6. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Johnson1


  • Special Electronic Airborne Search Operations (SESP)
For several years since the end of the war, the Navy and the Air Force have been codirecting special electronic airborne search projects in the furtherance of a program of obtaining the maximum amount of intelligence concerning foreign electronic developments as a safeguard to the national defense. These operations have been carried on without a formal statement of policy but on the basis of an informal working agreement between the Navy and the Air Force. The information derived from these activities is of the utmost importance from both an operational and technical standpoint, and thus far has not been attainable from any other source.
As you undoubtedly know, the recent incident in the Baltic,2 in which a Navy patrol plane engaged in a flight connected with this program was lost, resulted in a high-level decision, on 17 April 1950, to discontinue further projects of this program for a period of thirty days.
It is recognized that there is a risk of repetition of such incidents upon resumption of these flights, but it is felt that there would be more serious disadvantages accruing to the United States if the cessation of these operations were to be extended over an excessively long period.
Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff urge that the special electronic airborne search projects be resumed with the least practicable delay and that action be initiated at the highest governmental level to secure approval therefore. In this connection they have agreed upon the policies stated below as a definitive basis of operation when these flights are resumed:
The division of effort, geographically, will be that which most nearly follows normal peacetime deployment of air units, and at present is as follows: [Page 10]
To the Navy—Mediterranean and Black Sea Areas.
To the Air Force—Baltic, Gulf of Bothnia, Murmansk, and Caucasus Areas.
Far East—To the Air Force.

The above division of responsibility does not preclude performance of Special Electronics Search Projects missions by either Service in any area, as may be locally agreed, when operational, cover, and other considerations so indicate. However, missions conducted by one Service which penetrate the area of the other Service will be coordinated thoroughly through the Commander concerned.

Aircraft engaged in these operations over routes normally flown by unarmed transport-type aircraft, i.e., the land masses of the Allied Occupation Zones and the Berlin and Vienna corridors, will continue to operate with or without armament. Aircraft engaged in these operations3 over all other routes adjacent to the USSR or to USSR- or satellite-controlled territory will be armed and instructed to shoot in self-defense.4
Pending the availability of armed ECM aircraft, and in order to continue reconnaissance operations at the same tempo as was the case prior to the Baltic incident, flights will be conducted on the same schedules and routes as planned for ECM aircraft but with armed, and not necessarily ECM equipped, B–29 or B–50 aircraft.
Flights by single aircraft will, to the maximum extent possible, be scheduled so that the portion(s) of the flight near particularly sensitive or heavily defended areas will be under cover of darkness or weather.
Flights will not be made closer than twenty miles to the USSR or USSR- or satellite-controlled territory.
Emergency single-group code transmissions meaning “I am being attacked by VF,” “I am being tracked by VF,” etc., are prescribed for joint use.
Flights will not deviate from or alter planned flight courses for other than reasons of safety.

(Note: Although it is recognized that this paper is concerned primarily with SESP missions, it is considered that certain of the provisions [Page 11] contained herein are equally applicable to all aerial reconnaissance which may be conducted in sensitive areas adjacent to the USSR or to USSR- or satellite-controlled areas.)5

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Omar N. Bradley

Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: National Security Agency, Center for Cryptologic History, Series V, L.1.2. Top Secret. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates Johnson saw it.
  2. A U.S. Navy B–24 Privateer aircraft with 10 crewmen abroad was shot down by Soviet planes on April 8. The United States protested the Soviet action; see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. IV, pp. 11401149.
  3. “Which?” is handwritten in the margin, presumably by Johnson. In reply Secretary of the Navy Captain W.G. Lalor sent a memorandum to the Executive Secretary to the Secretary of Defense on May 22 explaining that the phrase “with or without armament” meant either armed or unarmed aircraft. (National Security Agency, Center for Cryptologic History, Series V, L.1.2.)
  4. President Truman wrote at the end of this sentence: “Good sense, it seems to me. HST.”
  5. President Truman wrote “Approved 5/19/50 Harry S Truman” below the signature block.