173. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1



1. To create appropriate organizational machinery for the preparation of continuing coordinated evaluations of the net capabilities of the USSR to inflict direct injury on the United States, and to direct the preparation of such an evaluation.



2. By memorandum dated 10 March 1954, pursuant to NSC Action 873-d., the Director of Defense Mobilization has submitted certain recommendations relative to the organizational aspects of the continental defense program.2 These recommendations do not cover parts of Chapter VI of NSC 159,3 specifically paragraphs 129–131 relating to questions of “net evaluation” organization. Since these questions are substantially different from the issues of operational organization, it is appropriate to deal with the two in separate papers, whether final action is taken by the National Security Council itself or by the Planning Board.

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3. Two previous evaluations in this field have been prepared for the Council, the history being as follows:

On August 30, 1951, the Council directed that the Director of Central Intelligence, in collaboration with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security (ICIS), and the Interdepartmental Intelligence Conference (IIC), prepare a summary evaluation, covering Soviet net capability against the continental United States as of mid-1952.4 After considerable delay and difficulty, such an evaluation was submitted to the Council on October 14, 1952, with an accompanying memorandum by the then Director pointing out shortcomings of the report and recommending that he, DCI, be directed to examine into the creation of new and better machinery to integrate operational data with intelligence in this field.5 On November 25, 1952, the Secretary of Defense forwarded to the Council the views of the JCS on the question,6 and there ensued negotiations in which JCS, CIA, ICIS, and IIC participated and which eventuated in the directive set forth as NSC 140, approved by the President on January 19, 1953.7
Under this directive, a Subcommittee headed by Lt. General Idwal H. Edwards (USAF ret.) completed and submitted to the Council on May 18, 1953 its report, NSC 140/1.8 This differed from the previous study in that (1) it was projected for two years into the future, through mid-1955; (2) in addition to the continental United States, defined key installations overseas were considered; (3) instead of using maximum estimates of Soviet strength, as had been substantially done before, the evaluation used a probable estimate level in this regard, and assumed a Soviet strategy regarded as being consistent with these estimated capabilities. The Report was given to the Planning Board’s Continental Defense Committee, the so-called Bull Committee, and was used by that Committee along with other relevant materials in the preparation of NSC 159.

4. The Report of the Bull Committee, NSC 159, July 22, 1953, referred to the substance of the Edwards Report (para. 9), and also considered in some detail the problem of permanent organization (paras. 129–131) recommending that a new evaluation be undertaken in two phases, the first covering Soviet attack capabilities—to be done jointly by the JCS and CIA—and the second covering damage, or vulnerability to the estimated attack capabilities—to be done by a separate Committee under NSC direction. NSC 159, para. 30, further noted that the Council “might well wish to establish a permanent subcommittee on [Page 483]‘Net Capabilities Estimates’ composed of the Chairman of the JCS and the Director of Central Intelligence…”

5. Concurrently, the question of net evaluations in general was considered by The President’s Committee on International Information Activities, the Jackson Committee. In its Report submitted to the Council on June 30, 1953, the Jackson Committee specifically recommended that machinery for the preparation of such evaluations should be created.9 (Jackson Committee Report, pp. 3, 118, Recommendation No. 1) Action by the Council or any agency on this recommendation was deferred pending the submission of the ODM report directed by NSC Action 873 d. to be submitted pursuant to NSC 159 and NSC 159/4.

Importance of the Net Evaluation

6. In view of the usefulness of the Edwards Report and the subsequent recommendations of the Bull and Jackson Committees, the importance and desirability of continuing net evaluations of Soviet capability to injure the United States may be regarded as established. For purposes of Council consideration of problems relating to continental defense or the defense of US installations overseas, it is meaningless to have gross estimates of Soviet nuclear capabilities, air strength, etc., unless these are merged with existing US and Allied defensive capabilities so as to produce an evaluation of the net Soviet capability, present and prospective.

Organizational Problems

7. Method of Operation. Experience with the 1951–52 project demonstrated emphatically that it was not satisfactory to conduct a net evaluation on the basis of one-shot contributions by several agencies, melded by one agency or by a group. The Edwards Subcommittee operated on the basis of continuing exchange of material by a tightly-knit operating group producing in effect “successive approximations” leading to a final refined product. Wherever the responsibility may be placed, and on whatever basis agencies participate, this method of operation is essential. Moreover, this method of operation can also be employed—as it was by the Edwards group—to minimize the security problem involved in the handling of sensitive information that must be supplied particularly by JCS, CIA, and FBI.

8. Allocation of Responsibility. Three allocations have so far been tried or proposed. The Edwards Subcommittee consisted of a Chairman appointed by the Council (General Edwards was actually nominated by the JCS), and representatives of JCS, CIA, the ICIS, and IIC. Other [Page 484]agencies, notably ODM and FCDA, were in the position of contributors and advisors, but did not participate in the final work of the Subcommittee. The NSC 159 recommendation would divide the work into two stages, with JCS and CIA acting jointly in the first, and with the second, or damage, stage handled by an ad hoc committee chaired by an NSC representative and including Defense, ICIS, IIC, ODM and FCDA. The JCS views on NSC 159, submitted to the Council on September 1, 1953, take the position that the Department of Defense has adequate resources in conjunction with “other agencies,” to prepare the needed evaluation without resort to additional machinery. This appears to mean that primary responsibility should be placed solely in Defense, with power to call on other agencies as needed. The great difference between these three methods illustrates the complexity of the problem of allocating responsibility so as to bring in all interested agencies to an appropriate degree and at the same time to have a workable set-up. The following points appear relevant:

A fully refined net evaluation involves consideration of several elements, for which different agencies have primary responsibility. At a minimum, these include Soviet gross overt attack and defense capabilities. CIA and Intelligence Advisory Committee (IAC) agencies concerned with foreign intelligence),10 Soviet gross clandestine attack capabilities (IIC, CIA, AEC principally), Soviet strategy (all intelligence agencies), US military defensive and gross retaliatory capabilities (JCS), US non-military defensive capabilities (ODM, FCDA), US internal security capabilities (ICIS), and US vulnerability in terms of damage to be expected from various scales and types of attack (Defense, ODM, FCDA principally). None of these can be considered in isolation. To illustrate, the Soviet attack strategy would be based in part on the Soviet estimate of US weaknesses and gaps in defense, and in part also on the Soviet estimate of the degree of damage that might be inflicted.11 Hence, it becomes necessary to take theoretical possibilities of attack and “war-game” them through from a Soviet standpoint. In theory at least, this could not be done properly without constant and full participation of all interested agencies.
On the other hand, such a multi-agency exercise is on its face impractical and endlessly time-consuming. Some compromise must be struck, as was done in setting up the Edwards Subcommittee.
It is readily possible to separate out the elements relating to US vulnerability in terms of damage. Moreover, although, as indicated in a above these are theoretically interlinked with Soviet strategy, in practice damage estimates based on assumed hypothetical levels of attack would be adequate, since in any event such estimates would be “broad-brush” in character. Thus it is reasonable to separate out the damage aspect, and charge this phase to a separate group.
However, it appears neither logical nor practicable to combine that damage aspect with the internal security aspect for which ICIS and IIC are primarily responsible. The principal internal security problem belongs in the “capabilities” rather than the “damage” category, since it concerns Soviet clandestine introduction of nuclear or other weapons. Thus, the Edwards Subcommittee setup was logical on this point. As a practical matter, the internal security agencies are believed to have felt that the Edwards and Bull Reports placed at too low a level the likelihood of Soviet employment of clandestine capabilities. However, assuming the internal security agencies have produced an estimate of the likelihood of detection if the Soviets used clandestine means, the ultimate question of whether the Soviets would be prepared to take this risk is certainly one of basic Soviet strategy involving broader considerations than those for which the internal security agencies are responsible. The split shown by Mr. McDonnell’s dissent to NSC 159 cannot be remedied by any organizational changes, although of course the internal security agencies should participate fully in the final judgment.
As to the position stated in the JCS views on NSC 159, it is not known whether the views are firmly held by the JCS or by the Department of Defense. The particular subject of Continental Defense is one aspect of the larger problem of a permanent organization for producing net evaluations on Soviet capabilities, and CIA’s views on this matter have been stated in the Director’s letter to General Bull, dated 30 June 1953,12 a copy of which has been circulated to the Planning Board. In brief, it appears to CIA that to place pre-eminent responsibility in the JCS would be to overlook the legal responsibilities of the Director of Central Intelligence in the field of national intelligence, under the National Security Act of 1947. The President and the NSC in practice and pursuant to statutory authority depend on the Director of Central Intelligence, representing the coordinated views of the Intelligence Agencies, for foreign intelligence estimates, and on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking as the representative of the services, for military advice. Thus, the President and Council can best receive guidance in the most useful and complete form through an effective amalgamation of the functions of the two.

9. Personnel and Facilities. If it is accepted that a tightly-knit operating group is the appropriate method of operation, questions of personnel and facilities become important. In the case of the Edwards Subcommittee, these were handled by the furnishing of facilities in the JCS area of the Department of Defense and by the furnishing of secretarial and other personnel by the JCS and CIA. It is believed that these arrangements were satisfactory, and that they could be repeated without strain on the contributing agencies.

Target Date, Scope and Projection Period

10. Target Date. Since national policy in the field of continental defense is now laid down comprehensively in NSC 5408,13 with programs [Page 486]extended for some years into the future, it appears unlikely that there will be a major overhauling of this policy during 1954, barring drastic changes in the intelligence picture of Soviet capabilities or intentions.

11. The Edwards Subcommittee completed its work in four months, but found that this was too short a period in which to go into all of the important aspects. The Edwards Subcommittee had particular difficulty with the question of Soviet strategy in the event of war, whether the Soviets would allocate the bulk of their stockpile to the US or a large part of it against non-US targets. A successor group may find it desirable to submit this question to thorough intelligence consideration, based on the material on capabilities and damage developed by the group. This question was referred to by General Edwards in a personal memorandum to the Executive Secretary, NSC, dated 19 May 1953.14 General Edwards also referred to the desirability of covering the extent of strategic warning that might be expected, of a vulnerability study, and of a psychological study of the effects on the people of the US of assumed levels of atomic attacks. In view of the complexity of these problems, it appears highly desirable that the new study be allowed at least six months, and if possible longer, for completion.

12. To allow six months or more for a new evaluation would throw the completion after 1 October 1954, and would eliminate its usefulness as a supporting element for work on the FY 1956 budget. However, this disadvantage appears outweighed by the considerations stated in paragraph 11.

13. Scope. The Edwards Report considered not only the continental United States but also key US installations outside the US, considered in terms of the usefulness of such installations to US counteroffensive action. There was some difficulty about the definition of such overseas installations, leading to a misunderstanding affecting the JCS submission. Apart from avoiding a repetition of this, the scope of the Edwards Report appeared workable.

14. Projection. The Edwards Report projected its conclusions forward for two years, and General Edwards recommended that future studies adopt a projection period not greater than this. For planning purposes it would be desirable to have a longer projection period, since many policy decisions cannot bear fruit for three or more years. However, from a working standpoint, it would be extremely difficult to get a firm enough picture of either Soviet or US capabilities, in order to do [Page 487]the “war-gaming” exercise. The Planning Board should consider whether the policy considerations should outweigh working difficulties and limitations.


In the light of the foregoing, it is recommended that the National Security Council issue an appropriate directive or directives:

Establishing a Net Evaluation Subcommittee composed of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of Central Intelligence.
Charging this Subcommittee with the responsibility for providing estimates of net capabilities as needed to support the formulation of national policy.
Directing that this Subcommittee prepare by 1 March 1955 an evaluation, covering the period through (mid-1957), of the net capabilities of the USSR to inflict direct injury on the continental United States and on key US installations overseas, the latter being defined in terms of their importance to US counter-offensive action.
Attaching to the Subcommittee, for the purpose of this evaluation, the Chairman of the ICIS and IIC respectively, with full right of participation on all matters concerning Soviet capabilities that involve internal security of the US, and of the likelihood of Soviet employment of such capabilities in the event of attack.
Establishing a Vulnerability Subcommittee composed of the Secretary of Defense, the Director of Defense Mobilization, and the Federal Civil Defense Administrator, with power to call upon other agencies for contributions.
Directing this Vulnerability Subcommittee to prepare appropriate studies of the damage, both material and psychological, that might be inflicted on the US under assumed levels of Soviet delivery of nuclear weapons or other attack, such studies to be furnished to the Net Evaluation Subcommittee and to be incorporated in the evaluation directed under paragraph c above. For this purpose, the Chairman of the Vulnerability Subcommittee, or his representative, should be attached to the Net Evaluation Subcommittee in the preparation of the final evaluation.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 80–R01440R, Box 3. Secret. A note on the paper indicates that the DCI and DD/I saw it on May 4, 1954. All ellipses in the original.
  2. Memorandum from ODM Director Arthur S. Flemming to Cutler, March 10. (Eisenhower Library, White House Office, NSC Staff Papers, Disaster File Series, Box 22, Continental Defense) NSC Action No. 873, taken at the 158th meeting of the NSC on August 6, 1953, directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the NSC Planning Board to submit further recommendations on continental defense to the Council. In addition, Flemming was directed by the President to establish a special task force to study and make recommendations on improving government organization with respect to internal security functions. A copy of NSC Action No.873 is in National Archives, RG 59, S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, NSC Records of Action.
  3. NSC 159, “Continental Defense,” circulated to the NSC on July 22, was the report of the Continental Defense Committee chaired by General Bull (see footnote 1, Document 150). A copy of NSC 159 is in National Archives, RG 59, S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 159 Series.
  4. See Document 86.
  5. The evaluation and the accompanying memorandum have not been found. See Document 138.
  6. Not found.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 1, pp. 205208.
  8. NSC 140/1 is ibid., pp. 328349.
  9. Extracts from the Jackson Committee Report are ibid., Part 2, pp. 17951874. See also Document 151.
  10. The principal IAC agencies are State, the three services, and the Joint Intelligence Group of the Joint Staff. [Footnote in the original.]
  11. [5 lines not declassified.] [Footnote in the original.]
  12. Document 150.
  13. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 1, pp. 609633.
  14. General Edwards’ memorandum to the NSC Executive Secretary, May 19, provided comments by the Special Evaluation Subcommittee concerning future evaluations of the Soviet Union’s net capabilities to damage the United States. (National Archives, RG 273, Policy Papers, NSC 140, Box 56)
  15. Items a. and b. could be separated from the rest. Arguably the others would require only Planning Board action. [Footnote in the original. NSC 5423, “Directive for a Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee,” June 23, 1954, subsequently established the subcommittee. Additional documentation on the creation and work of the subcommittee is in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 1, pp. 800802, and ibid., 1955–1957, vol. XIX, pp. 1, 2, passim.]
  16. Items a. and b. could be separated from the rest. Arguably the others would require only Planning Board action. [Footnote in the original. NSC 5423, “Directive for a Net Capabilities Evaluation Subcommittee,” June 23, 1954, subsequently established the subcommittee. Additional documentation on the creation and work of the subcommittee is in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. II, Part 1, pp. 800802, and ibid., 1955–1957, vol. XIX, pp. 1, 2, passim.]