA matters. At one point during his tenure as DCI, a time study of his activities recorded that he spent about 20 percent of his time on CIA matters and 80 percent on non-CIA issues.
McCone, who in the early 1950s had served as an undersecretary of the Air Force, recognized that the secretary of defense, as the commander of most of the community’s resources, was the most important person with whom he had to deal to get things done. His record with Robert McNamara was mixed. He made unwelcome gratuitous suggestions to him regarding management of DOD and attempted to extend DCI authority with respect to NSA and DIA in ways that McNamara resisted. He did, however, gain McNamara’s agreement in July 1963 that the DCI should have access to DOD intelligence budget information. Also, McNamara, attracted to the kind of “whiz kid” analysis of Soviet defense industries and military programs being done at CIA that paralleled the analytic approaches his own office was taking toward US defense programs, supported the growth of analytic capabilities at CIA that he might otherwise have been inclined to challenge.
To give himself additional firepower in dealing with community-wide matters, McCone in 1962 sought the help of Gordon Gray, a national security adviser to President Eisenhower and a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), President Kennedy’s revived (after the Bay of Pigs disaster) version of Eisenhower’s panel of outside consultants on intelligence. Gray helped McCone explore the idea of establishing a deputy for coordination and consider how to handle signals intelligence. McCone’s concern apparently was that much of the military’s and NSA’s work was “national” in character and therefore something with which the DCI should be concerned. He even recruited a senior CIA officer for this position, but in the end he did not act on it.
Focus on Resources
By the time Kennedy became president, US intelligence increasingly was using advanced technology in ambitious programs aimed at addressing important gaps in US knowledge about Soviet military strength and intentions. The development of these new capabilities had evoked concern about unnecessary duplication of expense and effort: Did both the military and the CIA need to pursue clandestine human source collection? Did the United States need multiple airplane and satellite national reconnaissance programs?
In fact, the president’s memorandum to McCone directed him to establish the “necessary policies and procedures to assure adequate coordination of foreign intelligence activities at all levels” and to “maintain a continuing review of the programs and activities of all US agencies engaged in foreign intelligence activities with a view to assuring efficiency and effectiveness and to avoiding undesirable duplication.” This formulation pointed in two opposite directions. On the one hand, his leadership was characterized as one of “policies and procedures” developed with the help of USIB, a description that did not especially point toward more direct management or direction than that practiced by DCIs in the past. On the other hand, the mention of “review of the programs” of other agencies pointed toward a potentially more active role in determining the kind, level, and management of resources outside CIA than had ever been explicitly tasked to the DCI.
In light of the large expenditures entailed, these capabilities naturally drove the need to have cost-benefit analyses and other techniques of efficient program management employed for intelligence activities. President Kennedy’s choice as secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, emphasized precisely these tools of leadership in the defense field. Although relatively low-cost clandestine human source collection and analytic activities continued apace, the preoccupation at top political levels was with the expensive and large-scale intelligence programs, especially those that took advantage of advanced technology and promised collection of previously unavailable information about the USSR, the secretive main target of US intelligence.
National Intelligence Programs Evaluation Staff
McCone took several steps to increase his capability to fulfill the community leadership role that he had sought and for which he had gained presidential support. He believed that a key lever of power within the Intelligence Community was how intelligence resources were applied and managed and that he needed to upgrade his planning and evaluation staff support capability. (The DCI already used USIB to coordinate many community activities, but it and its associated committees did not determine budget levels or plan program resources.)
McCone moved the staff that supported USIB’s work into his own office, and he began to review intelligence programs conducted by various agencies. In 1963, immediately after gaining access to DOD intelligence budget data, he acted to strengthen his own community role with regard to resources by setting up a National Intelligence Programs Evaluation (NIPE) Staff. In explaining the step to his USIB colleagues, he referred to the charge in the president’s January 1962 memorandum that he review the community’s programs and effect their coordination. He also told them that he had concluded he needed a new staff reporting directly to him to supplement the cooperation he and his colleagues achieved via USIB mechanisms. To head the new staff, McCone selected senior CIA officer John Bross, who was made a “deputy to the DCI.”
The establishment of this staff was, in a sense, a parallel action to the creation of the Office of National Estimates (ONE) in 1950 by DCI Smith. ONE gave the DCI an instrument to help him exercise community-wide substantive leadership in producing national intelligence for the president and other NSC members. It fulfilled expectations regarding a responsibility already clearly assigned to the DCI. The NIPE Staff gave the DCI an instrument through which he could exercise community-wide management-related leadership in coordinating and guiding the US foreign intelligence effort. Although it was in line with White House expectations, it anticipated somewhat the formal assignment of a resource management community leadership role to the DCI.
McCone felt that he had to have a staff organization that, on his behalf, looked at Intelligence Community programs across the board and evaluated the contributions each made in order to have any chance of gaining efficiencies, eliminating duplication, and in general managing intelligence resources sensibly. The DOD intelligence program data his staff now saw gave McCone some insight into what lay behind the outputs of DOD intelligence elements. With the help of his new staff, he wanted to evaluate inputs and outputs with an eye to more directed management of intelligence resources community-wide. Bross had experience dealing with intelligence program evaluation as CIA’s comptroller and with DOD on national reconnaissance program matters.
According to Bross, McCone had three jobs for the new enterprise. The first was to deal with the rising costs of intelligence. To McCone, knowing those costs more precisely and getting control over them was a basic requirement for any sensible management approach. Second was to be able to understand adequately what all the programs in the community actually did, to be able to see inside their workings and assess them: How effective were they? Did they duplicate one another unnecessarily? Third was to set priorities as guidance and then relate programs to objectives. Ray Cline, CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, had broached the idea of grouping the main targets of national intelligence interest into a manageable “top ten” list and then matching program efforts and results against them to see if the community’s work was properly prioritized and balanced. Accomplishing all three of these tasks was essential to a DCI charged with leading a complex enterprise, and addressing them required both dedicated staffing and cooperation from the operating elements. The staff actions involving the various intelligence organizations in dealing with these issues constituted the day-to-day level of DCI community leadership, just as bilateral or other actions involving the DCI and other principals constituted the more senior level field of play. The overall purpose was to assert DCI leadership in integrating the community.
The staff was at first senior and small. It was also very CIA in terms of its personnel and was manned by officers chosen by the DCI as opposed to representatives of the community’s various intelligence programs. Its task generically was “coordination,” and it oversaw all kinds of community coordination matters except those involving analytic products such as NIEs. It dealt, for example, with issues of personnel security, requests from PFIAB, the development of National Intelligence Priorities for Planning (devised to assist DOD program planning), the national reconnaissance program, and clandestine collection by the military. Some members of the PFIAB, especially William Baker, believed that the community was not sufficiently taking advantage of emerging computer technology, and it pressed for community-wide standards for sharing information and reducing duplication (NSA was given the lead).
Outside pressures, including congressional inquiries about programs for which the DCI was deemed responsible, played an important role in the creation and activities of the new staff. Evaluation served as a lever for executive branch overseers of intelligence, including the president and the NSC as well as the DCI. Since evaluation involved assessing outputs, it seemed logical to involve those within the community who most avidly used its outputs, all-source intelligence analysts. At the national level, that meant using ONE, the most “national” group of officers charged with analytic responsibilities. At the staff level, it meant using the collection guidance staff of CIA’s intelligence directorate of intelligence, which knew best the products of the collection programs and how they served analysts’ information needs.
This reliance on analysts and analytic staffs was partly forced on the NIPE Staff because it was denied an independent capability to evaluate on the grounds that it would make the staff too big, duplicate what others could do, and allow the accumulation of too much knowledge in one place. Hence, the tool of evaluation, prominently advertised in the staff’s title, was not sharpened as much as it might have been to enable the DCI to drive the selection and direction of resources. The fundamental limitation of such staff work, of course, is that even good evaluation does not by itself lead to the fixing of problems once they are identified. That depends on other factors, including crucially the positions taken by program managers not under the DCI’s control.
The DCI’s role in evaluating program capabilities depended on his setting the information requirements to which intelligence programs responded. McCone gained early and unambiguous recognition of his own role as the official responsible for setting forth these requirements for the new strategic reconnaissance programs, thus extending a role that had previously been accepted in other areas to the most ambitious and expensive intelligence program. The priorities and information needs were, of course, those of the senior policy officials who were the ultimate customers of national intelligence. But they looked to the DCI, as the chief foreign intelligence officer of the US Government, to ensure that their needs were adequately understood, prioritized, and to the extent possible met. Inherent in this function was the perennial question of how best to measure the responsiveness of intelligence programs to those customer needs.
Another area of staff support strengthened in McCone’s tenure was his use of USIB’s Critical Collection Problems Committee (CCPC) to help set national intelligence requirements to which all community collection elements were to respond. Since collection and data processing make up such a large share of community resources, this was an important tool of DCI leadership. It came, however, with clear limitations. Although the committee prepared inventories of capabilities and expository studies, in Bross’s opinion its procedures led to too many lowest common denominator conclusions. Also, Bross believed, it competed with the regular USIB committee structure and did not actually apply objective cost effectiveness criteria in its work. Thus, although it afforded the DCI and his staff some insight into how major community resources were used, it did not adequately support more basic program direction or resource planning.
McCone achieved positive results in his dealings with DIA, the central DOD intelligence agency set up under McNamara in 1961 just before McCone became DCI. He respected the military officers who headed it and worked with them in several important areas. He gained their cooperation in stationing imagery analysts at NPIC, the newly designated “national” photographic interpretation center run by CIA, and in jointly examining the Soviet and Chinese military threats, areas of analytic competition between CIA and DIA.
Science and Technology
McCone’s actions with respect to establishing the organizations and roles related to new US strategic reconnaissance capabilities probably marked his area of greatest impact on the Intelligence Community. He believed strongly in the power of American science and technology to contribute to the nation’s vital intelligence needs and wanted to build on the successes of the U-2 and CORONA programs pursued under his predecessor.
He followed a pattern set by his predecessors in seeking to accomplish a national intelligence mission by both building a CIA capability he could command and coordinating cooperative arrangements with other organizations to address the challenges of strategic reconnaissance. Within CIA, he created a CIA directorate for science and technology to give organizational weight and momentum to the role of scientists, engineers, and program managers in this and other fields. With DOD, he fought through painful chapters of bureaucratic contention and compromise to create an organizational structure to manage a centralized national strategic reconnaissance program.
In working out CIA’s role with respect to strategic reconnaissance programs managed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), McCone used his new CIA directorate as well as his NIPE Staff to support his personal leadership and negotiating roles. He was not a strong advocate of CIA participation in manned aircraft operations (the US Air Force took control of U-2 operations over Cuba just before the 1962 missile crisis), but he did feel that CIA should continue to play a strong role in developing reconnaissance payloads such as cameras.
McCone exercised vigorous leadership in the field of strategic reconnaissance, and he fought hard for his positions against equally vigorous opposition within DOD. He was determined that CIA not be reduced to simply a “brain trust” for the NRO and that his responsibility as DCI be reflected in the management of that office. The agreements and procedures reached before McCone became DCI that had married the skills and authorities of CIA and DOD in a national reconnaissance program reflected an effective, informal form of cooperation focused on getting new programs up and running. With the departure of the officials who had operated in that style and the increase in program activities requiring coordination, McCone and senior DOD officials wrestled with issues of complex program authorities and management. McCone recognized that military missions were critical ones for the new capabilities to address, but he believed that any national intelligence capability rightfully belonged within the DCI’s purview and should be guided and developed in accordance with national intelligence needs as well as with warfighting and other operational military needs in mind.
McCone and Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric agreed early in 1962 on a leadership arrangement for the NRO in DOD. Although McCone thought it might be best placed under an assistant secretary for intelligence or the head of DOD research and engineering, they agreed to place it directly under the secretary and deputy secretary of defense. A basic division of labor had already been established. The CIA side focused on developing the intelligence acquisition devices such as cameras and ensuring program security, while DOD concentrated on the launching and carrying equipment such as missiles, satellite bodies, and airplanes. Both organizations had roles to play in procurement and in design and development, and both had an interest in ongoing operations. Both also agreed that unitary management was needed to achieve appropriate integration of technical systems and balance between competing mission objectives.
The next CIA-DOD agreement on the NRO, reached in 1963, placed a CIA officer as deputy director of the organization, cementing CIA’s leading role along with the Air Force and OSD. But the agreement also declared that the secretary of defense was to be the executive agent for all NRO programs, thus subordinating the DCI at the operational level while retaining his co-equal status at the oversight level. McCone continued to work with senior Department of Defense officials on further improvements in top-level management structure although it fell to his successor to sign the final CIA-DOD agreement on the NRO.
McCone’s actions in these matters constituted an extraordinary kind of DCI community leadership. He helped to build one of the major organizations of the modern Intelligence Community and advanced the contributions the intelligence profession could make to US national security. He also ensured that the DCI’s continuing role in providing guidance and direction to a principal national intelligence activity was recognized and placed on an enduring foundation.
Toward the end of this tenure as DCI, McCone grew frustrated with his inability to do more to lead the Intelligence Community, especially its DOD components. To enhance his ability to guide and oversee community programs, he considered but took no effective action regarding three ideas that re-emerged later. One was to have a new senior DOD official named who would oversee intelligence within that department. The second was that the DCI be given new authority (in the McCone variant, an “executive agent” role) over all “national” programs (e.g., NSA, NRO). The third was that the DCI separate himself from direct management of CIA. The first of these became fact soon enough (and reached its highest level during the two widely separated terms of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense). The second was proposed on several future occasions: in the 1970s by DCI Stansfield Turner, in the 1990s by the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and after 2000 by several commissions. The third remained for four decades an idea more attractive to outside observers (from President Eisenhower’s board of consultants in the 1950s to the commissions of the early 2000s) than to serving DCIs (except for Turner, on the condition that the resulting DCI have command authority over all the major intelligence agencies and their heads). In 2004, it gained the support of several former DCIs and was adopted in law.
John McCone never found his place in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration. He had been an active policymaker in the Kennedy administration and a dynamic DCI. He continued in both endeavors under Johnson, but the two men did not establish rapport. With Johnson’s election in 1964, McCone planned for his departure, and the president acquiesced. There was impetus for CIA career professional Richard Helms to become McCone’s successor, but the president felt Helms needed a stint of seasoning as the DCI’s deputy before taking over the top spot. So, he appointed William F. Raborn, Jr., a retired US Navy vice admiral known best for his successful management of the Navy’s submarine-launched Polaris missile system program.
Raborn completed the NRO negotiations so painfully conducted by his predecessor. The agreement he signed in August 1965 with Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance made the NRO a DOD agency, retained the secretary of defense as executive agent for its work, and established a new Executive Committee consisting of the deputy secretary of defense (who chaired the committee), the DCI, and the president’s science adviser to oversee the NRO. A central DCI objective was retained and recognized in the final agreement: the DCI was the one who would determine the intelligence requirements that would drive both the designs and the operations of the NRO’s collection systems. This was a continuation of a traditional DCI role, not an innovation, but its formal recognition and acceptance kept in place a key element of community-wide DCI authority, and—given the scale of NRO programs—entailed an expansion of the impact of DCI authority.
VAdm. William Francis Raborn, USN (ret)
Raborn oversaw other innovations in the field of DCI leadership of substantive intelligence, naming in 1965 a retired general as an overall community coordinator on China (which in the fall of 1964 had set off its first atomic test explosion, alarming American strategists) and a senior CIA operations officer as a special assistant for Vietnamese affairs (which had by this time become a top priority national security problem for the United States). These appointments were the precursors of subject-defined senior community officers used from the early 1970s on to replace the Smith-era ONE in preparing estimates and dealing with senior policymakers. They also prefigured the use of similar officers from the early 1990s on in a so-called “issue manager” role to assess and help oversee analytic and collection efforts across the community. But Raborn did not “take” to the DCI job in other respects, such as gaining a place among the president’s top national security advisers, and by the spring of 1966 President Johnson was ready to accept his resignation and install Helms as his DCI.
The full text of this unclassified instruction is in Warner, ed., Central Intelligence, 67–68.
Lyman B. Kirkpatrick, Jr., The Real CIA, 237-39.
This chapter draws upon an internal, classified biography by CIA historian David Robarge, John McCone as Director of Central Intelligence, 1961–1965, and an internal, classified history by John Bross and E. Cawley, “The National Intelligence Programs Evaluation Staff, September 9, 1963 until December 31, 1970.”
In this case, he was not following Dulles’s pattern of shunting off community-wide duties to a deputy. Rather, he was concentrating on such duties himself and needed a senior staff chief to empower him with facts and analyses with which to carry out those duties more effectively. He had already upgraded the position of CIA’s comptroller, having the incumbent report directly to him, and in effect his charge to Bross was to act in parallel fashion as a community-wide comptroller reporting directly to himself.
As noted before, a DCI staff charged with “coordination” across the intelligence agencies had existed since the first months of the CIA’s predecessor organization, and Dulles’s designation of Truscott as his deputy for this purpose raised its stature. But the emphasis McCone placed on examination of intelligence programs across the community, backed by his own activism in shaping the national reconnaissance program, make the 1963 action notable as a starting point for the more modern period of DCI staffs responsible for community management.
Recollection of Charles Briggs, a senior CIA officer who worked on early computer applications in CIA.
DCI use of what seemed to many to be essentially CIA analytic perspectives (even though the CIA staff consciously sought to adopt a non-CIA approach in such studies) gave other agencies a sense of inadequate participation.
Whereas DOD senior officials looked upon the DCI as parochially associated with one of the key players, CIA (in particular, the new directorate that McCone had created, which was aggressively managed by Albert Wheelon), McCone saw senior DOD officials, especially NRO officers who also had US Air Force responsibilities, as tied to Air Force interests and therefore unwilling to take positions guided by truly “national” needs for strategic reconnaissance.
One of McCone’s last acts was to write to President Johnson requesting that he give Raborn a new letter endorsing his community role, a letter similar to the one President Kennedy had given him in January 1962. Johnson did so on 24 September 1965, charging the DCI to pursue coordination of the entire community “as a primary responsibility.” This memorandum and additional presidential letters and memorandums cited in the chapters on Helms and Colby are appended to this study.