NOTES ON THE CRITIC SYSTEM

Created: 4/1/1960

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TITLE: Notes On The CRITIC William A.

VOLUME:

7

IN

INTELLIGENCE

A coBcetion ol articles on Hie historical operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects ol intelligence.

All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence are those of

the authors They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of ihe Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of an article's faciual statements and interpretations.

Significant advance andbugs in tlie procedure for urgent intelligence flashes.

NOTES ON THE CRITIC SYSTEM William A. Tidwell

rue critick oughtommunicate to the world such things as are worth their observation."

Joseph Addison's job description2 could also be the mottopecial CRITIC set up by the intelligenceinbe reporting system responsive to athat critical intelligence be communicated from the field to the "highest authorities" in "speeds approaching ten minutes" CRITIC does communicate rapidly to this high executive world things that are worthy of their urgentspecifically indications of mternational crisis ormilitary hostilities. If, in its present state ofand with the communications hardware now In use, there are relatively few occasions onRITIC message actually moves from reporter to mtelligence user in tentime, the establishment of the system has nevertheless made radical changes in the flow of critical mtelligence to Washington, and messages handled under it take only aof the average time required for similar messages before its inauguration.

Establishment and Performance

The mtelligence community has always been concerned with tbe rapid reporting of urgent items,ystematic community-wide assault on the problem did not get under way until the autumnt thattudy of the reporting related to tbe Turkish-Syrian crisis' and certain -selected indicators of Soviet miutaryr activity 'demonstrated that many critically important items were being handledoutine manner and that they frequently required more thanours to reach the White House. In terms ofa message containing information such as Is nowin tbe CRITIC system would take nine hoursalf

ThayrtS

to move from the field reporter to the inteUigence user *. ;

The results of this study were given to the President' Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activttie which, with the concurrence of the LAC. recommended to th President that the problem be attacked with the utmost nrc by the intelligence community. This recommendaUon va approved by the President, and the community initiated ac tinn on two fronts, that of facilities and that of procedure The first resulted in the promulgation of NSCID Noeslg Dating the Department of Defense as executive agent fo creating andorld-wide communications systen for the transmission of critical mtelligence. The second lo to the esUblishment of the CRITIC system of procedures fo rapid reporting over this world-wide communications net.

From the beginning it was obvious that the Initial decstta as to whether an item of Information is of critical natur would have to be made by the field reporters. At the same time it was clear that field reporting personnel, not alway apprised of all the related information available in Washing ton, might err in their Judgments. It was necessary, there fore, while giving as much guidance as possible to the field to reserve to intelligence headquarters in WaslUngton th( opportunity for final evaluation of CRITIC items beforethem to the White Bouse.

Critical intelligence was therefore defined as "Informationituation or pertainingituation whichthe security or interests of the United States to such an extent that It may require the immediate attention of thend in DCTDpecific categories of infor-matlon considered to fall under this definition were listed. Field reporting personnel of all mtelligence agencies wereto prefix the Indicator CRITIC to all messagesInformation underrgi and to forward them under high precedence by the most- rapidmeans available. It was arranged that in Washington messages carrying this Indicator would receive simultaneous electrical dissemination to all the main USIB agencies and to the Strategic and the Tactical Air Commands Tin- system was put Into effect onuly

The CR/TIC System

new undertakings, the CRITIC system operatedertain amouhtvof creaking and groaning during .the first few months, but its effect on the speed of reporting was Immediately apparent. CRITIC messages already moved from field reporters to Intelligence users In Washington In an average of about an houralf, as against theour average during the Turlnsh-Syrian crisis. The CriticalCommittee, monitoring the system on behalf of the BSLB,reat deal of time refining theof various categories in the CRITIC list and unsnarling procedural problems as they were identified. By tbe end of the first year of operations the average transrnission times had dropped to an hour or less, an accomplishment made possible by improvements In tbe hardware and operatingof the supporting communications services along with better handling of the traffic In the intelligence agencies.

Persistent Problems

The progress achieved by the CRITIC system has thus been excellent,umber of problems remain to be overcome before it can reach full efficiency. For one thing. It canperfectly only if the messages are kept short, but field reporting personnel have not all learned yet to be as concise as possible. It Is still not unusualessage to contain hundreds of groups, and one even reachedark It is obvious that these messages cannot be put through in ten-minute service by present communications equipment,atords per minute. Long messages toa complex situation could often be obviatederies of short messages sent as the situation develops.

Some headquarters personnel have been misled by theof critical intelligence as matter for "the immediateof the President" into thinking that each CRITIC message should in Itself be something of an earth-shaker. But thereumber of categories of CRITIC Items,of Soviet hostile Intent, which become critical only as theyritical pattern. The pattern, however, can be discerned only In Washington, by the combination of itselements; and field reporters without access to tbe rest of the pattern must therefore give CRITIC handling* to in-

.

SECRET

CRITIC System

dividual elements, items which may provefbe isolated events'of relatively "little significance?

Some reporting personnel have not understood that the handling of CRITIC messages In Washington is organizedommunity-wide basis, that the CRITIC designator isommunications precedence indicator than an group which automatically ensures Immediate distribution by electrical means to all appropriate addressees in thearea. Their consequent designation of multiplehas increased handling and processing time anddelivery to Intended recipients. One reporter evenRITIC message to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, causing General Twining to be awakened in the middle of the night and blocking delivery of the message to its proper recipients until he could authorize its release.

Such shortcomings as these, however, arearge number of widely dispersed people are called upon toew system of operation; experience andtraining of both intelligence and communicationsshould greatly improve performance in these respects. More recalcitrantroblem arising from afact of life:umber of highly important countries of the world, including those behind the Iron Curtain,. Government cannot maintain its own communications facilities and is dependent upon commercial facilities or the monopolies of tbe governments concerned, which of course do not recognize the comparative precedence assigned awithin. Government systems. Some of these governments might be willingeciprocal basis to grant us the right to operate our own communications, but the granting of such rights in tbe United States is contrary to TJ.S. policy. Communications from these forbidden areas are generally the responsibility of CIA and the Department of State. Both organizations are hard, at work* on the problem, and there is some hope that Improvements can be effected.

In the communications systems operated byonsiderable additional Improvements are planned or under way. We have good reason to believe that CRITIC messages handled by these faculties can achieve average

The CWTIC System

ET

speeds ofinutes or less within the, very neaxfuture.test messages transmitted in subs tan UalTy*iess than ten minutes prove that the goal of "speeds approaching ten minutes" Is attainable under the right conditions. The CRITIC system willtrueowever, only by virtue of alert and efficient supportreat number of intelligence and communications personnel in manyol the Government. Great strides have been made, but there is still work to do.

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