Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 139th Meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday, April 8, 1953 1

top secret
eyes only

Present at the 139th meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; and the Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Item 1); the Secretary of the Interior (for Item 1); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Acting Director of Defense Mobilization; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; the Special Assistant to the President for Cold War Planning; the Military Liaison Officer; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a general account of the main positions taken and the chief points made at this meeting.

1. National Security Problems Concerning Free World Petroleum Demands and Potential Supplies (NSC 138/1;2 NSC Action No. 6973)

The Attorney General informed the Council that he had been carefully studying the problem and the referenced report, and was now prepared to make his recommendations to the Council. These were that the criminal prosecution of the oil companies should be dropped and a civil action commenced in its place. The oil companies were to send in their domestic papers bearing on the suit, but not at this time to send in papers dealing with operations in foreign countries. In order to make certain that no confidential information bearing on the national security should be made public or be handed over to the court, a committee consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense and Justice was to screen all materials sent in by the oil companies.

The Attorney General thereupon read to the Council the statement which he proposed to make to the court within the next few days.4

[Page 1347]

The President then inquired the difference between criminal and civil proceedings.

His question was answered, and the Attorney General pointed out that there was no commitment on the part of the Government not to prosecute criminally if the civil suit brought out evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

The President asked what the companies had done which required the Government to take legal action.

The Attorney General replied that there was no reasonable doubt that they had combined in restraint of trade within the meaning of the anti-trust laws and that indeed some of the companies had admitted this and had already consented to produce their documents. Nevertheless, the Attorney General went on, a committee was about to be set up in the Department of Justice to review the operation of the anti-trust laws of the United States as they affected areas outside the United States. There was some feeling that these laws operated unfairly against American companies in competition with foreign companies operating overseas.

Secretary Dulles stated flatly that he could not conceive of any decree issuing from this civil suit which would not wreck the oil companies’ arrangements outside the United States and therefore redound to the disadvantage of United States national security.

The Attorney General replied that however well taken the Secretary of State’s point, officials of the State Department itself had appealed to him for relief in Venezuela, where the Cartel arrangements were so tight as to threaten a blow-up.

Secretary Humphrey stated his belief that we were hamstringing our own American oil companies by applying our anti-trust laws to American oil companies which buy Venezuelan oil and sell it abroad.

The Attorney General expressed agreement with Secretary Humphrey, and said that he expected that the result of the suit would be recommended changes in existing anti-trust legislation with a view to removing unfair restrictions on United States companies buying and selling abroad.

The President observed that if the companies’ own lawyers admitted violations of the anti-trust laws, the Government had no recourse but to institute a civil suit. But he thought that the problem ought to be brought back to the Council after the civil proceedings were over, in order to determine on appropriate changes in the anti-trust laws.

Secretary Dulles again made it plain that he wished to go on record as to the dangerous effect on our national security of the decision to go forward with this civil suit.

[Page 1348]

Secretary Humphrey inquired whether it would not be sensible to decide on the desired changes in the anti-trust laws before proceeding with the suit.

The President answered that such a course would anger the Congress. The Executive branch instead should follow the existing laws, institute the civil suit, but as soon as possible after its conclusion change the law. It was possible, he thought, that Congress might agree to make the changes in the law ex post facto.

There was then a discussion between Council members of the dangers of a leak to the press of the decision which was not being taken. The President suggested that no record of the Council’s decision on this item should be made until after the Attorney General had made his statement to the court.

The National Security Council:

Concurred in the recommendations on the subject presented orally by the Attorney General at the meeting.

Note: Record of the above recommendations retained in the official NSC files for reference by Council members only.

[Here follows discussion of significant world developments affecting United States security, United States policies in the Far East, possible courses of action in Korea, United States objectives and courses of action with respect to Formosa, United States objectives and courses of action with respect to Japan, basic national security policies and programs in relation to their costs, and National Security Council status of projects.]

  1. Prepared on Apr. 16 by Deputy Executive Secretary of the NSC Gleason.
  2. Dated Jan. 6, 1953, p. 1317.
  3. For the text of NSC Action No. 697, see the memorandum of discussion at the 128th meeting of the National Security Council, Jan. 9, p. 1338.
  4. A copy of this statement as read by Attorney General Brownell has not been found in Department of State files or at the Eisenhower Library.