No. 435
Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Chinese Affairs (McConaughy) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1

top secret
limited distribution


  • Treatment of Cases of Downey and Fecteau

Immediately following our discussion of December 4 with the Secretary of the possibility of releasing a fuller description of the mission of Downey and Fecteau when they were taken prisoners, I had telephone discussions with Mr. Wisner and Mr. Godel, and met with them on December 6.

The consensus was that any comprehensive revelation of the precise nature of the mission of Downey and Fecteau, although that mission was legitimate and necessary, would be highly questionable for the following reasons: [Page 1007]

Since the mission of these two civilians was different from that of the 11 airmen, and had not been disclosed at the outset, questions would immediately be raised in the UN as to whether the full facts had been revealed as to the 11 airmen. Something of a shadow would be cast over that case which is now absolutely clear. It is believed that the excellent position we are now in as to the 11 airmen would be compromised to some extent.
In effect, the case of the two civilians would have to be aired before a political and propaganda forum, not an international Court of Justice. Politically our case as to the two would not seem airtight to the world at large if essentially all the facts were known. Even on the legal plane, there would be some unresolved questions of considerable import.
A fuller revelation would not accord completely with the official statements regarding the case already made by the Departments of State and Defense. An official contradiction of our earlier position would seriously weaken our stance.
Inasmuch as the case would not be politically airtight, it would probably prejudice the chances of obtaining the early release of Downey and Fecteau.
A fuller revelation might seem to put the Chinese Communists in a less unfavorable light. They might actually argue with some plausibility that the sentences are lighter than are customary in such cases in wartime.
An official and circumstantial revelation of the nature of the mission of these two would be counter to long-established usage of all countries. It is simply not customary for Governments to make any official disclosures regarding these operations, although they are carried on by all Governments in wartime. It is contrary to the practice of nations from time immemorial. It would be a breach of the tradition of official silence on these matters. As one member said “it is not the form—no country ever does it”.
It would be difficult to defend domestically, for it would seem that we were going out of our way to incriminate these men and seal their fate.

However, it is believed that we could make a positive effort in behalf of these men in the UN without going to the lengths of a full revelation. We could affirm that their mission was directly connected with the UN effort and was necessary to the operations of the UN Command and that after the termination of hostilities all participants who are held prisoner should be returned. The UN side honorably complied with this requirement by returning all prisoners who wished to be repatriated, although all the Chinese Communist soldiers, being nominal “volunteers” (as admitted by Malik in the UN on December 6), were in a strictly irregular status. The Communist side has not reciprocally repatriated all captured UN personnel.

It is true that a vague general statement that the mission of Downey and Fecteau was connected with the war effort would raise questions which we would have to evade. Inevitably curiosity would [Page 1008] be aroused in the UN as to the precise nature of their mission. Evidence would be demanded in support of the statement that their assignment was connected with the war effort. We would have to be resolute in refusing to be drawn into a detailed description of their assignment.

Undoubtedly we have an obligation as Government representatives to do what we can to assist these men who patriotically and knowingly embarked on an extremely hazardous mission which was pursuant to a specific request of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and approved as to policy by the State Department (see attachment).2 The UN approach seems the most promising for us although we must recognize that we would encounter more difficulties in pressing this case in the UN than we are encountering in the case of the 11 members of the Air Force. A basis has already been laid in the form of the pending resolution, which calls for “the release of all the other captured UN personnel still detained”. We would need to assert specifically that these men come within the category of “UN personnel”.

  1. Filed with Document 408.
  2. The attached memorandum, unsigned and undated, with a covering note of Dec. 7 from Wisner to McConaughy, reads as follows:

    “It is most significant that the very activities in which these civilians were engaged, had been requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had been approved as to policy by the State Department. Shortly after the outbreak of the Korean war, and on or about 10 July 1950, CIA was officially advised that the JCS had recommended to the Secretary of Defense that CIA be authorized to exploit guerrilla potential on the Chinese Mainland to accomplish the objective of reducing the Chinese Communist capabilities to reinforce North Korean forces. On 20 July 1950, the State Department approved a CIA dispatch … authorizing the initiation of operations with this identical objective. From time to time thereafter during the course of the Korean hostilities, authorized spokesmen of the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State affirmed and reiterated their support of CIA guerrilla and resistance operations on the Chinese Mainland. In October 1951 the National Security Council, by its Directive 10/5, authorized the conduct of expanded guerrilla activities within China.”