Topic: Formation of Defense Communication Agency
Interview Date: November 4, 2003
WILLIAM O. BAKER: The theorem or legend was that the president and the military, and where anybody else was involved, but they weren't mostly, but the State Department and so on, were concerned by magic you got through the Signal Corps, the old standard Signal Corps of the Army, all the necessary information and response that was needed in command and control for the president, and, of course, for the services. Well, this was apparently beaten into the ideas of the White House pretty strongly, and two or three presidents were specifically assigned, or told, they told their people that the Signal Corps was the White House agency that took care of telecommunications. But Eisenhower was not really convinced. He had been through the Army a long time and he knew a lot of the gaps and difficulties that they had. So he was pretty open minded about what they were going to expect from the signal agency.
And we were assigned as part of this review of security measures in the White House linkages, in the White House system, in which, among other things, the ways of information for all the military and security agencies was not subject to review or validation on security. So this way we got involved. President Truman was puzzled, apparently. Some of this came up, of course, when the implications of nuclear explosions of the hydrogen bomb began to spread around. And they began to realize that a thing as extensive and as powerful as that really didn't fit the White House Signal Corps, which had a commander, who was a very nice fellow, and his predecessor, these were career people in the signal system communications. And they had no training or real indoctrination as to what kind of responsibilities they had beyond that. They were simply the Signal Corps. That was by definition where the White House communications were, and that was that.
Well, Truman was apparently uneasy about this. He got some kind of tentative advice that they ought to be reviewed. And then from that point Eisenhower was getting into office. And he told, at that point also, and, of course, we were getting assigned security and intelligence information, so, responsibilities for it. So, he said: well, you better see what this system is providing in security and validation. And so we then bought the situation room background in, and which it had not been in before, because the Signal Corps was regarded as semi-sacred, limited, but nevertheless, sacred tradition of where the communications for the White House and for the all the other executive branch agencies was coordinated and was interconnected.
Well, we began to look into what information sources were there, and the president supported this. He assigned studies of these kinds. And the more we looked at, the less coordination we found. And so we … told him: these things did not have enough authority or enough control to take care of major policy issues like nuclear weapons. This had, of course, not been part of the problem of telecommunications up to that stage. Telecommunications were something that they got dates and information on particular responsibilities in Europe or Asia or some other arena, but there was no national United States position.
OK. It became clear then, and … Eisenhower’s assistant … found that there wasn't anybody really taking charge of Signal Corps follow-up or the cross checking with other agencies. And we, the more we looked into it, the more we found there was very little validation of the system. So we said … to the president: let's have a single system, which we call the DCA, and see if we can make these operations get together.
Oh, the gossip about this began to get across the river, because I say: the DCA, I mean the Signal Corps, was regarded as sort of a sacred trust. And the gossip began to then get into particularly the Navy and the Army administration that somebody, somewhere, namely some White House interferer, was going to have a hand in what the Signal Corps communications, what the communications around the White House did, and that was terrible idea, because those people had so much control themselves, all this tradition of the Signal Corps. So that the idea of some Federal authority governing or reviewing or coordinating these new levels of command and control was just anathema. This was just regarded as utter sacrilege.
And then the gossip, of course, went on along standard lines, namely, it got around to the Joint Chiefs and the command and control structure as it was forming in the Pentagon at that point. And they said that this sounded like a bad loss of authority by the agencies, by the military groups and it was a bad thing to lose that, and so they shouldn't proceed with this. And they took the initiative about saying that it was an erosion of their authority to have this shared by other agencies. And they were opposed to it.
At this point a headline came out in the newspapers and said that the military agencies, the Air Corps and the appropriate others, the Army and Navy, were worried about this. And the Navy got this big headline that said that it was very much opposed to combining the service functions. At that point another big headline came out, this was all in the Washington Post, that got a lot of attention. They had a front-page story that said they didn't want any uncertainties to continue on this system, that the idea of coordinating or having a special responsibility for communications and command and control just in the Navy was very bad and that they were entirely opposed to the whole idea.
At that point we had furthered the notion of a DCA, and the DCA had gotten around in the gossip lines and the, of course, it got into publicity eventually, so that fur began to fly. Up to that point the military had not taken the thing very seriously, the idea of a DCA very seriously because it had been so traditionally strong though. They finally decided that somebody was taking it seriously, specifically, they guessed that group in the White House that General Eisenhower had given a lot of authority to. They didn't know why he did that. That was not a good idea but nevertheless seemed to be where the idea came from that they were going to have a joint, or apartheid, merger of agencies. And so they got a real stir-up, a real furor about the future of the White House communication system.
We then proposed in some detail that the authority come directly from the White House and not form some secondary source like the Joint Chiefs, and not from some highly respected, but nevertheless secondary, authority, such as the White House communications system had become at that stage. And that was verygot into a big furor, I'd say. …
I never forget the time that White House, the president himself issued a statement saying this thing called the DCA was real, that they were going to run it that way and it was going to have a situation room location and authorities and that's the way it was going to be. Up to that point, as I said a few minutes ago, the services couldn't believe that anybody would take it seriously. But they finally decided that somebody was, and that it was going to go through, the DCA.
Well, that led to a series of struggles, which in some ways almost continued to the present day … You see this White House Signal Corps, in particular, was a very, not only very traditional, very widespread, as I have said, but very elaborate and very expensive operation. And they didn't want to see their empire absorbed. But that's what was going on, and abolished great numbers of headquarters or command systems spread around the world, all parts of the old White House communications agency, we should say, the old Signal Corps.
So this became a pretty extensive struggle. The trauma of that are some of them are still around because people had careers there. And the DCA had not built, of course, a congressional constituency. It had no chance to do that. It didn't have the extensive, political, and public relations posture of the old Signal Corps, which was literally where you went out and waved the flags and got signals out there. And they claimed that was the only way you could trust any of it. This displaced that. At the President's direction, we were assigned to the effect of the displacement. So you can imagine how popular that was!
There were people in the Navy that claimed we were betraying the national interests and so on.
Well, this is a summary of what was a very intensive battle for control and for authority. And as I say, you'd find if you went through the history of these agencies, particularly the telecommunications part of the Navy and the Army in particular. Now the Air Corps managed to steer their efforts away a bit and managed to insulate themselves. They did their own What they did was pretty shrewd. They identified themselves with the national problems of nuclear weapons and of nuclear arms, nuclear control. And, of course, they got their own kick on that. But all this did was to leave the poor old Signal Corps, with all their traditions and apparatus and elaborate stations, as a kind of addendum, kind of accessory. And so we had a long and rather fearsome internal struggles as to how that was going to turn out.
And, as a matter of fact, I don't think that DCA has ever had an opportunity or resources to recast itself. Mindful of what we had been told and what we did do with this authority, mindful of that, which [was] temporary in the sense of evolving, it never really had the resources or the information to generate a truly national DCA. So you find a fascinating history there of the residues of the old history, injections of the new themes, lack of real coordination or full authority on both parts. This is a sample about the DCA.
What I keep commenting on, or thinking about, it was highly traumatic for the military to believe that anything, but particularly the White House, could get in there and reorganize and reconfigure the telecommunications, because the traditions of the White House, of the old Signal Corps were so great, that they just think nobody’s going to change it.
The striking thing, when it became clear that the president was authorizing us and directing us to form a DCA, a lot of the old traditional people just couldn't believe it. And I guess I said a few minutes ago but I'll repeat it. When the publicity began to leak out about the how opposed the Army was to this revision, the Army issued a formal press notice that said they didn't want people to misunderstand it that when it was said that the Navy (and I think they include the Air Force) was dubious about this DCA plan, what they wanted to be clear was that they were just as strongly opposed as every other part of the system was, that they were equally opposed to the whole deal. And they put on that sort of a show, of course.