THE NATIONAL GUARDS
by Donald Goldberg
Taken from OMNI, May 1987, p45...
typed in by Thomas Covenant, in preparation for the future.
"...if you liked 1984, you're gonna love what
the military has planned..."
The mountains bend as the fjord and the sea beyond stretch out before the
viewer's eyes. First over the water, then a sharp left turn, then a bank to
the right between the peaks, and the secret naval base unfolds upon the screen.
The scene is of a Soviet military installation on the Kola peninsula in the
icy Barents Sea, a place usually off limits to the gaze of the Western world.
It was captured by a small French satellite called SPOT Image, orbiting at an
altitude of 517 miles above the hidden Russian outpost. On each of several
passes -- made over a two week period last fall -- the satellite's high
resolution lens took its pictures at a different angle; the images were then
blended into a three dimensional, computer generated video. Buildings, docks,
vessels, and details of the Arctic landscape are all clearly visible.
Half a world away and thousands of feet under the sea, sparkling clear images
are being made of the ocean floor. Using the latest bathymetric technology and
state of the art systems known as Seam Beam and Hydrochart, researchers are for
the first time assembling detailed underwater maps of the continental shelves
and the depths of the world's oceans. These scenes of the sea are as sophisti-
cated as the photographs taken from the satellite.
From the three dimensional images taken far above the earth to the charts of
the bottom of the oceans, these photographic systems have three things in
common: They both rely on the latest technology to crate accurate pictures never
dreamed of even 25 years ago; they are being made widely available by non-
commercial, nongovernmental enterprises; and the Pentagon is trying desperately
to keep them from the general public.
In 1985 the Navy classified the underwater charts, making them available only
to approved researchers whose needs are evaluated on a case by case basis. Under
a 1984 law the military has been given a say in what cameras can be licensed to
use on American satellites; and officials have already announced they plan to
limit the quality and resolution of photos made available. The National Security
Agency (NSA) -- the secret arm of the Pentagon in charge of gathering electronic
intelligence as well as protecting sensitive U.S. communications -- has defeated
a move to keep it away from civilian and commercial computers and databases.
That attitude has outraged those concerned with the military's increasing
efforts to keep information not only from the public but from industry experts,
scientists, and even other government officials as well. "That's like
classifying a road map for fear of invasionm" says Paul Wolff, assistant ad-
ministrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, of the
These attempts to keep unclassified data out of the hands of scientists,
researchers, the news media, and the public at large are part of an alarming
trend that has seen the military take an ever increasing role in controlling the
flow of information and communications through American society, a role
traditionally -- and almost exclusively -- left to civilians. Under the
approving gaze of the Reagan administration, Department of Defense (DoD)
officials have quietly implemented a number of policies, decisions, and orders
that give the military unprecedented control over both the content and public
use of data and communications. For example:
o The Pentagon has created a new category of "sensitive" but unclassified
information that allows it to keep from public access huge quantities of data
that were once widely accessible.
o Defense Department officials have attempted to rewrite key laws that spell
out when the president can and cannot appropriate private communications
o The Pentagon has installed a system that enables it to seize control of the
nation's entire communications network -- the phone system, data transmissions,
and satellite transmissions of all kinds -- in the event of what it deems a
"national emergency". As yet there is no single, universally agreed upon
definition of what constitutes such a state. Usually such an emergency is
restricted to times of natural disaster, war, or when national security is
specifically threatened. Now the military has attempted to redefine "emergency".
The point man in the Pentagons onslaught on communications is Assistant
Defense Secretary Donald C. Latham, a former NSA deputy chief. Latham now heads
an interagency committee in charge of writing and implementing many of the
policies that have put the military in charge of the flow of civilian
information and communication. He is also the architect of National Security
Decision Directive 145 (NSDD 145), signed by Defense Secretary Caspar Wein-
berger in 1984, which sets out the national policy on telecommunications and
computer systems security.
First NSDD 145 set up a steering group of top level administration officials.
Their job is to recommend ways to protect information that is unclassified but
has been designated sensitive. Such information is held not only by government
agencies but by private companies as well. And last October the steering group
issued a memorandum that defined sensitive information and gave federal agencies
broad new powers to keep it from the public.
According to Latham, this new category includes such data as all medical
records on government databases -- from the files of the National Cancer
Institute to information on every veteran who has ever applied for medical aid
from the Veterans Administration -- and all the information on corporate and
personal taxpayers in the Internal Revenue Service's computers. Even agricul-
tural statistics, he argues, can be used by a foreign power against the United
In his oversize yet Spartan Pentagon office, Latham cuts anything but an
intimidating figure. Articulate and friendly, he could pass for a network
anchorman or a television game show host. When asked how the government's new
definition of sensitive information will be used, he defends the necessity for
it and tries to put to rest concerns about a new restrictiveness.
"The debate that somehow the DoD or NSA are going to monitor or get into
private databases isn't the case at all," Latham insists. "The definition is
just a guideline, just an advisory. It does not give the DoD the right to go
into private records."
Yet the Defense Department invoked the NSDD 145 guidelines when it told the
information industry it intends to restrict the sale of data that are now
unclassified and publicly available from privately owned computer systems. The
excuse it offered was that these data often include technical information that
might be valulable to a foreign adversary like the Soviet Union.
Mead Data Central -- which runs some of the nation's largest computer data-
bases, such as Lexis and Nexis, and has nearly 200,000 users -- says it has
already been approached by a team of agents from the Air Force and officials
from the CIA and the FBI who asked for the names of subscribers and inquired
what Mead officials might do if information restrictions were imposed. In
response to government pressure, Mead Data Central in effect censored itself.
It purged all unclassified government supplied technical data from its system
and completely dropped the National Technical Information System from its
database rather than risk a confrontation.
Representative Jack Brooks, a Texas democrat who chairs the House Government
Operations Committee, is an outspoken critic of the NSA's role in restricting
civilian information. He notes that in 1985 the NSA -- under the authority
granted by NSDD 145 -- investigated a computer program that was widely used in
both local and federal elections in 1984. The computer system was used to count
more than one third of all the votes cast in the United States. While probing
the system's vulnerability to outside manipulation, the NSA obtained a detailed
knowledge of that computer program. "In my view," Brooks says, "this is an un-
precedented and ill advised expansion of the military's influence in our
There are other NSA critics. "The computer systems used by counties to
collect and process votes have nothing to do with national security, and I'm
really concerned about the NSA's involvement," says democratic congressman Dan
Glickman of Kansas, chairman of the House science and technology subcommittee
concerned with computer security.
Also, under NSDD 145 the Pentagon has issued an order, virtually unknown to
all but a few industry executives, that affects commercial communications
satellites. The policy was made official by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger
in June of 1985 and requires that all commercial satellite operators that carry
such unclassified government data traffic as routine Pentagon supply information
and payroll data (and that compete for lucrative government contracts) install
costly protective systems on all satellites launched after 1990. The policy
does not directly affect the data over satellite channels, but it does make the
NSA privy to vital information about the essential signals needed to operate a
satellite. With this information it could take control of any satellite it
Latham insists this, too, is a voluntary procedure and that only companies
that wish to install protection will have their systems evaluated by the NSA.
He also says industry officials are wholly behind the move, and argues that
the protective systems are necessary. With just a few thousand dollars' worth
of equipment, a disgruntled employee could interfere with a satellite's control
signals and disable or even wipe out a hundred million dollar satellite carrying
At best, his comments are misleading. First, the policy is not voluntary. The
NSA can cut off lucrative government contracts to companies that do not comply
with the plan. The Pentagon alone spent more than a billion dollars leasing
commercial satellites last year; that's a powerful incentive for business to
Second, the industry's support is anything but total. According to the
minutes of one closed door meeting between NSA officials -- along with represen-
tatives of other federal agencies -- and executives from AT&T, Comsat, GTE
Sprint, and MCI, the executives neither supported the move nor believed it was
necessary. The NSA defended the policy by arguing that a satellite could be held
for ransom if the command and control links weren't protected. But experts at
the meeting were skeptical.
"Why is the threat limited to accessing the satellite rather than destroying
it with lasers or high powered signals?" one industry executive wanted to know.
Most of the officials present objected to the high cost of protecting their
satellites. According to a 1983 study made at the request of the Pentagon, the
protection demanded by the NSA could add as much as $3 million to the price of
a satellite and $1 million more to annual operating costs. Costs like these,
they argue, could cripple a company competing against less expensive communi-
Americans get much of their information through forms of electronic communi-
cations, from the telephone, television and radio, and information printed in
many newspapers. Banks send important financial data, businesses their spread-
sheets, and stockbrokers their investment portfolios, all over the same channels
from satellite signals to computer hookups carried on long distance telephone
lines. To make sure that the federal government helped promote and protect the
efficient use of this advancing technology, Congress passed the massive
Communications Act of 1934. It outlined the role and laws of the communications
structure in the United States.
The powers of the president are set out in Section 606 of that law; basically
it states that he has the authority to take control of any communications
facilities that he believes "essential to the national defense". In the language
of the trade this is known as a 606 emergency.
There have been a number of attempts in recent years by Defense Department
officials to redefine what qualifies as a 606 emergency and make it easier for
the military to take over national communications.
In 1981 the Senate considered amendments to the 1934 act that would allow the
president, on Defense Department recommendation, to require any communications
company to provide services, facilities, or equipment "to promote the national
defense and security or the emergency preparedness of the nation," even in
peacetime and without a declared state of emergency. The general language had
been drafted by Defense Department officials. (The bill failed to pass the
House for unrelated reasons.)
"I think it is quite clear that they have snuck in there some powers that
are dangerous for us as a company and for the public at large," said MCI vice
president Kenneth Cox before the Senate vote.
Since president Reagan took office, the Pentagon has stepped up its efforts
to rewrite the definition of national emergency and give the military expanded
powers in the United States. "The declaration of 'emergency' has always been
vague," says one former administration official who left the government in 1982
after ten years in top policy posts. "Different presidents have invoked it
differently. This administration would declare a convenient 'emergency'". In
other words, what is a nuisance to one administration might qualify as a
burgeoning crisis to another. For example, president Reagan administration might
decide that a series of protests on or near military bases constituted a
Should the Pentagon ever be given the green light, its base for taking over
the nation's communications system would be a nondescript yellow brick building
within the maze of high rises, government buildings, and apartment complexes
that make up the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia. Headquartered in a
dusty and aging structure surrounded by a barbed wire fence is an obscure branch
of the military known as the Defense Communications Agency (DCA). It does not
have the spit and polish of the National Security Agency or the dozens of other
government facilities that make up the nation's capital. But its lack of shine
belies its critical mission: to make sure all of America's far flung military
units can communicate with one another. It is in certain ways the nerve center
of our nation's defense system.
On the second floor of the DCA's four story headquarters is a new addition
called the National Coordinating Center (NCC). Operated by the Pentagon, it is
virtually unknown outside of a handful of industry and government officials. The
NCC is staffed around the clock by representatives of a dozen of the nation's
largest telecommunications companies -- the so called "common carriers" --
including AT&T, MCI, GTE, Comsat, and ITT. Also on hand are officials from the
State Department, the CIA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and a number of
other federal agencies. During a 606 emergency the Pentagon can order the
companies that make up the NCC to turn over their satellite, fiberoptic, and
land line facilities to the government.
On a long corridor in the front of the building is a series of offices, each
outfitted with a private phone, a telex machine, and a combination safe. It's
known as "logo row" because each office is occupied by an employee from one of
the companies that staff the NCC and because their corporate logos hang on the
wall outside. Each employee is on permanent standby, ready to activate his
company's system should the Pentagon require it.
The NCC's mission is as grand as its title is obscure: to make available to
the Defense Department all the facilities of the civilian communications network
in this country -- the phone lines, the long distance satellite hookups, the
data transmission lines -- in times of national emergency. If war breaks out and
communications to a key military base are cut, the Pentagon wants to make sure
that an alternate link can be set up as fast as possible. Company employees
assigned to the Center are on call 24 hours a day; they wear beepers outside the
office, and when on vacation they must be replaced by qualified colleagues.
The Center formally opened on New Year's Day, 1984, the same day Ma Bell's
monopoly over the telephone network of the entire United States was finally
broken. The timing was no coincidence. Pentagon officials had argued for years
along with AT&T against the divestiture of Ma Bell, on grounds of national
security. Defense Secretary Weinberger personally urged the attorney general
to block the lawsuit that resulted in the breakup, as had his predecessor,
Harold Brown. The reason was that rather than construct its own communications
network, the Pentagon had come to rely extensively on the phone company. After
the breakup the dependence continued. The Pentagon still used commercial
companies to carry more than 90 percent of its communications within the
continental United States.
The 1984 divestiture put an end to AT&T's monopoly over the nation's tele-
phone service and increased the Pentagon's obsession with having its own nerve
center. Now the brass had to contend with several competing companies to acquire
phone lines, and communications was more than a matter of running a line from
one telephone to another. Satellites, microwave towers, fiberoptics, and other
technological breakthroughs never dreamed of by Alexander Graham Bell were in
extensive use, and not just for phone conversations. Digital data streams for
computers flowed on the same networks.
These facts were not lost on the Defense Department or the White House.
According to documents obtained by OMNI, beginning on December 14, 1982, a
number of secret meetings were held between high level administration officials
and executives of the commercial communications companies whose employees would
later staff the NCC. The meetings, which continued over the next three years,
were held at the White House, the State Department, the Strategic Air Command
(SAC) headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and at the North
American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs.
The industry officials attending constituted the National Security Tele-
communications Advisory Committee -- called NSTAC (pronounced N-stack) -- set
up by President Reagan to address those same problems that worried the Pentagon.
It was at these secret meetings, according to the minutes, that the idea of a
communications watch center for national emergencies -- the NCC -- was born.
Along with it came a whole set of plans that would allow the military to take
over commercial communications "assets" -- everything from ground stations and
satellite dishes to fiberoptic cables -- across the country.
At a 1983 Federal Communications Commission meeting, a ranking Defense
Department official offered the following explanation for the founding of the
NCC: "We are looking at trying to make communications endurable for a protracted
conflict." The phrase "protracted conflict" is a military euphemism for nuclear
But could the NCC even survive the first volley in such a conflict?
Not likely. It's located within a mile of the Pentagon, itself an obvious
early target of a Soviet nuclear barrage (or a conventional strike, for that
matter). And the Kremlin undoubtedly knows its locations and importance, and
presumably has included it on its priority target list. In sum, according to
one Pentagon official, "The NCC itself it not viewed as a survivable facility."
Furthermore, the NCC's "Implementation Plan", obtained by OMNI, lists four
phases of emergencies and how the center should respond to each. The first,
Phase 0, is Peacetime, for which there would be little to do outside of a hand-
full of routine tasks and exercises. Phase 1 is Pre Attack, in which alternate
NCC sites are alerted. Phase 2 is Post Attack, in which other NCC locations are
instructed to take over the Center's functions. Phase 3 is known as Last Ditch,
and in this phase whatever facility survives becomes the de facto NCC.
So far there is no alternate NCC to which officials could retreat to survive
an attack. According to NCC deputy director William Belford, no physical sites
have yet been chosen for a substitute NCC, and even whether the NCC itself will
survive a nuclear attack is still under study.
Of what use is a communications center that is not expected to outlast even
the first shots of a war and has no backup?
The answer appears to be that because of the Pentagon's concerns about the
AT&T divestiture and the disruptive effects it might have on national security,
the NCC was to serve as the military's peacetime communications center.
The Center is a powerful and unprecedented tool to assume control over the
nation's vast communications and information network. For years the Pentagon
has been studying how to take over the common carriers' facilities. That
research was prepared by NSTAC at the DoD's request and is contained in a series
of internal Pentagon documents obtained by OMNI. Collectively this series is
known as the Satellite Survivability Report. Completed in 1984, it is the only
detailed analysis to date of the vulnerabilities of the commercial satellite
network. It was begun as a way of examining how to protect the network of
communications facilities from attack and how to keep it intact for the DoD.
A major part of this report also contains an analysis of how to make commer-
cial satellites "interoperable" with Defense Department systems. While the
report notes that current technical differences such as varying frequencies
make it difficult for the Pentagon to use commercial satellites, it recommends
ways to resolve those problems. Much of the report is a veritable blueprint for
the government on how to take over satellites in orbit above the United States.
This information, plus NSDD 145's demand that satellite operators tell the NSA
how their satellites are controlled, guarantees the military ample knowledge
about operating commercial satellites.
The Pentagon now has an unprecedented access to the civilian communications
network: commercial databases, computer networks, electronic links, telephone
lines. All it needs is the legal authority to use them. Then it could totally
dominate the flow of all information in the United States. As one high ranking
White House communications official put it: "Whoever controls communications
controls the country." His remark was made after our State Department could not
communicate directly with our embassy in Manila during the anti-Marcos
revolution last year. To get through, the State Department had to relay all its
messages through the Philippine government.
Government officials have offered all kinds of scenarios to justify the NCC,
the Satellite Survivability Report, new domains of authority for the Pentagon
and the NSA, and the creation of top level government steering groups to think
of even more policies for the military. Most can be reduced to the rationale
that inspired NSDD 145: that our enemies (presumably the Soviets) have to be
prevented from getting too much information from unclassified sources. And the
only way to do that is to step in and take control of those sources.
Remarkably, the communications industry as a whole has not been concerned
about the overall scope of the Pentagon's threat to its freedom of operation.
Most protests have been to individual government actions. For example, a media
coalition that includes the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the
American Society of Newspaper Editors, and the Turner Broadasting System has
been lobbying that before the government can restrict the use of satellites, it
must demonstrate why such restrictions protect against a "threat to distinct
and compelling national security and foreign policy interests". But the whole
policy of restrictiveness has not been examined. That may change sometime this
year, when the Office of Technology Assessment issues a report on how the
Pentagon's policy will affect communications in the United States. In the mean-
time the military keeps trying to encroach on national communications.
While it seems unlikely that the Pentagon will ever get total control of our
information and communications systems, the truth is that it can happen all too
easily. The official mechanisms are in place; and few barriers remain to guaran-
tee that what we hear, see, and read will come to us courtesy of our being mem-
bers of a free and open society and not courtesy of the Pentagon.