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Chapter 13

Communications: The Web of the World

          Perhaps the greatest achievement of modern times is the communications revolution. Time and distance are all but obliterated by the speed and totality of worldwide communications networks -- even outer space networks. We have witnessed a man stepping onto the moon in the full view of live and instant television. We have listened to the President as he placed a call to the men on the moon and talked with them, just as you and I would talk to other men. As this is being written, a satellite laboratory is speeding through uncharted space on its way to the planet Jupiter and beyond. All of these wonders of physical science and of man's ingenuity are in the hands of the ST. The intelligence community has absolutely unlimited communications power, and there is literally no place to hide from it.

          The Russians may wish to test fly a new bomber. To do this, they must arrange an intricate communications system between the crew, the instruments in the plane, monitoring airborne aircraft and other stations. The CIA and its sister agency, the NSA, will hear the communications support of the flight and will interpret all of the coded information almost as easily as the Russians themselves who are monitoring it. The Russians will orbit a satellite with intricate and complicated telemetering equipment aboard, designed only for their own ears. The long antenna of the CIA/NSA, among others -- United States and foreign - will monitor this satellite and read it out with ease directly proportional to the skill, technology, and energy they have invested in such things.

          A small group of men will meet secretly in a room to discuss the overthrow of a government or to make plans to meet the agent of a foreign power. They will have with them an expert, trained in the high skill of electronic debugging. He will have checked their room and tested the telephone; yet every word they say will be recorded by a gang-monitor at a central switch belonging to the telephone company where all conversations, on any line, being made by anyone with any telephone in that huge network can be monitored with ease.

          Soviet messages transmitted by a special device that varies its transmission frequency often and unexpectedly and that has the ability to send a long message in the briefest "squirt" of time will be monitored and recorded accurately. Massive all-wave and all-frequency band receivers with high-speed scanning capability have the means to capture the "squirt messages" and then to draw them out until they are intelligible enough to be turned over to the computers for decoding.

          Even infrared signals, sound signals, and earth vibrations, such as are caused by railroad trains and mining operations, are recorded and translated into intelligence. The hum of high energy transmission lines carrying various loads gives indications of peak periods of line usage. There are no secrets.

          As Norbert Wiener said years ago, " . . . society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it"; and " . . . development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part." And he adds, " . . . the theory of control in engineering, whether human or animal or mechanical, is a chapter in the theory of messages."[1]

          In these modern times it may be added that the theory of control of governments is also another chapter in the theory of messages. That organization that controls the communication system will have in its power the ability to control the government. One of the greatest attributes of the communications system is its use in the development of feedback, the ability to generate future action -- usually response -- by the sensing of inputs from past performance. The total communications system makes it possible for the intelligence organization to collect and then to grade a great volume of information and to cull from this, those bits that will be made into the daily briefing and the essence of the current intelligence portfolio.

          More than anything else, it is this tremendous communications system that makes the Agency operational system what it is. From all over the world, messages of all kinds pour in from agents buried in all sorts of places and making all sorts of contacts. From all over the world, small bits of information gleaned from all kinds of instrumental communications equipment and advanced sensors feed information back into the centers of collection. Behind all of this, there are action officers who evaluate and process the bits that are culled and selected from the gross input from all sources.

          Whenever one of these action officers discovers something special, he will do his best to see that it is brought to the attention of his superiors. The system is so constructed that such data moves rapidly from the lower, gaining echelon, to the middle management areas where it is again weighed and evaluated. If the information survives this first sorting process, the action officer will be directed to go back to his source, whether it is mechanical or human, to seek further information to enhance the first bits. The occupational characteristic in this whole operation is that the action begins with the receipt of information. What happens afterwards is generally re-action. The message input becomes a control mechanism itself. The area of interest may build rapidly and require response in hours, or it may cover a period of months or even years. With each round of traffic the overall pattern begins to shape itself, and gradually the little projects become big ones. Then more and more people are put on the job, and responsibility for project development is moved higher and higher up the chain of command, until finally it will be considered for some sort of major action directly under the control of the DD/P and his senior staff.

          The fact that information is sought and pursued effectively must not be overlooked or ruled out. When certain events take place, experience teaches that others may follow, and the intelligence machinery will be set in motion to look for such things. This is particularly true in long-range projects. In modern manufacturing, it is impossible to assemble things like television sets or motorcycles without a system of marking and coding the parts so that they may be assembled properly in any plant having that know-how; and so that spare parts may be ordered that will fit the original set properly. Modern manufacturing requires that parts and major assemblies be marked for cost control and inventory purposes. In many instances the marking and coding systems used are very sophisticated. Thus, if a Japanese solid-state transistor radio is put together using "Ten Nines" germanium (the element of germanium pure to .9 to the tenth power), the tiny transistors will be marked with a code that proves they are the genuine product and that they are of that quality.

          This not only signifies that the transistors are a quality item; but it also indicates that the Japanese manufacturer has reached that level in the state-of-the-art that permits him to make and use such superior materials and techniques. The same is true for alloys, tolerances, and other things that are essential to quality work. Thus, if an agent buys several television sets in a foreign country and takes them apart to study them, he will find all of the subassemblies, down to tiny bits, coded and marked. If in the process he should find some novel, rare, or extremely precise technique, he will look further into the production methods of that factory and of that country to see what this means.

          In a country like the Soviet Union with a highly developed nuclear program and a superior missile and space manufacturing capability, it is to be expected that every so often new telltale discoveries will be made by finding some little item in an exported product that signifies a technological achievement, and perhaps even a new breakthrough. It is almost impossible for any sophisticated manufacturing system to conceal such developments once they have gone into mass production. Furthermore, serial numbers that usually accompany the marking program will show development serially, and one item acquired in an Asian country may carry one series of numbers that link with others found in a Latin American country. Reconstruction of the series which the codes, markings, and numbers reveal will give a quite accurate indication of rate of production, among other things.

          From such leads, the system then puts its agents to finding out whether these new metals, techniques, or ideas have developed from the space program, from weapons systems work, or what. The communications system feeds all of this back, and agents all over the world are coordinated in their development of this information speedily and accurately, as if they were assembling some massive jigsaw puzzle.

          So all communications bits are not just happenstance; but the distinction usually lies in the difference between intelligence collection and special operations. Since it is our objective to look more closely into the operational efforts of the ST, it is then more in character to see the communications network as a great machine that continually feeds bits of action information into a system that is prepared to respond whenever the "communist-inspired subversive insurgency" button is pushed.

          The ambassador to any foreign country is by Presidential appointment the senior official and representative of the Government of the United States. In peacetime, before World War II, his role was relatively uncomplicated, and most of the work done by the ambassador and his staff had to do with the processing of visas and taking care of traveling dignitaries and businessmen. Since World War II, the role of the ambassador has become much more complex. He is still the senior representative of his country, but now he may have with him in the country of his appointment a senior military officer and perhaps even a UN command with U.S. military components. He will have a senior CIA station chief, and he will have many other government officials, such as those from the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Agriculture, and other agencies.

          In spite of all of this, the Ambassador is still supposed to be the head of the country team, and all other Americans are supposed to be under his control. Special arrangements have been made where military units have active roles within that country as a part of larger organizations such as NATO. Troops move in and out of the country, and he is informed about such things but he rarely enters into any official contact with them. With the CIA, things are different, although they protest in public that they are always subservient to the ambassador. One of the areas this is most noticeable in is communications. The ambassador has communications channels directly from his post to the State Department. The ambassador has the authority to contact the Secretary of State directly, and some ambassadors, like Galbraith in India, find reason even to contact the President directly. These are exceptions and certainly not the rules of the game.

          When an ambassador communicates with State, his messages are received by the geographical-area desk responsible for his country. From there they are processed to the Secretary, Under Secretaries, and wherever else they need to go. Much of this routine is a protocol, which has developed over the years, and much of it is dictated by true security precautions, which demand that diplomatic matters be handled with secrecy and discretion.

          In accordance with these practices, the other members of the embassy, such as the labor attach and the agricultural experts, all utilize the embassy communications channels and then rely upon the Department of State to make distribution for them in Washington to their own departments. The same is true of military attach traffic. And in many cases embassy channels may carry certain CIA traffic. But this is not the limit of the CIA capability. In every country the Agency station chief has access in one way or other to direct communications contact with the CIA in Washington and when necessary he has direct contact to the DCI.

          The global U.S. military system is without question the most massive, the most powerful, and the most capable communications system in existence. However, the best and most efficacious system in the world belongs to the CIA. In making this statement, allowance should be made for the capability of the National Security Agency, but that is more or less a part of the military system and need not be explored here. The CIA is able to cover the entire world, not like a blanket, but like a rapier. There is no place it cannot reach out to get to an agent or to a busy station chief on its own secure facilities. In doing this, the Agency makes use of all kinds of communications; some are considered rather old and crude but effective, and others are highly sophisticated.

          Early in its buildup the CIA obtained the services of one of the military's top communications giants, General Harold McClelland. General McClelland began with a typical military base system and then let brains and technology run their course. He died in 1966 and left behind a superior system and the men to operate it.

          When a U-2 is thousands of miles away and all by itself over hostile lands, it is tracked silently by sensitive devices that provide assurance that it is still in operation and on course to a hidden destination. When an agent has made a contact in Istanbul or Koforidua he is able, if he so arranges, to be continually in contact with a back-up agent, either to record his conversation or to provide directions and advice for other activities that may arise. Agents may have effective radios built inconspicuously into a suit coat, antenna and all, and they have motoring pickups (bugs) of fantastic capability and design. But above all this, the most important communications are provided all the time between the station chief -- the man who is the prime mover in any given area and his boss in Washington.

          One of the most radical things about the CIA network is that it does not have to go through any intermediate echelons. In State, the ambassador goes through the desk man, and woe befall the ambassador who tries to avoid that simple and red-tape structure. In the military the commanders overseas must go through their in-between military joint command chiefs in addition to the various levels of their own service echelons. Not so with the CIA station chief. When he wants to contact the DCI or the DD/P, he gets on the transmitter and he gets his man. Communications travel with the speed of light; yet many of the finest systems in existence are slowed down by the necessity of going through channels and then of decoding, review action, and encoding for retransmittal. The Agency avoids most of this on its essential traffic. The Agency may have a man who works day and night in a full-time military assignment in India; but when that man has something to send to the CIA, he gets it out through his station chief right to Washington, and none of the military channels will ever see it. The same applies to the ambassador.

          There are protests from time to time, and the Agency, for its own bureaucratic well-being, will retransmit a "clear" message by way of State channels or military channels to make it appear that a given wire of the same date and time group was transmitted properly. But when the chips are down, the "hot" message, the one that really got the action done, would have been transmitted by Agency circuits first.

          Of course, the reason given for all of this is to provide security over its sources and methods. The same old chestnut appears every time and is swallowed by most of official Washington year after year. There are cases when security for just that reason is essential, but for every one of those occasions that are true and fully justifiable, there are perhaps ten thousand or a hundred thousand times when such security has not been the case, and the CIA separate and direct channel has been used for Agency reasons alone.

          For example: There have been times when the Agency wanted to get something done in a certain country but the staff in Washington felt that is should be done on the basis of some agent input of one kind or other and its relationship to other information they had or wanted to use. However, the man in the field, not realizing that Washington wanted it done in a certain manner, did not come up with the exact language the Agency needed to present the idea to the Special Group for action. The Agency would find itself in a position not unlike a player in the parlor game of charades. It was making all the suggestive moves, but the unwitting partner was not getting the idea. On such an occasion the CIA is not averse to getting on its own secret system and canning a message to its contact in the distant country and saying explicitly, "Send us this message with information copies to the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the White House," and to anywhere else where they wish to make an impression. Then when they call the meeting, which they planned to do all along, they can say, for instance, "Gentlemen, we have a message which we understand you all have too, that leads us to believe there is grave trouble on the borders of India." All the other Government conferees especially gathered on the basis of top secret clearances and the need to know would agree that the situation looked grim. Perhaps the Army representative would say, "Yes, we have that message and we have several more from our attach, who says that trouble has been brewing for some time and that the Indian army may need help on the border." The White House might concur by pulling out its sheaf of copies of the attach traffic which also supported the idea that the Indian army was in trouble on the border.

          At such time the Agency would ask everyone to look at his copy of message Number 123 from New Delhi Embassy on such a date. That message would say that the trouble on the border was severe; however the group having the problem was the border police and not the army. Since border police assistance would fall under the jurisdiction of the Agency and not the U.S. Army, the Agency would propose that the assistance given to the Indians should be clandestine police support, under the cover of a Military Aid Program project accelerated because of the border problems. Everyone else would have his portfolio of messages and would be convinced that the ClA's view of the situation was correct. The Group would agree that the MAP project should be set up and that the aid delivered should be turned over to the CIA representatives and that the training program should be under CIA operation and direction.

          Superior and independent communications makes all the difference in the world at times like these. There are other times when an operator on a special project has the means to communicate with his headquarters in Washington independently of other channels. In such cases, this operator will at times bypass not only the ambassador and military hierarchy, but he may even bypass his own station chief. All of this is excused on the grounds of security and expediency. In some cases the station chief has become incensed over such actions; but, as in the case of the baseball player arguing with the umpire, his anger seldom got him very far. One of the most famous of these differences occurred in the Philippines when Ed Lansdale was operating with Magsaysay, and the station chief, who was on excellent terms with Magsaysay himself, was not aware of some of the operations that Lansdale and his Filipino cohorts had set in motion.

          Other instances have arisen where the ambassador and his CIA counterpart have come to grief over message traffic that the ambassador learned of somehow and then demanded from State and CIA in Washington an explanation of what was going on in his country. Such things were more important in the earlier days. As the CIA and the ST have become stronger there are not so many surface problems. Most ambassadors and most military commanders do as the Congress has been doing; they bury their heads in the sand and hope that the peacetime operation will go away so that they will not have to know a thing about it.

          When the question "what to do with Trujillo in the Dominican Republic" arose, a great proportion of military and of diplomats in the Department of State defended him. They maintained that Trujillo may not have been the ideal ruler of his country and that his strong one-man government was oppressive and diabolical; but at the same time, he was anti-Communist in the extreme when anti-Communism was supposed to be the epitome of good sense and good character regardless of all else. Why should anyone want to dispose of such a staunch anti-Communist? But several factions converged in the Trujillo case. It became known to those who would overthrow him that if they took action against this island strongman, the United States would not lift a finger.

          During this period, there were reports coming from military channels, from diplomatic channels, and from CIA channels. All of these reports came together in Washington in meetings of the highest order, and the fate of the Trujillo regime hung in the balance. It became evident that the United States would not do anything and that the policy would be that if such an overthrow took place, the United States would not support anyone and would not back anyone. However, it also became evident that the United States would not support Trujillo, nor would it warn him or move to protect him. It is this factor that makes a coup d'état possible. It is not so much positive action; it is the understanding that there will be no support of that regime in power by the United States once the uprising begins.

          Although the Pentagon Papers do not provide all of the insight, it becomes clear that the Diem regime was toppled not so much by anything the United States did as by the fact that we did nothing. It is this exposure to his enemies that seals the fate of a government leader, as certainly as if the trigger were pulled from the embassy.

          One of the key elements in all of these situations is the ability of the Agency to have its own message traffic quickly and deftly in hand while the other major communicators are going through their channels.

          In the broad sense, communications involves much more than the means of transmitting messages. In this broad sense the ST has even greater weapons to employ. Even the fastest message system and the most direct routing and processing will not assure supremacy unless the men at both ends of the system are experts and unless they are able to act with the information they have. Here is where the ST excels and where it shows its superiority. An agent in a foreign country can send a message by a select channel with security coding that keeps the information from everyone who does not have the proper clearance and the need to know. This assures that very few people will get that message in the first stage of handling. The basic message will go to a control office in the CIA, and an information copy may go to cleared parties in the White House, State, and Defense. The men who receive these messages in those other departments may very well be CIA personnel who are in cover assignments. This means then that the State, White House, and Defense copies are still in the hands of Agency personnel, even though the record will show that they have been properly transmitted to the other addressees. Thus the control has not been lost, and delivery of these messages will be in strict compliance with and in timing with what the ST wants.

          This is why so many messages that have been made public in the Pentagon Papers appear to be part of Pentagon, or more specifically, JCS activity, when in reality this traffic was between Saigon and the Agency, with the information copy being delivered to the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA). This section in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was manned, for the most part, by military personnel. They did have some normal military functions but most of their work was involved with the support of the CIA. In this capacity they would control communications coming to the Joint Staff and in turn coordinate them with counterpart ClA-support offices in the office of the Secretary of Defense, or to a Focal Point office in each of the military services. During the period described, the OSD offices were those of Bill Bundy, General Lansdale, and others, in such places as the Directorate of Research and Engineering.

          To anyone not knowing the process, it would then appear that the Saigon message in question would have been properly staffed to the OSD, JCS, and all services, when in reality it had simply been to all of the CIA control points in those offices. The real military would not have seen it. In cases where action was to follow, it would be up to those persons who received such messages to call them to the attention of the Secretaries and Chiefs of Staff involved. This would be done with care, and yet these senior men seldom had all of the facts and all of the background to be able to see what really was under way since they would be seeing these messages piece by piece and rarely as a whole. Emboldened by knowledge of the fact that they had properly touched base with all parties and offices concerned, the ST would then go ahead with the project, on the assumption that no one had said not to go ahead with it after having been advised.

          This was one of the major steps forward taken by Allen Dulles as a result of his report. It looked like a small thing, and it was applied bit by bit; but once the NSC found itself in the position of doing no more than "authorizing" activities of the CIA rather than "directing" them, the roles began to turn 180 degrees, and the ST became the active party. When the NSC was established, it was realized that if such an eminent body of men made decisions and then directed that they be carried out, they would not necessarily be in a position to see that someone actually did carry them out. Therefore, provision was made for an Operations Coordinating Board, (OCB), which would see that the decisions of the President and his Council were carried out. This was effective only as long as the NSC was directing activity. The OCB would require that the NSC staff keep a record of decisions in duplicate, and the Board would ride herd on these decisions and see that they were done. It had trouble doing this when CIA was just getting its proposals "authorized".

          When the NSC was divided into a small and elite Special Group for the purpose of working with the CIA on matters that were from time to time clandestine, the task of the OCB became more difficult because of the cloak of security. Still, the OCB tried to keep up with such decisions, if by no other means than to require "blind" progress reports. But when the NSC, through the Special Group, simply sat and listened to outside proposals and then permitted or authorized actions that were highly classified and highly limited by need to know, the role of the OCB became impossible to perform. This was exactly what Allen Dulles wanted. His report had stated that he should be able to initiate operations and to take his proposals directly to the President, and that the President or an authorized representative would then approve what the DCI brought to him. He had not been given that authority by the law, and he could not have done it under Truman because Truman used the NSC and OCB differently from what Dulles visualized. But year by year during the Eisenhower Administration he worked to erode the NSC-OCB pattern until he was able to work through the Special Group 5412/2 almost without interference. Part of his success was due to his effective control of communications, which made it appear all the time that projects had been thoroughly staffed in all parts of the Government concerned and that the approval of the NSC (Special Group) was merely a formality.

          By the time Kennedy became President, he was led to believe that the NSC was unimportant, one of those Eisenhower idiosyncrasies, and that he could do without it. If he could do without the NSC, he certainly could do without the OCB. (Since it could be shown that the OCB was not able to perform its job properly because it was unable to find out what the Special Group had approved, there was no reason for OCB either.) Without either of these bodies in session, the DCI was able to move in as he desired, with very little effective control from any Council member. This was a major change brought about by a kind of evolution and erosion. It was certainly a downgrading process; but the trouble was that all too few people had any realization of what had taken place, and those who had were either with the CIA or the ST, and they were not about to tell anyone.

          In concluding our review of this function of the CIA communications system, it would be a mistake to overlook what is perhaps the heaviest source of volume. The CIA monitors electronic signals all over the world, and it gathers so much of this that it is practically swamped with taped information. However, it does a most excellent job in keeping its ear to the traffic of the world. There can be little question that an enlightened system of listening can pick up about all of the information any country would ever need, to keep itself well informed of what any other country is doing. In this day and age, almost all major parts of the Government and of industry must utilize and depend upon electronically transmitted messages and data transfer. All of this can be monitored, and even if it is in code it can be read sooner or later. This is one task of the Agency, and it is a major part of its role and responsibility to coordinate all national intelligence.

          Perhaps no other function of the Agency so clearly demonstrates the dual nature of the CIA more than does communications. In the intelligence business, communications is absolutely essential to make bits of information available to the collection center. However, by its very nature, the more capacity the communications system has and the more information bits it handles the more it tends to degrade the value of the information. The Agency receives so much information every day that the great proportion of it is never seen, never processed, and never analyzed . . . and most likely should not be.

          On the other hand, in this flood of information there is always the good chance that much is intentional deception and gibberish. Just having the information does not insure that it is worth anything. In this country in particular, information on almost anything is becoming something that has a price and can be bought and sold; yet even this does not ensure that it has value.

          From the other point of view, a high-caliber communications system makes it possible for the center to go out to all of its outposts and agents with instructions seeking certain information of value. This is certain to produce the best input, since the return product will be what is sought and not some random article. One of the greatest needs of an intelligence system is to know what it is looking for, along with all of the technical know-how in the organization. "Know what" is so much more valuable than know-how.

          But, as we said above, communications brings out the duality of the agency. While agents all over the world are seeking information, the operator is always looking for that choice morsel of data that can be used for another operation. In all of the material flashed over the communications network, there are those special bits and pieces -- border trouble between two countries, a political slaying, an uprising in a remote village, a student riot on an urban campus -- that provide fuel for clandestine operations. Such things provide the "fun and games" people with the fuel for their fires.

          When the Agency wishes to pursue one of these leads, it flashes the word back to get more information. It may activate a dormant agent network to see what further information can be acquired. If the situation warrants, agents may be flown in quickly to where the action is. A planeload of guns may be moved to a border area for early airdrop if called for; and so it goes. To the clandestine operators, communications is the lifeblood of the whole business.

          One thing is common to both sides. They always wish to keep their information secret. As we have seen, there are many reasons for secrecy, and many of them have little to do with real secrecy -- which would keep the information, or the fact that we have it, from the enemy. But both parties should keep in mind that information is a continuing process. The dissemination of all information, all secrets, is only a matter of time. There is no "first line of defense" for the brain. Any idea conceived by one brain and known to a few more is bound to be general information in a short time. The purpose of secrecy is self-defeating. It is much more important for us to have adequate knowledge than it is for us to try to keep some other country from that knowledge. More harm is done every day by keeping essential information from those who should have it than ever is done by those whom we say we are trying to keep from getting it. If more experienced military men had known about the Bay of Pigs operation, it either would not have happened, or if it did, it would have had a better chance of success. On the other hand, the very people whom the cloak of secrecy was supposed to keep from knowing about the operation, ostensibly the Cubans and the Russians, knew all they needed to know about it.

          The best communications system in the world is certainly a tremendous asset for any intelligence organization; but in the hands of those who wish to use its information for the creation and promotion of clandestine operations it is another one of those facilities that lead to the type of problems described by President Truman and Arnold Toynbee.


  1. The Human Use of Human Beings, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1954.

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