811F.812 Protection/5–2548

The Secretary of the Army (Royall) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Dear Mr. Secretary: The current unrest in Central America which is allegedly partly due to communistic activity coupled with the apparent irregularity of action of Russian ships passing through that area has aroused considerable concern for the security of the Panama Canal. General Crittenberger has felt obligated on occasion to invoke his wartime powers with respect to the security of the Canal in order to inspect Russian ships prior to entry into the Canal and to keep them under surveillance while in the area.

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Recently1 the War Council considered the question of searching vessels before they pass through the Canal. The decision reached was to authorize the Department of the Army at its discretion to search all non-American-owned vessels prior to passage through the Canal, the degree, character, and frequency of inspection or search of the vessels of any particular nation to be a matter for the discretion of the Department of the Army or of the appropriate commander. It was recommended that before this decision be implemented, I clear any general policy with you.

Therefore, I would appreciate an opinion as to whether or not the exemption of American-owned vessels from inspection is in violation of the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty.2 Also, as to whether or not, in your opinion, the possible political repercussions from this contemplated action would be so serious as to outweigh the security value to be gained by it.

Sincerely yours,

Kenneth C. Royall
  1. May 4, 1948.
  2. Department of State Treaty Series No. 401, or 32 Stat. (pt. 2) 1903.