S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: NSC 78 Series

Report Prepared in the White Howe Office1


Port Security

The Congress has enacted S. 38592 which would give the President broad powers to provide for port security in the United States and to govern the movement of foreign flag vessels in the territorial waters of the United States in whatever manner he may find necessary to prevent damage or injury to the harbors, territorial waters, and installations of the United States. This measure contains broader authorities than those of the Espionage Act, and the measure has the added advantage of permitting the President to take action without declaration of a national emergency.

The Secretary of Defense has written to the Secretary of the Treasury suggesting certain steps which he believes would, if undertaken promptly by the Coast Guard, provide the maximum degree of security against sabotage of our ports and attack against the United States with unconventional weapons, such as the atomic bomb, through the device of bringing such weapons into United States waters by vessel and thereafter setting off an explosion.

In response to this letter, and in anticipation of Presidential approval of S. 3859, the Coast Guard prepared, under date of July 31, 1950, a memorandum on possible port security operations.* This memorandum was transmitted to the President by the Secretary of the Treasury on August 1.

In briefest compass, the Coast Guard sets forth ten operations as follows:

AA Control entry of vessels in territorial waters and ports.
AB Seal radio equipment.
BA Control anchorage and movement of vessels.
BB Supervise and control loading of dangerous cargoes.
BC Provide safety regulations and establish patrols for port and vessel protection.
BD Provide identification of seamen and others.
BE Exclude subversive persons from vessels and waterfront facilities.
BF Prevent subversives from sailing as members of crews.
BG Prevent subversives from obtaining licenses and other merchant marine documents.
BH Exchange and utilize security intelligence.
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If a full scale implementation under these ten operations should be ordered, the program would be very costly and would require a large expansion of the Coast Guard which would probably exceed 2,800 officers and 25,000 enlisted men, and a very large number of small vessels, patrol craft and vehicles. Total cost might be in excess of $250 million in the first year.

Such a program would not, of course, provide complete defense against unconventional attack through the detonation of atomio weapons deliberately concealed in a foreign flag vessel. In fact, there is no complete defense against a calculated plan for atomic destruction of an American harbor short of a complete embargo on almost all foreign flag shipping. This step probably would not be practicable, but its implications are being studied by the Department of State.

The chief presumed danger lies in the uncontrolled use of our ports by Soviet and Soviet satellite vessels. The probability of unconventional attack through the use of such a vessel must be carefully calculated from a strategic point of view. The costs of protection against such an attack must also be compared with the costs of embargo, measured both in terms of dollars and in terms of political and psychological impact on our foreign relations.

It is pertinent to note that between July 1949 and April 1950, twenty-one Soviet and Soviet satellite vessels made fifty-nine calls at American ports. Two Polish ships made fourteen calls and delivered 217,000 tons of cargo. Nine Finnish ships made twenty-two calls and delivered 78.8 thousand tons of cargo. Seven Yugoslav ships made eighteen calls and delivered 113.5 thousand tons of cargo. Three Soviet vessels made five calls and delivered 23.6 thousand tons of cargo. None of this cargo is believed to have been of high strategic importance with the exception of small shipments of manganese received from the USSR. Of some 40,000 long tons agreed to for import over a year’s period, only 2,220 have been delivered, although it is believed that 8,429 tons are afloat.

Unless a program of port control at least as extensive as that prevailing in World War II at all major United States ports were to be instituted, the only control measure which would stand a substantial chance of success would be the establishment of specific ports of entry on the east and west coasts for the use of Soviet and Soviet satellite shipping. This device appears to be the most practicable under present circumstances. Even so, it would be a very drastic step, since it would disturb normal trade arrangements and would result in extra cost to foreign shippers and, presumably, to American buyers. At the present time we would recommend the establishment of only two such control ports—Bellingham, Washington, on the west coast, and Portland, Maine, on the east coast. It is obvious that if New York or Philadelphia (both manganese ports) is the normal port of call for a [Page 44] Soviet vessel, the requirement of diversion to Portland would increase shipping costs.

Staff recommend that the control ports be established and that the Secretary of the Treasury be instructed, by letter, to institute all steps necessary to obtain maximum security, both against unconventional attack and against accident or sabotage at the control ports and at the other chief United States ports as follows:

New York

Baltimore–Hampton Roads

New Orleans

San Francisco–Oakland




Los Angeles–San Pedro


Portland, Oregon

The inland port and locks at Sault Ste. Marie

Principal Territorial ports

Similar protective steps should be taken by the Army for the Panama Canal and the Panama Harbor. Protection could be extended to other port areas at a future date if deemed necessary.

It is also recommended that the Secretary of State be instructed, by letter, after consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and at the appropriate time, to notify foreign governments affected of the decision of the United States Government with respect to this matter.

Regulations of the Coast Guard to carry out Presidential instructions would be based upon World War II regulations and can be put in final form on short notice. It is recommended that these regulations be inclusive, and that the degree to which they are to be put into effect be indicated in letters of instruction from the President from time to time.

At present it is recommended that the following programs and limitations be instituted as soon as necessary arrangements can be made, funds obtained, and personnel recruited:

For Soviet and Soviet satellite vessels—
Denial of use of U.S. ports except controlled ports.
Control of anchorage and movement of vessels while in port.
Supervision of loading and unloading.
Sealing of radios at the discretion of the boarding officer, and in any case in which the United States takes control of the vessel.
Restriction of crews while in port.
For all foreign flag vessels proceeding to United States ports from Soviet or Soviet controlled ports— [Page 45]
Interception and inspection before entering a United States port.
Control of anchorage and movement of vessels while in port.
Supervision of loading and unloading when deemed necessary.
Restriction of liberty of crews, if deemed necessary. (One of the difficult problems in this category will be the control of ships of Panamanian registry and tramp steamers not on regular schedules. Care must be taken not to disturb trade or treaty relations or to cause affront to free nations. Some broad exceptions probably can be made, as, for example, British Commonwealth shipping. Other exceptions may be feasible, as, for example, Finnish shipping. The Finnish problem is being studied by the Department of State.3)
For protection of United States ports listed above against sabotage and accident—
Supervise and control the loading of dangerous cargoes on all merchant vessels, foreign and domestic.
Obtain greater cooperation from, and enforcement by, local authorities of non-Federal port safety regulations, including the establishment of periodic inspection service to report upon effectiveness of local safety regulations.
Reinstitute a complete system of identification of all seamen, water front workers, and others requiring access to vessels and water front facilities, including name and fingerprint checks.
Exclusion of known subversive persons from vessels and water front areas and facilities.
Gradual extension of west coast agreement to prevent subversives from sailing as crew members, with Federal intervention and assumption of responsibility for the program whenever deemed necessary.
Prevention of subversives from obtaining original licenses and other merchant marine documents.
Authorization of Coast Guard to obtain, utilize, and exchange security intelligence necessary for port protection.

Budget estimates are not yet available, but rough estimates of cost indicate that the identification and counter subversive activities might require eight and one-half million dollars for the first year. Subsequent costs can probably be reduced somewhat. Establishment of maximum security in the control ports will probably cost in the neighborhood of fifteen million dollars for the first year, assuming that the Navy can make available certain needed tugs, craft, and other equipment. The extent of operations for port security in the other ports will largely control the expenditure required. It is believed that a minimum program, assuming vessels and other needed boats and [Page 46] equipment can largely be supplied by the Navy, might be possible for approximately twenty-five million dollars. This figure would have to be increased materially if it were decided to reinstitute an extensive system of waterfront patrols, sentries, and clearance in and out of waterfront workers with restriction of access only to persons properly identified. A full scale program of this kind, including Federal enforcement of safety regulations of the kind carried on in World War II, would require expenditures of well over one hundred million dollars a year.

The preliminary estimates of the Coast Guard will be refined as soon as your wishes are made known. If the President does not wish to institute so expensive a program as that here suggested, basic assumptions and other factors can be reworked promptly. The recommendations herein contained are consistent with the steps suggested by the Secretary of Defense and now under further study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and are believed to be in consonance with the thinking of the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security, several working subcommittees of which have turned their attention to port security problems.

Suggested first letters of instructions to the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Army are attached.4

  1. Papers in the Department of State files indicate that this Report was prepared by Rear Adm. Robert L. Dennison, Naval Aide to President Truman. The Report was circulated to the National Security Council as document NSC 78, August 7, 1950, entitled “A Report to the National Security Council by the Executive Secretary on Port Security”, under cover of a note of August 7, not printed, by Executive Secretary Lay which explained that President Truman “has referred the enclosed report on the subject, prepared by members of his staff, to the National Security Council, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General for consideration at the next regularly scheduled Council meeting on Thursday, August 10.”

    According to the National Security Council Record of Action 3366, not printed, the Council at its 64th Meeting on August 10 agreed in principle that the port security program proposed in NSC 78 should be put into effect, subject to the working out of details between the departments and agencies concerned (S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95: NSC Records of Action). On October 18, 1950, President Truman issued Executive Order 10173, “Regulations Relating to the Safeguarding of Vessels, Harbors, and Waterfront Facilities of the United States” (15 F.R. 7005), which instituted a program of port security, closely following the recommendations of this paper. Documentation on the interdepartmental exchanges leading to the issuance of Executive Order 10173 is included in Department of State file 911.541. Lot 66 D 95 contains administrative and miscellaneous National Security Council documentation, including NSC Records of Action, as maintained by the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State for the years 1947–1963.

  2. The reference here is to a bill, introduced by Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington, and subsequently enacted into law as Public Law 679, approved August 9, 1950, entitled “An Act to Authorize the President to control the anchorage and movement of foreign-flag vessels in waters of the United States when the national security of the United States is endangered, and for other purposes” (64 Stat. 427).
  3. Appendix A. [Footnote in the source text. The 23-page memorandum under reference here is not printed.]
  4. For the attitude of the Department of State regarding the treatment of Finnish vessels under United States port control measures and the National Security Council decision on the subject, see the memorandum from Fisher to the Secretary of State, August 22, p. 50.
  5. The draft letters under reference here are not printed.