Rankin files, lot 66 D 84

No. 169
The Ambassador in the Republic of China (Rankin) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Drumright)

secret
eyes only
official–informal

Dear Drum: …

The more general considerations involved in the foregoing came up during a brief discussion I had with Sam Parelman1 just before his departure yesterday. I told him that I had been considering writing to you on this topic, and he urged me to do so.

I submit that we should give careful study to three related problems which have caused us much trouble in the past and promise to cause more in the future:

1.
The continuing tendency to overclassify correspondence in general, thereby breeding disrespect among all concerned for “top secret” and “secret” classifications in particular.
2.
The corollary need to sort out aspects of a given question which are genuinely sensitive and to treat them as such, without handicapping ourselves in relation to other angles of the same question which are not and should not be treated as sensitive.
3.
The even more important problem of other United States Government agencies taking direct action affecting foreign policy for the implied reason that the matter is too “sensitive” for an Embassy, [Page 363]or perhaps even for a geographic bureau in the Department, to know about it.

As regards the first numbered point above, I recently asked our Security Officer to review incoming telegrams from the Department, over a period of time, in the light of the appropriateness of their respective classifications. Without going into detail, it seems evident that telegrams should not be classified “top secret”, or even “secret”, when they contain little or nothing beyond what appeared in the press of the day before; “confidential” should be good enough, and there is often good reason for so classifying an item through official channels even though it may have appeared in the press. Another type of evident overclassification is encountered frequently in the form of a “top secret” telegram consisting of material to be transmitted to a foreign government. It seems to me that, with rare exceptions, communications to foreign governments should not be classified higher than “confidential”. We lose control of such material upon transmittal, and it only handicaps our own operations to continue super-scrupulous care of our copies.

. . . . . . .

Is it possible that in the policy and planning stage these and other matters were too sensitive for us to know about? During my first year in Formosa our information regarding such matters came largely from Chinese sources, supplemented by odd bits of gossip picked up by members of our staff. This condition, I am glad to say, has been measurably improved, and as far as can be, when half a dozen agencies report to and receive instructions directly from Washington through their own channels, the situation at this end is now satisfactory.

I am not satisfied, however, with what appears to be the continued exclusion of the Embassy (and perhaps of FE) from the policy and planning stages of projects which may determine whether we are to have peace or war, whether we are to succeed or to fail in our struggle against Communism in the Far East. I believe that we might have something useful to contribute in such cases in the future, just as I believe we might have been able to help in the preliminary stages of the projects mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

A major question at the present time involves turning over to MAAG the responsibility for the support of most of the guerrillas and all of the regular troops on the “offshore” islands, from Tachen to Kinmen. It seems to me that this matter requires far more attention from the policy angle than it appears to have had to date, and that both FE and the Embassy should be very much in the picture. It was one thing to carry out diversionary raids while fighting was in progress in Korea; it is something else to do so today when [Page 364]the Korean shooting has stopped, and when the Fukien-Chekiang coast is much more strongly held and the possibility of air forces on both sides becoming engaged increases steadily. I am very much in favor of taking the initiative—call it the offensive, if you like—in every practicable way, but the activities now envisaged under MAAG auspices seem to me somewhat like Uncle Sam tickling the Communist tiger with a feather duster, as I remarked to Admiral Radford not long ago. Have we thought this through? Has the Department taken a firm position after careful study? If so, we in Taipei have been told nothing about it.

The matter just described will, I hope, serve as a current illustration of the general problem which concerns me. In this particular case I should not be surprised to see the Communists use the islands in question to test out our new “retaliation policy”. Once MAAG has taken over, we shall have assumed substantially increased responsibilities whether we admit it or not. I assume, however, that the Communists still would be quite safe in taking White Dog Island, for example, as far as any retaliation on our part might be concerned. Having conditioned us to some such step, they could be bolder. Somewhere along the line I should expect the Nationalist Air Force to attack points on the Mainland, with or without the clearance they are supposed to obtain in advance from CINCPAC. And think of the opportunities in this connection for the Communists to promote trouble between ourselves and the Nationalists!

I would not object to assuming the risks just mentioned if they were incidental features of a broad plan for taking the initiative with prospects of genuine accomplishment. But except for the possibility of some sabotage, particularly of enemy radar installations, and incidental interference with coastwise junk traffic, I have no knowledge of what it is hoped to accomplish. If a broad positive plan exists I think that you and I should both know about it, and that we should have been in on the original planning as well. If matters follow the same course as in the numbered instances cited in an earlier paragraph, however, the Department should be prepared to pick up the ball and take the blame if and when another mess has developed.

Kindest regards.

Sincerely yours,

K.L. Rankin
  1. Samuel T. Parelman, Special Assistant for Regional Programs in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs.