How an NSA Director Sabotaged the NSA for a promotion

Considering the proposals to split CYBERCOM (Cyber Command) from the National Security Agency and STRATCOM (Strategic Command) make it its own Command, it’s important to remember that while this essential proposal has been on the table for decades and was once ordered by President Nixon. Attempting, or even considering to implement the proposal has historically lead to large power struggles that have not only ultimately killed the proposals, but damaged the NSA itself. A collection of declassified CIA and NSA documents, along with statements from former officials, reveals that in the early 1970s, the NSA was deliberately sabotaged by an NSA Director and the Department of Defense.

The story essentially begins in 1970 and 1971 when the Schlesinger Report was compiled by James Schlesinger, then Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and presented to President Richard Nixon. The report, also known as A Review of the Intelligence Community, put forth a number of ideas to help reform the Intelligence Community in terms of performance and costs. At approximately the same time, the Huston Plan was being drawn up and the various intelligence agencies were engaging in bureaucratic wars between each other to try to control the most “jurisdictional turf.” This time period is especially infamous for the conflict between CIA and FBI, which fought over how to cooperate and split jurisdictional boundaries. While the conflict between the FBI and CIA has been covered by many articles and books, the conflicts involving the military agencies of the Department of Defense have received a great deal less attention.

The relative lack of attention can be attributed to several factors. First, the Department of Defense had much less to lose than either FBI or CIA. While they did have concerns about jurisdiction, their essential position was much more secure. Afterall, military agencies (with their established infrastructure and clearly defined theaters of operations) are seen as less interchangeable than their civilian counterparts. Second, the chain of command was far clearer. When CIA asked FBI for information, FBI was able to decline or provide only a limited amount of information. The channels within the Department of Defense were more clear, and with higher stakes. Third, bureaucratic competition within the military seemed to operate around retaining control rather than gaining it. Unlike the FBI and CIA, the Department of Defense and the military branches were well established. While some aspects were relatively new, such as Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), the general responsibilities and jurisdictions were relatively well understood and the power of the older military branches was well defined compared to the much newer CIA, which was barely more than two decades old.

The National Security Agency is somewhat unusual compared to its CIA and FBI counterparts. The NSA is an agency composed of many civilians, but headed by the military and reporting to the Department of Defense. However, it existed outside of the normal military branches. While in some ways it had evolved from components of the Air Force, Navy and Army, the NSA was not properly a part of any of them. After General Marshall Carter had moved from being Deputy Director of the CIA to being the Director of NSA, there was additional tension between the military branches and the NSA – particularly with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Much of this tension came from their competition with the NSA over the domain of SIGINT and electronic intercepts as well as Carter’s gradual redefining of the NSA as an Agency filled by civilian personnel.

As tensions rose between, the military branches became increasingly clever around jurisdictional barriers. The term “electronic warfare” came into use largely as a workaround to the NSA’s jurisdiction over SIGINT. According to a declassified NSA history, “the new category sounded
just like SIGINT, but without the codewords or centralized control.” General Carter unsuccessfully attacked the JCS policy document authorizing this, MOP-95, but the military branches were only too happy to have a way to circumvent the NSA.

When General Marshall Carter retired in 1969 as a result of both weariness with the bureaucratic conflicts and his own medical problems, he wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. According to a formerly classified TOP SECRET/UMBRA NSA history, the letter “excoriated the legal hairsplitting that had been employed to shave cryptologic resources from the central system, to call a duck something other than a duck in order to free it from NSA’s control.”

Despite the vigor, ingenuity, enterprise, and growing competence of the national cryptologic establishment which emerged almost seventeen years ago, subsequent administrative and organizational arrangements … have diluted the original concept and clouded the original goals. More and more common tasks have been assigned outside the cryptologic community, with a corresponding loss of efficiency and economy.

General Carter was as fed up with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs as they were with him. When he held his retirement party at the Pentagon, he reportedly only invited three people. The ceremony lasted about ten minutes.

A Direct Assault

Shortly before General Carter’s retirement in 1969, the JCS had been planning an “direct assault” on National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) number 6. This document is one of three essential documents that outline NSA’s authority and responsibilities. NSCID 6 described the delegation of authority for SIGINT and intercepts, and the JCS sought to undermine it and the NSA in order to expand their own authority for SIGINT and cryptographic services. When General Carter found out about it, he attacked the idea as a monstrosity. The JCS, in turn, decided to put the effort on hold until after Admiral Noel Gayler’s arrival as Director of the NSA.


According to an NSA memo:

The net effect of the JCS draft revision is to enhance [electronic warfare] and “tactical operations” at the exepnse of SIGINT, and to erode the authority of the Director, NSA, even over what would be left of SIGINT, in favor of the JCS and the U & S Commands. It constitutes a bill of complaints against the present system of centralized control, and it removes SIGINT activities conducted in support of tactical operations from centralized control.

The Joint Chiefs had good reason to wait until after Admiral Gayler’s arrival. While General Carter was retiring and had nothing to lose, Admiral Gayler was upwardly mobile. More than that, he was loyal. Admiral Gayler was one of several military personnel who were promoted around that time not only for their ability, but for their loyalty. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird had extracted a promise from Richard Nixon that he would be able to promote his own people. This was motivated by several factors, the first of which were Secretary Laird’s own political ambitions, which included the Presidency. By ensuring that his own people served in the positions beneath him, he could keep a tight grip on the military. Second was his own, quite understandable, paranoia regarding both President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger, the two of whom had a habit of locking others out of the loop.

Enter Noel Gayler

When Secretary Laird decided to promote Admiral Noel Gayler to run the NSA and General Donald Bennett to run the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), he extracted a promise from them. If they were loyal to him, he would reward them both with their fourth-stars and choice promotions. According to Secretary Laird, they both kept their promise. They not only remained loyal to him, they provided him with transcripts and intercepts of everything Kissinger and Nixon did. They were, perhaps not coincidentally, not the only military personnel spying on Kissinger. Admiral Thomas Moorer infamously used Naval Yeoman Charles Radford to obtain Kissinger’s transcripts.

In addition to his loyalty to Secretary Laird, Admiral Gayler was chosen to repair the relationship between the NSA and the JCS, a task he set about immediately. Among the first things he did was appoint a permanent NSA representative to liaise with the Pentagon. When confronted with the JCS Staff papers and their plan for a “direct assault” on NSCID 6, he calmly replied that the current Directive was fine as it was. Speaking to Admiral Johnson of the JCS, he blamed the previous problems on his predecessor, noting that “any difficulties have been occasioned by the attitudes of personnel involved.”

Admiral Gayler also quickly set about relinquishing NSA controls and appeasing other defense agencies, such as the Defense Communication Agency.


This was ultimately dual-purposed. It successfully appeased the DCA (and by extension helped mollify the JCS and reassure them that the new NSA Director intended to “play ball”) while also creating the conditions that would require NSA to build its own communications center. This ultimately played into the NSA’s need to process information in-house while giving them total autonomy and appeasing the rest of the Defense Department.


Matters were relatively smoothed over and the repeated calls by various for increased centralization of intelligence, including SIGINT, were ignored until the Schlesinger Report.

The Schlesinger Report

In March of 1971, James Schlesinger presented his report on the Intelligence Community to President Nixon. The report called for a number of reforms to the Intelligence Community, and led to President Nixon issuing a directive to the Department of Defense to create a National Cryptologic Command to be placed under the control of the NSA Director.


This was unacceptable to everyone in the Department of Defense except for the NSA itself. This would elevate the NSA in an unprecedented fashion and give it exceptional control over any military assets that related to either SIGINT or cryptography. At the strategic level, commanders didn’t want to see the chain of command extended or diluted – or worse yet, go around them. At the tactical level, commanders didn’t want to lose the mobility they had in the field to a new command structure. Beyond that, there was a concern that the fight over the budget would be “lost” with an increased control over it given to the civilians in the NSA.


Resistance began immediately, along with a counterplan orchestrated by Defense Secretary Laird, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (ASD(I)) Albert C. Hall (who was the only person to ever hold that title) and NSA Director Gayler.

Sabotaging the Fourth Service

The proposal to create a National Cryptologic Command, which would essentially be a Fourth Service, was killed in its infancy. According to former NSA officials, this was not an accident. The Fourth Service proposal was seen as unacceptable to many, but once President Nixon had given the directive, it was impossible to stop entirely. Instead, a new proposal quickly took its place, one crafted by ASD(I) Albert Hall and the staff of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and in consultation with NSA Director Gayler. According to this proposal, there wouldn’t be a new Command but rather a service. This service would ultimately become known as the Cryptologic Security Service, which would remain under the control of the NSA but have considerably less authority than the National Cryptologic Command (NCC) would.

Specifically, the NCC would have given NSA logistical and budgetary authority over aspects of the military. In doing so, the status quo would be smashed and the jurisdictional wars which were slowly suffocating the FBI and CIA would bloom into full effect within the Department of Defense.

While many rumors have floated around, along with anonymous statements or implications in formerly TOP SECRET/UMBRA histories produced by the NSA, a previously overlooked declassified CIA document overtly declares that the organization that was created in the place of the NCC, the Cryptographic Security Service (CSS), was “deliberately engineered” to be “an abortion” by ASD(I) Albert Hall and a former Director of NSA. Its job was to to kill the Fourth Service and preserve the Secretary of Defense’s control over NSA.


An unclassified NSA history of the CSS attempted to address this, stating that when Gayler was promoted soon after the creation of CSS, “rumors ran through the civilian work force — which did not know about Secretary Laird’s orders or the severe service response to the CSS plan — that Gayler had been rewarded for sabotaging the new organization.” What this unclassified history does not acknowledge, however, and what is confirmed through declassified documents, is that the orders were for CSS were issued by Secretary Laird, but the plan for them came from ASD(I) Albert Hall.

The CSS Proposal

The day before Secretary Laird ordered Admiral Gayler to organize the creation of a Central Security Service instead of a National Cryptologic Command, the detailed outline of the plan was presented to him by ASD(I) Albert Hall.

The Director, NSA, will be the program manager for all SIGINT resources, except for that equipment which is integrally a part of a weapons system. Establishment of the CSS leads to the strengthening of the functions of RDT&E, procurement and training.

This concept closely follows the structure of the unified combatant commands in the Department of Defense, in that the Chief, CSS exercises operational control over his components, but the parent military department retains administrative and logistic support. In this fashion it is expected to optimize flexibility of the management of his operational resources. In regard to mobile SIGINT collection platforms, these play the role of “supporting forces”; that is, they respond to the SIGINT direction of the Chief, CSS, but the platform operating procedures remain the responsibility of the parent military Service.

Essentially, there is no change in the process for submitting and responding to national SIGINT requirements, and in the tasking of SIGINT units to respond to these requirements, except that the CSS now becomes the vehicle for tasking and response, via a strengthened chain of direction and control. I do propose to introduce specific provisions for the CSS to respond to emergency requirements of the DoD at any level of command on an override basis, and this problem will be addressed in the implementing plan.

This addressed many of the concerns that the military services had raised, and would preserve their essential autonomy while giving NSA overall control for the tasking and processing of SIGINT and cryptography. What made the plan truly irresistible to Secretary Laird, however, was that the CSS would not report the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the NCC would, but rather exclusively to him.

However, there are two major ways in which this concept for the unified SIGINT organization differs from that of a unified combatant command. First, the Chief, CSS, reports directly to you, rather than through the JCS. This is necessarily so, since you are the Executive Agent for the national SIGINT program, the NSA/CSS is your operating arm for this responsibility, and your responsibilities transcend those of the JCS. A second significant point is that the same individual, in his dual capacities as Chief, CSS and Director, NSA fuses the authority of operational control and resource management, thus creating a management structure for multi-Service operations which will be as strong as any such other structure within the DoD. From a practical standpoint it would be unworkable to have the same man report directly to you as Director, NSA and report to you through the JCS as Chief, CSS.
[Emphasis added]

Along with the memo from ASD(I) Albert Hall outlining the proposal for the CSS was a copy of DoD Directive 5100.20 which would execute Hall’s proposal.

From Proposal to Aborted Reality

The next day, DoD Directive 5100.20 was signed and Admiral Gayler was notified. The CSS was to mirror the NSA itself and put many of its personnel into a dual-hat role (which has additional relevance on with the relatively recent creation of CYBERCOM and the proposed split from NSA).



While the simplicity of the organizational plan seemed attractive, it was ultimately untenable. Many wound up leaving as the military services and the JCS fought the CSS and attempted to hold onto their jurisdictional turf. Whenever he was confronted with firm opposition from one of the services, Gayler would acquiesce.



CIA, which was engaged in its own jurisdictional turf war with FBI, managed to stay out of the fight entirely, despite NSA discovering that their list of SIGINT assets was “very long.”

Impossible Goals

Some of the ideas Gayler tried to implement were literally, and obviously, impossible. One involved relocating the military’s Service Cryptologic Agencies (SCAs) to NSA headquarters.


As Gayler’s successor would discover, not only was this a fight that was lost, it was doomed to fail to begin with. In addition to the logistical nightmares of such a relocation, NSA simply didn’t have the space.


Gayler’s Reward

Secretary Laird kept his promise. When his retirement neared, Secretary Laird arranged for the promotion of General Bennett and Admiral Gayler. Bennett received his fourth star and promoting to commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific Command, while Admiral Gayler became Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC). Until this point, the position of NSA Director had been considered where careers ended.


Gutting CSS

When General Sam Phillips replaced Admiral Gayler as Director of NSA, he surveyed the landscape and decided CSS wasn’t worth saving. A report to Secretary of Defense Laird outlines the failings of CSS and the difficulties it had created. This, along with the doomed attempted to relocate SCAs, was enough for General Phillips to decide to give up on CSS and effectively killed it. CSS was hollowed out, leaving only a staff of perhaps a dozen people.


Gayler’s Last Concession

One of Gayler’s final acts was to grant control of the Consolidated Cryptologic Program budget to the military. This decision had been prompted by a proposal by senior NSA officials to grant control of the CCP to a civilian, rather than a military, official. The military personnel were already concerned about the increasing number of civilians in senior NSA positions, and they saw the proposal as “a declaration of war.” As one of his last acts, Gayler decided to give control of the CCP budget to military personnel.

The Aftermath

Very slowly, NSA rebuilt CSS through further integration with the military services. Progress was especially slow in the 1970s due to the Pike and Church Committees, which may have been what ended Albert Hall’s career in the government. He appeared before the Church Committee and, in the short span of time between the Committee’s hearings ending and its reports being published, left government service to return to the private industry and consult with companies such as BDM Corporation. As CSS continued to grow, it largely became a veil for the NSA to operate militarily. The “dual hat” status had become an advantage for them, as they could simply “toggle” between hats to jump from one duty to another instead of passing tasks off to someone else.

Rebuilding CSS into a viable service was slow, and while much of the infrastructure was in place by the 1990s, it was the explosion of computing and the Internet that followed that truly breathed new life into CSS. In 2009, CYBERCOM was created under STRATCOM and since that time, it has been headed by the Director of the National Security Agency, who is also the Chief of the Cryptologic Security Service. CYBERCOM has resulted in additional “dual hatting” from NSA personnel, many of whom are able to jump from collection and detection to exploitation.

Relevance for the future

Recently, there’s been a great deal of discussion about splitting CYBERCOM from NSA. While there’s considerable support for this in the government, many also oppose it. The resultant debate, known as the Title 10-Title 50 Debate, is important and ongoing. Those participating in it, however, must remain aware of the history of the debate and the attempts to reshape the jurisdictional borders of the electronic/cyber realm. When politics intersects with jurisdictional boundaries, nothing is simple; and people are more than willing to act out of ambition.

You can read some of the relevant documents below, including the incriminating CIA memo. A different memo to Richard Helms, included at the end, is pieced together from two different documents to produce the best quality with the least number of redactions. For easy verification, both of the source documents are marked on the relevant pages.


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