710. Consultation (3)A/86²⁄₇

The Under Secretary of State (Welles) to the American Representative (Spaeth)

Dear Carl: Thank you for your letter of May 8. I hope you will continue to write me in complete frankness with regard to developments in connection with the Committee on Political Defense.

First let me assure you, as I said prior to your departure from Washington, that we in the Department attribute great importance to the Committee and its work. In our opinion the potentialities which lie ahead of the Committee are far reaching, not merely as an instrument for the prosecution of political warfare today, although that alone is considerable, but also as a stabilizing element of the greatest value in the inter-American machinery. It seems probable that either this Committee or some other inter-American instrumentality will have to continue to function in the unsettled post-war period.

We cannot therefore afford to let the Committee fall short of its purpose. For this reason we are building up as rapidly as possible the promised organization within the Department which I feel sure will provide you with the “briefing” which you have requested for your work. As you know, the permanent Departments of the Government do not have the same freedom in budgetary matters as do the emergency agencies, but I am glad to say that the Bureau of the Budget has just approved the establishment of a special section in the Division of the American Republics which is already being recruited.

I have said above that no one can foresee the future of the Committee but I would like to make certain observations with regard to its possible growth. The prestige of the Committee depends, as you have observed, on these first few months of its existence. If it is to be the permanent or semi-permanent organ of inter-American action which we hope it will be, it is important both that it not die of inanition and that it not become so active that it run against opposition which might stunt its growth. In other words, it would be advisable that the Committee, during the first months of its existence, should put roots down and become firmly embedded before attempting to weather the storm that might blow up if a subject of too serious disagreement on the part of the members appointed by Argentina and Chile is broached. Both Argentina and Chile must be continually reminded of their commitments and stimulated to take action, but it would definitely not be desirable to risk a show-down at this juncture, particularly since there are signs that Chile is reconsidering its policy. [Page 82]I repeat, the CPD should not wreck itself on an issue in international politics which it now lacks power to handle. Meanwhile, the Department’s bilateral action bears the brunt of this situation. There are grounds for hope that it will improve.

Once the prestige and semi-permanent character of the Committee is established, particularly if one of the states which has not carried out the recommendations of Resolution 112 of the Rio Meeting should be brought back into the fold, the Committee would be in a position to expand the field of its action and to make stronger recommendations with good prospects of success. It might even reach the point where its moral influence would have great effect directed at a non-cooperative state.

Although it is probable that this Government, particularly the intelligence agencies thereof, would not have any objection to the establishment of an information center along the lines laid down in Annex B of your report no. 4 of May 1513 as modified by your telegram no. 10 of May 23, 1 p.m. to Chapin,14 we feel very definitely that an exchange of information with regard to persons engaged in subversive activities should be limited to persons either under indictment or who have been convicted. This would seem to be as far as we can go on information with regard to individuals which we “must” transmit to such an organization. It is possible, however, that on a voluntary basis we might wish to make use of such a center for distribution of information with regard to dangerous suspects engaged in espionage, sabotage or dissemination of totalitarian propaganda whom we had reason to believe were at large in the American republics. For obvious reasons, however, we would not wish to be in the position of having to supply this information on demand. As you know the process of tracking down subversive groups must necessarily proceed in its initial stages in complete secrecy lest the individuals concerned become alarmed and take cover.

The preparation of background material with regard to control of aliens and similar related problems is being continued in conjunction with the Department of Justice. Likewise it is my understanding that some work is being done in connection with measures for the protection of shipping and port facilities looking to the submission of tentative suggestions on this subject.

In paragraph II F of Annex B of your report under reference there is a reference to the proposed Inter-American Information Center on Subversive Activities serving as a depository for samples of totalitarian propaganda material of all kinds. We have given [Page 83]considerable thought to this problem and believe that the Committee on Political Defense could serve a most important role in combatting totalitarian propaganda. While our ideas have not crystallized we have in mind the possibility that the Committee might engage in propaganda analysis with a view to the issuance of regular bulletins to the Governments and the press of the American republics pointing out the major lines followed by Axis propaganda in all media.

With this in mind you may wish to consider as a temporary measure pending consideration of the recommendation for the establishment of the information center, suggesting that the Committee call upon the American Governments to submit samples of totalitarian propaganda circulating in their countries together with any analyses of content and media as may have been undertaken. It would seem necessary that this step be taken not only so that the collection can be complete, but so that this Government could appear to respond to request rather than to force the Committee to undertake the additional burden.

This, I realize, is a very large order and would, at first blush, require a considerable organization to undertake properly in Montevideo. Fortunately we have such an organization now functioning very efficiently under Professor Doob in the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. We therefore propose some arrangement whereby the bulk of the analysis could be done in Doob’s office with the results forwarded to you promptly by air mail. These results could be checked in Montevideo with the observations of the Committee. Eventually after the ground work had been laid and propaganda analyzed and typed on a systematic basis it might be possible to speed up the process by weekly cable reports.

It is our feeling that giving widespread publicity to a dispassionate analysis of enemy propaganda would do as much to defeat the value of the campaign as would any amount of counter propaganda which we might produce, since counter propaganda itself is bound to be labeled as prejudiced no matter how true or how striking be the presentation.

I should be glad to have your reactions to the proposal whose broad lines have merely been sketched here. Chapin, who is discussing the matter with Harrison and Doob of the C. I. A. A. will write you further details shortly.

Finally, I am sure you will understand me when I make the suggestion that it might be well in the future to clear with the Department any proposals which you yourself submit to the Committee for discussion as possible recommendations. Although I am sure we are in full agreement that the official attitude of the member appointed by the United States should be that he represents the twenty-one [Page 84]republics and not merely this Government, unavoidably there attaches a certain moral obligation to proposals which may have been submitted by that member. It would be embarrassing both to you and to us were the Committee to transmit officially some recommendation based on one of your proposals which we were not in a position to adopt, unless we could prove that we were arriving at the same result through another way. I believe that on normal occasions it should be possible to clear any proposals by air mail pouch but in cases where urgent action seemed essential, you could cable us the essential points of your proposal.

With all kindest regards and best wishes for your continued success in the Committee, believe me,

Sincerely yours,

Sumner Welles
  1. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 7, 1942, p. 118.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed; it was transmitted as No. 411 from Montevideo.