Eighth DCI, Richard McGarrah Helms
Richard Helms: Corralling the Beast
Olympus, so I tried to succeed through persuasion and cooperation.
Richard McGarrah Helms, a skilled administrator and a leader in developing CIA capabilities in espionage, emerged in the 1960s as the professional insider most likely to be chosen for the top position. When President Johnson appointed him DCI in 1966, Helms started out with a good but not personal relationship with the president, who by this time was preoccupied with the growing war in Vietnam.
Inheritor and Continuator
Having served under McCone as deputy director for plans and under Raborn as DDCI, Helms was familiar with their approach to community responsibilities, and he realized he could not avoid playing a significant role in managing the now quite sizable and still growing Intelligence Community. Intelligence activities had attained such scope and expense that issues of duplication, cost-effectiveness, and program performance concerned all of the topmost US national security officials, and McCone’s activist legacy had fed expectations that the DCI could get results through force of personal actions.
Soon after taking office, Helms sent Clark Clifford, chairman of PFIAB, an “eyes only” letter noting that he and the PFIAB had “squarely before us the problem of the Director’s ability to coordinate the work of the various intelligence organizations.” Presumably to impress upon Clifford how difficult this problem was, he enclosed a note Sherman Kent had given to him asserting baldly “how utterly impossible it is for the DCI to coordinate, in any meaningful sense of the word, the range of intelligence activities which relate to the national security.”
Helms told Clifford that he did not want to follow McCone’s precedent and have his deputy be designated as concerned especially with CIA affairs. He noted that President Johnson’s memorandum to Raborn about basic DCI duties in 1965 had not repeated this point from Kennedy’s 1962 memorandum to McCone, and he argued that the Executive Director-Comptroller position at CIA already provided a senior officer who took much of the day-to-day burden of administering CIA off his shoulders. “Let me assure you,” he promised Clifford, “that I take with utmost seriousness my duties as Director of Central Intelligence in coordinating and guiding the work of the intelligence community. I will work hard at this. I am confident that real improvements can be made.”
In another letter to Clifford, Helms worried over a suggestion voiced by retired Gen. Maxwell Taylor at a recent PFIAB meeting that the DCI should perhaps be designated as executive chairman of USIB. Helms argued that implementing this idea could adversely affect the satisfactory cooperation that already characterized USIB’s work and “might be interpreted as an indication of a feeling that the Director of Central Intelligence is in a weak position.” In a draft of what the president might wish to send to him as a renewed letter of instruction, Helms recommended that the president, while stating his expectation that the DCI would “guide and coordinate” the community, explicitly acknowledge the limits of the DCI’s authority: “I recognize that you do not have direct control over all the assets which contribute to the foreign intelligence program of the Government. Nonetheless….”
Testimony prepared in March 1969 for Helms to present to Congress captured well his conception of how he fulfilled his community role: “My coordination responsibilities, in seeing to it that the various intelligence-gathering components acquire the information vital to national security without unnecessary duplication, are discharged principally through the United States Intelligence Board…. I chair it as the President’s senior intelligence officer, not as head of CIA.” This was not to deny the importance of bilateral dealings with board members or cabinet-level officials whose representatives sat on the board, but it did reflect the orderliness that had been introduced by Smith and that continued to characterize the way in which community business was transacted under Helms.
Committees made up of representatives of the principal member organizations of the Intelligence Community undertook many of the staff activities that had grown up under the aegis of USIB. Some committees provided top-level guidance to intelligence collection efforts. Others dealt with activities such as automated information handling techniques or topics of intelligence interest such as guided missiles or China. These committees were quite active in the Helms period, accomplishing much of the coordination undertaken across the community in many areas.
During Helms’s tenure, changes in the committee structure regarding collection activities strengthened the individual collection disciplines, or “INTs,” as they came to be informally called. In 1967, the Committee on Overhead Reconnaissance (COMOR), which had been created in 1960 to guide the targeting of new overhead reconnaissance systems, was abolished in a reform that emphasized the individual disciplines of signals intelligence (SIGINT) and imagery. The choice of requirements for SIGINT systems and the consideration of signals processing and exploitation moved to the SIGINT Committee. A new Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation (COMIREX) took over the collection, processing, and exploitation requirements for national imagery systems. Both committees reported to USIB.
This development sensibly improved management of the functions being integrated. It was not accompanied, however, by a similar strengthening of horizontal processes or organizations to assist in integrating multi-INT efforts against common problems. How could the DCI know whether there was unneeded duplication without some mechanism that dealt with the activities handled by each committee separately? For Helms, that mechanism was his NIPE Staff, which he asked to reach across bureaucratic constituencies and disparate areas of activity. In 1969, he issued a memorandum making clear that, although the USIB committees remained a key setting for important community-wide coordination and their chairmen had the “right” of direct access to the DCI, the DCI’s deputy for NIPE was to “ensure that the activities of the different committees are appropriately coordinated” and was “normally” to be the channel through which committee chairmen forwarded issues to the DCI.
Helms continued without change the basic activities of the NIPE Staff that McCone had established in 1963, retaining John Bross as its chief. The staff worked as much as possible through (and was itself a component of) CIA. This seemed natural to the staffers—virtually all of them CIA officers—since the National Security Act of 1947 assigned CIA the duty of coordinating intelligence activities. In fact, an internal CIA memorandum of that era rejected on institutional grounds the idea of taking into the staff a senior NSA officer. He would be regarded as “a registered foreign agent,” the memorandum argued, who would spoil the progress being made toward creating a “supra-agency” staff loyal and responsive to the DCI’s community responsibilities. The memorandum stated that the NIPE Staff was only “making progress” toward being viewed as a DCI rather than a CIA entity, leaving unaddressed how hiring only CIA officers would improve that image.
The DCI’s responsibility for setting the “requirements” against which all US foreign intelligence activities should be working gave the DCI a basic role that had been, in general, accepted within the Intelligence Community. An internal history of the NIPE Staff distinguished between two basic kinds of “requirements” in the intelligence business. One was information (e.g., identifying important countries or topics for intelligence attention). Here the senior policymakers defined what was needed, and the DCI, as their principal intelligence adviser, was the logical official to receive and organize their intelligence information requirements. The DCI’s staff aggregated these needs centrally, and the community members accepted the results although each naturally was sensitive to the particular needs of the senior policy official whom it served. The other main kind of requirement was about the resources needed to acquire the information desired (e.g., a satellite system or other collection capability). Here too the community accepted the DCI’s role as their leader in discussing and deciding what resources were most important. In the case of these requirements, however, the expertise needed to support decisions rested mainly outside the DCI’s staff, in the intelligence programs whose activities the DCI was supposed to coordinate.
Helms’s predecessors had promulgated “priority national intelligence objectives (PNIOs),” thoughtful amalgamations of policymakers’ information needs prepared by the DCI’s staff. According to a 1963 study, some US intelligence organizations had been “tepid or cold” regarding them, finding them of little use, whereas others (e.g., the SIGINT committee) used them and even wanted more guidance than the PNIOs provided. During most of Helms’s tenure as DCI, his NIPE Staff worked up versions of overall information needs statements and sought to use them to focus the attention of both collectors and analysts on them. By 1972, this DCI guidance to the community was codified in a DCI directive (DCID 1/2).
Such guidance gave the DCI control of a centralized, top-down process that played at least a nominal role in planning throughout the Intelligence Community, including the big-dollar programs. The impact of this element of DCI leadership, however, was limited. Even CIA executives, who of course were directly subordinate to the DCI, did not actively use DCID 1/2 guidance in their planning and resource allocation activities. Its long-term emphasis simply did not match what the president set forth as more current concerns. Although such guidance enabled an organization to justify its programs by demonstrating that they responded to the chief desires of the NSC for intelligence information, it did not really guarantee that the programs were the most efficient use of resources, nor did it enable organizations to say “no” to high-level requests that did not fit the existing long-term guidance.
Working with DOD on Resources
The Johnson and Nixon administrations, conscious of the costs of both domestic programs and the Vietnam War, emphasized economizing and improved management in trying to control federal spending, and neither exempted intelligence from their campaigns urging efficiency. In the fall of 1966, soon after Helms took office, the director of the president’s budget office told the DCI that he now wanted formal combined program presentations encompassing all DOD programs as well as CIA’s. This moved beyond the previous agreement between the DCI’s NIPE Staff and BOB that had accepted consolidated presentations of data pulled together in a more ad hoc manner. Like Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon looked to the DCI to help address costs associated with DOD intelligence programs as well as CIA’s.
The NIPE Staff began efforts to create what were called “displays” of budget data centered on policymaker-defined targets of intelligence interest. In 1967, Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance directed the creation of similar “target-oriented displays” (TOD) of program data on DOD intelligence resources. NSA was unable to contribute to the new system until 1970 because its method of categorizing program data was designed to show the flexibility of SIGINT systems to shift among targets as needs changed rather than to show levels of effort per target.
The DCI welcomed this DOD initiative and acquiesced in a DOD-chaired committee leading the new effort. But he did not want to lose control of an activity for which he knew the NSC and BOB would hold him responsible, so negotiation between the staffs of the principals eventually produced agreement that national intelligence target categories set by the DCI would be used and that the DCI’s NIPE Staff would lead a community-wide effort aimed at creating a community-wide TOD. In the end, DOD, the DCI, and BOB agreed on this direction, and staff work proceeded to build a system that accommodated the needs of all parties. In effect they all shared the same problem, gaining adequate insight into and control over complex intelligence programs, and thus were willing to find a common solution.
National Intelligence Resources Board
By 1968, Helms’s discussions with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze yielded agreement on forming a new body under the DCI’s aegis to consider resource issues across the Intelligence Community. The National Intelligence Resources Board (NIRB), created in May 1968, consisted of the DDCI (chair), the director of DIA, and the head of the State Department’s Intelligence and Research Bureau (INR). Like USIB, the NIRB derived from the DCI’s responsibility “for the overall coordination of the US foreign intelligence effort” its mission of assisting him as he considered the kind and level of resources needed to accomplish the national intelligence mission. To that end, it was to evaluate the effectiveness of the four main intelligence programs (those of the CIA, NSA, the NRO, and DIA).
The State Department had full membership on the board despite having relatively few intelligence resources at stake. Its need to use intelligence products was important, as was its interest regarding intelligence program responsiveness to policymaker information needs. DOD gave up little by putting the board entirely within the DCI’s authority and having it supported by the DCI’s staff. The DCI, after all, would depend on the DOD program chiefs for data in the first place, and he would bring eventual recommendations to the secretary and deputy secretary of defense for joint resolution in due course. Indeed, the board’s charter specified that it was to assist the secretary of state and the secretary of defense as well as the DCI.
As with any initiative promising improved management, this step raised expectations of what the DCI could accomplish. In September 1968, a briefing about the new NIRB caused Maxwell Taylor and Gordon Gray, two PFIAB members, to comment that the board’s actions with respect to “big dollar activities” offered the opportunity to “greatly enhance the Director’s ability to influence the outcome of decisions on intelligence systems undertaken by DOD.” Gen. Taylor even asked optimistically if the DCI’s ability to view DOD budgets “on a line-item basis” was as good as the “control he has over the CIA budget.” The answer he got was no doubt more reassuring than it deserved to be, and the PFIAB members duly blessed the new entity.
The NIRB function that promised the most benefit in supporting resource decisions was its charge to “examine interrelationships among intelligence resource programs and attempt to determine relative needs for coverage of particular intelligence objectives as between different programs, sources and systems.” To fulfill that goal, information would have to be shared between programs, and the DCI and his staffers could thereby gain more detailed knowledge about DOD intelligence programs. From DOD’s perspective, although there was a reluctance to let the DCI’s staffers delve deeply into DOD programs for fear of inviting a DCI operational role, there was a reciprocal interest in information about CIA’s clandestine activities, about which CIA officers were traditionally close-mouthed.
A memorandum summarizing the NIRB’s activities for 1970 noted that it had met 11 times, produced seven studies, and was in general “working well—informal meetings, free exchanges of ideas and problems.” It claimed that the staffs involved were working with “increased cohesion and collaboration” and that the board was becoming of “increased usefulness to members as a means of resolving resource issues within systems, facilities and programs—and ultimately among programs.” Its limited impact, however, concerned those who wanted more far-reaching issues addressed. The board’s studies were usually of individual installations or sensors and thus had relatively small-scale impact on resources, and its cross-program role was unfulfilled. The report noted “beginnings” in developing new methodologies for resource evaluation for cost-effectiveness, which was described as a “new area of judgments for which little precedent or experience exists,” but more needed to be done to amass and array intelligence program data so the DCI had an adequate automated database to support NIRB analyses.
Another spur driving senior officials toward increasing the DCI’s community role in resource management was concern over the nation’s burgeoning SIGINT activities. BOB Director Roy Ash in 1967 proposed to President Johnson that various problems involving SIGINT—for example, lack of program coordination, seeming duplication, and pursuit of both national and tactical ELINT efforts—required outside study. Walt Rostow, the president’s national security adviser, consulted with PFIAB Chairman Clark Clifford and asked Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to undertake the study. Already busy running a major war in Southeast Asia, McNamara in turn recommended that the DCI lead the effort. Helms was not keen to do so (he had earlier voiced concerns about the study to Ash) but was in no position to resist once the president decided in July 1967 that he was the person best suited to the task. Helms, after all, had just earned his way into the president’s Tuesday lunches by predicting the course of the previous month’s Middle East War with uncanny accuracy. Accordingly, he commissioned the study under the command of former Air Force and OSD officer Robert Eaton.
The pressures related to managing SIGINT in September 1967 caused the director of NSA, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, USA, to complain privately to John Bross, the DCI’s deputy for NIPE, that the Air Force was using electronic warfare “as a cover” to carry on SIGINT collection without reference to NSA’s authority. This led him to speculate that perhaps the DCI should be separated from CIA and given “command authority” over NSA, NRO, etc. While this private conversational remark doubtless was an expression of frustration rather than a serious proposal, it shows how the DCI can become a pole of support or hope to intelligence professionals within the community when they feel their profession is suffering from non-intelligence interests within their parent department or lack of support elsewhere.
As Carter’s remark indicated, the importance of the Eaton study went beyond SIGINT, touching on issues of fundamental community organization and the placement and role of the DCI. The Eaton group’s discussions of these points angered Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze, who believed that organizational recommendations went beyond the study’s charter and impinged on his and the secretary of defense’s prerogatives. In discussing the project with Eaton and Nitze in December 1967, Helms strongly opposed any organizational arrangement that involved moving the DCI to the White House with greater responsibility for the major agencies such as NSA but less connection to CIA. Helms was concerned that the DCI not be separated from the CIA capabilities on which he relied in providing substantive intelligence support to the president and other NSC members.
The DCI received the Eaton Report in August 1968 and promptly shared it with the most directly interested executive branch principals. Apart from its many and detailed findings related to SIGINT, the report offered—and placed first among its recommendations—several conclusions relating to the DCI’s community role. It recommended creating a national intelligence plan that would link resources to requirements, advocated a target-oriented overall guidance for intelligence that would allow measurement of value per intelligence resource, declared the NIRB a potentially useful body in connection with these goals, and suggested that DOD needed a central focal point to review all defense intelligence programs.
In preparing remarks for Nitze on the study, Alain Enthoven, a leader in OSD of McNamara’s systems analysis approach to managing defense programs, argued that the most important recommendation was that the DCI’s planning and programming staff be strengthened by allowing its officers to operate independently of the major intelligence programs. He wanted the report’s recommendation for examining tradeoffs between COMINT and ELINT widened to include all “INTs,” and he suggested the need for an interrelated review of all intelligence programs. His comments all pointed toward strengthening the DCI’s role in guiding community activities, a logical outcome of intellectual reasoning however difficult to achieve in the real world of entrenched bureaucracies. The comments also stand as an example of DOD support for a more active role by the DCI as a helpmate to OSD in controlling DOD’s far-flung intelligence activities.
Froehlke and Fitzhugh Reports
With the advent of the Nixon administration in 1969, Helms recommended to Melvin Laird, the new secretary of defense, that he review the Eaton Report to gain a fuller understanding of the managerial problems they both faced in the intelligence field. Early in his tenure, Laird commissioned a study of DOD intelligence led by his assistant secretary for administration, Robert F. Froehlke. Froehlke’s report, submitted in July 1969, urged the appointment of a senior civilian official in OSD to be responsible for all DOD intelligence, noting that there was “great concern throughout government with Defense intelligence.”
Indeed there was. On the heels of the Froehlke report, President Nixon commissioned in 1969 a blue ribbon panel headed by Gilbert W. Fitzhugh, chairman of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, to examine DOD organization and management across the board. The Fitzhugh report, finished in 1970, concluded that defense intelligence was less well coordinated and responsive to needs than it should be and suggested both reorganization and centralization of leadership, thus reinforcing points already made by the Eaton and Froehlke reports.
Laird promptly adopted the idea of centralizing leadership of DOD intelligence under one OSD official and assigned the task to Froehlke, who retained his title of assistant secretary for administration (he moved on to become secretary of the army on 1 July 1971; later, OSD established a separate assistant secretary position for intelligence). This step reflected the inability of DIA, which had been established in 1961, to fulfill the centralizing role that reformers 10 years earlier had envisaged for it. Most DOD intelligence officials were concerned about the role Froehlke would assume and wanted his authority limited. This reaction replicated within DOD the kind of concerns periodically provoked within the Intelligence Community when suggestions about increasing the DCI’s authority had been raised.
Helms, whose staff on community affairs reminded him that “you have pressed for the establishment of a central authority over Defense Department resources for a long time,” readily endorsed the idea. Some of his aides, however, expressed concern that the new step might lead to an “independent” DOD intelligence system in which the DCI would have more difficulty in gaining information about and affecting DOD’s resource issues and which would give inadequate attention to “national” intelligence needs. They noted that attempts to solve defense intelligence problems begged the question of community-wide efforts having the same aims and hence engaged the DCI’s equities as community leader. One notion they considered, for example, was that the DCI might want to support a tripartite management arrangement such as existed for the NRO over all intelligence programs.
In welcoming the development, Helms took care to protect his equities as DCI. DDCI Robert Cushman wrote to Froehlke in November 1969, underscoring two points in this regard. One, the DCI wanted it understood that the NRO should remain under its existing Executive Committee and not be placed under Froehlke as though it were purely a DOD resource. Two, while it made sense for Froehlke (who dealt with resource issues) to replace the director of DIA in representing DOD intelligence on the NIRB, DOD representation on USIB and its committees (which dealt mainly with substantative matters) should remain with the heads of DIA and the other DOD intelligence agencies. The DCI’s staff also discussed with Froehlke how to make the data systems and procedures used for program and budget purposes by DOD and by the DCI as compatible as possible in order to facilitate comparisons and tradeoffs among intelligence resources. OSD was willing to co-sponsor with the DCI and BOB the program information system run by the DCI’s NIPE Staff (by 1970, the TOD system had acquired a new name, the Consolidated Intelligence Resource Information System, or CIRIS) and to acknowledge the DCI’s lead in preparing budget data displays even for DOD intelligence programs.
Helms had little difficulty in winning the agreement of David Packard, the new deputy secretary of defense, to these cooperative steps. In May 1969, Walt Elder, Helms’s special assistant, informed former DCI John McCone that Helms felt his relationship with Packard was “on the rails,” a good omen for their work together on many issues. Helms did not shy away from reminding DOD seniors of his leadership role regarding Intelligence Community programs. In December 1969, he sent a memo to Packard suggesting use of both bilateral discussions and the NIRB for consideration of possible future cost cutting in the intelligence field and used an informal cover note to remind him that he and his staff could help especially in the area of requirements, “where my authority is indeed clear.” But Helms kept the relationship focused on cooperation and collaboration, acknowledging that OSD leaders also had a large role to play in important community decisions. When a 1969 proposal to establish under the NIRB an Intelligence Resources Program Memoranda system struck Packard as lacking adequate DOD participation, Helms provided an explanation that smoothed the waters.
The dialogue between the DCI and DOD officials over intelligence resources necessarily involved effort and friction; each side had serious equities at stake. In 1971, for example, Assistant Secretary Froehlke questioned the DCI’s deputy for NIPE about the advisability of NIRB participation in “the intimate details of the allocation of Defense intelligence resources” since that could prolong the budgetary process. He asserted the “full” responsibility the secretary of defense had for his department’s assets and thought it “questionable whether a non-DOD entity should be an integral part” of that process. That said, he was willing to acknowledge the DCI’s community-wide responsibilities and grant that they gave him a right to participate in DOD intelligence program reviews and be heard “when any major allocation issues” arose. What he sought to avoid, he wrote, was “undue interference,” apparently via too early or too detailed participation on the part of the DCI and his staff.
This kind of fencing was to be expected. Each aide protected the role of his principal, and the principals had different kinds of authority. The DCI’s (as both Tweedy and Froehlke noted in their exchange) was rooted in his responsibility for the intelligence product, whereas the secretary of defense’s derived from his responsibility for executing programs. What was changing was that the DCI was moving more in the direction of sharing with the secretary an as yet not fully defined resource management role.
In order to fulfill his growing resource management role, Helms set forth in 1969 a common set of goals and priorities against which community elements should plan their future activities. Although not entirely novel, it looked more than previous efforts like at least an adumbrated strategic plan. After consulting his former boss Richard Bissell and NSC staff official Andrew Marshall, Helms commissioned a senior Air Force major general who had just retired after serving as chief of Air Force intelligence, Jack Thomas, to lead the drafting of a DCI planning guidance paper. ONE provided a projection about the foreign environment to serve as a basis for planning.
The plan catalogued a list of proposed actions, the most prominent of which were to establish a better DCI statement of national intelligence objectives and priorities and to create a “more systematic” interface between policy guidance and intelligence programming. In addition, it urged a study of the needs for human source intelligence for the years ahead (no doubt in part to show that the DCI was asking CIA as well as other agencies to be guided by the document) and stressed modernization throughout the community in terms of processing and exploitation, information handling, and the use of systems and operations analysis techniques. Since the DCI was not the responsible manager of most of the community’s resources, the cover memorandums transmitting the draft plan to USIB and the NIRB described it as “a tool to assist planning and resource allocation both within individual agencies and in the community as a whole” and as “not directive in nature.”
The draft apparently hit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of community views since members criticized it from opposite sides. The military services argued that it overemphasized centralization and “national” concerns at the expense of wartime and “departmental” intelligence needs. CIA’s clandestine service, on the other hand, argued that it was “overbalanced on the great issues of a hot war, anxious about early warning,” and not well suited for the most likely contingency of a continuing Cold War. NSA said it provided little practical guidance and was inadequate as a guide for COMINT. Despite these differing views and apparent lack of enthusiasm on the part of important community members, the DCI promulgated it in September 1970. Although of necessity written at a general level, it marked a new level of DCI effort to provide a common basis for program planning to all major components of the community.
White House Attention
Before taking office, President-elect Richard Nixon asked Helms for his views on the strengths and weaknesses of US intelligence and how it could be improved. Helms sent him a classified memorandum two weeks before his inauguration that expressed overall confidence in the nation’s capabilities and suggested relatively minor changes. He highlighted estimates (especially of political trends) as an area to be tweaked, and stressed developments in US space reconnaissance as likely to improve US knowledge of foreign military capabilities and ability to follow foreign events on a more timely basis. Regarding management of the Intelligence Community, Helms’s main suggestion was to strengthen centralized control over DOD’s intelligence activities, an idea that addressed existing angst over cost effectiveness and was in line with what he knew DOD officials also wanted.
He cautioned the president-elect not to expect too much of him: “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.” He did take the opportunity to point out that he had recently created the NIRB to help determine what resources were needed. But rather than discuss past impact or potential future use of new mechanisms, he reiterated his cautionary point that he had no authority “to compel any action with respect to Defense Department activities.” He was concerned about possibly inflated expectations, and he wanted to preempt any unrealistic demands that might be placed upon him. Nixon, who had been vice president in the 1950s and was likely aware of Eisenhower’s lack of success in prodding Allen Dulles to do more to manage Intelligence Community affairs, must have understood Helms’s point clearly.
In the first month of the Nixon administration, Helms received a letter from former DCI John McCone advising him that a brief memorandum explaining how USIB and the estimates board functioned might profitably be shown to Nixon, Secretary of State William Rogers, Laird, and the latters’ deputies because the missions of these bodies “are not fully understood.” McCone also warned Helms that he needed to beat back the threat of a proposed procedure whereby the DCI would depart NSC meetings after giving the intelligence briefing, a measure of the new administration’s preoccupation with control over policy and determination to limit the DCI’s relationship with the president.
Once Nixon became president, he re-established PFIAB and announced that: “I shall look to the Director of Central Intelligence to continue to provide coordination and guidance to the total foreign intelligence activities of the United States with the view to assuring a comprehensive and integrated effort on the part of the United States Government agencies.” His executive order re-establishing the board, issued a few days earlier, had included a new charge: the board was to advise the president not only on the objectives and conduct of US foreign intelligence activities but also on their “management and coordination.” The president also noted in his memorandum to Helms that the new PFIAB was to prepare an independent annual assessment of the nuclear threat. Thus, Nixon put Helms on notice that his substantive role was subject to competition and that his management role would be more closely observed.
In February 1970, Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser, sent a memorandum to the DCI and the secretaries of state and defense decreeing that PFIAB would review any major change in Intelligence Community programs affecting capabilities. Bross complained to Helms in April 1970 that the board, despite its periodic urgings that the DCI exercise greater community-wide leadership, essentially treated the DCI as simply the head of CIA—refusing, for example, to give him annual reports submitted to PFIAB by other agencies such as DIA and, in effect, claiming a community coordinating function for themselves.
PFIAB was not the only tool in Nixon’s arsenal for dealing with Helms. Kissinger, dissatisfied with substantive intelligence products, used NSC staff colleague Andrew Marshall (from RAND) to do studies of intelligence information support to the NSC, and other NSC staffers, including at one time William Kaufmann of MIT, also worked on intelligence matters. Another instrument of White House intelligence oversight was the budget office, renamed on 1 July 1971 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a few of whose officers were the only federal officials apart from the DCI’s staff with cognizance over the budgets of all the intelligence organizations. OMB’s focus was on money and programs, and on the relationship between the two, i.e., cost effectiveness. In 1945, it had helped President Truman decide to create the DCI and CIA. Under Nixon, it proselytized management techniques to cut government costs, including in intelligence programs, and became a locus of intense scrutiny of the Intelligence Community and the DCI’s role in leading it.
The NIPE Staff served as the DCI’s main point of contact with OMB officers and as his support staff on community issues OMB raised. NIPE staffers responded to OMB requests for various studies done under DCI auspices and tried to keep control over the contacts and information passing between at least CIA elements and OMB. They sometimes felt they were in the “hot seat” in providing information on community matters since one or another agency might suspect them of conspiring with OMB regarding its programs. In 1969, they promised the OMB staff that they would look for potential issues of common interest and provide “early warning” of potential problems.
In 1970 the White House—spurred by House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairman George Mahon (D-TX) to find ways to cut intelligence spending—asked James Schlesinger, an assistant director of OMB, to conduct a review of the Intelligence Community. Schlesinger finished his study on 10 March 1971 and sent it out within the executive branch for review. His report stressed the rising costs of collection efforts. He was not concerned about duplication of analytic production (partly because he felt that competition between analytic ideas was a good thing and partly because the monetary costs involved were relatively small), but he believed that there was duplication in collection activities resulting from helter-skelter growth that had not been subjected to sufficiently rigorous cross-program management. The increase in substantive knowledge about the world had not been commensurate with this growth in collection, Schlesinger believed, and indeed he saw the latter as having been substituted for the former. The community had outgrown the structure laid out for it in 1947, Schlesinger judged, and had not carefully enough shaped its activities to achieve its objectives.
The report thus defined the problem as one of inadequacies in decisionmaking about intelligence programs, including a lack of DCI authority and of mechanisms for “governing” the Intelligence Community. The study cited the DCI’s NIPE Staff and the NIRB in positive terms, but also pointedly noted that they could be ignored without penalty. It called USIB a governing body, but one that was not useful in practical management or leadership terms. Finally, it claimed there was inadequate centralization of DOD intelligence programs despite the steps Secretary Laird had taken. The study readily acknowledged that its recommendations on reorganization were, in and of themselves, not solutions to the problems cited. But it did argue that, as had been the case with the 1958 reorganization of DOD, organizational change was a necessary initial step in reaching solutions.
The report’s main recommendation was to redefine and thereby strengthen the DCI’s leadership of the community as a whole. DCIs traditionally had taken the position that they needed to head CIA even if they also wanted to strengthen their community role. Even John McCone, the most community-minded DCI up to the 1970s, depended on the new science and technology directorate he had created within CIA to sustain his role in shaping national reconnaissance programs. And all DCIs depended on CIA’s analysts to provide the substantive products supplied to senior policymakers.
Schlesinger mounted an assault on this viewpoint. He acknowledged that DCIs had too little authority to do the kind of community-wide management he envisaged. But he argued that they had not even used the authority they had, and he depicted them as fatally flawed because of their ties to CIA. Running CIA was, by itself, a fulltime job; indeed, accomplishing just the covert action part of CIA’s mission was a “heavy burden.” Beyond that, the DCI’s multiple roles conflicted with each other. Finally, and perhaps of greatest importance to Schlesinger, the DCI, by virtue of heading and advocating CIA’s collection programs, was part of the problem by being a competitor for resources within a process he supposedly headed: “he cannot be wholly objective in providing guidance for community-wide collection.”
In a May 1971 conversation with Lawrence K. “Red” White, CIA’s executive director-comptroller, and Edward Proctor, CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, Schlesinger made clear that, in this regard, he was not especially concerned with CIA’s clandestine collection efforts. It was the big NRO programs backed by CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology that were the problem. He cited two major satellite programs developed by CIA as creating problems between the DCI and DOD. He viewed one program as “a complete disaster”; DOD had never been convinced of its value, and yet it was being built. He acknowledged that CIA had been technically justified in advocating the other program, but he still felt the friction caused with DOD was unhelpful. Indeed, in cases like this one, Schlesinger asserted, it was CIA’s withholding of information from DOD that was part of the problem (thus reversing the traditional NIPE Staff complaint that DOD denied the DCI adequate visibility into data on its intelligence programs). In effect, Schlesinger was saying that not only were DCIs ineffectual in containing or managing collection program growth, they were major culprits in pushing it.
The study presented three alternative models for DCI leadership of the Intelligence Community. One was to create a new director of national intelligence who would directly control all national foreign intelligence resources. This option represented centralization in its most complete form. The second was a redefined DCI who would be separated from the duty of running CIA’s clandestine activities (he would retain its analytic production capability in order to fulfill his responsibility of providing national intelligence to the NSC) and would serve as the supreme resource decisionmaker within the community. This option aimed at advancing in the right direction without inviting fears of a too powerful czar. The third alternative was a coordinator of national intelligence who would be a White House or NSC overseer of the Intelligence Community. This option would strengthen the hand of the consumers of intelligence products but would probably not adequately address the study’s concerns regarding community resource management. The pros and cons laid out in the study made clear that the first option had no hope of gaining DOD support, and the third option frankly stated it would not solve the resource management issue. The study also took up the issue of DOD intelligence program management and recommend options for centralizing it, thus adding its weight to the Froehlke and Fitzhugh reports. But communitywide, it concentrated on its new leadership options and mentioned possibly more involvement by high-level consumers of intelligence.
When Schlesinger circulated his report, Helms felt he was under pressure from PFIAB and the White House. In April, Kissinger raised the issue of presidential dissatisfaction with estimates, and he also told Helms that the investigation of intelligence ordered by the president would examine USIB-centered activities as well as potential reductions in budget expenditures. Helms supported his analysts’ work and had confidence in his orderly administrative style, so the White House dissatisfaction may have puzzled as well as pressured him. Perhaps the missing link was the lack of any real personal “connection” between Helms and Nixon, an element vital to the former and difficult for the latter.
Reactions to Study
On 20 April 1971, Helms gave Schlesinger a brief set of CIA comments on the study’s draft DCI leadership options. Overall, the comments suggested that some kind of formal boost to the DCI from the president would be the best practical outcome of the study effort. CIA officers believed the first two options for a new DCI would require congressional action, a bad idea as far as they were concerned. The study itself indicated option three would not be effective, CIA commented, so that meant that none of the options were workable as they stood. Since a true “command” system was out of the question, some sort of a “coordination” solution seemed in order. The CIA comments thus concluded that the best outcome—if supported by the White House and other major players—would be presidential direction to the DCI to this effect. CIA concluded its views with an unsurprising plea not to separate the DCI from CIA (the reasoning was that CIA’s analysis and operations should not be separated from each other and the DCI could not do without its analytic support, hence he needed to remain CIA’s head, although he could delegate more agency leadership to his deputy).
These comments followed closely the inputs received by Helms from his principal subordinates. Bronson Tweedy, by then his deputy for community matters, and Executive Director-Comptroller White had advised Helms not to argue with anything in the report but rather simply accept that improvement in managing the community was needed. “Essentially,” they told Helms, what was needed was “a strong DCI, as in Option 2, with clear and explicit Presidential authority and community staff mechanisms to assist him.” The point was that, as Schlesinger had explained in the report, the charter legislation had established the DCI’s community-based substantive role well but left unaddressed his community-wide resource management role. A presidential directive could make up that gap without brooking the risks of seeking legislation. They also advised the DCI to not tip his hand on any future actions he might wish to take: “you should not get into this until you know what direction the President is going to take.”
The directorate heads at CIA also argued for a positive, general response that did not address the detailed findings. Thomas H. Karamessines, Helms’s operations chief, provided views in line with what was eventually given to Schlesinger. The deputy director for intelligence (in comments signed by both the current DDI, R. J. Smith, and his deputy, Edward Proctor, who became DDI in less than a month) believed that some version of option two was the most logical solution and that the DCI could do little without more help from the president. Carl E. Duckett, the deputy director for science and technology (DDS&T), defended CIA’s NRO work as well managed and made his own radical reorganization suggestion, which CIA did not pass on to OMB.
The DCI also discussed the study with others. Early in April 1971 he sat down with the members of PFIAB, one of whom, Franklin B. Lincoln, Jr., (a former law firm colleague of Nixon’s), asked him what he would do if given an Aladdin’s lamp. Helms replied that he would not favor restructuring the community but would rather see more professionalism and continuity in personnel assignments. Lincoln persisted, suggesting that all the national intelligence agencies be placed directly under the DCI. Helms said he saw no reason why that would work and pointed out it would require full DOD support, an unlikely prospect. He argued that the community already could work efficiently on any given target or task.
At the end of April 1971, the DCI convened a special weekend retreat of his key staff officers to review the issues raised by the Schlesinger report. John Huizenga, chairman of the national estimates board and office, challenged what he believed was the report’s implicit preference for centralized management and suggested that confederation was better for the intelligence business. The DCI had directed his staff to examine (with a view to rebutting) two of the report’s critical assumptions, duplication of collection resources and their excessive costs, and Duckett argued at the meeting that the DCI and USIB had, in fact, held costs down to reasonable levels. Helms’s staff later concluded that explicit documentation that would prove Duckett’s point to the satisfaction of OMB did not exist. As a result, the DDI and the DDS&T recommended, apparently successfully, that the DCI not take up this line of argument. Bronson Tweedy speculated about what the DCI might anticipate doing in reaction to the report, and they entertained suggestions about renaming USIB committees as DCI committees, having the DCI chair the NIRB personally, and strengthening the NIPE Staff. All expected that the DCI would have considerable leeway in handling the eventual presidential decision.
In June 1971, PFIAB sent the president a report of its own commenting on the Schlesinger study. It rejected the reorganization options and urged instead enhancing the role of intelligence users by “radically” altering USIB. It suggested forming two committees under USIB, one for estimates and the other for resources, with an assistant secretary of defense for intelligence serving as vice chairman of the latter. The PFIAB report asserted that its suggestions “would enhance the leadership capabilities” of the DCI as chairman of USIB (he would delegate more CIA duties to his deputy) and that inclusion of PFIAB’s chairman as a member would strengthen USIB. OMB and the NSC staff dismissed PFIAB’s ideas and agreed fully with Helms’s view that legislation should be avoided.
By August 1971, the secretary of defense had asked his staffers to comment on the Schlesinger study, and their conclusions resembled the DCI’s. They believed that it overstated the shortcomings of intelligence and that radical reorganization was not warranted. They also took up the issue of excessive costs and toyed with the idea of blaming them on inflation, but thought better of it, admitting that technology-laden reconnaissance programs simply were expensive. By this time OMB and NSC were homing in on having the president create two new committees, but ones at a higher level than PFIAB had suggested. Kissinger would chair one devoted to substance, and the DCI would chair the other, which would deal with resources, in effect combining the members and issues of the NRO’s Executive Committee and the NIRB.
On 5 November 1971, President Nixon issued a formal decision memorandum entitled “Organization and Management of the US Foreign Intelligence Community.” A few days earlier, he had sent a letter to the DCI outlining the main points of his decision. The overall purposes were twofold: “improving the intelligence product” and “increased efficiency in the allocation of resources.” “I will look to you to provide the Intelligence Community with the strengthened and responsible leadership it needs,” the president told Helms. He also directed Helms to “give the role of community leadership your primary attention,” delegating CIA matters as much as possible.
The president detailed “four major responsibilities” of the DCI’s community leadership: planning and reviewing all intelligence activities “including tactical intelligence,” producing national intelligence, chairing and staffing all community committees, and reconciling intelligence requirements and priorities with budgetary constraints. The DCI did not welcome the reference to “tactical” intelligence; he had not even achieved adequate review of DOD intelligence at the “national” program level. Nixon encouraged Helms to go beyond what he had decided at the presidential level, stating that he expected additional changes in the management of the community and that Helms would have his “prompt and sympathetic attention” in pursuing them. It was clear where the president hoped for practical cost-cutting measures: “By far the largest portion of the intelligence budget is devoted to collection. It is here that savings must be sought.”
In the 5 November 1971 memorandum, which was addressed to the heads of the departments represented on USIB, the president laid out the overall objectives he had noted in his letter to the DCI and spelled out various aspects of improved DCI leadership in a section entitled “The Necessary Conditions.” These referred to some specific bureaucratic changes (strengthened DCI staff, two DCI-chaired committees, revised NSCIDs and DCIDs) but were otherwise rhetorical, exhorting the DCI to “assume overall leadership of the community” and play “a major role” in resolving community issues and urging that DOD’s programs “come under more effective management and coordination with other intelligence programs.” Nixon acknowledged that he and other consumers of intelligence needed to provide the DCI with a “more effective review” of intelligence products and policies, and he gave the DCI 30 days to come up with a plan for delegating his CIA responsibilities and for strengthening his community affairs staff.
The practical decisions conveyed in the memorandum mainly dealt with resource management issues. Foremost, the DCI was to prepare and submit each year “a consolidated intelligence program budget, including tactical intelligence.” To help him do this, the president created a new Intelligence Resources Advisory Committee (IRAC), to be chaired by the DCI and comprising members from defense, state, OMB, and CIA. He also “reconstituted” USIB, directing that the DCI continue to chair it and adding Treasury Department representation to it. To provide improved review and guidance from senior consumers, he created a new NSC Intelligence Committee (NSCIC), to be chaired by his assistant for national security affairs, with the number twos from state and defense joined by the attorney general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the DCI as members. Finally, he directed the creation of a new Net Assessment Group in the NSC staff to review intelligence products and compare foreign and US capabilities.
The memorandum also dealt with several DOD intelligence issues, directing the creation of a unified National Cryptologic Command under the director of NSA, a consolidated Defense Map Agency, and single Defense Investigations Office. It directed the retention of DIA to respond to JCS tasking, endorsed the existing DCI-chaired NRO management structure, and authorized the DCI to call upon departments to provide the information and participation needed to make the community mechanisms effective (why the president did not himself direct the departments to provide this support is not clear).
All in all, the presidential action of November 1971 aimed at making the DCI a better manager of the Intelligence Community. The necessity of spelling out specific details of bureaucratic arrangements in the presidential memorandum reflected the continuing status of a DCI who could not make such decisions himself because he had no greater authority than he did previously. The positive side of that fact was that national intelligence was still of high-level concern, and the formation of the new NSC committee promised a future dialogue between intelligence professionals and consumers of their products and services. The negative side was that Helms was given strong rhetorical support from the topmost level without any practical help other than renamed committee chairmanships and a larger staff. The new element of DCI responsibility for a single consolidated community budget was in a sense the most important change, whether or not the “tactical” intelligence component of it was ever achieved, and the White House press release placed first in the list of anticipated improvements “an enhanced leadership role for the Director of Central Intelligence.” Nixon had announced new expectations for the DCI and had served a clearly labeled “Resource Manager” ball into the DCI’s court.
Helms, according to an account by key aides serving him at this time, believed that the president had given him a job that he could never hope to carry out, but he set out to do the best he could. He did not quarrel with the basic idea that he should play a key role in determining intelligence programs and budgets at a time when budget constraints indicated difficult decisions would have to be made. He judged that the best approach, however, in light of the confederative nature of the community and the power relationship the DCI had with the secretary of defense, was to foster collaboration with his key colleagues in the community and with the top level officials at DOD and OMB. He thus took the same approach Dulles had taken in the 1950s, choosing a pragmatic course suited to both circumstance and his personal management style.
Helms also had to help the president tend to brushfires in Congress caused by the new directive. Some senators were irked that they had not been consulted prior to the executive branch decision, and they posed questions about various aspects of it. Senator John Stennis (D-MS), the powerful head of the Armed Services Committee, questioned whether giving the DCI’s deputy greater responsibility for CIA would lead to a military takeover of the agency (the DDCI was a military officer, Lt. Gen. Robert Cushman, USMC): “I don’t want the military running the CIA any more than I would want Helms commanding an army in the field.” Helms pacified Stennis on this point and helped to satisfy other concerns of this sort in supporting the president’s action.
Within the 30 days specified in the president’s memorandum, the DCI responded as requested on the issues of how he would delegate more CIA duties to his deputy and build up his community staff. He attached a generalized delegation of all authorities to his deputy that he promised to execute as soon as the prospective new DDCI was on board and ready to assume expanded duties (Cushman left office on 31 December 1971 and was not replaced by Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters, USA, until 2 May 1972). He also attached an organization chart for his new “Intelligence Community Staff,” which he described in a page-long paragraph summarizing its branches and their duties.
Helms formalized the name change of the NIPE Staff to the Intelligence Community (IC) Staff as of 1 March 1972, and he retitled Tweedy as “Deputy to the DCI for the Intelligence Community.” He also enlarged the staff to cope with the new tasks. In the weeks leading up to the change, the officers engaged in building up the new elements of the staff requested guidance from the DCI. White told Helms they needed his help in communicating his concept of how the community staff would operate, and he recommended that Helms meet with key members of the Intelligence Community to let them know what he would be saying to Congress regarding community structure, management, etc.
DOD also responded to the president’s November 1971 decision. It issued a press release noting the appointment of a new assistant secretary of defense (intelligence), Albert C. Hall, making it clear that this step resulted from long study within DOD including the Froehlke and Fitzhugh reports as well as from the president’s decision. DOD also stated that either Deputy Secretary Packard or Hall would represent DOD on the new IRAC (the president’s decision had confirmed DIA’s continuing membership on USIB). Finally, it promised “full cooperation and coordination” with DCI Helms as he moved to meet his new Intelligence Community leadership responsibilities.
Both DOD leaders and the DCI were concerned with the pointed inclusion of “tactical” intelligence programs among those to be reviewed and included in the budget to be prepared by the DCI. The NSCIC had discussed this issue at its first meeting on 3 December 1971, and Helms and George Shultz, the director of OMB, had talked about it as well on 14 December. In early January 1972, Helms shared with Secretary of Defense Laird a paper exploring the issue that had been coordinated with OMB and shared with Hall. Neither the DCI nor the secretary was fully on board on this provision of the president’s decision. The basic reason for its inclusion apparently was to not allow the Pentagon to evade the DCI’s centralized review of intelligence programs by labeling them as “tactical.” By the spring of 1972, however, the DCI was ready to report that OMB had agreed that “tactical” intelligence programs did not include clearly organic, tactical elements needed by combatant commands and units when there was no “national” intelligence involved.
OMB remained intently involved in the whole issue of DCI leadership of the community. In March 1972, Shultz sent the DCI an 11-page, single-spaced staff paper telling him what he needed to do to prepare the new Consolidated Intelligence Program Budget (CIPB) and promised to work with the DCI to help him carry out his new budget responsibility. The paper explained that DOD did not, in fact, have a centralized budget process for intelligence and thus gave an impression of hopefulness that the new DCI-led process would assist DOD in improving its own intelligence budgeting.
The main area of improvement sought in the OMB paper was earlier and more comprehensive program planning guidance by the DCI. This built upon the DCI’s already recognized role in setting requirements and Helms’s planning initiative in 1969. OMB felt, however, that the DCI’s guidance had to be wider and come earlier in the DOD budget process for it to be effective. A second major area of improvement sought was for the DCI to obtain and use more information from DOD intelligence program chieftans: “The DCI,” it stated, “will need to seek information which in the past has not normally been available” during his program reviews. It pleaded for more analysis in the CIPB that related resources to objectives and that related how progress was being made toward the president’s broad goals of better products and more controlled costs.
In response to Kissinger’s request for a six-month progress report, Helms emphasized bureaucratic mechanisms and studies as the major accomplishments. He reported that his stronger IC Staff now included an NSA officer and others from outside CIA and was participating “on a fairly intimate basis” in the planning and budgetary activities of the various intelligence programs. He noted that the NSCIC had held its initial meeting and set up under his community deputy a working group, which was drawing up a program and doing product and post-mortem community performance reviews. Similarly, the IRAC had held an initial meeting and established a working group that was busy identifying major issues for study, especially in the area of collection. Finally, his staff was proceeding apace in gaining new information and involvement in “supervision of the community.” He reminded Kissinger that progress depended heavily on DOD cooperation, however, and that improvement would be “an evolutionary process for quite a considerable period.”
There remained, as always, ups and downs in the DCI’s relationship at the staff level with DOD. In February 1972, Hall wrote to thank Helms for drawing his attention to the Eaton Report and to a 1969 DCI memorandum to Laird containing recommendations for DOD actions in connection with the report. He was pleased to note how many had been implemented, prompting Helms to pen an internal note to Tweedy asking “can this be true?” The sense conveyed of DOD being in step with DCI preferences was, in fact, too good to be true. Tweedy complained to Helms in June 1972 that a memorandum Hall had sent to Helms that month reporting on the progress he was making getting a handle on intelligence activities within DOD did not reflect the dialogue between their staffs. It purported to respond to a DCI message, Tweedy said, but in substance it did not, and the progress made at the staff level in working out modes of cooperation between the DCI’s office and OSD was, in Tweedy’s opinion, being ignored at the top policy levels of DOD.
By August 1972, Helms wrote to Laird indicating that he was focusing more on defense intelligence programs and their relationship to national ones. He noted that they had come to an accommodation on the “tactical” programs for which he was responsible along with the secretary. He expressed concern, however, that some intelligence activities having only marginal “national” application were funded in national programs (ocean surveillance was his particular concern in this letter). “As I try to take an over-all, cross-program look at the national intelligence effort,” Helms wrote Laird, “I cannot help being concerned over costs and their implication for future years and budgets.”
As he worked to achieve some practical improvements in the year following the Nixon memorandum, Helms felt continual frustration in what he saw as a mismatch of authority and responsibility. In June 1972, he addressed CIA employees in the agency’s auditorium: “One must recognize that in empowering me to take certain actions…I wasn’t given any strength to do them with.” Seconds later, he revised his remark: “I used a moment ago the word ‘empowered,’ I want to withdraw that. I wasn’t ‘empowered’ to do anything; I was asked to do certain things.” This coda continued to the end of Helms’s time as DCI.
The practical limits of the new mechanisms were all too evident to both Helms and the White House. In the fall of 1972, Helms asked Kissinger for guidance on current intelligence reporting, attempting in effect to engage him in his capacity as NSCIC chairman. One of his senior IC Staff aides explained to NSC staff official Andrew Marshall, a key interlocutor for the DCI’s principal staffers on intelligence products, that the community was having to rely too much on internal studies to evaluate and improve its performance. Marshall complained that the internal staff studies done under the auspices of the NSCIC had led him to believe “that producing first-rate studies is inordinately difficult and time consuming” for the Intelligence Community. He was especially concerned, he said, “about the evident lack of a strong capability for self-criticism within the community.” At the same time, he held out little hope for better outside evaluation: “we may have a real problem in effectively carrying out the NSCIC task of providing a continuing review of the Intelligence Community product.” The NSCIC working group had met six times in its first year of operation, and it still seemed, as one internal memorandum noted, to be “feeling its way.”
On the resource side of intelligence, the IRAC had replaced the NIRB, and its work mainly proceeded at staff levels, with Tweedy’s new IC Staff handling the DCI’s equities. By October 1972, the IC Staff had produced a National Intelligence Program Memorandum, to which Secretary of Defense Laird reacted negatively. The staff believed it was the best cut it could make at that time in presenting community programs and costs comprehensively. The USIB welcomed Treasury Department representation at its meetings and continued to operate through its committees and staffs. By January 1973, as Helms’s tenure as DCI was drawing to a close, his IC Staff produced with DOD’s help the National Intelligence Community Planning Guidance for 1975–1980, setting forth overall issues and actions to address them. Helms, in one of his last actions as DCI, forwarded it to Kissinger, noting that it addressed one of the principal goals of the president’s 5 November 1971 memorandum, better community-wide planning.
Early in February 1973 Richard Helms departed CIA headquarters, his ears filled with the sound of heart-felt applause from agency colleagues packed in the main lobby of CIA’s headquarters building in Langley, Virginia. He had served as DCI longer than any other person up to that point save Allen Dulles, and he had been under pressure throughout his tenure to strengthen his community-wide leadership and management role. By 1973, administration complaints about his running of the Intelligence Community had become rumors fed by White House aide Charles Colson to justify Helms’s removal.
Helms’s successor was none other than James Schlesinger, the administration insider whose recommendations for a stronger DCI community leadership role had played a large role during Helms’s last two years in office. Schlesinger would now have the opportunity to try and fulfill expectations he had helped raise that the DCI could, in fact, manage the beast of spiraling intelligence expenditures.
Former colleagues and Thomas Powers, Helms’s unofficial biographer, have depicted Helms as unenthusiastic about his community role, and Helms himself gives it no attention in his memoir, mentioning neither the Schlesinger report nor the Nixon memorandum. In praising a few close colleagues at the end of his autobiography, however, Helms gives greatest recognition to John Bross and Bronson Tweedy, the two men who served as his chief community deputy. Also, in reviewing Powers’ book on Helms for CIA’s internal professional journal, Studies in Intelligence, Bross took strong exception to Powers’ assertion that Helms had not taken his community role seriously, citing many of the activities covered in this chapter to bolster his contention that “Helms paid only slightly less attention to his coordinating responsibilities than did John McCone….”
Still, it seems justified to conclude that Helms viewed his community role with a healthy dose of distaste, as a necessary and even useful activity, but not as something he embraced enthusiastically. In a 1969 interview, when asked about his community role, Helms seemed to wrestle awkwardly with his answer. While declaring that the community’s coordination was working “rather smoothly” and that its leaders had a “harmonious relationship,” he said that it was a “complicated” issue and that, without command authority, “I don’t run it all that well.” Most revealing, he objected to having to deal with the question in an oral history interview and asserted that problems of community organization did not “really have any part in the historical record.” (The author is drawn to conclude that Helms would not have approved undertaking this study!)
James Schlesinger offered a surprisingly sympathetic judgment of Helms’s approach to his community role in an interview conducted in 1982. Referring to the presidential mandate Helms had been given in1971, Schlesinger said he believed that Helms “really did nothing about it—I think perhaps wisely.” He cited the “skepticism” with which Helms was viewed in the White House and the problematic outcome in asserting authority in fights “with an old walrus like Mel Laird” as a reasonable basis for Helms’s attitude.
From a 1984 oral history interview of Helms.
An internal CIA history records that full meetings of USIB, frequent under McCone, became infrequent under Helms. Another account reports that USIB meetings under Helms seldom lasted more than 45 minutes. Victor Marchetti and John Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, 76.
The DCI’s ability to keep imagery activities under review was better than his capacity to oversee SIGINT. For imagery, CIA’s involvement in the development of major imagery satellite systems and administrative control over NPIC provided the DCI with considerable knowledge about, and advocacy for, imagery programs. Although CIA was involved in SIGINT satellite development, most signals processing and exploitation took place within NSA, an agency the DCI did not administer or staff, and OSD played an active executive agent role with respect to SIGINT.
One difficulty with such a system is its dependence on voluminous inputting and presentation of data. This sometimes causes resentment among those who have to amass and array the inputs, and the users of such a product often have trouble discerning the implications of the data for program decisions.
Carter had served as DDCI (Helms succeeded him) before becoming director of NSA, an unusual career progression. His experience in the DCI’s office may have helped shape his view about the potential utility of a different kind of DCI position.
Early in the study, Eaton had commented that he felt the “problem of requirements” was so bad (he found them obsolete and confusing) that it would probably be necessary to start over and redefine them. The PNIOs of 1967 vintage apparently were not doing the job.
Analysts are brought into community management projects when it is necessary to describe the targets of intelligence, i.e., the foreign environment in which the United States has to act. They are charged with understanding foreign events and trends, and they serve as surrogates for the policy community consumers of intelligence products, whose information needs in the end guide what intelligence professionals do.
In January 1969, Bross sent Helms a report on the organization of CIA and the community. It prescribed a “stand pat” stance regarding organizational matters and recommended trying to divest national intelligence budgets of their tactical military programs as much as possible.
In the 1960s, the DCI’s staff believed that PFIAB was becoming in part a rival to, rather than an overseer of, the DCI and the community. A particular complaint was that it did not share with the DCI all the reports it received or produced and therefore was not helping him to understand issues as well as it might. Nixon’s early pronouncements on PFIAB thus helped to perpetuate a preexisting perception.
Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms & the CIA, 204–8.
Proctor pointed out to Schlesinger that one reason the program he had praised was so worthwhile was because intelligence analysts played a significant role in working with designers to ensure that program capabilities matched the information needs sought. He ventured the opinion this was often less true for Pentagon intelligence systems. Schlesinger acknowledged the point, noting the analogy between Proctor’s point and his own longtime advocacy of close working relationships between weapons systems developers and users.
He suggested a new CIA that encompassed analysis and exploitation of signals and imagery data, headed by a DCI who would thus be supported in his role as chief foreign intelligence adviser to the NSC. He also suggested the creation of a new National Intelligence Collection Agency encompassing all national collection programs such as NSA, the NRO, and CIA’s clandestine service and answerable to a DCI-DOD-White House Executive Committee.
Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, 207, states that the White House did not distribute the report to Helms until August, but it was, in fact, shared as early as April (Powers’ sources may have been referring to draft versions of the presidential decisions rendered in November).
A declassified version of the full text of this document is in Warner, ed., Central Intelligence, 75–81.
A declassified version of this letter is appended to this study.
Just before the Nixon decision was announced, a senior aide advised Helms that a revision of the basic DCID on requirements and priorities might overreach if it were described as “promulgated as guidance to intelligence managers and planners in resource allocation.” The cautious officer was William Colby, then acting executive director-comptroller of CIA, who felt the wording “automatically raises too many hackles.”
Helms was irritated by the timing of his departure. He thought the White House had agreed that he could stay until his 60th birthday on 30 March. He was not told in advance that his replacement was being sworn in on 2 February, and “had barely time to get my things out of the office and to assemble as many colleagues of all ranks as possible for a farewell session….” A Look Over My Shoulder, 412.
Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, 244. Renegade CIA officer Victor Marchetti charged in 1974 that “much to the amazement of his staff, Helms did virtually nothing to carry out the wishes of the President” expressed in the November 1971 memorandum and that Helms was removed because of his inaction in this regard. Marchetti and Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, 103.
Bross’s defense is a staunch one, but he ends it with a modest summary: “The relevant point in all this is that Helms did indeed spend a lot of time trying to run the community.”
Ralph E. Weber, ed., Spymasters: Ten CIA Officers in Their Own Words, 253.
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