4. Memorandum From the Counselor of the Department of State (Kennan) to the Under Secretary of State (Webb)1

On June 18 [17], 1948, at its 13th meeting, the National Security Council approved a directive (NSC 10/2)2 establishing in the Central [Page 6] Intelligence Agency an Office of Special Projects3 to plan and conduct covert operations, and in coordination with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to plan and prepare for the conduct of such operations in war time. The directive charged the Director of Central Intelligence with assuring through designated representatives of the Secretary of State and of the Secretary of Defense that covert operations be planned and conducted in a manner consistent with United States foreign and military policies and with overt activities.

Pursuant to this Directive, I was designated by General Marshall as his representative for the above purpose, and this designation was officially made known to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council by a letter signed August 13, 1948 by Mr. Lovett.4 Since that date, I have continued to bear this responsibility.

My present preoccupation with other duties and my pending departure from the Department oblige me to recommend that I now be relieved of this responsibility, and I do so recommend.

However, I do not think that any successor to me should be appointed in present circumstances; and I would urge that the National Security Council be informed that the Department will not be able to give further guidance on the exercise of this function by CIA until certain prerequisites are met which could alone assure the soundness of the operation of these arrangements. These are:


There would have to be a marked improvement in the facilities for assuring the cooperation of security authorities of the Government in general, and the Department of Justice in particular, in the efforts of this Department and the Office of Special Projects to promote psychological warfare purposes.

It was never to be expected that covert operations could be so conducted as to produce appreciable political results unless those charged with their conduct could command the cooperation and the confidence of all agencies of the United States Government. In a memorandum of conversation and understanding initialed on August 12, 1948 by Mr. Souers, Admiral Hillenkoetter, Mr. Blum, Colonel Yeaton, Mr. Wisner and myself,5 designed to serve as the basic premises underlying the conduct of this work, it was agreed that the activity was to be considered [Page 7] “a major political operation” and that “the greatest flexibility and freedom from the regulations and administrative standards governing ordinary operations” would be required for its successful prosecution.

These requirements have not been adequately met. In particular, the Government has proven itself unable to take the necessary and appropriate action in matters concerning a number of the ex-communists and others who are the heart and soul of the potential ideological resistance to communism both here and abroad and whose movements in and out of this country are important to this purpose. Any political warfare efforts which purport to dispense with a free and flexible collaboration with these elements must be largely unrealistic. In addition to this, present restrictions on the exercise of executive discretion in the employment of persons by the United States Government place heavy handicaps on the fulfillment of the purposes of political and psychological warfare. I do not deny that positive results can still be obtained, in a fragmentary way and in limited areas of political warfare work where the cooperation of other agencies of the Government is not required. But in general the framework for the accomplishment of this work is so discouraging that prospects for success cannot be regarded as balancing out, in present circumstances, the other risks and disadvantages of the Department’s participation in it.


Some suitable arrangements would have to be devised to protect State Department personnel against personal damage to themselves arising out of their participation in this work.

Experience has indicated that the issuance of political guidance to the Director of Central Intelligence in these matters is, in present circumstances, liable to distortion and exploitation in ways dangerous to the reputations and positions of the persons concerned in this Department. We have already had one instance in which the issuance of such guidance in good faith, through the proper channels and with the full authority of superior officers in this Department, has—without notification to anyone in this Department—been reported by the CIA to the FBI as possible evidence of political unreliability on the part of the State Department official concerned. We have no protection against this happening again and no assurance that any one in this Department will even be aware of it when it does happen. In these circumstances, I would consider it unjust to permit any official of this Department to have anything to do with this work without warning him that his participation in it may very well be used, unbeknownst to him, for the purpose of throwing suspicion on his character and his loyalty. And since it is obviously not a tolerable state of affairs that men should be asked to work in this atmosphere and in this jeopardy, I think it necessary that this matter be clarified before the Department of State can participate further in this work.

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On point (a), above, I think it may still be possible to bring about some improvement by direct discussion with the agencies concerned—particularly with the Attorney General. If this proves not to be the case, it seems to me that our only resort is the National Security Council.

On point (b), I think that this must in any event be taken up with the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council.

You will appreciate that it is not without great concern and disappointment that I make this recommendation. The idea of the establishment of an organization of this sort for covert operations in the political field was largely my own, as was the initiative which led to the Department’s prominent part in launching this venture. It has been, and is, my conviction that the effective conduct of political warfare on the covert plane is indispensable to the prosecution of a successful policy toward the Soviet Union, designed to prevent a third world war and to reduce Soviet power and influence to tolerable dimensions. Anything which interferes, even temporarily, with the prosecution of this work seems to me to diminish materially the chances for defeating communist purposes on a world-wide scale.

I would also like to make it clear that the above recommendation is not meant to be in any sense critical of the conduct of the work of the Office of Special Projects by Mr. Wisner who, as far as I am able to observe, has struggled loyally and valiantly to make a success of this work under bitterly discouraging conditions and who has considerable accomplishments to his credit in those areas where conditions have permitted him to develop his official activity.

George F. Kennan
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 64 D 563, Chronological. Top Secret.
  2. For text of NSC 10/2, see Foreign Relations, 1945–1950, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment, Document 292.
  3. The Office of Special Projects was the name originally proposed for the Office of Policy Coordination.
  4. Not printed. (National Archives, RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 64 D 563, Political and Psychological Warfare)
  5. The actual date of the meeting was August 6, 1948; the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1945–1950, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment, Document 298.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.