10. Memorandum From the Director-Designate of the United States Information Agency (Murrow) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Overseas Cultural Activities by the U.S. Government

Before our luncheon today2 I want to set forth for you my views on the role of cultural activities in the conduct of our foreign relations. I particularly wish to comment on the Secretary of State’s letter to the President of January 303 on this subject, a copy of which was sent me by the State Department.

Since coming to Washington I have spent a large portion of my time studying this matter, with particular emphasis on organizational structure. I have read, or been briefed upon, various recent studies and have heard from officers with years of experience in this field. I am struck by the virtual unanimity of opinion which supports the general [Page 39] position of our Deputy Director, Donald M. Wilson, as set forth in his Memorandum to the President of January 26, 1961 (copy attached).4 My views, and theirs, are:

1. “Culture” and “information” comprise a false dichotomy, in terms of both semantics and organization. Much if not most of USIA’s “information” effort deals with American culture—motion pictures, press releases, radio and television programs, pamphlets and exhibits on American history, literature and the arts.

2. Dissemination of information on American culture through the various media to selected audiences is perhaps our most important technique for influencing the political thinking of foreign opinion leaders.

3. It may not be politically possible to transfer the exchange-of-persons and cultural presentations programs from State to USIA as recommended by the President’s Task Force and two other studies prepared at his request. But we should not further fragment our overseas psychological operations by transferring the “cultural” portion of USIA to State (even if we could identify and separate this portion) without suffering the ill consequences cited by Mr. Wilson in his memorandum.

Part of the problem appears to be a misunderstanding of how the present machinery works. The exchange and cultural-presentation programs directed from Washington by the State Department are conducted in the field by USIS staffs under the direction of the Public Affairs Officer who is in charge of all cultural and informational activity in each country. Cultural Officers report to the Public Affairs Officer who is the principal U.S. cultural officer in the country. The USIS staff reports through State channels to the State Department on matters affecting State-directed programs; on matters affecting USIS programs the staffs report to me through our channels. Both Public Affairs and Cultural Officers are employees of this Agency. Many of our ablest Public Affairs Officers are former Cultural Officers.

Almost without exception, our Cultural Officers at recent regional meetings in Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Kampala, and Beirut emphatically endorsed the present arrangement in the field. Recommendation No. 3 of the Rome Conference of European Cultural and Educational Exchange Officers states: “(Resolved) that since, in a field cultural program, the so-called informational and cultural media and other cultural activities should not be separated, the operations now in USIS should continue to be in a single operational unit under the direction of a single person who reports to the Chief of Mission.” Similarly, the [Page 40] Kampala meeting “recognized that the Cultural Affairs Officer should be the focus of an integrated cultural program and vigorously urged that there be no organizational separation of cultural and information activities.”

While no formal poll of Ambassadors has been taken, we have every reason to believe they prefer the present integrated cultural-informational operation with one man, the Public Affairs Officer, responsible to the Chief of Mission at each post for these activities.

With respect to Secretary Rusk’s letter to the President of January 30, I do not understand precisely what he has in mind in the way of realigning functions, although I do agree with his thesis that “this whole area is in serious and urgent need of policy clarification, program coordination and strong direction.”

While I believe USIA must continue to receive policy guidance from State, I agree with the President’s Task Force, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, the Sprague Committee and the informal view of the Bureau of the Budget that the vitality and effectiveness of USIA depend in large measure on its independence of operations. I hope and assume that Mr. Rusk intends that the new Assistant Secretary will exercise program direction only over those activities now conducted by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. I welcome the new importance given those activities.

The State Department has—and will continue to have—the closest cooperation of USIA at both the operational and policy levels. Only with such cooperation will achievement of our common objectives be possible.

Edward R. Murrow
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Box 296, Cultural and Social Activities, General, 1/61–8/61. No classification marking. No drafting information appears on the memorandum; another copy of the memorandum indicates that it was drafted by Thomas Sorensen. (National Archives, RG 306, Office of Plans, General Subject Files, 1949–1970, Entry UD WW 382, Box 119, 1962 IOP/Rm 823)
  2. No record of the luncheon meeting has been found.
  3. See Document 9.
  4. Printed as Document 8.