Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 148th Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, June 4, 19531


top secret
eyes only

The following were present at the 148th meeting of the Council: The President of the United States, presiding; the Vice President of the United States; the Secretary of State; the Deputy Secretary of Defense; the Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Items 2 and 3); the Director of Defense Mobilization; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Acting Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (for Item 2); the Acting Secretary of Commerce (for Items 4 and 5); the Secretary of the Army (for Item 2); the Secretary of the Navy (for Item 2); H. Lee White for the Secretary of the Air Force (for Item 2); Lt. Gen. Idwal H. Edwards, Chairman, Special Evaluation Subcommittee of the NSC (for Item 2); Walter S. Delany, Office of the Director for Mutual Security (for Item 4); Kenneth R. Hansen, Office of the Director for Mutual Security (for Item 4); General Collins for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (for Item 2); Lt. Gen. Harold R. Bull, Central Intelligence Agency (for Item 2); Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; Lewis L. Strauss, Special Assistant to the President; C. D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; the NSC Representative on Internal Security (for Item 2); Marshall Chadwell, Central Intelligence Agency (for Item 2); Herbert Miller, Central Intelligence Agency (for Item 2); Herbert Blackman, Department of Commerce (for Items 4 and 5); the Military Liaison Officer; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the chief points taken.

. . . . . . .

2. Summary Evaluation of the Net Capability of the USSR To Inflict Direct Injury on the United States up to July 1, 1955 (NSC 140/1; Memos for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated May 28 and June 1, 1953)2

Mr. Cutler reminded the Council of the background of this report, and called the Council’s attention to the ancillary report [Page 368] from the Joint Chiefs and others, commenting on it. He also briefly indicated the objectives of General Bull’s committee on continental defense, which was expected to have its report ready in mid-July.

General Edwards thereupon briefed the Council with respect to the highlights of NSC 140/1.

At the conclusion of General Edwards’ briefing, the President observed that of the possible bases from which the Soviets might launch an atomic attack on the United States, those on the Chukotski Peninsula, across the Bering Straits from Alaska, seemed to him to pose the greatest threat. He wondered, therefore, whether we should not step up our air defenses and air warning system in Alaska specifically, in order to detect and repel such an attack.

General Edwards replied that while this would doubtless be advantageous, it remained true that the enemy could pierce the radar screen and defenses if he flew at low altitudes, and it was very probable that the enemy knew the location of our stations in the area.

In that case, said the President, had thought been given to the use of flying radar?

General Edwards replied that this had been taken into account in his report, along with picket ships.

It seemed to the President that at least the enemy could not know where our flying radar was located. He went on to state that it seemed eminently sensible that our own SAC bases be kept as unclogged as possible to reduce the length of time necessary to mount a retaliatory attack.

General Edwards expressed agreement with the President’s objective, but noted how difficult it was to achieve the objective unless you were on a 24-hour alert.

The President then asked, in view of the statements of General Edwards on the routes of approach that Soviet planes might be expected to follow, whether there was really much sense in setting up an elaborate early warning screen in the far northern reaches of Canada. It seemed to him that most of the routes which the Soviets would follow avoided such a screen. The President followed this with an inquiry as to whether General Edwards’ report had taken into account the responsibility of the Canadians in the defense of the continent, since they had talked to him about this during a recent visit.

General Edwards replied that the Canadian contribution had been taken into account in the preparation of his report.

The President then commented on the very great advantages which would accrue to our defense if we could really count on two hours of warning. He then asked whether, in our own tests of atomic bombs, we had either planted or dropped a bomb in a masonry [Page 369] area so that we could derive some information as to the degree of destruction which would be the lot of our large cities.

General Edwards said that the report had taken into account whatever available evidence there was on this problem.

The President, smiling, turned to General Edwards and observed that in his lifetime he had listened to a great many staff reports. Since he had exchanged the military for civilian life, he seemed to sense a notable improvement in the quality of such reports. He hoped that there was no connection between the two phenomena, but he did wish to congratulate each and every member of the group which had given the Council such an admirable and clear statement on this important subject. The President added that he had perhaps some little doubt as to whether General Edwards and his committee had given sufficient weight, in downgrading Soviet capabilities, to their obvious inferiority and even incompetence in the navigation of planes at long ranges. Anyone who had ever ridden with Soviet pilots could vouch for this incompetence.

Mr. Stassen then asked General Edwards about the effectiveness of the communications network in spreading warning quickly from the point where an attack was detected.

General Edwards described briefly the main elements in the network, and expressed the opinion that much more could be done if systematic use were made of fishing fleets, merchant vessels, other aircraft, and similar possibilities.

Secretary Kyes then inquired as to the possibility that our intelligence might detect preparations for an attack and provide a few days’ warning.

Mr. Allen Dulles replied that he did not think that we would get any prior warning through intelligence channels of a Soviet sneak attack. Certainly there could be no guaranty of any such warning.

Secretary Dulles thought that it might be possible that, prior to launching an attack, there would be sufficient signs and portents, including increasing tension, redeployment of military forces, and so forth, to provide a warning.

The President then asked General Edwards, in a facetious vein, why he and his committee had not turned themselves into Russians and tried to figure out what the Russians were thinking with regard to what the United States could do to them. They must be scared as hell, said the President.

General Edwards replied that this exercise was not included in the terms of reference of his report, but he had some ideas on the subject. They boiled down to this: that “any attack on the United States by the Soviets during this period would be an act of desperation and not an exercise of military judgment.”

[Page 370]

The President expressed complete agreement with General Edwards’ statement, and Mr. Dulles observed that it agreed with our intelligence estimate.

The National Security Council:3

Noted the reference report on the subject (NSC 140/1) as revised by the reference memorandum of May 28, and as commented upon by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Interdepartmental Intelligence Conference, and the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security in the enclosures to the reference memorandum of June 1.
Discussed NSC 140/1 in the light of an oral briefing by Lieut. General Idwal H. Edwards, Chairman of the Special Evaluation Subcommittee of the NSC.
Noted that the NSC Planning Board has established a Continental Defense Committee to prepare not later than July 15, in the light of NSC 140/1, the Kelly report and other pertinent material, a report, with estimated costs, on present and planned continental defense programs and on proposed increases or changes in these programs; and also on appropriate organizational arrangements for continental defense.

. . . . . . .

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Drafted by Deputy Executive Secretary Gleason on June 5.
  2. For text of NSC 140/1, May 18, see p. 328. Regarding the May 28 memorandum, see footnote 3 to the June 1 memorandum, p. 355.
  3. Paragraphs a–c constitute NSC Action No. 804. (S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95, “NSC Records of Action”)