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

Memorandum by the Executive Secretary of the Office of the Secretary of Defense ( Allen ) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council ( Lay )1

top secret

Subject: United States Waterway and Port Control of Shipping from Soviet and Satellite Ports. Reference NSC 78, Port Security.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recently considered, from the military point of view, the problem of adequate control of Soviet and satellite shipping and all other flag shipping arriving from Soviet and satellite ports insofar as it pertains to United States ports and waterways.

[Page 47]

The enclosed study,2 prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concludes that there is an inherent military danger in the unrestricted use of United States ports by Soviet and satellite ships. This danger also exists with respect to other shipping which may enter our ports and waterways from the Soviet or satellite countries and to any other ship carrying Soviet or satellite cargo, regardless of registry.

The comparative freedom of action makes it possible for the USSR to send ships into United States ports carrying atomic weapons. Detonations of such atomic weapons strategically located will have disastrous physical effects on the ports and harbors, including radioactive contamination. The impossibility of detection of such weapons without an inspection of the ship in such detail as to be utterly impracticable makes necessary the exclusion of these ships from our important ports.

Soviet and satellite shipping is a recognized method for introducing espionage and sabotage agents and their materials and documents clandestinely into the United States and, likewise, for removing them from the United States. Allowing this shipping unrestricted use of our ports affords the Soviets freedom of action in introducing agents directly into the areas selected for their covert activities.

Most ports and their adjacent areas contain important industrial plants and facilities which are susceptible to sabotage.

It would also be possible to send cargo which would be harmful to the United States, such as products of biological warfare, to our ports by means of transshipment through another country.

These considerations are possibilities, among others, which could be, or are being, exploited by the USSR. Therefore, it is desirable to institute strict security measures to prevent damage to our port installations by covert means.

The best method of avoiding such covert action, short of absolute exclusion of such ships from United States waters, is to limit the ports they may use. If these ships are restricted to one or two ports, the military risk will be greatly reduced by the use of appropriate security controls.

Extension of this restraint to all vessels, regardless of registry, arriving in United States waters from Soviet or satellite ports, will focalize the possible danger of damage to United States ports. This restraint should be applied to all shipping which has been outloaded or sailed from any Soviet or satellite port within a specified period preceding its arrival date in the United States and to all ships carrying Soviet or satellite cargo. Such a step is desirable for the following reasons:

To reduce sabotage risks.
To employ ports of little strategic value.
To reduce the time this shipping is in United States or coastal waters.
To minimize the requirements for patrol surveillance.

Based upon their study, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the selection of Portland, Maine, on the east coast, and Bellingham, Washington, on the west coast, as the ports to which all Soviet and satellite shipping and all other flag shipping, regardless of registry, arriving from Soviet or satellite ports, should be routed, would adequately meet the military considerations of the problem insofar as the continental United States is concerned.

Further, because of the strategic importance of the Panama Canal, the most rigid inspection and other security procedures should be taken with regard to all Soviet and satellite shipping and all other flag shipping, regardless of registry, from Soviet or satellite ports, making use of the Panama Canal and its terminal ports. Absolute denial to such shipping of Panama Canal facilities is considered infeasible at this time due to the international repercussions and possible Soviet retaliation that such action might provoke. In view of this and the fact that complete immunity, cannot be assured by ship inspections, a calculated risk must be accepted.

The Secretary of Defense requests that the views and recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented herein be considered by the National Security Council in conjunction with NSC 78, Subject, Port Security, as a matter of priority.

Leven C. Allen

Major General, USA
  1. This memorandum was circulated to the National Security Council under cover of a memorandum of August 10 by the Council Executive Secretary Lay, not printed, which explained that, at the request of Secretary of Defense Johnson, it was circulated for consideration at the National Security Council meeting on August 10 in conjunction with NSC 78 on “Port Security”. The Report circulated as NSC 78 is printed supra; regarding the Council meeting of August 10, see footnote 1 thereto.
  2. The 16-page study under reference here is not printed.