135. Memorandum From the Special Counsel to the President (McPherson) to President Johnson1

Excuse my typing. Zbig Brzezinski of the State Department called this evening with an idea that I think is worth passing on for your consideration.

In all the ruckus about the CIA and the student groups they have sponsored over the past ten or twelve years, no one occupying a high position in government has been heard to say that the students did, [Page 417] in fact, perform a great service for their country. It is unfortunate that no other funds were available to assist them in taking part in international activities, than covert funds. But quarrels over the method of supporting these groups ought not to diminish our gratitude for what they did for the United States.

They represented our people . . . not the CIA . . . at hundreds of meetings abroad where, without them, there would have been no American voice. They served in international organizations, in committees and projects where the Soviet Union was represented, where Europeans were represented, and where plenty of third-world, uncommitted nations were represented.

If it is true . . . as I believe it is . . . that traditional diplomacy and powerful security forces cannot alone assure success in our international operations, and that the opinions and commitments of youth are critically important to us, then American students travelling abroad to work, study, and take part in international meetings are essential to our larger purposes. They help to build trust and understanding with their contemporaries abroad in a way that diplomats find hard to match. And they speak for democratic ideals and describe the American experience in the councils of international youth groups, where without them those ideals and that experience would have gone un-recognized or would have been denounced.

Many of them represent the best of our youth. If we now sweep the whole thing under the rug with the CIA, and make the work they did seem a part of a generally unsavory business, we will have discredited a public service, and the people who performed it. We will have permitted a bunch of phony muckrakers in the press and in Congress . . . none of whom ever came up with a better idea for supporting this kind of activity . . . to hurt, not only the Administration and the CIA, but some fine Americans as well.

I think someone high in the Administration . . . either George, speaking for you, or Nick,2 should speak out on this.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, Box 10, CIA Funding of Private Organizations. No classification marking. In the upper left-hand corner of the memorandum, an unknown hand wrote: “rec’d 2/19/67 6:00 p.”
  2. References are to Christian and Katzenbach.